Why We Do What We Do
At Nassau Presbyterian Church, the “Time with the Children” is, as a rule, a Bible story. Generally, it is the Bible story that the children will explore in their church school classes. Because we use Feasting on the Word Curriculum, it is also always a story from the lectionary texts for that Sunday.
We have chosen to focus on Bible stories because these stories, from both the Old and New Testaments, are the backbone of our faith. Everyone, young and old, needs to know them. And they are accessible to all ages. Because the service of worship is a weekly event when all ages gather, it provides a great opportunity to tell the story to everyone. Hearing the story together also bonds generations in the pew and as a family—another way to form the Body of Christ. In addition, because parents hear the story that the children have as the basis for their study, this gives parents an entrée into a discussion about the text on the way home or over lunch.
Telling the story is different from reading it from the Bible. These stories were told long, long before they were written down and continue to be exciting stories today. When the story is told, the words are released from the page and imaginations are encouraged to soar. Through hearing and telling these stories, they become part of our family heritage, our church story.
Although this part of the worship service is labeled “Time with the Children,” the story is told to everyone. Children just have the best seats. The entire congregation settles in and listens when the storyteller begins. The storyteller stands, facing the congregation and the children, so everyone can see gestures and movements that enhance the story. Sometimes, the same story is read from the Bible later in the worship service. This is not a problem! Hearing the story twice is a good thing for children and for adults. With their imaginations alert, they listen for nuances in the text and details added to the telling.
The Bible story is allowed to stand on its own in our worship telling. Props are seldom used, few details are added to the text, and morals are not tacked on at the end. However, the story is retold, not memorized text. The vocabulary is chosen carefully so children can easily follow and, while the story is the focus and main point, the storytellers tell it with their whole bodies and voices that carry the meaning. We want to tell the story so that the hearts and minds of the listeners catch on fire for God. We want them to leave wondering about the story rather than to have it tied up in a box with a bow. We even hope that listeners of all ages might be inspired to read the story on their own.
For more about telling Bible stories in worship and how to tell them, see Feasting on the Word Children’s Sermons, Year B. Volumes for Years A and C are also available.
Contributor: Carol Wehrheim
Listen to a story from Matthew 2 here.
Carol Wehrheim is a member of Nassau Presbyterian Church, Princeton, NJ, where she is Clerk of Session. She is the author of Getting It Together, Giving Together, and The Baptism of Your Child: A Book for Presbyterian Families as well as the three volumes of Feasting on the Word Children’s Sermons (Bible stories from the lectionary for telling in worship).