Summer brings freedom from schoolwork and other responsibilities for many Long Island children, and perhaps also a reluctance to leave the sunshine outside to head indoors to worship services. This week’s clergy discuss how parents can make worship just as appealing as a trip to the park or pool.
The Very Rev. Christopher D. Hofer
Rector, The Church of St. Jude, Wantagh
Making worship more meaningful for kids starts first and foremost with the congregation, its leadership, and the clergy. If the norm is “kids are meant to be seen and not heard,” the child will know this, hate the experience, and most likely be turned off from worship for a long time. Instead, congregations need to be flexible by embracing the children (the noise of a baby’s cry means the church is alive), loving them unconditionally, inviting the children to be involved in all aspects of worship, and providing activities for them, such as coloring books, crayons, and toys. Likewise, parents need to model excitement about worship all year-round. Kids see right through hypocrisy. If parents claim to be followers of God but decide that worshipping with their community during summer is not a priority, kids will follow their parents’ example. If worship is going to be meaningful, parents need to be actively engaged and live lives they want their children to live. Finally, kids have a role and a voice. If they are “bored,” they should feel free to share with the parents and clergy reasons why and offer suggestions. If kids prefer to sit with friends instead of with parents, let them. Children need to grow in their faith at their own time and speed. Hopefully, with the help and flexibility of parents, congregations and clergy, kids will find worship not just meaningful, but something to look forward to.
Chairman, Long Island Multi-Faith Forum
I have been enriched with the knowledge of 12 living, breathing faiths that call Long Island their home, with either places of worship or a sizable number of followers. Three Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — organize activities to keep youth enriched with their faith practices. Some offer camps, for a few weeks or the entire summer, that impart theology woven with fun-filled activities. Recent immigrants have changed the landscape of our neighborhood. Many follow the social customs of the Eastern faiths — Dharmic traditions, which include Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism. Back home most of them did not have summer vacations or camps. However, followers of Dharmic traditions have synthesized East and West, holding their own camps and retreats to bring together hundreds of their fellow faith followers. One popular way to introduce youngsters to their Eastern religious traditions is to take a yoga class with them early in the morning. It’s fun, gives you energy, and often takes place outdoors in a natural setting. Technology is also a popular medium for children. So parents can gather children together to watch faith-based TV channels beamed from faraway places such as India (birthplace of many faiths) or tailored specifically for North American audiences and transmitted by cable TV. Newer technology such as YouTube, which is so popular with today’s Long Island children of all faiths, can be used not only to watch funny videos but also to inculcate faith basics.
Rabbi Shalom Ber Cohen
Chabad at Stony Brook
According to Kabbalah, from a spiritual point of view it’s easier for people to deepen their relationship with God during the warm-weather months. Why? Because on the Jewish calendar, more holidays — Passover, Lag BaOmer, Shavuot, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot — take place then. That means more spiritual revelations from above, making God more accessible. Yet from a physical point of view, beautiful weather, outdoor activities and vacations can distract from our relationship with God. Knowing this is half the solution. When it comes to our children and wanting them to be involved religiously, we must encourage and nurture them in an uplifting manner. When religious involvement is forced upon them, we may win the battle, but lose the war. They end up resenting religion, and our efforts become counterproductive.
Let me share a story of the Lubavitcher Rebbe — Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. Once, Rabbi Yosef Wineberg had an urgent question that needed the Rebbe’s immediate attention, but he was inside the office with his secretary. Not knowing what to do, Rabbi Wineberg slipped the question under the door, hoping the secretary would see it on his way out. But he did not; in fact, he stepped right over it. When the Rebbe noticed the paper, he got up to get it and responded. Rabbi Wineberg sent an apology, explaining it was not his intention that the Rebbe bend down to pick up the note. The Rebbe responded: “Isn’t this the mission I have dedicated myself to? To uplift that and those which others stepped on?” We must uplift and inspire the next generation to live meaningful and God-fearing lives. It’s how we can most positively influence them.