I need your input: what do acolytes do at your church? I'm thinking about tweaking the acolyte role at my congregation, and I want your input.
I ask this because, in general, I think that most of our churches do a disservice to children by subjecting them to and limiting them to roles of candle-lighter and perhaps offering-plate-carrier. That is, I think we're setting a pretty low bar of expectation when we ask our middle school kids to light a few candles and carry an offering plate fifteen feet. In their schools they're doing work that is largely much more engaging and of a higher caliber than that which they do in our churches. No wonder kids get bored …
[These are tasks that are arguably unnecessary, too. Ever since humans learned how to harness the power of electricity and use it to illumine light bulbs candles really haven't been necessary … except to make the sanctuary look "churchy," since our image of church is stuck somewhere in the medieval era. As for the offering plates … most of our acolytes simply carry the offering plates about fifteen feet, from the communion rail to a side table. Of course, the whole act of bringing the offering forward is not without question, as the act of carrying plates to the altar can suggest that we're giving our offerings to God or that we're making some sort of sacrifice at the altar … which we're not.]
Surely acolyting is not the only ministry for our children in our churches, and worship is not the only arena for our young people to participate. Hopefully in education and youth ministries our young people are challenged to explore faith and life and ethics and Scripture and theology in ways that will help them grow in and claim as their own this gift of faith, and the church as their own community of faith. Set within a broad and rich youth ministry, perhaps giving kids very simple tasks to do in worship is fine … but I'm not so sure.
Nonetheless, I wonder:
- how necessary is the acolyte role at all?
- how can young people be meaningfully involved in the (very public, very visible) worship life of the church by serving as lectors, crucifers, ushers, communion assistants, even assisting minsiters (for older kids, likely, and with some training – I first served as an assisting minister in ninth grade)?
- if we keep the acolyte role, does it necessarily need to be limited to children? Especially if the other roles are opened up to children, surely an adult could be an acolyte, and a young person could be a crucifer or a lector …
Finally, I hear all too often a common complaint/comment about children in church: kids don't know how to worship and/or serve as a worship leader. To which I respond: that's because we don't teach them or train them how. I've seen way too many acolyte trainings that are done on-the-fly or, if a training session is offered, the training is often not repeated, refreshed, or reviewed. So if we tell kids once, several months (or years) earlier, how to do something, or if we "teach" them at a rushed pace five minutes before the worship service, and they don't remember how to do it, who is to blame? The complaining adults who didn't take the time to train the youth, that's who.
My rant is over. You've got my perspective. Now, rip it to shreds and/or offer alternative perspectives. Thanks.