Princeton Theological Seminary made history recently with its Children’s Chapel on April 13th, 2023, marking the first time Princeton Theological Seminary has hosted a special children's chapel. The event was sponsored by the Princeton Theological Seminary Women*s Center and led by Rev. Dr. John Huh, Bryant M. Kirkland Dean of the Chapel, and Vice President for Student Life.
“Seeing people singing like kids, letting barriers fall away and making a joyful noise, just warms my heart,” says Rev. Shaina Ciaccio, MDiv student and parent, admissions counselor, and secretary/parental liaison for the Princeton Theological Seminary Women*s Center. Her children, Andrew and Anthony Ciaccio, were among the participants. “Having kids be a part of it felt like we were being seen, welcomed, and loved, and that made it really special.”
During the service, which began with a magic trick by Dean Huh, children and their Princeton Theological Seminary student parents colored and did crossword puzzles in special chapel booklets, and sang and played various musical instruments. Children’s Chapel also marked the first time children helped lead the service — greeting, handing out information, serving as readers, and participating in the liturgy.
Immediately following, dining services hosted a kid-friendly lunch where the kids enjoyed hot dogs and pudding with students, faculty, and parents. In total, nine children participated in the service with 15 children in the audience, including Amos and Isaiah Hall, Abby Hicks, Teddy and Cora Brungard, Copley and Hammond Lord, and Anthony and Andrew Ciaccio.
"I appreciated how well-prepared the young people were, and how serious and delighted they were to lead in worship, reading scripture and praying,” said Martin Tel, Director of Music. “It can be challenging for adults to allow children to lead us — not to put the children on display, but to be truly led by them. This is something that I hope happens in churches and it is good that we can also model children in leadership in our seminary community."
The idea for Children’s Chapel grew out of a larger movement at the Women*s Center to provide a greater voice for parents at Princeton Theological Seminary, and to allow kids to feel a part of the seminary experience of their parents. Ciaccio took the idea to the Seminary Chapel office and says they enthusiastically ran with it, putting a special program together and rearranging the chapel to accommodate the kids.
“Parents can sometimes feel invisible at PTS because they are caregivers while also students,” Ciaccio says. “This service was a beautiful way to bring the community together, and I’m so grateful to the chapel office, Dean Huh, and Melissa Haupt, Assistant Director of Worship, in helping to make it happen.”
The event also highlights for potential applicants the uniqueness of the Princeton Theological Seminary community, exemplified by the CRW apartments where people from all ages and walks of life can learn from each other.
“We have a large population of student parents and I see many parents who are considering applying to PTS,” Ciaccio says. “It benefits the seminary for applicants to see that we have these types of activities for children.”
Ciaccio says this event is definitely not a one-off occurrence. There are plans to continue having a Children’s Chapel event once each year. The exact timing is yet to be determined, but it will occur during a period when children are out of school, such as spring break.