It’s been another Sunday with a few, but not many, kids; since COVID, most Sundays have been like that. Like so many churches around the world, over the last fifteen months the number of children and families attending services has collapsed. We’ve struggled to hold kids through a long year of Zoom; and now that we are meeting in person each fortnight, families are out of the habit of piling into the car and coming to church. And there are other obstacles. Once, a kid with a sniffle would still come; now, a kid with a sniffle means a family stays home.
When they do turn up, COVID Safe requirements make it a much less engaging experience. Adults are masked. Children are supposed to sit with their families rather than nestled around a storyteller on the floor. We can no longer share objects, so toys and art materials have disappeared from the sanctuary, as have our tactile prayer stations. Much of the moving around has been eradicated from the service; and the ways children used to serve, for example by pouring out the communion wine, are now done by a sanitised face-masked adult. We can no longer share a meal after the service and people leave earlier, and so incidental conversations and games are much less common. It’s not that we can’t do anything fun – and our dancing around the communion table and being sent home with fruit cake last week was an example of the joy still to be had – it’s just that it’s harder and there’s less of it. And so children rarely turn up.
I know some of you are wondering what this means for the faith of the children and teens in our congregation. If we think faith is all about the Sunday event, then clearly this is a disaster. So I want to affirm that, while I believe gathering regularly with other Christians to listen for the Word and eat at the Table is incredibly important, Sunday is and never could be enough. Our kids are constantly bombarded with stories and values from the wider culture. Turning up to church once a week for an hour or so is not enough to inoculate them and profoundly shape their life and values. The Biblical wrestling and prayer that happen at a service are certainly helpful, but the real gift of church is access to a group of faith-filled people.
Because we know what leads kids’ faith to ignite, and it’s not any particular program, form of worship, teaching method or spiritual law. It’s not being sorted into a cohort of peers with age-specific programming. Nor is it being raised in a Christian home: family is not enough. Instead, for children’s faith to be ignited, they need to be in meaningful relationships with people of all ages whose faith is deeply alive. They need to know and regularly engage with older kids and adults outside their own household in ways which are faith-filled; and they need to know that their own explorations of faith are valued.
The Sunday event provides one context for these intergenerational interactions: but it’s not the only context. And so I encourage all of you to think about how you can better foster intergenerational faith-filled relationships seven days a week. Parents, are there people you could invite to a meal and a games night, framed perhaps by a time of sharing and prayer? Childfree adults, are there children who gravitate towards you and if so, is your faith a natural part of the conversation? There are so many limits on what we can do as a whole church right now, and we grieve that. Yet faith is not a project for alternate Sunday afternoons; it’s the whole of life, in every context, seven days a week. So let’s focus on enriching our young people’s lives with the faith-filled people and conversations that they need: any day, any time, any place.
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