Children and Communion (new Baptist Union study material)

Here's a more extended plug for the new BU study material Gathering Around the Table: Children and Communion that was launched at Assembly. In recent years (like the last 30 or so), the question of children participating at the table has become a big issue, especially in denominations where children have been baptised as infants. Where children are welcomed to the table in baptist churches this will often occur before baptism. The study material is not designed to give a set baptist response to the question, but to enable churches to explore how and why they might welcome children to participate in communion.

Study 1 explores the meal habits of Jesus

Study 2 explores the meal habits at Corinth. This is crucial because 1 Cor 11 is often used as the reason why children should not receive bread and wine.

Study 3 explores how communion is practiced today

Study 4 explores children and the church and the gospel incidents between Jesus and children

Study 5 explores children and faith

Study 6 offers six different models, from a more or less closed table (children are present, but receive a blessing rather than bread and wine) to an entirely open table.

As someone who was part of writing the material (which built on earlier attempts), I'd be very interested to hear how the material is received. So feel free to comment or send me an email.

I'm glad to see the Baptist Union wrestling with questions of children and their place in the church. Another group I'm part of is working on the BU children's strategy and this will hopefully be another good piece of practical theology.

Top Ten Indispensable Books on Theology and Children

1. The Child in Christian Thought, (ed.) Marcia Bunge (Eerdmans, 2001)

2. The Child in the Bible, (ed.) Marcia Bunge (Eerdmans, 2008)

3. Graced Vulnerability: A Theology of Childhood by David Jenson (Pilgrim Press, 2005)

4. Welcoming Children: A Practical Theology of Childhood by Joyce Ann Mercer (Chalice Press, 2005)

5. Children and the Theologians: Clearing the Way for Grace by Jerome Berryman (2009)

6. The Vocation of the Child, (ed.) Patrick McKinley Brennan (Eerdmans, 2008)

7. Let the Children Come: Reimagining Childhood from a Christian Perspective by Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore (Jossey-Bass, 2003)

8. Children of God: Towards a Theology of Childhood, (ed.) Angela Shier-Jones (Epworth, 2007)

9. Jesus and the Children by Hans-Ruedi Weber (WCC, 1979)

10. Through the Eyes of a Child: New Insights in Theology from a Child's Perspective (2009)

Child Theology

I spent Tuesday at a day seminar on child theology hosted by the child theology movement. This was an opportunity to meet Keith White, Haddon Willmer and others and hear more about child theology. White and Willmer are currently working on a book that will offer perhaps the first extensive example of child theology, which will be based on a reading of Matthew 18.  Until then there are smaller and shorter pieces available, some of which have been collected together in a book launched on Tuesday called Toddling to the Kingdom: child theology at work in the church (CTM, 2009). I'm not sure about the title, but it's only £4.99, so a bargain at 256pp.  This is something of grass roots conversation that is happening around the world - Jerome Berryman (founder of godly play) has called it an 'important travelling seminar'.  How much impact it will have remains to be seen.  I think it does have an important voice to listen to and along with the work of a theology of children is developing a much negelected area of theological thought.

A Good Childhood? Growing Up in the 21st Century

The St Paul's Institute is running a series of debates around the issue of childhood:

Where do babies come from?’ Children, parents and contemporary society
16 October 2007, 6.30pm - 8.00pm

Do we see children as a blessing, a right or a lifestyle choice? For the first time in human history, we expect to have control over when we have children, and to some extent, what children we have. This opening discussion considers whether both increasing affluence and advances in fertility treatment and genetics have led to the commodification of children, and how attitudes to children are affected by a market-driven society.

Can I have some more? Childhood and consumerism
23 October 2007, 6.30pm - 8.00pm

Products for children have become big business, and children are increasingly the targets of advertising campaigns and marketing strategies. Meanwhile, the UK has one of the highest child poverty rates in Europe. What impact does consumerism have on child development? What are the present and long term spiritual, psychological and ethical consequences of childhood consumerism?

Must try harder? Education in the 21st century

30 October 2007, 6.30pm - 8.00pm


What is education for? To what extent is education an investment in ’human capital’ - equipping children with skills useful to the economy? In an increasingly competitive global economy is there pressure to sacrifice a well-balanced childhood to global economic forces?

Are we nearly there yet? Towards a good childhood
6 November 2007, 6.30pm - 8.00pm

This final discussion will take up the issues raised throughout the series to consider what makes for a good childhood - and the grounding of a good adulthood. What are the implications for educationalists, policy makers, spiritual leaders and parents?

Children and Worship

Scott posts a great quote from Debra Dean Murphy on children and worship:

...we must regularly communicate to children (and their parents) that they are integral to the whole worshipping body gathered weekly to imagine and practice God's world into being, and that their presence and participation are not merely tolerated but happily anticipated. When we "dismiss" children from the worshipping body (say, for "childrens church"), no matter how well-intentioned our efforts at teaching them about worship, we convey to them and to all others present that dividing the worshipping body is an acceptable norm. More importantly, we rob children of the gift of being formed by the regular habit, discipline, and joy or corporate worship - which is really how they learn it and learn to love it in the first place.... But it is also important to insist that worship should not cater to children, since to do so is to give in to the pressures of accomodating style and preference and the temptation to appeal to a target audience. Rather, worship that seeks above all else to enact God's story of redemption and to imagine God's politics of peace invites and expects the participation of the whole household of faith - young and old, rich and poor, the able and the infirm - with the understanding that, in regard to young children especially, there are privileges reserved for their maturity, and mysteries and riches of the worshipping life that reveal themselves as rewards for years of practice and perserverance. Children should never be the center of attention in worship (God alone is the object of our devotion) but as children learn about worship by regularly participating in it, we hope and trust that they will come to reap those rewards.....

What's Happened to Childhood?

A letter in the Daily Telegraph yesterday, signed by a variety of different people (including Philip Pullman, Robert Beckford, and lots of early childhood experts) are concerned that the rise in depression and behavioural problems amongst children is linked to too much junk food, too much screen-based entertainment and school system only interested in results. All the other papers have a response today (Times, Guardian, Independent).  This is not a new issue. Most of the letters' signatories have been going on about it for years. Rowan Williams wrote about it in Lost Icons (2000). The sad thing is that not much is changing. My worry is that this will be another 2-day news story from which little will change. One of the things we decided about Lounge (Bunyan's 11-16 youth club) was to avoid have computer games nights for the reason that most young people play computer games every night. It's an interesting question and an important one for the church. Do we as churches offer an alternative? Do we encourage and challenge those who are parents to think about how they raise their children? I rarely, if ever, have heard the church I belong to say anything about parenting or childhood. I'm not suggesting we become prescriptive, who of us would claim to have all the answers, but I do believe that the church needs to create spaces where conversations can taken place. I worry when I see the poor diet some children I know have and the way television rules in a house. We need to enable children to be children. I love watching Hannah with children because although we are not yet parents, she has learnt the skills that enable children she knows and works with to wonder and question and enjoy the world in which they live.

fostering children's spirituality

Last week I organised some training on fostering children's spirituality led by my mum, Gill Goodliff (a lecturer in childhood studies at the Open University) based on some research she has been doing. Several interesting reflections emerged for me.

1. many of us confuse faith and spirituality - we think spiritual development = faith development. There are many Christians who have 'faith', but lack a nourished spiritual life. In the same way, children often have a spiritual life, which is not yet 'faith' or is not yet translated into that category. Does finding faith often mean losing spirituality? As we begin to construct a more defined faith and theology, does our sense of imagination, questioning, delight, wonder and celebration, etc receive less attention or is even nullified? Maybe this sheds some light on the words of Jesus to receive the kingdom of God as a child. For faith to ultimately grow we must attend and nuture our spirituality. We should not focus on children finding faith (in terms of a set of agreed beliefs and experiences), but on nuturing their spirituality from which at the right time faith will emerge.

2. the spirituality of most adult christians leaves our children without role models. In our churches there is little room or time for questions | there is mostly only a uniform and uncreative expression of worship |  in a lot of medium-size to large churches we do not know one another's names outside our little circle of friends | we do not develop or foster relationships of trust (the problem of individualism) | we do not regularly experience or practice times of silence and stillness | we do not find time to be thankful and find delight in being alive and the wonder of God's creation | we do not celebrate each others joys and achievements and neither do we share in each others sorrows and sadness. If we are to foster and encourage children spirituality's many of us need to examine our own spirituality.

3. our focus as the church with regard to our children is not primarily to provide services or to educate, but to create and maintain spaces 'in which they can experience the fulness of God's love with every fibre of their being and soul' (Keith White, 2005).

4. to consider our being church (worship, mission, bible, world,  faith, theology, spirituality) from the perspective of the child. This does not mean that we abidcate our role as adults, but to open our lives to listen, to create space for our children to contribute and even shape our life as God's church. This does not mean we turn our children into adults, but to allow our children to be children. Just because they are children does not mean they are merely those who receive, they are those who can give and show us glimspes of the kingdom of God, which from our adult and grown-up perspectives are susceptible to miss.

Baptists on children and church

If we are not to exclude believing children in our fellowship we thus need to think in a more open way about what 'membership' means. Believing children are already members of the body of Christ, but they have not yet covenanted with other members ... They are members of the body, but not yet commissioned ... Before this, children do not have a vote in church meeting, but they do have voices to which we need to listen as we think about the meaning of the life and the mission of the church. As members of the body of Christ, they supply some of the limbs through which Christ will become visible. The face of Christ will have empty patches if the features they supply are missing ... Christ wants to show himself to us through them, not through 'child-preachers' but through their simply being children.

(Paul Fiddes, Tracks and Traces: Baptist Identity in Church and Theology, 2003, 139)

One of the Five Core Values of the Baptist Union is being 'an inclusive community': 'our lives together will transcend barriers of gender, language, race, class, age and culture creating communities which welcome and accept those on the margins of life and learn from them.'

'... we cannot be a whole community unless children play a full part, nor can children develop in their discipleship unless they participate and belong in a meaningful way to a community of people of all ages committed to one another on the pilgrim journey'

(Anne Dunkley, Seen and Heard: Reflections on children and Baptist tradition, The Whitley Lecture 1999-2000, 1999, 33)

Children and Church (according to Hauerwas again)


    ... Jesus called to himself a child - the essence of one who is powerless, dependent, needy, little, and poor. He placed the child 'in the midst of them,' as a concrete, visible sacrament of how the Kingdom looks. Jesus' act with the child is interesting. In many of our modern, sophisticated congregations, children are often viewed as distractions. We tolerate children only to the extent they promise to become "adults" like us. Adult members sometimes complain they cannot pay attention to the sermon, they cannot listen to the beautiful music, when fidgety children are beside them in the pews. "Send them away," many adults say. Create "Children's Church" so these distracting children can be removed in order that we adults can pay attention.

    Interestingly, Jesus put a child in the centre of his disciples, "in the midst of them," in order to help them pay attention. The child, in Jesus' mind, was not an annoying distraction. The child was a last-ditch effort by God to help the disciples pay attention to the odd nature of God's kingdom. Few acts of Jesus are more radical, countercultural, than his blessing of children.

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens: A provocative Christian assessment of culture and ministry for people who know that something is wrong, 1989, 96)