Intergenerational installation services?

Recently, someone asked how to have child-friendly installation services for new ministers. There’s no one answer to this question, but drawing on the dozen years I spent in religious education, I offered some ideas on how it might be done — and I thought I’d share those ideas here, especially because some of my readers might have even better ideas on how it might be done.

Here are some of my ideas on how to create an intergenerational installation service….

(1) 60 minutes tops First and foremost, someone has to keep the installation service to 60 minutes, tops. This is absolutely the hardest thing to do — installation services have a tendency to go on and on, often lasting for 90 or 120 minutes, which is too long for many young children. In my experience, you can limit an installation service to 60 minutes if the minister being installed and/or the installation committee tell each participant exactly how many minute the participant will be allowed to speak. (Scroll all the way down to find a sample schedule, from my own installation service in 2005.)

If it is impossible to limit the service to 60 minutes, and if there is unwillingness to select at least a few speakers who are known for being able to relate to children, then in my opinion it is best to arrange for the children to leave partway through the service and go off to other activities.

(2) Kid’s order of service I often try to create a Kid’s Order of Service for intergenerational services. A Kid’s Order of Service has puzzles and games and coloring pages, often with a religious theme. I like to give out the Kid’s Order of Service with a box of crayons (the cheapo boxes with 8 crayons are fine), along with a couple of colorful pipe cleaners. The kids like to get this packet of goodies, and it helps makes them feel welcome in the service.

A sample Kid’s Order of Service might have the following:

  • A page with the order of service in large type, with simple explanations of each item. (aimed at about age 9-11)
  • Two or three coloring pages using copyright-free material. I have used Beatrix Potter illustrations (she was a Unitarian), designs based on Frank Lloyd Wright stained glass (he was a Unitarian), and pictures by members of the congregation. (aimed at younger children)
  • Two word search puzzles, one easy and one more difficult, with Unitarian Universalist theme — I often use the Puzzlemaker Web site to generate the puzzle for me. (aimed at 8 and up)
  • Three or four mazes, ranging from easy to hard, and I might place a flaming chalice graphic or graphic of our church at the end of the maze — again, the Puzzlemaker Web site will generate mazes. (aimed at 6 and up)
  • A copyright-free story on a religious theme, such as a fable, or a story from Ellen Babbit’s book of Jataka tales (aimed at 9 and up)
  • Other pages of activities to total a dozen or more pages.

(3) Let parents know it’s OK to bring kids Of critical importance is selling the parents on the whole idea. They need to be assured that an intergenerational service is good for the kids. Parents should be reassured that it’s OK to bring quiet toys for children to play with during the service. Also, be sure to let them know that there will be childcare available in case older kids melt down. If possible, have a “cry room,” a nearby room where parents can take fussy babies and toddlers, and where they can hear an audio feed of the service.

It really helps if the minister also encourages parents and children to attend together!

(4) In case kids make noise… It’s important to prime several of the speakers to be ready in case a young child or baby vocalizes during the service. Have speakers primed to say something like, “It is wonderful to have children in the service to make us aware of the future of this church,” or “The sound of babies vocalizing in the service brings home to us the importance of future generations,” or the like.

(5) Minister’s commitment Finally, I can’t emphasize enough that the minister being installed has to be committed to an intergenerational service. For my installation in New Bedford, I let everyone know that I was fully committed to intergenerational community, and I have to acknowledge that I got a certain amount of criticism for inviting children in my installation — therefore I wouldn’t blame any minister who decides not to do an intergenerational installation!

Those are my ideas — what can you add from your own experience?


Timing of Sample Installation service

First Unitarian in New Bedford, October 23, 4:00 p.m.

(Time allowed) End time | What — Who
(5 min) 4:00 | Prelude — Music Director
(4 min) 4:04 | Processional Hymn — congregation
(2 min) 4:06 | Call to Worship — Emma Mitchell, DRE *
(2 min) 4:08 | Responsive reading — Chair of Search Ctte.
(2 min) 4:10 | Musical interlude — Music Director
(7 min) 4:17 | Story for all ages — Rev. Jory Agate **
(3 min) 4:20 | Reading — Member of Youth Group
(3 min) 4:23 | Hymn — congregation
(15 min)4:40 | Sermon — Rev. Ellen Spero ***
(5 min) 4:45 | Act of installation — Chair of Board
(2 min) 4:47 | Musical response — Music Director
(3 min) 4:50 | Charge to the minister —
(3 min) 4:53 | Charge to the congregation —
(2 min) 4:55 | Right hand of fellowship —
(3 min) 4:58 | Closing hymn — congregation
(1 min) 4:59 Closing words —
Postlude lasts as long as needed.

* Emma Mitchell, as our Director of Religious Education, was well-known to all the children.
** Rev. Jory Agate is an experienced Minister of Religious Education who knows how to tell a really good story for all ages.
*** Rev. Ellen Spero is a minister who formerly worked as a special ed. teacher, and she knows how give a child-friendly sermon.

One thought on “Intergenerational installation services?

  1. A Ninepatcher

    I don’t have any wisdom to share from a minister’s point of view, but I can say that as a child I loved being included in church services of all types. I didn’t like leaving to go to a kid’s room even when the day’s message was something I was unlikely to understand. One minister I remember fondly would call up the children in attendance to the front of the church to give us a special greeting at the end of each service. it made us feel grown up and gave us a sense of connection to the church. Wonderful!

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