On my morning commute, I frequently listen to offerings from Ancient Faith Radio. I try to always start with The Path, so I get the daily readings, then I might listen to something else, like the latest from Ancient Faith Today. This morning, I opted to listen to a podcast I hadn’t heard of before (I’ve since returned to attempt to locate it, as I wasn’t originally going to link to it, then changed my mind and I can’t seem to find it). Of note is that the podcast is by a lay person with no apparent theological training (or ordination reflecting preparation to teach). The particular episode had a title that sounded a bit protestant, so I was already prepared to some degree for what was coming. I still haven’t finished listening to the episode, but something was mentioned that almost caused me to drive off the road. The host mentioned that, at his parish, for 9 months out of the year they have a children’s liturgy, which separates the children from the parents until they graduate from high school. There are two major flaws with this practice, that render it completely problematic.
The first major flaw is that the very groups which first developed this concept, the seeker sensitive evangelical Churches of the 60’s and 70’s, are now beginning to eschew this very practice, as they realize that the practice, while well intentioned, has been contributing to the increasingly low attendance number among later and later generations of Americans. Read here, here, and here, for instance. When digging around for articles about Children’s Church, one of the voices against came from the Roman Catholic world. It wasn’t that they hadn’t done it and were opposed to begin with, but rather that they had done it and then realized that it was a bad idea.
This reflects one of the fundamental flaws of the Ecumenical movement, in my opinion, which perhaps I’ll explore in greater depth elsewhere. One of the points of Ecumenical dialogue is the sharing of ideas with one another. This was one of those situations. We look to what the rapidly growing evangelical churches are doing, and then adopt some of their practices. Rome was notorious for that, with guitar masses, and all manner of mega-church adaptations that are, realistically, the result of the deeply flawed theology of protestantism. It is sad to now see Orthodox traveling that same path. It’s bad enough to put up with organs in church on Sunday morning, but at some point (if it hasn’t happened already) I expect an Orthodox parish somewhere will have a guitar player on the Solea, strumming the cherubic hymn during the Great Entrance. Now we see that at least one Orthodox parish has adopted the failed Children’s Church idea, I’m sure the guitars won’t be far behind.
The second major flaw with Children’s Church is that reflects a deeply flawed, perhaps even heretical, understanding of Orthodox notions about worship and community. Prior to the 20th Century, it was generally unheard of for any average church, of whatever denomination, to have more than one service/liturgy on Sunday (I’m not referring to having Matins then Liturgy or Morning Prayer then Eucharist, or whatever other denominations may do along those lines, but rather having two Eucharist services or two Masses, or two Sunday Worship services for the non-liturgical churches). For the protestants, this was largely just a left over traditional behavior that probably hadn’t been given much thought. For Catholics and Orthodox, it reflected a deeper understanding of the nature of liturgy. During the 20th century, Protestant churches began to offer multiple services on Sunday. This was to provide a convenient time for people to attend Church. Over the years this led to everything from a Saturday evening service, to several Sunday morning and Sunday evening service. Given that Protestant theology of worship has generally entirely abandoned the thinking of the early church, there was no apparent reason to not do this.
Orthodoxy, on the other hand understands that Sunday morning liturgy is, in fact, meant for the whole community. In fact, it is rather an exceptional situation where a church has more than one liturgy in a day, and that requires two priests (as one can server only one liturgy in a day) and two antimensions (the cloth upon which the gifts are consecrated). An antimension is given to the parish by the Bishop, which points to the fact that serving more than one liturgy on a Sunday would require the Bishop’s blessing. I hope, in this case, that the Bishop will bring an end to the practice in this parish.
It is hard for me to imagine what value is derived from training children that they aren’t part of the community, that somehow they need to be separated from the rest of the community. Regardless of how noble the motivations were behind starting the practice, that is precisely what is being done.