When my daughter, Ivey, was little she loved to “serve” communion to herself and others. As she served her “congregation” she would say, “this is the body, broken for you; this is the blood shed for you.” She dipped Hawaiian bread in grape juice. Prior to serving she would quote, “Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient church. We have not done your will, we have broken your law.” At this point she rambled but always finished with, “through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.” I never thought much about it at the time but I am thankful that she was exposed to the traditions of the church. When my girls were young they both served as acolytes. Ivey had paid a lot of attention to these things. Even though some of it did not make sense to her at that time - those words were embedded. Deuteronomy 11:18-19, “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
Our traditional services have acolytes which is usually a young person who assists in the worship service. They serve by lighting the candles on the altar table and carrying the light out into the world at the close of the service. Mark 10:13-16, “People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.”
I had the pleasure of corresponding with Karen who was an acolyte at Pine Valley United Methodist Church from 2003-2006. Karen shared her story with me. Although she had been an acolyte at her prior church, she attended acolyte training here at PVUMC. That is when she met Marlyn Dempsey.
Here is Karen’s story:
“Everybody called her ‘Mama Acolyte,’ and she was a wonderful, beautiful firecracker of a person. I don't know if a description could do her justice. She loved all her acolyte children with a heart of gold, but she was pretty strict about exactly how we did things. She would definitely let you know if you did something wrong! It was through her passionate teaching that I came to understand the importance of what light represents in a church service, the responsibility of carrying that light, and respect for the symbol that it is. In many ways, it was like learning how to carrying the American flag properly. The light represented the Holy Spirit in the sanctuary, and it was not to be carried upside down, or low to the ground, or carelessly allowed to go out. Taking the light out of the sanctuary at the end of the service represented us taking the light of Christ out into the world. Once I understood its importance, being an acolyte held a lot of joy for me. In a way, it was kind of like my first job: I had scheduled days, and it was my responsibility to switch with someone if I was unavailable. I had certain tasks I was responsible for during the service, and if problems arose, I had to figure out a solution. It made me feel like an important part of the worship service, not just a kid who was there because her parents made her come.
“I'm not sure that everyone who served as an acolyte felt the way I did about it. I'm pretty sure most of the boys who did it were just excited to get to carry an open flame in and out of the sanctuary. And there were definitely Sunday mornings where it was just something to do to stay awake! But my experience stuck with me, and whenever I see candles in a church service, they hold deeper meaning for me. Most churches don't have acolytes anymore, and it makes me a little sad, because those young people are missing out on an opportunity to actively serve during worship, and to learn about symbolism in our church services.”
According to the Bible, children are a part of the body of Christ. During the Feast of Tabernacles, all of Israel would come before the Lord to hear the reading of the Law so that the children would hear it and learn to fear the Lord. Paul considered children a part of the church that he was writing to. In his letters to the Ephesians, he gave instructions directly to the children to obey their parents. When children are part of the service they learn more about the shape, structure and flow of liturgy and worship traditions. Faith cannot be forced but we can bring our children to a meaningful task that hopefully helps them explore and fall in love with their faith journey.
PVUMC is in need of acolytes for the 8:15 and 11:15 am services. Even if you attend the bridge (9:45) service please consider having your child be a part of this important tradition several times a year. If you are interested please contact Karl in the church office.