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/ 3 December 2021

Busyness as Usual: Parental Pressure and The Church Squeeze

How do we help busy families engage in church well, when it competes with so many other activities? Sam reflects on a recent parish visit where he had some insightful conversations with other parents.

I’ve been visiting parishes again. It’s been interesting to go back out into the Diocese and see how things are going. Being the super dedicated person I am, I went to the 08:30 service at St Marylebone, which might seem like a strange time to visit some children’s work!

I sometimes go to 08:00 communion in my parish church and I can tell you with certainty, I am the youngest person there by some distance. That used to be broadly true in St Marylebone, but they now have more families attending the 08:30 than the 11:00 (which was aimed at them). So, what’s causing this? It’s interesting but I warn you, if you’re hoping I’ll say the deep solemnity of an early morning eucharist is now what families want, don’t get your hopes up!

Getting church done

What’s causing this is the busyness of family life. Getting church done early frees up the rest of the day and life is so busy that it’s become a great option. Over coffee at the end, I chatted with a few dads – you quickly got a sense of how busy life was for them. Sunday is no longer an island where nothing happens; one of the parents was from Germany and in the afternoon, there were German classes for the children (not just how to speak it but how to be it), since they wanted their children to grow up with a sense of being German and British. There also needed to be time for exercise classes, and a host of other things. They wanted to get to church, but it had to find a slot in the schedule!

Another dad had a job that meant he was going to be busy in the run up to Christmas (no he wasn’t Santa) so he wouldn’t be at church for another six weeks. While I was there, another dad offered to bring his child for those weeks so she didn’t miss out, which was gratefully accepted. All of this reminded me what early family life is like: super busy, all the time.

Meaning and joy

In his book, The End of Youth Ministry, Dr Andrew Root suggests this is because parent’s desire for their children to live means that they need to help their children to find their identity, their ‘thing’. So, they rush them round a thousand clubs to help them find it. Church tends to not be seen as such an important factor and so, it gets squeezed to the edges.

It’s tempting to think the solution is to try and make our children’s groups more fun and entertaining in order to compete, but Root says doing the opposite is the best way forward: don’t compete, aim to find more meaning and joy within what you do as a church family.

The challenge: talk

It was interesting to chat briefly over coffee with some parents who are in this space right now, as they want their child to grow up in church, but also to be part of a whole range of things that they also see as important. How might you chat with the parents in your church about this? It’s likely they are in a similar place. Listen to the pressures they are facing and ask how you might be a support to them – as parenting is hard!

 

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash


About Sam Donoghue

Sam Donoghue is Head of Children and Youth for the Diocese of London, a keen cyclist and a supporter of Everton FC.

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