Laura Hollinger Antonelli, an ordained minister in the Christian Church Disciples of Christ, serves as the Director of Student Ministries of First United Methodist Church of Glen Ellyn. She has previously served in a campus chapel setting, in a non-profit with Interfaith Youth Core, and in Religious Education at a Unitarian Universalist congregation. Though she has a love of ministering to God’s beloved of all ages, she takes particular delight in working with children and youth. 

Children bring the baskets.At First United Methodist Church of Glen Ellyn, we had been discussing ways to more fully engage children in worship. When our Pastor planned a vacation for late January, we decided that was a great time to hold an Intergenerational Worship Service. Our concept was to use storytelling, rather than the preaching of a sermon, as the anchor point of the service.

In my prior work at a Unitarian Universalist church, I had been accustomed to longer Time of All Ages messages and seasonal intergenerational worship services so my thoughts went to compelling stories that would still have some Biblical anchor. Rabbi Sandy Sasso’s books fit well in that they are beautifully written, are based on Judeo-Christian themes, and appeal to young and old alike. We decided to use Rabbi Sandy Sasso’s A Prayer for the Earth: The Story of Naamah: Noah’s Wife.

We described the service as follows:

A Prayer for the Earth: An Intergenerational Worship Service based on the story of Noah’s Ark and the storybook A Prayer for the Earth: The Story of Naamah, Noah’s Wife by Rabbi Sandy Sasso. The order of worship we used is available in the members section of the CEF website.

Here are some tips we found helpful to keep in mind while planning this intergenerational worship service.

  • Plan ahead to prepare the order of worship, to invite people of all ages to participate in leadership roles, and to secure needed props. I was running around the days before the service gathering or buying the needed props. If I had planned further ahead, it would have helped to delegate some of this responsibility to our Children’s Ministry Team.
  • Use a story instead of a sermon. I served as the storyteller since I had some experience with this and could “tell” the story (rather than “read” it).
  • Read or tell scripture using a child-friendly Bible version. We used The Lion Storyteller Bible. There are some suggestions and discussion regarding child-friendly Bibles on the UMC Discipleship Ministries website.
  • Engage all ages in leadership opportunities. We invited youth to serve as prayer leaders and ushers, and children to help greet families as they arrived at church.
  • Embed interactive components into the service. We had visual images on the screen to accompany the themes of the story. I had youth lead groups of children up with props for the story (baskets of flowers, baskets of fruit, etc). I had also ‘hidden’ props(pieces of a plastic rainbow; ideally we would have had a Montessori-style wooden stacking rainbow but it ran too pricey) in the pews with a note asking children to bring the pieces up when I asked for them
  • Include some kind of call to action in the service. We passed out seed packets during the Offering. We also posted a graffiti wall in our coffee-hour hall; at the end of the service, we invited the congregation to write or draw one commitment they would make to care for the Earth. Unfortunately very few people participated in this component. Perhaps if we would have posted the graffiti wall immediately outside the sanctuary, we may have had more participation.
  • Use the opportunity to start a new ministry. We had a congregant who was interested in forming a children’s handbell choir so we started rehearsals in time for the new group to play for the intergenerational service. They debuted Jesus Loves Me at the intergenerational service and will play again on Mother’s Day.

Overall, the intergenerational worship service was a fun, energizing experience for the congregation. They gave a standing ovation to our new children’s handbell choir and we’ve heard many comments requesting a similar service in the future.