KIDS PLOP themselves down comfortably on a carpet laid over the ancient pine floor front of the altar. Rev. Sara Boyles, parish priest of Holy Trinity church in downtown Toronto, drops down in a swirl of folding skirts to the carpet with the kids and distributes hand chimes for them to ring at key times during the eucharistic prayer.
Kids are part of everything at Holy Trinity, and their involvement is deliberate.
Baptisms are handled in a way that gives children an integral role, rather than having them fidget as passive bystanders.
Mrs. Boyles does baptisms at a low table with a big bowl, instead of using the grey, cement baptismal font. Kids pour the water and hold the book for her as she reads through the service. In preparation beforehand, a parishioner leads a class where children bring dolls to be baptized.
"The children come in to these ceremonies and are right in the midst of things," said Rev. Joyce Barnett Kemper, a mother of two teenagers and a volunteer who heads the children's program at Trinity. "They are quite enthusiastic."
"We offer a place where your kid is okay," said Ms. Barnett Kemper. "We want the children to learn that church is a good place to be. There are no crying rooms behind glass for us."
Holy Trinity is known for its location -- tucked in behind the Eaton Centre in the heart of downtown Toronto. The mall was built around the church and for its Christmas story, there is a giant of a production staged annually since the 1930s which is a definite "kid magnet" to the church, says Ms. Barnett Kemper.
Because of the production, a semi-permanent stage was built over the narthex, with two shallow stairs running the full width. It is on these stairs that children will often place themselves just before eucharist, sprinkled in among the legs of adults who circle the altar.
The kids can see everything, but can also pull their attention in and out for some quick moments of playtime. When it gets to communion time, they cross the floor to take their place on the carpet, right at the center of the circle in front of the altar.
In fact, so integrated are children into the life of the church that it is hard to discuss their program without talking about the church as a whole.
The church has moveable pews, and they have been placed in horseshoe fashion around the altar, which stands at one end of the horseshoe. People sit where they want -- and everyone can see everyone else's face during the service.
The atmosphere is very informal. (There are lots of blue jeans, and people who show up in suits for their first visit usually come back the following week in casual clothes.)
At the times in the service the kids can run freely back and forth between their program, their parents, and any adopted aunts or uncles who might be around.
Process has always been important to the children's program.
Ms. Barnett Kemper said the emphasis is on acceptance and community. …