Journey to Easter: Part 3: Children and Ash Wednesday

I remember attending an Ash Wednesday service as a child, probably around age 7 or 8, where I didn’t understand any of it and quite frankly, was completely creeped out.  I picked up on various phrases and words during the service—death, dust, ash, darkness, repent, sin. Then, walking to the front to receive the imposition of ashes…I. WAS. TERRIFIED.  I never mentioned this to my parents or really to anyone else, and was so thankful that it wasn’t until I was 27 years old that I attended another Ash Wednesday service.
Now that I am a mother and a children’s pastor, I have such a different perspective on the “ways of the church.” I want my own children to understand and be encouraged to explore, question, doubt and make choices about their faith journey.  I also want parents to feel equipped and ready to guide their own children through the seasons of the church year.
This year, with our Journey to Easter program, I knew I had to be intentional about involving children and families on Ash Wednesday. I wanted them to feel comfortable with this beautiful, reverent, yet a little out-of-the-ordinary practice. Fortunately, I work alongside of a senior pastor who also has made it one of his priorities to encourage, empower and equip families to guide their children on their joint faith journies.  So, it didn’t take much to tweak the service in such a way that children would feel comfortable.
Our Ash Wednesday worship experience takes place in the chapel of our church. We were deliberate in creating a meaningful sacred space that reflected the symbolism of the evening.  It wasn’t stuffy or overly-formal. The children were able to get another “sticker” in their passports since I had the Passport check-in station poised and ready to go just outside of the chapel.

My pastor’s short meditation was family friendly, relevant, and helped to connect every person in the room to the Lenten/Ash Wednesday experience—regardless of if they were child, adult, married, single, younger or older.

After the worship was over, my mom (who was caring for my just-turned-2 year old daughter) apologized that Addison said, “Yay!” after each part of the worship.  My response would have been the same to any other parent, had she not been my own—She was worshiping!  With her sweet faith-like-a-child, she was responding and participating in worship…and I think that is completely appropriate!

For the closing song, I led “We Fall Down” as I played the guitar.  My mom said that by the end of the song, that sweet, innocent, worshiping 2 year old with ashes in the form of a cross on her forehead sang, “holy, holy, holy….holy holy, holy….holy, holy, holy…is the Lamb”

 After the worship experience, all children and their families gathered in the fellowship hall for a simple pizza dinner.  We discussed the worship, what it all meant, what questions we might have, and I was so grateful to be present with them.  These children teach me more and more each day about my faith. As they begin to understand how God works in their lives, what following Jesus means for them, and how to love radically, I can’t help but step back and thank God for the opportunity to share life with them.

This Journey to Easter is for the kids, but man, I am enjoying the ride already!

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