Intergenerational worship service

Series of entries in my teaching diary about an experimental Sunday school class. First entry.

We didn’t have Sunday school today; instead we had an intergenerational worship service. Dorit and her mom forgot that it was going to be an intergenerational worship service, so Dorit came up to me before the service started, and said, “We made banana-nut muffins for class today!” I ahd to explain that there was no class today. Dorit, being Dorit, heard this news with equanimity, and we quickly figured out a way to share the muffins after the service. Heather also came this week, and I think a couple of our other regular Sunday school attendees.

Amy, our parish minister, and I had thought hard about how to make this intergnerational worship service both kid-friendly and meaningful to adults. We decided not to change the order of service; we wanted children to experience a normal order of service as part of their religious education. We talked with the lay worship associate, Dave, about how to communicate the theme for the worship service, which was “gratefulness.” We made sure children and young people would be part of leading the service. And we made sure that no one element of the service would last too long.

The prelude was played by a 7th grader from the morning session, who is an accomplished classical guitarist. Dave lit the chalice, and told briefly how the chalice grew out of the work of the Unitarian Service Committee in the Second World War, and how the chalice still symbolizes our commitment to living out our faith through social justice work. I told the old story of Thanksgiving. In his reflection, Dave mentioned many of the things for which he felt grateful. The Children’s Choir sang twice, once early in the service and once at the offertory. Amy began her homily with a reference to Laura Ingalls Wilder, and she looked ahead to the Christmas buying season telling us that while nowadays we are meant to believe that the best gifts have to be purchased, that isn’t necessarily so.

The Children’s Choir had to sit through all this twice. They were not as attentive in the second service as they had been in the first service, but they stayed calm — and they seemed to quite enjoy hearing the adult choir sing at the second service. At the beginning of the service, Heather had left her parents and gone to site with the eight girls of the Children’s Choir. After the service, I heard that Heather was going to start singing with the Choir — since they rehearse between the two worship services, I hope that Heather will still be able to attend the 11:00 Sunday school.


(a) We have the children attend intergenerational worship services to help us reach our goal of raising children who are likely to become Unitarian Universalist adults. If children don’t get to attend worship services with a fairly ordinary order of service, if they don’t learn how to sit through homilies and sermons and reflections, I believe that when they get to be adults it will be more difficult for them to make the transition into the adult religious community.

(b) I believe a key educational moment in this intergenerational worship service was having the Children’s Choir sing. Although this is a new choir (less than a year old), they have come a long way: they had good volume, good intonation, good enunciation, and it was pleasant to listen to them. Obviously, they made an impact on Heather; whether she wants to join them because they sounded good or because she wants to hang out with other girls her age doesn’t matter much. What does matter is that now Heather can see herself as being one of the children who will participate in the worship service. As for the children who have no interest in singing in the Children’s Choir, they now see that children can contribute to worship, and are an important and valued part of the congregation.