I visited Restoration last spring on a “church outside” day, and one of my first- and favorite- observations was all the kids running around. Kids in the back of cars, kids in strollers, kids circling like hawks over the donut table. What fun!
Looking around on Sunday mornings, it’s obvious that many children genuinely enjoy being a part of Restoration, and the rest of our church family enjoys their presence. For everyone, though, worship is sometimes hard, and most children that come on Sundays don’t really have a choice. With all the joy present with the children of Restoration at church on Sundays, I’m not blind to the reality that every family has some days where coming to church is difficult, and once there, it can be tricky to know how to engage meaningfully in worship as a family.
This is why I adore the book, Parenting in the Pew, written by Robbie Castleman to share her own insight and experience after she resolved to engage her young sons beyond behavior management and Sunday morning survival. Castleman believed that her sons were created to worship God and that part of her role in nurturing them was providing the framework, opportunity, and inspiration to grow in devotion. Castleman explores what it looks like to invite children into genuine worship- not entertainment, not being quiet and still, not distraction. Learning to worship is a life-long process, and Parenting in the Pew never promises perfect behavior or a magic bullet, but it does provide a theological and practical foundation for families to build on as they grow.
The book is accessible and short- a little over 100 pages broken into 10 chapters that address various aspects of inviting children into worship at all ages and in various contexts. Take heart- Castleman does not resort to shame tactics and anecdotes of her angelically behaved children! Instead, she encourages families with practical steps for how to prepare for worship, involve children throughout the service, and integrate worship into life beyond Sunday morning. Although Castleman raised her sons in the 1980s, the more recent additions of Parenting in the Pew include contemporary struggles like distractions from technology.
Restoration Anglican Church values intergenerational worship, a value much deeper than having children present. Plenty of churches allow (or force) children to stay in the main service, but Restoration wants to move beyond being present with one another and truly worship together in mutually transforming relationships with God and with one another.