Creative Ideas for the Family Eucharist
A Round-the-Year Resource
By Sarah Lenton
Canterbury Press, pp. 384, $40
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Review by Emily J. García
Creative Ideas for the Family Eucharist by Sarah Lenton, a priest of the Church of England, is the latest of many books since the 1990s that offer ready-made resources for those looking to lead child-focused worship. Unlike so many of those other texts, this one will provide worship leaders with clear and sound guiding principles, as well as scripts for focused, interactive sermons.
The best part comes first: the introduction and the opening three chapters (“General Principles,” “Setting up a Family Eucharist,” and “The Eucharist Step by Step”). Following these we find the bulk of the book, 35 sermon scripts for the whole liturgical year and major feast days. The closing appendices include Common Worship’s Eucharistic Prayer H, a short liturgy for “Children’s Mass,” intercessions for each season, a “Children’s Liturgy for Good Friday” (essentially the biblical Stations of the Cross), and then a script for the stations with children.
The opening chapters are reason enough to buy the book, especially for a worship leader who is either new to High Church liturgy or looking to involve children more authentically in worship. These chapters are full of concrete pointers for newbies and old hands — about how to work with minutes-long attention spans, about how some parents are actually more disruptive than children, about how to channel energy usefully rather than trying to tamp it down.
Throughout these chapters we see her affirmation that a service of the Eucharist is always an ‘all ages’ service, and she points out how to heighten and involve children in the most sense-heavy and interactive bits of a solemn celebration. For example, she notes that “[t]he Eucharist typically comes with costumes: venerable, colorful — and useful,” and in fact “wearing ancient garments is both fun and interesting.”
Making the sign of the cross and genuflecting are suggested for those who fidget, and in solemn worship one can more easily “give competent kids some glamorous tasks.”
Working with children also involves a bit more planning than most adults are used to, and here too she walks leaders through considering their space and adapting for their particular needs and preparing for whatever the congregation brings. Lenton teaches with great encouragement and humor.
The sermons that follow, too, are on the whole admirably focused — the questions, jokes, images, and props generally point back to the central theological topic she has chosen. (Many of us regularly hear sermons intended for adults that do not do this.) In these sermons, too, Lenton is teaching readers how to interact effectively, how to speak simply and clearly and in age-appropriate ways, and how to focus, for children, on one thing.
There are two weaknesses that may require adaptation. Many of us who want to include different sorts of households will choose to revise some of Lenton’s language around families. This is most notable in her Mothering Sunday service, in which the only reasons she offers for “your mother” not being there is that she’s dead or “couldn’t make it.”
When describing a biblical family shown with one father, she suggests something must be missing, and asks, “Didn’t the boy have a mother? Who cooked the fatted calf”?
A more serious weakness in the sermons that will occasionally be harder to adapt is her thoughtlessness toward Judaism and Jews. The two most obvious of several examples are in the sermons for the Feast of the Presentation. In one, she says, “The Jews thought” that “people should present their little boy to God — and buy him back.” Some brief reading (like in the footnotes in The Jewish Annotated New Testament) will correct this notion.
In the second sermon, she suggests asking for a member of “the Chosen Race” to come up and be “congratulate[d] on their privilege.” Regardless of the intent, the harm is the same.
On a more practical note, our Book of Common Prayer will require some small tweaks to Lenton’s plan: if this will be the main Sunday service, then Common Worship’s Prayer H cannot be used. However, for those who would like to start or strengthen their interactive Eucharists with children, this is an excellent resource and teaching guide.
The Rev. Emily J. Garcia is assistant rector of Our Redeemer, Lexington, Massachusetts, and a children’s ministry consultant.