Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me,” but how do we do that in these changing times?
Our approach to children’s spiritual formation in the Church is changing, as we have seen through the “Killing Sunday School & Birthing Cross+Gen Community” movement and other conversations exploring ways of including children in corporate worship.
Faced with the challenge of fewer children and young people on a Sunday at St. Chad’s, we acknowledged that we lacked the energy needed for a vibrant and varied Sunday school. After prayer and discussion, we felt the call to include children in corporate worship rather than try to find ways of sending them out to a facsimile of church in another space for part or all of service.
As is the practice of most churches, we have a children’s talk, where we incorporate stories and thoughts from the children into a reflection on the readings. On occasion, a child might read from a children’s bible, having practised at home before hand. We developed activity bags that include a colouring page, a book, some markers, and a plushy from our vast collection for our younger congregants. Plushies and puppets are big at St Chad; our cat Ceadda has helped smaller children assist in prepping our shared worship space and, recently, Digger, a small church mouse puppet, toured some of the ruins in Ireland and will be sharing his stories this fall.
When the children transition from the front back to their seats, having been blessed and prayed for, we sing a hymn that was composed by our music ministry coordinator. A while ago, we invited the children to choose a mentor, or an adult with whom they feel close, to sit with and assist in their ministry, such as ushering, taking collection, sitting in the choir loft, or standing beside the priest or lay reader. To see children engaged at this level gives such hope to the future of our small community.
At St. Chad’s, the children are encouraged to respectfully move about in the sanctuary if they need. While it is a bit of a distraction in the beginning, the children feel that the space is theirs, something that being sent away for part of the service doesn’t signify. Their energy and joy during the sharing of the peace reveals so much.
Our focus on mentoring helps the children observe the postures that many Anglicans might adopt during the liturgy. Engaging with another adult helps parents focus on remaining children or aspects of worship that are often be missed while caring for a child in service. It reminds us of the expression “it takes a village.” It takes a church to raise a Christian or, as we say in the liturgy of Baptism in response to the question regarding nurturing this person in the faith and all respond, “we will with God’s help.”
In recent years, the bags haven’t always been used, as children are invited to engage in their own creative activities. One young person has created loom people for our model church, which was built by another young person with help from his father. The small church, reminiscent of doll houses, encourages play as we discuss the activities of the liturgy either before service or at fellowship.
Our children are curious about their spiritual formation and, through this different approach, we have been pleased to see that they can name the different places within the sanctuary, as well as the purpose and reason for such things, connect with the scriptures through a comment or reflection, and of course comment on any errors and omissions made by the priest in the liturgy.
Something more has happened. As a community that embraces the ministry of all baptized, we now find that our children are comfortably moving deeper into roles and places within community. Thanks be to God.
St. Chad’s Children’s Hymn [sung to the tune of “You Call Us, Lord, to Be“]
Lord Jesus is my friend,
The greatest friend of all.
He’ll guide me as I grow
And save me if I fall.
I’ll follow in his path each day,
And when I need him by my side,
I know he’ll hear me when I pray.