The power of saying yes
A few years ago, I was in a seminar led by the Revd Sandra Millar all about the value of saying yes. She was speaking in the context of births, marriages and deaths, in particular, saying yes to families from outside our church communities who come to have their children christened. She described how saying yes to these families would open up a whole range of mission opportunities with them, and that saying no would probably lose them for ever.
I was reflecting on this recently, when I read an article about the president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, Alison Michalska. The title itself was quite arresting: ‘In Britain, we don’t seem to like children. In it, Michalska contends that the work done by government around children and young people is about controlling them, rather than providing them with places to flourish.
It made me think about our churches. How often is our church culture about controlling children’s and young people’s behaviour and forcing them to conform to our stereotypes? And how much do we work to help children’s and young people’s spirituality flourish? I would love to say that churches are all about flourish, but I suspect that some might spend more time and energy saying ‘No’ and trying to fit children and young people into predetermined shapes.
I’m not sure what motivates us when we expect them to fit in with what we currently do. Perhaps it’s the idea that ‘this is the way things should be done’ and we don’t feel we’re allowed to change anything. Maybe we’re worried that we will lose adults who have been coming to the church for a long time. It could be that we don’t feel equipped to cater for children or young people.
Or perhaps we have to face up to the uncomfortable possibility that our churches just don’t like children and young people. That might seem quite a stark statement, but it’s something we should challenge ourselves with. If a family with children and/or young people came to our church for the first time, how welcome would they feel? Would all the family feel like they were free to express their faith in whatever way they would like to? Would they feel as welcome as the child in Sam Donoghue’s recent post?
In her most recent column in Premier Youth and Children’s Work magazine (the November issue), Rachel Turner describes two instances when events at her church welcomed children almost by accident. These activities weren’t meant to be multigenerational, but by opening them up to children, they changed and became richer experiences for children, young people and adults alike.
So what steps can we take towards fostering, rather than squashing the spirituality of children and young people? How can we say yes more often?
- Talk and listen to children and young people. Ask children and young people what they want from church and what changes could be made to the way you do things. Then, where possible, put these into practice. Don’t write off the more left-field suggestions out of hand. It may be that you can say yes to more than you initially think.
- Allow some noise. Children and young people will bring some chaos with them, but your church cap cope, and any chaos is far outweighed by the benefit having them present.
- Think about children and young people as equal members of your church family. They are as valid as those who have been part of the church for 50 years.
- Involve children and young people in the rotas – serving alongside adults in the welcome team, providing refreshments or music group can build the faith of both adults and children. How can you say yes to developing the service of your children and young people in your parish?