And a Child Will Lead Them: Kid’s Troupe at Westbury UMC, Houston
By: Sherri Gragg
In Westbury UMC’s Kid’s Troupe, a child carefully guides a paintbrush along the surface of a canvas to trace his hand. Once finished, he carries the canvas to another child in the room who dips her brush into another color tracing the outline of her hand over his. The process is repeated over and again, each child adding his or her hand to the artwork. As they work, they are reminded that the painting is a representation of Christian community. We are all unique, but we need each other.
During the next children’s Sunday, the finished artwork will be featured in a prominent location as a visual lesson for the pastor’s sermon on the same subject. In this way, children help lead the adults in worship.
Teaching Kids to Worship
“One of our principle values is to highlight ministry to children,” said Westbury UMC Director of Music and Worship Bodie Gilbert, “We want to make sure they have a full, valuable and enriching place in worship.”
Gilbert holds both a seminary degree and a masters in music. He uses it all as he leads the effort to empower children to worship through the arts. After meeting with Senior Pastor Danny Yang to discuss his teaching schedule and the church calendar, Gilbert crafts a custom arts-based curriculum for the children to accompany the teaching. Gilbert wants Westbury’s children to learn that there are many ways to worship God beyond music alone. Trained artisans from the congregation come alongside him to instruct the children in dance, visual arts, and music during Kid’s Troupe’s three-week long sessions. At the end of each, the children are offered the opportunity to share what they have learned with the congregation.
Additionally, Kid’s Troupe is a tangible way for Westbury to celebrate the refugee families in their community. Together the children learn art forms from the home countries represented in their worship community. “Whenever we have refugee kids in our arts classes, I am very sensitive to their country of origin so that I can craft a lesson that offers some familiarity for them. It may be a dance or musical form that is distinctly west African. We are welcoming our refugee community by affirming those,” Gilbert said.
Kid’s Troupe and its summer counterpart, Summer Arts Camp, offer unique opportunities to minister to the families of the children who participate as well. Parents who might not otherwise visit Westbury come to support their children as they share their art. As they make connections with a caring Christian community through their children, the door is open to discipleship.
Ancient Forms of Worship
As the leadership of Westbury continues to look for ways to intentionally incorporate children into the fabric of their worship community, they have opened the doors for the children to serve in more ancient worship roles such as acolytes and carrying the cross in the opening processional.
It is clear that Westbury UMC invests deeply in the children in their care. Gilbert believes the time, effort, and expense are more than worth it all. “Children are the most essential place we should focus our ministry, resources, and efforts because they are our present and future leaders,” he said. “If we do a good job and are sensitive to what the spirit is leading us to do in our holistic care of them, I think we will find the future of the church is a bright one.”