Daisy Rhau on Children, Creation Care and Worship

In this edited conversation, based on email and phone conversations in September 2013, Daisy Rhau talks about the Christian Education committee members’ awareness that “the children were deeply invested in earth care.”

Daisy Rhau

Daisy Rhau serves on the Christian education (CE) committee at Hunter Presbyterian Church in Lexington, Kentucky. She says that vacation Bible school, Sunday school and worship practicums “are largely driven by the children’s discipleship.” In this edited conversation, based on email and phone conversations in September 2013, Daisy Rhau talks about the CE members’ awareness that “the children were deeply invested in earth care.”

How did your Christian education committee realize that the children were deeply invested in earth care?

In 2012 we used the Clean Water for All God’s Children curriculum for vacation Bible school (VBS). We added a local touch by visiting a nearby reservoir, and building and donating rain barrels. The kids realized they could make palpable changes to the environment in a way that felt more impactful than raising money for something far away.

After school ended in late May 2013, we did our Seeds of Faith VBS. It was a one-time creation by Holly Brady (another CE member) and me. Holly is really connected with people involved in community gardens and sustainable eating. We talked with people from Faith Feeds and Seedleaf, nonprofits that do gleaning and urban community gardening. We drew from the Creation stories, the Psalms and “do unto others” passages.

Which creation care issues do the children talk about most?

For our children, environmental concerns are much more concrete than many other stewardship issues. Contaminated ground water, wasted produce and polluted neighborhoods are blatant, and, therefore, immediate. Also, children are able to directly impact their environment and make significant changes on their own. They may choose to clean up polluted areas, plant produce for neighborhoods and glean from markets. Moreover, they may do so largely on their own, with very little adult intervention. 

They talk a lot about groundwater contamination because they learned about it in VBS. They are vividly aware of traffic and air pollution because our church is very near a six-lane road.

What’s the connection between creation care and worship?

Our kids have so much joy in being outside, in sunlight and in rain. Their joy is easy to see and feel. When they clean up polluted areas, plant produce for neighborhoods, or glean, they are taking care of something they love—the earth.

Worship is an obvious way for children to share their direct experiences with God. In 2010, I started Worship in Practice, a practicum for 2nd through 5th graders during church time. When we study prayer, we do a contemplative walking prayer and invite other church members to come along. We walk very slowly in the neighborhood, trying to be aware of God’s presence. We don’t talk. During this hour of silence, kids write in their journals and maybe pick up a stick or stone that speaks to them.

What all do the kids learn in the worship practicum, and what do they do with that learning?

We learn the elements of worship, starting with the call to worship. Kids write and put together each element, and we save it for the worship services that we plan and lead twice a year. For those services, we draw from the lectionary. We spend anywhere from six to eight weeks simply discussing the passage, doing lectio divina and drafting something to run by the pastor. We choose speakers for each part of the service. These worship services happen on Sunday mornings, and the kids do everything—pray, lead music, preach…

We discovered that when children write and lead liturgy, preach, and pray in their own words, they are much more able to connect with their personal longings for God. Worship becomes theirs, rather than an exercise of patience.

What’s your church neighborhood like?

We’re midway between downtown and the suburbs, across the main drag from a hospital. There are train tracks nearby. The neighborhood has lots of rentals and post-World War II bungalows. For our Seeds of Faith VBS, we did field trips within walking distance. Members of our church now largely come from other neighborhoods, so we’re trying to reincorporate our sense of being part of our immediate neighborhood. There’s something really amazing about becoming a part of a community.

Why did the kids apply to get certified as an Earth Care Congregation through the PCUSA (Presbyterian Church in the USA)?

As Presbyterians, understanding our polity is part of understanding who we are. Although formal, in-depth exploration of church polity doesn't begin until confirmation class, as teachers we strive to make our denominational roots explicit in our lessons. For example, when children wanted to serve communion, we needed to consult our Book of Order. We did so together with the children. 

Likewise, when children wanted to find ways to be environmental stewards, we consulted the PCUSA Environmental Ministries website. That's when the children discovered a tangible way that they could become church leaders.

How many kids were involved, and what did they do?

We’re a small church. For VBS we had between eight and ten kids involved, mostly kids from our church and their friends. We had to make a proposal to the session [church board]. The kids wrote their proposal on a series of note cards and read them in turn. It was awesome. We weren’t sure if we’d have enough points for the building audit. Our sexton [custodian], over time, had made environmentally sound choices for repairs and took the initiative to get a free energy audit from our city. Once we passed the building audit, we were fairly sure we could get enough points for the worship, education and outreach audit sections in the application.

What’s next, now that Hunter Presbyterian is an Earth Care Congregation?

I think the children are basically our earth care team. I’m an advisor, along with James Bush, who works heavily with our youth and has a job in environmental energy. They’ve decided that the next few worship services they plan and lead will have earth care themes. They also want to raise money for a big outdoor Earth Care Congregation banner, so that everyone who drives by on Nicholasville Road [U.S. 27] will know we’re a church that cares about the earth.

How does the children’s enthusiasm for earth care affect your congregation as a whole?

We recently had an environmentally-focused worship service, and our general presbyter [presbytery executive] came to thank the kids for helping us be the first congregation in the presbytery to be certified as an Earth Care Congregation.

I, like all the CE members, love these children, the youth and the littlest ones, and could easily talk for hours. They are not only, as the saying goes, "the future of the church." They are our present, our partners on the journey, our youngest members and the ones who share our pews.

Check out the PCUSA Environmental Ministries website. Learn how to be certified as an Earth Care Congregation.

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