Children and the Church of NOW
This fall seems to marked by baptisms. We have already celebrated three since my return from vacation in September. This Sunday we will celebrate again and then there is one scheduled for November. That is a lot for us and it is indeed something to celebrate. The fall also saw the return of the children to the regular order of things on Sunday and it is always such a joy to have their enthusiasm and presence which reminds us of the wonder and beauty of life and of the possibilities waiting to be explored.
Jesus Sets the Stage
At baptism I often tell this story:
“Jesus was travelling through the countryside teaching and healing. Crowds followed him and many sought to feel his touch and hear his words of hope and new life. One day, as he was walking, parents were gathering and trying to get closer with their children so that Jesus could bless them. The disciples, it is said, told them to move back. Jesus heard them and was not pleased. He stopped and called the parents forward, asking them to bring their children. He then took a child and said
‘whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. It is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs.’
With this action Jesus sets the stage.
Learning From and With The Children
In my second pastoral charge, when I was interviewed for the call, I was questioned about how I felt about children in church. They told me that in their church the children were the most important and were free to do and be whatever they wanted. I soon discovered the truth of this and it was life giving.
It was common to find children playing at the base of the pulpit while I preached.
During prayer time, more often than not, I would sit on the stairs with the children climbing up and down beside me.
During story time they would ask questions, provide answered and many times offered words of great wisdom.
Since then I have been blessed, learning from and with the children in my faith community.
I remember the little boy who loved to run. Each Sunday morning, he would greet me with such enthusiasm and he absolutely loved being in church. I saw reflected in him the celebration of life and faith that should be our foundation.
Then there was the little girl who, at the age of 4, wanted to make an appointment with me because she had some questions about this whole God thing.
Or the boy who, each Sunday morning would stand at the foot of the pulpit during reflection time and ask me questions.
My heart sings when I see the children dancing freely during the hymns.
I remember the Sunday we played balloon toss during the songs and prayers and the Sunday our time together began with a child singing “Over the Rainbow.”
I hear the words of our youth as they shared their experiences at Youth Forum. My being wells up with pride and joy every time I remember the words of a young person who shared the place that church and faith played in his journey. I am inspired as I recall the deep conversations about faith, inclusion, struggles and joys that have been shared in sacred circles of teens over the course of my ministry. I have been gifted with spirit in these spaces and through these children and youth. I have experienced faithful witness and have been truly blessed.
Children and the Church of NOW
In church circles we often hear the phrase “the children are the future of the church”. We spend a lot of time thinking about and working toward increasing the number of children and youth in our congregations. I have been privy to countless conversations among adults who wonder why there are not as many children and young families involved in church and who search for ways to reach out and include this demographic. At the same time, I have witnessed seasoned church members complain when a child makes too much noise; dismiss children or youth when they try to contribute; or stay away from services that might be geared more toward a younger generation. They see children as the future of the church but do not value them as the church of now. The faith communities that I see thriving, growing and living out the gospel are the ones who include multiple generations, making space for each to contribute and shape ministry. The church today must be nourished and empowered and then there might be a church of tomorrow.
I give thanks for First United where children, youth and adults are all loved and cherished, where we see the value in all ministries and are shaped by the Spirit as it is revealed in so many ways.
My prayer is
that we might all become like little children and learn again how to embrace the wonder of creation;
where we can feel free to play in mud puddles and dance in the rain;
where we are unencumbered by cynicism; and,
where we can ask the questions that enable us to learn and become all that we are created to be.
© 2019 Rev. Valerie Peyton Kingsbury