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/ 18 October 2013

Kensington Area Conference: Excelling in Children’s Ministry

Last Saturday I had the privilege of attending the Kensington Area conference for children’s workers, Excelling in Children’s Ministry. It was particularly good for me as I hadn’t organised it as it was very much a Kensington thing.

Over a hundred children’s workers came and we were marvellously hosted by St Barnabas in Kensington who provided both excellent coffee and vast quantities of pastries. You will notice that thus far, this is very much my kind of event!

The Bishop of Kensington, who hosted day said:

“It was a joy to gather with so many who are devoted servants of the church in this vital work of reaching and discipling children. Along with many, I am praying for growth in our outreach to children, and for our ministry to young families to be increasingly confident, creative and compassionate.”

The Bishop of Kensington began the day with a reference to Jesus rebuking his disciples for impeding children’s efforts to come to Him and said that the verse was more than just a warning against impeding children. It demonstrated the need for children to be ‘front and centre’ in the church, showing adults what it means to enter the Kingdom of God.

Bishop Paul then passed on the Rachel Heathfield who gave the keynote address. Rachel is an Ordinand at St Mellitus and has been a leader in children’s ministry for many years standing. Her talk was outstandingly good and I can’t really try and re-create it within the confines of this blog; what I will do instead is share two key points from Rachel that struck me at the time.

Rachel began by reminding us of the need to look up beyond ‘the practicals’ of the next session or filling the rota and think about the big picture for once. She suggested that a lack of clarity on the big picture was holding children’s ministry back. A part of this, she suggested was to hold in tension the role of the child as the future and the present. She used the memorable phrase:

“We refute the phrase the children are the church of tomorrow but we forget at our peril that they are the church of tomorrow.”

This sums up wonderfully the need to hold both these thoughts in the front of our mind when we think about children’s ministry. Our role is one of spiritual formation; equipping children for a lifetime of faith but that isn’t something that will begin at a future time for children; it has already begun. In the past many models of children’s ministry have been predominantly educational to build ‘Christians in the future’ and now, slowly the pendulum is swinging the other way but we probably have a long way to go on this. It is still good to remember that the point of your children’s ministry is about having an end product of adults who are still part of churches and not just children having wonderful experiences in their childhood.

The second point I took from Rachel’s talk was a really challenging thought for those of us who work with children. She asked the question as to whether we are missing something if we look the numbers of teenagers leaving our churches and blame some kind of ‘crisis in youth work’. Rachel asked if perhaps the crisis had its origins in children’s work and maybe we are failing to nurture our children into an adventurous life of faith that would still excite them aged sixteen. It’s a great challenge and one that I would broadly agree with.

The final section of the day before seminars was a question and answer session where Rachel and Bishop Paul were joined by the Revd Richard Franks to take questions from the floor. The most memorable reply was what to do with questions from children that can be tough and not have easy answers. Richard suggested that there were two things we should always say when a child asks a question: firstly affirm it with ‘that’s a fantastic question’ and secondly ask the child what they think. Brilliant advice.

Bishop Paul then reflected on the fact that some of the questions children and young people ask are very costly to the child who is asking them; they may reflect doubts that shouldn’t be ignored. He said that the most important thing was to create a place where the child knows that they were ‘deeply loved’ so that their questions would be taken seriously and that they were in a safe place to explore them.

The day ended in seminars that I am less qualified to speak about as I was leading one of them, I’m sure they were really, very, very good!

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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