…and showed him into a back room where Mary Magdalene gave him a colouring in sheet depicting the baby Moses in the Bullrushes and where they sang an action song whilst Jesus got on with talking about complicated things with the grown-ups.
One could easily spin a complaint along these lines against my previous post, pretty much giving up on the idea of real All Age Worship. But that’s not my purpose. I want to counter going completely in the opposite direction, which is “Church is really for adults so here’s something vaguely religious to occupy you while we do the real stuff.”
There are a couple of problems when this is what ends up happening.
Firstly, children pretty soon get fed up with colouring sheets, word searches and even the more fun cutting and sticking stuff. They get to 10 or 11 and pretty soon they’re not wanting to do it any more. Nor are they wanting to sit for an hour and a quarter whilst an esoteric ritual and/or didactic top down teaching activity goes on at the front. We struggle to manage the transition between Sunday School and the main Church, and that’s exasperated when the Sunday School activities are thinly religiously veneered child-minding. In our strongly liturgical neck of the woods, the transition has been traditionally managed by giving older children a role in the altar party, but there are plenty of kids for whom that’s about as attractive as having teeth pulled, and besides, if there are any significant numbers of children passing through that altar party is going to get rather large. There are missing generations in our churches, and they’re the parents with older children and the older children, teenagers and young adults themselves. I know a church where the Sunday School would make you think that the church was full of young families. It isn’t. It’s full of grandparents and young grandchildren. The ones in the middle are in bed at home whilst Granny takes care of the younger kids.
Secondly, ideally a “junior church” should be doing what the main body of the church is doing – prayer, learning, worship and so on – in a child-oriented manner (the clue’s in the name). Not time-filling activities whilst everyone else is doing these things. This is because these things are done in order to grow, develop and sustain the faith of the congregation. If children are not given the opportunities to do the same things, then they will not have a faith to grow, develop or sustain when they grow out of the Sunday School. I’m about as far from a “personal relationship with Jesus” sort of person as you can get (the concept never made much sense to me), but I do think that the individual needs to come to own the faith for themselves – a process that our offerings should support, adults and children alike, if we consider children to be part of the church.
There are other issues of course – the tendency for the job to be fobbed off to the parents because of the mistaken belief that a good parent makes a good Sunday School leader (that’s the mistake you make when you think of it as glorified child-minding) – the fact that this limited group of parents lumbered with the job don’t actually get much chance to take part in the worshipping life of the church themselves as they either out in the hall with the kids or corralling a bunch of kids who’ve now returned to the nave and have got bored in 0.2 picoseconds.
What are we trying to achieve for our children?
How can this be actually achieved?
Who is in a position to achieve it, and to support those doing it?