The girls became blurs of black and white ribbon, green gingham and white lace as they twirled, leapt and frolicked around the folk art communion table. Their slightly askance pirouettes melded seamlessly into the upbeat prelude played by the worship band just in front of them. This was not a special, planned liturgical dance designed to impress the many visitors that day. Nor was it an attention-seeking ploy on the part of these little girls. The spontaneous dance around the communion table is just what they did. Every week. Everyone just smiled, watched, listened and felt the presence of God fill them.
The scripture — “And a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11: 6) — kept ringing in my ears the weekend this past November when I experienced the joy that is worship at Washington Park United Church of Christ in Denver, Colorado. The dancing was only the beginning. Families snuggled into the “nest” where they could use blankets, stuffed animals and books for children, parents and grandparents to make a cosy home on the floor during worship.
During this “second Sunday” intergenerational worship, the “children’s moment” — that time when typically a pastor or other adult would give a lesson geared to young people — two young women invited all the adults to come sit on the floor in front of them for a lesson. A teenage woman from the congregation offered her original poetry as one of the sacred readings. After a brief time in Sunday School, children returned in time for communion, where they fanned out into a giant multi-age circle where bread and cup was passed between each person. Communion then culminated in an optional anointing during which young and old alike came forward to a pastor for prayer and anointing with oil. Various members of the congregation spontaneously came forward to lay hands on the shoulders of those asking for prayer. All of these things were accompanied by music ranging from Stevie Wonder tunes to traditional and contemporary church hymns.
I honestly can’t remember the last time I had been moved to tears during a Sunday worship. It happened at Washington Park UCC.
Rev. Nancy Rosas, Washington Park’s Minister for Spiritual Formation, describe their intergenerational theology on their website:
“At Wash Park UCC we understand that all that we do as a faith community is an opportunity for faith formation, an opportunity to engage our whole selves, an opportunity to be who we need to be, bringing our joys, pains, dreams, doubts, questions, in order to breathe together and encourage joy, healing, and hope. From the youngest of our children to the oldest of our members, through worship, ritual, word and sacrament, artistic expressions, and communal dialogue, we will continue to share this sacred journey as a community.”
I saw those words take shape that Sunday morning in the dancing, the singing, the praying, the occasional tears. Those young people were being taught that they were an integral part of this faith community not as a classroom discussion, but in the practice their faith through dance, music, poetry and prayer. They were empowered to lead by acting as teachers during worship — reminding us all that we learn from one another regardless of age.
I had stepped into a living, breathing part of Jesus’ “Beloved Community.”
Learn more about Washington Park UCC:
- Intergenerational Theology and program including videos: http://intergenerational.washparkucc.org/
- YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTKB3mV-oV1aBLj5QxLvnug
- Watch their Livestream on Sunday Mornings at 10 a.m. (MST): http://live.washparkucc.org/