We have struggled over the years at Good Shepherd to convince children to want to serve in this way, have struggled to train them, and struggled to get their parents to bring them to church. However, in the last year, there has been a veritable explosion of children desirous of participating in this ministry and eager to serve, our own child amongst them.
Of course, our own child is excessively short, and, as an eight your old, she succumbs, though rarely, to silliness.
This last Sunday was one of those times. She, and the other candle bearer, also of small stature, walked carefully and reverently down the aisle with the crucifer (the one who carries the cross) at the beginning of the service. I could tell from the gleam in her eye that she was thinking about silly bands and not about Jesus. The ministry of the Word went forward without incident. The acolytes stood, knelt, sang, sat, and prayed without drawing attention to themselves. Only an occasional leaning back while she knelt, to grin at me in the pew, interrupted the quiet flow of worship. At the peace Elphine made a bee line for me to inform me that her fellow candle bearer had been allowed to wear his silly bands high up under his robe and so could she have her back.
"Absolutely not!" I said, "and the Peace of the Lord be always with you."
As she regained the altar, she and the other acolyte consulted with each about what to do, always a bad sign, I feel, but finally decided to pursue the correct course and return to their seats. The bell was mercifully rung by the crucifer and then came the agonizing moment when they had to walk back to the first pew and let the congregation out, pew by pew, to come forward for communion. Again the two whispered together but finally decided to do what they'd been instructed to do. As I left my pew Elphine whispered loudly, "NOW can I have my silly bands?"
"NO" I whispered back, imploring God to save my child from her sins.
The final prayer was said, Matt blessed the congregation, I opened my hymnal to sing the final hymn, and then Elphine, possibly in confusion, or impatience or gratitude that the service was finally over, took her candle, glanced at the other acolytes, the Eucharistic Ministers, me, and her father the priest, and spun around to walked quickly down the aisle all by herself, candle flailing. The other candle bearer, naturally, took off after her. The entire congregation, excepting visitors who didn't noticed, dissolved into fits of laughter, some of them crying with joy.
I left my pew and went back to encourage my child in the way she should go. "You did a pretty good job," I said, "but, um, did you notice anything just now?"
"No!" she whispered, "can I have my silly bands?"