It’s odd how things suddenly fit into place when you least expect them to. I’ve been thinking about children’s and youth ministry a lot recently, it’s not something I know a lot (by which I mean nothing) about. I never went to youth groups or Sunday school per se, before I became a server at 9 me and mum did spend the service in ‘junior church’ which basically equated to two or three kids colouring in and looking at the more interesting Bible stores (Jonah and the Whale anyone?), but it was never really a prominent feature of my church, because my family attended the later service, not the ‘family service’.
I have, I have to admit, largely ignored children’s ministry and outreach, it’s something other people do, not us. I’ve never been a leader, or a helper, in anything involving children, partly I think because of this upbringing, children just grow into the Church by sitting through services and saying the words, not by building things out of Lego or plasticine a la Messy Church….don’t they?
The church I am now involved with however has several childrens groups, mainly from the school, and Sunday mornings are full of small children tearing around and making the Vicars attempts to give the notices all but inaudible. It’s brilliant! It’s something I’ve never before experienced, children I used to think should be very much seen and not heard, if a child was dropping pencils in the middle of the anthem then it was pretty much guaranteed that they’d get disapproving looks from the congregation, and be the subject of a discussion by the layclerks over a post-mass pint. I often wonder what my response and experience would have been had we attended the earlier Sunday service, would I see things differenty?
Today at the weekly lunchtime recital by RCM students there was a mother with a baby and a lad of about 4 who was running up and down the pew, crawling over the back onto the next one, and the sight made me smile so much, and got me thinking. I’m very much reminded of this brilliant post – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jamie-bruesehoff/parents-kids-church_b_3909085.html which sums up I think why I love 9.30 services at my church. A large part of me is associated with the sort of BCP services attended by grey haired conservative types (small ‘c’), and I wouldn’t change that, I still love the formality and gravity and ritual, and think it’s a very very important part of church. But it can easily become very soulless, very much just a matter of routine, of saying the right words in the right way, of making the right motions, but not of feeling, not of the life which should be central to a service. We after all are there to give glory to a living, Incarnated God.
I’ve been that person who turns round to glance in irritation at the parent of a disruptive child many times, and only now I think do I realise how unhelpful an attitude that is. Children are enquiring, energetic, curious, playful, in short everything which a stale service is missing, watching children explore their faith and clamber around the base of the font, or light a candle with their siblings, is an important reminder to me that we worship a God who entreats us to look after and become childlike in our response to him.
So now the question for me becomes not who the hell will tell that parent to take that child out, but how can we encourage them to feel part of the church life, to bring the important ministry of parenthood into the heart of what we do? I don’t know, but I finally today realised exactly how important childrens ministry is, and how much the church benefits from embracing children and youth.
I’ll never be creative enough to work with children the way I see leaders doing, but I’m now looking for ways I can at least be involved, because children show us our faith, their wonder at the world and their energy is infused with, immersed in, the divine joy we should all feel as part of the Christian body, confessing a laughing, loving, living God.