It wasn’t intended to be that way, but on this particular Sunday, the mike wouldn’t work. With only a moment’s hesitation, the leader remembered that it didn’t really matter if the grownups couldn’t hear. Instead of shouting over the heads of a dozen children gathered around her in front of the communion table, she conversed with them in a quiet voice that they could hear even if the rest of us couldn’t.
Only at the close of their moment together, when the children repeated the lines of an extemporaneous prayer after the leader, could congregants hear what was being said. The young voices united in the kind of speech that characterizes well-ordered worship—prayers of gratitude and petition to God, “In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
Since I couldn’t hear what was being said during the earlier minutes, I have to guess what the leader was doing, based on the way she does this part of the service on other Sundays when it is her turn to lead. Even when her mike is live, she talks quietly to the children, paying scant attention to everyone else in the congregation. She refers to the scripture text that will be the foundation for the sermon a short time later, but she connects it with something that is likely to be within the range of the children who have skipped or run down the aisles to be with her.
There is a quiet intelligence in her time with the children, an approach that is based on the assumption that children think about things, have questions and ideas, and are open to religious experience. Rather than entertaining the children with object lessons or condescending cleverness, she treats them the way the rest of the congregation want to be treated, as though they were real people who want to make sense out of the challenges they face everyday.
Most important, what she says is really directed to the children; nothing about her manner suggests that she is using the children to instruct or entertain the adults who listen in on the quiet time with the little ones.
Maybe we should silence the mike every Sunday during the time for children down in front. And what would the rest of us do? Sit quietly, collecting our thoughts, getting ready for the sermon is one possibility. Read the scripture text from the pew Bible, or the one we brought from home. We could get ready for our part of the prayer with which some sermons start. After the preacher asks “let the words of my mouth,” we could, with this little head start, be ready to pray “and the meditations of our hearts…be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer.”