Wednesday, 6 March 2013

"Family Service": Is there something better to call it?

Many churches have a worship service, usually existing alongside their more traditional services, that has a primary focus on making worship "child-friendly", so that children are enabled to participate in worship and find the church to be an inviting and welcoming community.  As well, this service is generally of a more casual nature, compared with the congregation's other services, so as to appeal to those who prefer to worship in a more casual context.

As I said, many churches have these services, sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly, sometimes at some other level of frequency.

The question is "What do we call these services?"

Many Catholic parishes I know call these services "Children's Liturgies".  This, in my opinion, is an honest and accurate term to use.  These are worship services designed for children, with the purpose of enabling children to worship.

However, in some other denominations, many prefer not to refer to such services as being for children, knowing that some adults who prefer a more casual style of worship also choose to attend these services. 
  • Some adults who choose to attend these services do so to encourage the children and their families in their faith. 
  • Other adults who choose to attend these services do so because they feel the content of a service orientated toward children may be less challenging and confronting than the content of a service oriented toward adults.
But, even if some adults choose to attend these services, they are normally planned with children in mind.

In the Uniting Church, these services are sometimes called "All-Age Worship".  This, in my opinion, is not a very accurate thing to call these services.  They're not really designed for all ages, only for all ages up to early adolescence, even if some adults choose to attend them. 

Many churches call these services "Family Services".  This has it's own problems.  In recent years, "family" has become a very politicised word. 
  • Some politicians and religious leaders use the word "family" in a very rigid, moralistic way, so that not all families qualify to be considered as being "the family". 
  • Some politicians and religious leaders speak of "family values" in such a way as to indicate that they do not value all families equally, i.e.  that they value a family involving a married, heterosexual couple and their children far more highly than they value a family involving an unmarried couple, a same-gender couple, a "blended" family, a single parent with children, or a couple with no children.
For some people in the wider community, whenever a church uses the word "family", there's always  the suspicion that the word is being used in the rigid, politicised way.  So some see a sign advertising a "family service" to be an invitation to a gathering celebrating politicised "family values", even when this may be far from the intention of the planners.

As well, the phrase "family service" may be seen by some as referring to a gathering that is only for children and their parents, so that some may think "I have no children, so this service isn't really intended for me."

Here's a modest proposal:   If your church has a service like this, let's keep it simple, honest, and unconfusing.  Rather than a "Family Service" or "All-Age Worship", call it a "Casual Service".  This describes most of these services very well.  It doesn't invite any unnecessary confusion.  Nothing is really lost by calling your "Family Service" a "Casual Service".  Possibly, much can be gained.

1 comment:

  1. Yesterday we had a speaker at Bayswater UC from the Victorian Council of Christian Education. She spoke about "Messy Church" which is family orientated and casual.
    Another thought is to have a grandparents day where children come along.


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