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Creating online worship space for Presbyterians of all ages


Webinar panelists: Be intentional and inclusive, and your intergenerational worship will be enhanced

December 8, 2020

PNS/MYB Dec 2020-Christian Formation Logo

Worried about how mainline churches are communicating to the youngest and oldest in their congregations during a time of online worship, Karen DeBoer, creative resource developer for the Christian Reformed Church in North America, recently surveyed a landscape of churches.

She asked, “How are you intentionally creating a sense of belonging for all ages?” she said. The most common answer: “We’re not.”

DeBoer was one of six panelists during an ecumenical “Faith Formation at Home” webinar on intergenerational worship sponsored by the Office of Christian Formation in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Now that churches are months into online gatherings on Zoom, Facebook or YouTube — which has been referred to as  “scattered time” — Stephanie Fritz, associate coordinator for Christian Formation in the Presbyterian Mission Agency, encouraged nearly 50 participants to consider how they might intentionally create worship practices that would involve the full diversity of their congregations. For it is through worship, she said, that we become intergenerational communities of faith.”

To illustrate this, DeBoer talked about her family gatherings as child. Once a year they’d have a dinner celebration where the children would gather in the kitchen. The adults would go into a fancy dining room and have a meal together.

DeBoer said other than a quick hello or goodbye hug, adults and children didn’t really interact. As a parent now she gets that and while it was great to get cousin time, she asked those gathered to imagine what it would have been like if her family had a meal that way every week.

“It would create a hierarchy of who matters more and less,” she said, “and leave one feeling like they belong to this group or that group, but not to the group as a whole.”

To help churches intentionally work at creating intergenerational worship experiences, DeBoer shared The Building Blocks of Faith resource for leaders to use as a helpful reminder that every worshiper, regardless of age, should feel like they are part of God’s family within their particular church community.

The Rev. Dr. Tori Smit, regional minister for faith formation with the Presbyterian Church of Canada, recently watched numerous online worship services to see what was happening intergenerationally. She observed that the first thing to go was the inclusion of children — even in churches that included children during in-person worship.

She asked a diverse set of families with children ages 4-17 how online worship was going for them. One of the things she learned is that children have difficulty paying attention.

“They wanted worship to be shorter,” she said. “Thirty minutes of more screen time on Sunday morning is about all they can handle.”

When Smit asked what was going well and what might help them worship better as a family, respondents said that seeing a variety of leaders in their church, including children and youth, was important to their online worship experience. They also asked worship leaders to prioritize stories and illustrations to ensure that all ages are involved in the context of the sermon.

“When children’s experiences of wanting to see friends, or their private worries about the safety of parents or grandparents was mentioned in a sermon, then their children understood that their feelings were being honored,” Smit said.

The Rev. Elmer Zavala, a house church pastor of the Hispanic Latino Ministry of Preston Highway in South Louisville, spoke of how the pandemic has impacted the life of this house ministry. Currently he’s able to meet with single families only while wearing a mask and standing outside in their yard or on the porch.

“We want to go back to house church,” he said. “The nucleus of the church is family — being at home right there in the middle of their living rooms. Even if we don’t want to see a person’s face, we have to. Kids, adults, youth — we include everybody.”

Zavala said the best worship cares for the most vulnerable. If a child understands the message, then adults will too. But if an adult understands it, a child may or may not get it.

 Paul Seebeck, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus:  Online Worship Space

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Judy Walton, Presbyterian Investment & Loan Program
Laura Wampler, Presbyterian Publishing Corporation

Let us pray:

Almighty God, we believe no one should be hungry in body or spirit. We believe we can make a difference as your disciples as we work together. Most of all we believe in your Son, who showed us how to love one another. Amen.

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