I remember one of my first children's messages here at my current church. I actually no longer remember the point I was trying to make, or the Bible story that served as my theme. This is what I do remember: I had invited the first and second graders up. They were a lively bunch, and there were many of them. I also remember that the moment must have, somehow or another, gotten away from me. In my little rural congregation, there were just a few children, and they were pretty well-behaved. I must have felt that I was dealing with mobs here.
At one point in the message, a little boy raised his hand, and asked the question, "Is there a mean God, too?"
For some reason, words from my baby-sitting adolescence came to me, "You'll have to ask your mother when you get home today." Thankfully, I did not say these words.
My first Lent in this congregation we were trying to design some creative worship experiences for our contemporary worship service, which was new. We decided to teach a simple prayer to the congregation that year, and say it every week. I found this old prayer:
"Thanks be to thee, O Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits which thou hast given us; for all the pains and insults which thou hast borne for us. O most merciful redeemer, friends and brother, may we know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly; for thine own sake. " (St. Richard of Chicester)
We decided that the last part of that was easy for children to memorize, and decided to use it every Sunday. "May we know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly."
At the same time we decided to teach the prayer in sign language as well. We had a hearing-impaired couple worshiping with us; they came because they wanted their (hearing) children to be involved in our Sunday school. The mother of the family taught us the sign language of the prayer.
Every Sunday in Lent we sang and then we said this simple prayer. On the 5th Sunday in Lent, though, we did not say the prayer. In silence we simply signed our prayer to God, the whole congregation praying to "know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly", but with their hands and not their voices.
I will never forget it.
The deaf woman's parents happened to be worshipping with us that morning. She told me later that she was profoundly moved by our prayer, and that she had gotten a glimpse inside her daughter's world.