By Worship, I mean the principal weekly worship of the Christian community, which by Tradition is the Service of Holy Communion and takes place on Sunday. The Service of Holy Communion comprises all five elements of Gathering the community, Ministry of the Word, Prayer, Celebration of the Eucharist, and the Dismissal; all of which are essential elements of the service. This worship is the defining act of the community, such that the congregation is often referred to as the "Eucharistic Community". It is the right and duty of every baptized person to take his or her part in the Divine Service: this is the clear guidance of scripture, of the primitive church, and of the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer and the Book of Alternative Services.
Worship is NOT Sunday School, Junior Church, or any other structure where persons are physically or spiritually segregated from the Eucharistic Community. While some kind of Sunday School is valuable, it is distinct from Worship and is not part of the question being asked.
Worship is NOT participation in one or two elements of the service and exclusion from the rest.
By Welcome, I mean visibly present, involved as participants in the work of the laity, and accomodated by such adaptations to the physical and intellectual structures of the worship and worship-space as are necessitated by their physical, intellectual, and emotional nature. Welcome does not include grudging or conditional tolerance, "separate but equal" services where the children participate and the adults do not, or special-guest appearances on "Intergenerational Sundays". These activities have great value if children are not regularly welcome at Worship; but their mere existence implies that the church does not meet the standard of having children visibly present, involved and accomodated at the whole of the principal weekly worship.
A Vision of the Church
The church is the whole company of Christ's people on earth. Although God in God's infinite power can save anyone - without external rites like Baptism and without external behaviours like church-going; once someone has begun a new life in Christ, that life will be lived in the context of the church. It will be a life "in the world", so it will be marked by service and witness to others; but it will also be a life "not of the world", so it will be marked by prayer and bible-study, and by participation in the Eucharistic community. These ideas about the Christian life are not some flakey personal agenda; they are intrinsic to the BAS Baptism liturgy, in which the priest asks, "Will you continue in the Apostle's teaching and fellowship, the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?" My vision of the church is of a Community where the whole company of Christ's people participate as equals in prayer, study, and Eucharistic worship.
The Whole Company of Christ's People
Our culture normally divides people up by age, sex, and social class. That is the way of the world. The way of the Kingdom must be different: for how can we divide the Body of Christ? The metaphor of the "Body" teaches us that we are differentiated by the different work to which we are called and for which we are equipped. My vision of a congregation is of a Chancel Guild including men and young people, Quilters likewise, Vestry and Corporation that include women, the elderly, and the poor, and similarly outreach workers, fund-raisers, various committees and work-groups; all without the exclusion implicit in an "ACW", "Mother's Union", "Young People's", "College and Career" and "Men's Fellowship". I envision people drawn together by common work and interests; not separated by external differences.
Our tradition tells us that by Baptism we become full members in the church; and that children of Christian homes not only may, but should be brought to be baptised. So children will be included in any group for which the Spirit equips them. Furthermore, since we believe our work to be important and know that others must carry it on after us, we will make room in our Christian work for children who are not yet equipped so they may learn it in the same natural way that they learn to talk, and we will let them share in the simple tasks that are within their scope. Similarly, since our faith teaches us that a person's value is independent of his productivity, we will include in our groups disabled persons without begrudging that they may work differently. And of course, since scripture gives elders the responsibility of instructing younger members, our groups will include the elderly, finding creative ways to involve even shut-ins in their work. And because we do not judge among ourselves, working-class and welfare recipients, immigrants and refugees, the divorced and members of non-traditional households, will be and feel as welcome as married white anglo-saxon socialites.
The Whole People at prayer
Everyone will know someone who could bring their needs to a prayer-group or prayer-chain, and every important ministry will receive on-going prayer support. Children would be taught and encouraged to be part of communal prayer - certainly their prayers are every bit "as good" as anyone else's.
The Whole People at Study
The Body will suppport many study groups, offering different styles of learning appropriate to the different learning styles of the people, so that every commited member of the Community is actively involved in long-term systematic growth in their understanding and application of their faith. Some styles of learning will be inapplicable to some persons - few if any toddlers would attend a seminar-style study group. But the differentiation will be a matter of choice, not exclusion. Importantly, some study styles will be available that do include everyone, and most styles would be available to most members. Equally important, study opportunities will be planned so as NOT to conflict with our duty to be present at divine Worship or with our duty to earn our living.
The Whole People at Worship
We say that Baptism makes us full members of the church. The Bible, traditional wisdom, and child psychology all tell us that children learn what they live. We have demographic studies that show that the most effective Christian conformation of children takes place when they are naturally accepted in the worshipping community and learn to worship as they learn to talk - by doing it regularly with beloved adults and siblings. We also know that for adults marriages are stronger, psyche's more healthy, stress less damaging and weakness mitigated, when worship is a regular experience. The Biblical norm for intentional community worship is weekly on the Sabbath, but we also know from demographic studies that a large segment of the Community attends approximately monthly; and some alternate between two Communities.
My vision is of a Community whose worship-space is made comfortable for everyone who has lost, or has not yet gained, the bodily control to sit for extended periods on hard non-ergonomic pews; by providing physical and psychological space appropriate to their needs. Soft, unbarriered space should be available where children can see all the action of the liturgy; for example a big carpet on the floor in front of the pews.
It will of course be the norm for children and youths to be present for the whole worship, since that is our expectation of any full baptised members of the Church of God. Children should be free to move, sitting with different adults (possibly for only a short time) or "claiming" the worship-space by bodily exploring it. As they grow, they can appropriately be taught to focus on the liturgy by patient, gentle instruction; without losing their sense of familiar belonging. Parents worried about bothering others would be told by church staff and congregation alike, "we have space in the Narthex where you can still hear, if you need to remove him, but we do hope you'll try to cope in the Church"; When parents do remove a fussy child, other members will follow them out and encourage them to bring the child back as soon as possible: or help them find diapers, crackers, or other necessities of coping. Members would tolerate the occasional fuss, since children must NOT learn that church is where they can be undisciplined; nor must they learn that their out-of-control feelings make them unacceptable in the Community.
Worship resources will be available to engage babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers as well as school children. This would include baby activity blankets with scriptural themes and Christian symbols; soft toddler toys such as liturgically-dressed ragdolls, cloth Noah's-Ark or Garden-of-Eden toys, and soft Bible-books; and vivid illustrations of the readings in banner or flannelgraph form.
The worship should use accessible, familiar forms of music, liturgical language, and scripture. Hymns would use simple or repetetive words and music (Trisagion and Agnus Dei are a good models), and will be chosen from a relatively small (but evolving) repertoire.
A consistent service will be used week after week in a form which helps the Whole People focus on the liturgy. The most accessible translation of the Scripture should be read in the service. At present this is the CEV. More poetic versions are appropriate during Bible Studies, since the unfamiliar words can be researched and explained; but when heard cold during a service a simple version is more accessible even to biblically literate adults. The importance of making the Word accessible during our one defining Community activity cannot be overstated.
All members of the Community will contribute to the worship as they are called and gifted. Worship will include dance (both spontaneous and planned), specially baked bread, banners and paramets, processions, and other appropriate participative offerings. Creative ways of including children would be the norm.
I believe that the Church is the Whole Company of Christ's Catholic People Militant here on Earth. That includes baptised children; bag-ladies; bishops, priests and deacons; members of the Glencoe Club; welfare recipients; and anyone else who follows Christ. Christians play different roles according to their gifts from the Holy Spirit, but there is no hierarchy within the Church.
I believe that actions by individual Christians are the actions of the Church. If the Church is not doing what we believe it should be doing, then it is up to us to do something different:
I believe that Adults and Children the same duty to be present at divine Worship. Adults and Children also benefit equally from Christian Education and from participating in the Christian Community. It's time for us to stop chopping the Body of Christ into little pieces defined by age and sex.