My name is Emily J. Garcia, and I'm a priest in the Diocese of Massachusetts. I studied languages and literature at Princeton, where I also started working with children at the Cotsen Children's Library, with Dr. Dana Sheridan. Later, I served as a Teaching Intern at The Learning Project Elementary School in Boston; a tutor at Christopher's Haven at Mass General Hospital; a Sunday School teacher at St. John's, Charlestown, MA; a teacher at the B-SAFE summer program in downtown Boston; and a teacher's assistant at Calvin Hill Daycare & Kindergarten, a Yale-affiliated program in New Haven, CT. I graduated in 2017 from Berkeley Divinity School at Yale.
This project came about when the applications for the National Church's United Thank Offering Seminarian Grants were given out at Berkeley in my final year. I was serving as an intern at St. Peter's Episcopal Church with the Rev. Sandra Stayner, and, knowing my interest with children, she had asked me to help renew their monthly Family Service.
At the time I was also taking a class with Dr. Carla Horwitz of the Yale Child Study Center, and in another class was translating Biblical Hebrew poetry, and in yet another class was learning from Dr. Joyce Mercer about children in Christian theology. My mind was filled with new ideas about psychological development, skill acquisition, the nuances of language and meaning, and the whole sweep of how Christians have dealt with (or ignored) childhood. So with this chance at St. Peter's, I wanted to write a liturgy and a Eucharistic prayer for young children that would be thoughtful and theologically sound, fit to young bodies and minds, fit to the rubrics and doctrine of the Church, and beautiful.
This is hardly a new idea, or a new set of concerns! Martin Luther’s Small Catechism was published in 1529, and children’s Bibles have been popular since; by the 1800s both churches and synagogues were considering ways of similarly adapting or translating liturgical action. Maria Montessori's excellent book from 1933, The Mass Explained to Children, is a good later example. It translates her devout Catholic beliefs into vivid and affecting descriptions, with tips for how adults can help students attend and understand.
What frustrated me was that for all this excellent discussion, the resources made with these concerns in mind were not quite right for an Episcopal community. It was a Goldilocks problem: either they were not available online, or were not free, or were not centered around an actual service of Eucharist, or were silly or cutesy instead of taking the children and the rite seriously, or they were not practical (e.g. assumed everyone could read or could sit still for a long time).
For example, these Roman Catholic Eucharistic prayers from the 1975 Sacramentary for Mass are still quite long and require long responses, hard to introduce in the midst of the prayer. (The best of them is Prayer III, on the far right.) And, of course, none of these follow The Book of Common Prayer's Order for Eucharist (400-405).
Coming from an Evangelical Free Church background, I found it especially frustrating that the Episcopal Church in the U.S. did not have free, readily available materials for this. Much of the AWANAS curriculum--an excellent way of doing this with an unfortunate theology--is available online for free to anyone who signs their pledge of belief.
I do not mean to suggest that these liturgies I have produced are the very best the church can offer. Far from it! I just mean that they are the ones which accord to all my own concerns and hopes: they are fit for little bodies and minds, and they are available to anyone with an internet connection.
I know that with feedback from fellow Christians and children's ministers they can become even better, and we can make further liturgies and prayers with different communities in mind. As Rev. Sandy often said to us, "I could do it by myself--but I know it will be much better if we plan it together." I hope especially to learn more about making liturgies for children with varying abilities, and especially children who have difficulty seeing, moving, or hearing.
I would have written these liturgies no matter what, but the UTO Grant encouraged me and gave me a wider scope. I visited Holy Innocents Episcopal School in Atlanta, GA, to see their worship service and to meet with the Rev. Timothy Somer Seamans, their chaplain. I also bought new materials for the St. Peter's Family Service. I’m grateful to the United Thank Offering team for giving me two things I always need: encouragement and a deadline!
I hope this work will be helpful to your work. If you have any comments or questions, please do send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.