If you are looking for a lively and interactive church service, visit the Youth Chapel on the second Sabbath of every month. What's inside may surprise you. At first glance, if you stick your head in at the right time, you may see what looks like a crowd of elementary-school children, acting surprisingly grown up, watching several unshod grown-ups act shockingly childish. This is Children's Church, led by Rita Hoshino, student services assistant director. She and some friends, including Mike and Michelle Mesnard, Cliff Rusch, Milbert Mariano, and Betsey Ross are working to help children in grades one to six learn about church through participation.
"Our goal is to bring the church service down to a child's level," said Rita. "The first thing we do is take off our shoes. There's nothing that makes a woman look grown-up like her shoes."
Children's Church starts out with what Hoshino calls "mover music," spiritual, spirited songs that require action. "This is to get the wiggles out of them," said Rita. "We gradually go to quieter and more worshipful songs, so that everyone is quieted down for prayer."
The kids are encouraged to share prayer requests at prayer time. This can make things rather interesting, because the kids' requests sometimes divulge information which their parents would rather have left unspoken. "One kid said her mom was going to have a baby and asked for prayer. The parents had not told anyone yet, but everyone knew after that," said Rita. "We've had kids announce babies several times."
After prayer, the "grown-ups" put on a skit (usually written by Rita) in which they play six to ten-year old children. "It's almost scary how easy it is for us to act like children," said Rita. Each skit contains an object lesson, which Mike, (who plays a pastor, the only grown-up role in the skit), explains at the end.
"It's great to see the kids get excited about God and church," said Rita, who got involved in children's church in 1979 (the year she rollerskated down the commencement aisle as PUC's senior class president). "The leaders, Sue Smith and Pat Wick, needed a pianist who could play by ear because the music was not written down," said Rita. "Then I got involved in drama, too. Pat and Sue eventually got busy doing other things. I've been in charge for five years now."
Rita and the other Children's Church leaders have been invited to hold Children's Church in a number of places over the last several years, including Colorado, Loma Linda, and Washington D.C. In 1996 they took Children's Church to a convocation at the ARCO Arena, where they will return on February 22 for the Northern California Conference constituency session. "While all those people are down on the main floor doing their thing, we'll be upstairs having Children's Church," said Rita. "And guess who'll be having more fun?"
As Rita's "parishioners" (and college-age helpers) have grown up and moved away, they have taken the idea of Children's Church with them. "People who were in Children's Church come back (they're doctors now!), wanting me to sing the old songs over the phone to them and help them set up a children's church in their home church," said Rita. "It has spawned 50 or so children's churches around the U.S."