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April 26, 2005



A lot of good challenges thrown out here, Andy. I think often we don't recognise children's ability to hear God- just like Eli initiallly didn't recognise Samuel's ability. By our attitudes we can make children think- "but I am just a child" like Jeremiah did.
A lot of the time children's heads are a lot more uncluttered by inhibitions and limitations, which makes hearing God much easier...
In terms of modelling, I do think that seeing faith in action is essential, but isn't that a truism across the board; church meeting are not the fullness of discipleship for any of us. Sunday school can be a brilliant part of encouraging and building up the faith of a child; it certainly did that for me. However, even now I would be daft to expect my discipling to come from a Sunday meeting. We do all need to live the life together.


Andy - great post, as always you're way more articulate than I am. A couple of thoughts spring to mind. One is that how we view children in the church often has it's roots in how we view / treat children in the family setting. Thus if we are to gather as a "family" on a Sunday, the "change" most probably needs to have stared in the home. Are we teaching our children to worship, pray, read and listen to scripture in these settings? Are we in the home giving them the tools to help them understand their faith and how to apply it? It we are not doing it here then we've little hope of making a difference on a Sunday. As a father of 3, I'm pointing the finger at myself as much as anyone else.

Secondly I think Jesus was serious when he said, "suffer" the children to come unto me. As you rightly say this requires a shift in mindset at church from "what do I get from this", to "what can I give".


As others have mentioned, some great thoughts.

When I was in my field education parish in seminary, I asked my mentor what his theory was about youth ministry, and he said he didn't have one. At first, I thought he was lazy or unreflective, but as I grew I think I learned that there was wisdom here.

On the other hand, there is a local church which has a special center for children with a ball pit and a big screen television. (This same church doesn't have any crosses up anywhere, so it gives you an idea of where they're coming from.) The children are not at all incorporated into worship.

I think the wisdom of my supervisor (and the utter folly of this particular local church) is that the worship of the church is for everyone, which is a rather countercultural stance. So much of the rest of our world ensures that people (families included) are separated from each other based on marketing criteria, and formed into consuming individuals, rather than a body of people. I tend to cringe at a great deal of what passes for "children's liturgy" (which is, after all, just another form of marketing division), and yet I feel passionate that children are to be included. At our parish, we do not do anything that would seem child-oriented, but we encourage children to participate as much as possible, and we expect everyone to be hospitable to them -- and we have a growing population of children.

I've rambled on a bit here, but I look forward to hearing more.

andy goodliff

Thanks for all your comments. Mim, you are right in saying (and maybe I need to clarify myself more cleary) that children have just an ability (and maybe even more so) to hear God than an adult.

Brodie, your link between church setting and family setting is spot on - there's a lot that needs to be said - in brief, I think the "family unit" often is in tension with the church, and I think theologically this is problematic, the task of family and the vocation of the family I think needs to be placed more in the context of the whole church.

Jason, some interesting comments - you say "you encourage children to participate and for everyone to be hospitable towards them" - I'm interested if this actually happens and what is it that causes it to happen?


Thanks - very helpful!



I think it does indeed happen here, children participating and being present in church, although of course not without bumps. Part of it happens by example: when there are a number of families with children who are used to being in worship present, then it provides an example to other families, that this is possible and OK. It also provides an example to other people without children that kids may be part of the service. Another way we encourage this is by public statements to that effect: the rector is quite clear that we want children to learn to worship with the community from day one. (We do have a nursery available, and if children are being fussy or having a bad day or whatever, they may take advantage of it -- but it is not usually very heavily populated.) A further way that they are allowed to be in worship os that we don't necessarily expect them to, say, engage in the sermon the same way an adult might. They are allowed to color, read a book, play with quiet toys, etc. in the pews during many parts of the service. We have learned that this is fine and that they still pick up a great deal, benefitting from being present rather than being sequestered somewhere else. (We have church school between services, not during them.) To encourage this quiet, creative play, we also have available at the back of the church cloth drawstring bags with children's names on them, containing a couple of coloring books, crayons and whatnot; there are several labelled "visitor", too.

Of course, we also know (as one other person mentioned) that supportive activities must take place in the home, too. My daughter (3 y.o.) knows the words to and sings the Gloria during the service -- I believe she can do this because I often sing a setting of the Gloria to her when I am putting her to bed at night. Yesterday, she prayed to God for "love and peace", and again I imagine that a large part of that is hearing my wife and I pray for such things.

Finally, I think part of including children at St. Paul's might involve an educational philosophy. Our church school here, from age three through high school, is based on a Montessori philosophy. (Our daughter and a several other children also attend a local Montessori school.) I don't know as much about the philosophy as I ought, but I have seen that it encourages children to take responsibility for themselves, it respects them as people (and children) and involves them actively in relationships of reciprocity with others, including adults. They are not expected to be adults, but to be children, formed in certain ways. (This ties in with your more recent post.)

Anyway, that is some idea of how it works around here.


"There can be, in some areas of our churches, the belief that children are disruptive to worship. They make inappropriate noises, they find it hard to sit still, they have poor bladder control."

I thought you might appreciate a slightly different angle here. I attend Quaker meetings. These are silent affairs, just the sort of place where children can make a lot of noise and cause a lot of disruption. To a small child, a room full of silent adults is the perfect opportunity to hear your own voice or experiment with what kind of noises you can make with your body and some do take the opportunity! Other times, I've seen sibling fights break out in the middle of the silence.

Children don't usually stay in meeting for the whole time - they are usually taken out into a sort of Quaker version of Sunday school. In some meetings they come in about 15 minutes before the end, running along the floor like a herd of miniature elephants, clambouring over the chairs or benches and leaping on to their parents knees to show them their latest piece of art work!

I'm sure there are times when this can be quite irritating and disruptive, but I love these little moments, the life and enthusiasm that children bring to the silence is something that enriches my experience of it.

I love this little extract from Quaker Faith and Practice:

"At meeting for worship relax and let your baby be with you; my small daughter called it `the best cuddle of the week' when I couldn't rush off and do something busy. It's not easy for the parents to believe that their child's gurglings actually help the meeting rather than interrupt it. Nonetheless, that is true, and you shouldn't give way to the temptation to take a happily babbling child out of the meeting (though howling is something different!)."

Anne Hosking,1986 (Quaker Faith and Practice - British Yearly Meeting)

Pati Heller

I have enjoyed reading your comments. I am in the process of writing a research paper on this topic for a class I am taking. That's how I ran across this website. Does anyone know where I could find a good history of children's church? I didn't have one and I grew up in the 60-70's. So it would seem to be a fairly new thing. Sunday School, they say, started in the 1870's, and some believe Children's church is an outgrowth of the bus movement. "What to do with all those kids coming who are not coming with a family." Would appreciate any help you all could give me.


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