Our church has a little ministry for kids at the altar. Each week a young child gets to go up behind the altar and serve communion to the priest before he serves the rest of the congregation. The priest generally introduces the child to the congregation when they come up and take their place on the step stool beside him. He also reminds us that we have children at the altar as a reminder that kids are not just the future of the church, they are the NOW of the church.
I love it because it's a simple way for very small children to learn all sorts of important lessons. First of all, the priest is not some super holy dude that is separate and apart from us. He is approachable and human. Second, it gives kids a place and purpose during the service at a very young age. There really aren't many opportunities for little people to participate in worship before they can read, or when they are too small to light candles or carry the processional cross. And finally, it gives kids a chance to practice being up in front of a crowd to see how it feels to have all eyes on them.
My daughter is five and wanted nothing to do with this ministry when it first started. She watched with interest as the other kids did it, but every time I asked if she wanted to do it, I got a firm "No."
Our kind Sunday school leader talked to her about it, thinking perhaps an outside influence might be able to convince her to give it a try.
She still said, "No."
Finally, one Sunday as we were leaving church the priest himself asked my daughter why she never came up to help him at the altar. Well, I don't know if it was the robe or the big cross around his neck, or the cowboy boots that impressed her, but she told him she would do it.
Fast forward a few weeks and she took on that altar duty like a pro. She grinned ear to ear as she stood patiently waiting for her cue to serve the bread and wine to the priest. As soon as she was done and came back to sit in the pew with us, she wanted to know when she could do it again.
Yay! Our little girl had faced her fear (of Lord knows what...) and had a good experience. I was so happy she enjoyed it and so grateful for this intentional opportunity to include little people in worship.
I thought everything would be smooth sailing from then on, but last Sunday when she was the helper, the order of operations took a little detour. Typically my daughter receives the bread and then has it dipped in the wine when she takes communion. This is the way she's always done it, even though a sip from the common cup is also an option at our church. Last Sunday she watched the priest pop the bread into his mouth, and she quickly followed suit. I panicked just a tad, realizing she would now need to actually take a sip of wine. I held my breath watching her next move and praying that she wouldn't make a sour face or spit out the wine as soon as it hit her lips. But she carried on like a champ with a professional game face.
As she joined me back in the pew I said, "Wow! You did such a great job. Did you have to drink that yucky wine?"
She shook her head.
"Oh" I said, "You didn't really drink it?"
"No, I drank it." she said. "But it wasn't yucky."
Well there's a new lesson I didn't expect her to learn at church. At age five.
Excuse me while I go lock up our liquor cabinet.