Since becoming a parent, I’ve had some dreadful Easter mornings. Despite the warm and fuzzy memories of Easter mornings when I was a child, I wasn’t able to get that same feeling as a parent. (I know, I know, that’s part of parenting.) But dressing babies in impractical clothing, carefully timing snacks and diaper changes, trying to take that picture-perfect photo, then keeping them quiet during a crowded service that lasted nearly two hours? I was overwhelmed and defeated, even before we left the house.
No matter how I planned the morning, it seemed like a no win situation. The Easter service was always so crowded that you had to arrive a half hour early to get a good seat, which meant either a) arriving early, knowing children would be toast by the time the service started, or b) arriving as late as possible and either be turned away, or get a makeshift seat underneath the pulpit. Too many Easter mornings I sat at the front of the church wrestling antsy and noisy babies in a folding chair a few feet away from the preacher. I never got much out of these services besides frustration, and…well, credit for actually making it there with three children in tow.
The only consolation was an Easter egg hunt that came after the service and right around lunch time. Tired, hungry children. Plus chocolate.
One of the best things about becoming the Director of Children’s Ministries at St. Barnabas was getting the chance to make Easter morning service enjoyable for families. So many of our families join us on two special days a year: Christmas Eve and Easter. It seemed like a missed opportunity to invite them to a lengthy, crowded service that was as unfriendly to children and parents as you could imagine. (Plus, if you’ve read my book, you know that – on top of these barriers – our church doesn’t have easily accessible bathrooms either.)
My first year, I lobbied hard for a children’s service on Easter morning. We’d never done something like that at St. Barnabas, but we’d learned over the last year that the congregation looked forward to our children’s services. Children and adults were finding them meaningful and playful yet still holy. Some adults whispered to me that they found it easier to remember the gospel stories when the children acted them out versus a well-preached sermon.
Like most churches, we have an obstacle to making big changes: if not done with care, even the best idea can be a disaster. There was the early morning service and well-loved Easter breakfast, and also the choral service with the choir. These services had to stay in tact, mostly, while trying to add another service. For us, the immovable obstacle was – of all things! – our parking lot. Cars can’t come in and out at the same time, which means planning services needs to take into account time needed to clear the lot. I’m guessing the average parishioner would be shocked to learn how much time our staff logged into talking about Easter morning parking. Because that’s nuts, right?
To make space for a third service, we had to forego the highlight of Easter morning for children who attend the service: the Easter egg hunt. But as Matt likes to remind me, if an egg hunt is the highlight of your Easter worship service, then you have to some rethinking to do. What we really wanted – but didn’t know if we could do – was make the worship service the favorite part of church on Easter morning.
Is that even possible?
Turns out that yes, it’s possible.
I’m happy to say that last Sunday we celebrated Easter – for the third year in a row – with a children’s service in a pleasantly full (but not too full) church. Children received bells when they entered the church and were encouraged to Ring When We Sing Alleluia giving parents and children the permission to make joyful noise with these little bells, setting the tone for a lively service.
All children were invited to be part of the morning’s gospel, turning the Easter story into our second-most-popular pageant of the year. Music was familiar and easy to sing, liturgy was straightforward and accessible, and families felt they were – finally! – attending an Easter service designed for their handsomely dressed, wiggly, squeaky children.
Now, I love Easter morning. I look forward to watching children arrive that morning full of tales of Easter bunnies, baskets and candy. I love that we can create time to celebrate in a way that notices that children and their families are there to celebrate with us. Because we want them there. And we especially want the joy and wiggles they bring with them.
And after a lot more conversation about the parking lot, we brought back the egg hunt.