One of my colleagues is fond of saying to those of us who are not so into the smells of Anglo-Catholic worship that we had better get used to it – the Bible is pretty clear that if we don’t like incense in this life we are certainly going to have to like it in the next! He has a valid point! There is of course much debate about how literally to take descriptions of heaven but the clouds of incense seem a pretty common theme.
I was in church the other Sunday and wondered if perhaps I was hearing a little glimpse of heaven during our service (I know, that’s quite a claim). It was a funny thing, the thought kind of popped into my head and then the more I thought about it the more it just seemed rather beautiful and kind of meaningful. It wasn’t that the music was especially amazing or that people sang with a particular passion it was something much more simple and profound.
I could hear a two-year-old girl having a great time – all through the worship she was dancing and singing (she’d never been to church before so she wasn’t signing the same songs), jumping around and generally enjoying the moment with a huge smile on her face. She had no respect of the general format of church worship so the gaps between songs were not seen as a reason to stop and slower songs were attacked with the same gusto as more upbeat choruses. She was amazing and as she danced and played she made our church sound a bit more like heaven than we could with our singing.
I’ve always been very taken by Zechariah 8:4-5 (a passage I literally would have had no idea existed but for hearing Paula Gooder speak on it). In it, the prophet shares a vision of the new Jerusalem in the coming kingdom where ‘Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.’ Our church, like many, has a larger proportion of old people sitting than children playing, but for that morning, as the sound of a child playing with all their might mingled with our worship, we all got a taster of that new city and it was a beautiful thing to hear, the sound of heaven coming from the play of a little child.
The frustration of course for many of us is that, as with most churches, there will have been some who were annoyed by her being there and would have felt she was being disruptive and maybe would have wanted someone to quieten her down so that she didn’t distract people. I guess that, if this blog was written by a more professional writer, they would now go ahead and explain some strategies for helping the church to welcome children who behave like children and make actual noise but I think I might leave it as this for now. I hope that the thought encourages you though that as a children’s worker your role is to help your church sound a bit more like the new Jerusalem that echoes to the sounds of children playing and having fun.