"The very young ones may not grasp all the details, but they are captivated by the figure of Jesus, even when he hurts."
Stations of the Cross for Children
The supplies are minimal: bulletins, a cross. The setting is familiar: the nave of the church. The participants are the key: children and their parents. They have been specifically invited to a service with a straightforward title: Children's Stations of the Cross.
At St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Stuart, Florida I had the honor of leading Children's Stations of the Cross, which was initiated by Kelly Garner, Children's Ministry Director. She has been offering this event for a number of years, and it has become part of the fabric of the community.
How Does it Work?
Children and parents gather in the nave and sit in the pews. A priest or lay leader gives a welcome, explanation, and the opening prayer from the bulletin. The entire group then stands and proceeds to the first station. At St. Mary's we had permanent wooden stations hung on the walls. At other churches, temporary stations are often used.
A different child is asked to carry the cross every time we move from one station to another. Also, children are asked to help read portions of the liturgy.
After the last station, we return to the pews and say the concluding prayers which point to the good news of Easter and the resurrection. The final action, however, is a somber note, as we kneel and sing "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?"
When to Offer this Service
If you are thinking, "I can't add one more thing to Holy Week," then we agree! At St. Mary's this service was always scheduled around the middle or end of Lent. Sunday evening worked particularly well for us, and after the service we went to the parish hall for a family friendly pot luck supper.
What Liturgy to Use
There are many available, including standard 'adult' liturgies which can be adapted. You can purchase children's Stations of the Cross books online, such as this book by Julianne M. Will.
Or check out online versions such Children's Station from Creighton.
Of course, you don't have to use a printed liturgy. I can imagine this service starting with the Lord's Prayer, and then moving to each station where the leader will name the station and explain it in ways that children can understand or connect with. This does take some practice and forethought on the part of the leader! You could still use an antiphon (call and response) at each station, as long as you teach it to the group. The most appropriate is:
Leader: We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
People: Because by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.
Can Children Handle Stations of the Cross?
Yes. In my experience, children are capable of grasping the concept of hurting, suffering, and even death. The very young ones may not grasp all the details, but they are captivated by the figure of Jesus, even when he hurts.
When we teach children about the passion of Jesus Christ, it is never with the intention to scare them. Rather, we point to Jesus and affirm important truths:
- Look how Jesus experienced pain/hurting, just like us.
- Look at how Jesus loves. On the cross, Jesus shows how much he loves us.
- Jesus' death and resurrection brings forgiveness of sins.
Stations of the Cross as a Teachable Moment
Stations of the Cross is not just an exercise; it is a theological lesson. As a leader of this service, you have the chance to pass on central Christian teaching to children and adults. As a result, their Easter Sunday will be brighter; their connection with Jesus will be tighter. Their entire worldview will begin to take shape around God's extraordinary acts of love.
A final thought: I always try to tell children the following: "If you had been the only person who ever lived, Jesus still would have died and rose again, just for you. He loves you that much."
Matthew Kozlowski manages, edits, and writes for Building Faith. Matthew lives in Alexandria, Virginia with his wife Danielle and two young daughters. Throughout his career he has been a teacher, camp counselor, school chaplain, camp chaplain, Sunday school teacher, parish priest, and Alpha course coordinator.
Photo credits: Tom Winter. All rights reserved. Please do not use or re-post these pictures for any purpose.