Learning from the Youngest and the Oldest

Claire Dalpra

A wise person once told me the second hardest type of service to lead well was an all-age service – the hardest is the funeral of a child. Now I’m a leader of an all-age service myself, I’m inclined to agree.

Our attendance is wildly unpredictable, affected by the slightest whiff of unusual weather. Latecomers are quite normal, although I remember vividly the battle to get small children to church on time so I don’t mind too much.

During the worship, I’ve learned to gather back the instruments after each song so I don’t have to shout over the cacophony of tambourines and shakers and I only offer a paint or glitter craft if my team are ‘firing on all cylinders’ to tackle the clear-up.

I’ve also learned that not everyone will be listening to my carefully crafted talk because something else is usually vying for their attention, like cute toddlers sitting on the chancel step exchanging tissue paper flowers.

So why do I take on the challenge of the second hardest type of service to lead? The answer is I’m fascinated by what the very youngest person in my church reminds me about my spirituality and about what it is to be human.

When they cannot use words, I am reminded of the importance of non-verbal communication, which often expresses love and care in much deeper ways than our talking does. Their natural ability to be fully present in the moment makes me realise how seldom I give 100% of myself to whoever I’m with or whatever I’m doing. Their absolute dependence on parents and carers reminds me that we were all created to exist in the context of relationship.

The oldest person in my congregation helps me too. It’s tempting to see old age and infirmity as mere inconveniences. But being around someone in this stage of life invites me to slow down and focus on things in life that really matter.

I wonder – what do the youngest and oldest people in your life teach you?

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