Her hands streaked in a rainbow of marker ink, a young girl sat at a table near the back of the General Convention worship space, carefully coloring green around the edges of fabric flower petals. Around the table and at others nearby, her compatriots worked with adult volunteers to attach their flowers to colorful pipe-cleaner stems, secure them with florist’s tape and display the blossoms in Playdough “vases.”
Welcome to the children’s program at General Convention. Before heading to field trips and a Narnia-themed curriculum a short bus ride away at Trinity Church, convention’s youngsters joined in each morning’s Eucharist. While adults pondered the day’s lessons in table discussions, the children tackled crafts related to the Gospel reading.
“We’re making lilies, like the lilies in the field,” explained Florence Peters, 9, of Milton, Ontario. Added 6-year-old David Sangrey, who attends St. George’s in Centerville, Ohio, “It’s one of the things that God created and made them special. We’re kind of honoring God and thanking him for all the beautiful flowers and things he made during Creation -- and Creation is Genesis 1.”
Besides making the flowers, the children could mold the Playdough into something God provides for us, explained Joy Sargeant, co-coordinator of the children’s worship activities with daughter Jan Smith.
“I might make some kind of animal or a toy,” Florence said. “I’m making a remote control,” said Lewis Longsworth Orr, 6, of Bryan, Ohio, manipulating a piece of blue Playdough.
At the next table, Bishop Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island fashioned a pipe-cleaner-and-Playdough figure with a flower-petal hat during her third morning assisting during children’s worship. “I love to watch children listening with more than just their eyes,” she said. “I don’t think we should expect children to sit still and worship ... They’re not 50 or 60, and they hear the gospel and listen to it in different ways than adults do.”
Just as children learn by playing, she said, joining in activities such as drawing and crafts during worship is not sacrilegious, but “part of their rhythm.” “Wouldn’t it be something to have a room in the church with a glass wall ... for some children who need to be part of the family but on terms appropriate to their age and development?” Wolf asked. “The children should be up front ... because the adults need to see them.”
Wolf held up her completed sculpture. “She’s a nun, maybe,” she said, reaching the figure across the table to administer a pretend kiss to a little girl.
During convention, the children twice visited the Discovery Center in the exhibit hall, an interactive area for convention-goers of all ages. The children were in the hall when Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori arrived at the House of Deputies, and program coordinators brought them to see her. They told them, “Someday, you’re going to be able to say, I saw the first female presiding bishop,” recounted coordinator Wendy Speer.
In a concept originated at the “Will Our Faith Have Children?” conference in Chicago in 2003, the Discovery Center provided a place to reflect on convention’s themes, said Elizabeth Ring, president of the National Organization of Episcopal Resource Centers and one of the exhibit organizers. Women in a New Hampshire prison created the banners for that exhibit, reused at convention. Each day featured different presentations and activities.
Visitors could test their ecumenical knowledge with flashcards (What must a woman cover before entering a mosque? Both her head and her arms.), send advocacy e-mail to legislators after a Children’s Defense Fund presentation or sit in a rocking chair to knit a few rows in a prayer shawl. Youngsters created “God’s eyes,” played a trivia-style game and tackled puzzles that formed a cross and eucharistic shapes. “They wrote a number of reflections or drew pictures about peace and thanksgiving,” Ring said.
The center “was really an opportunity for all the generations to talk to each other,” she concluded.