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/ 19 November 2021

Review: Children’s Spirituality, Rebecca Nye

Debra Mack shares what she learned from Rebecca Nye’s book, Children’s Spirituality, along with a few practical applications she hopes to try as a result. If you feel you want to learn the fundamentals of how children develop a sense of spirituality, this book is a great place to start.

Spirituality means various things to different people, there isn’t just one definition. Theologians, educators and psychologists have different thoughts, but commonly reflect that it is a powerful kind of knowing that is less worried about proving how you know.

Rebecca Nye’s Children’s Spirituality gives ideas and practical guidance on how to put children’s spirituality first, drawing on recent research with children, psychological theories of child development and Christian writing.

Nye reflects on how home and church practices can stimulate or mutilate children’s spirituality and gives guidance on how to stimulate children’s spirituality by using the following six criteria’s: Space, Process, imagination, relationship, Intimacy, and Trust.

Her key point is that children have a rich natural spiritual capacity, that rather than an added-on extra, its already there and something to be built on. She highlights that spirituality is very important in childhood and early mistakes can have damaging effects that can run into adulthood.

Nye embraces how children are made in God’s image and encourages us to enrich the spiritual life they already enjoy. It’s a good tool for those who influence situations involving children such as parents, teachers, and children and youth leaders. There are a lot of practical examples and suggestions on how to spiritually support children which gets you thinking about how and why you do what you do in church practices and what spirituality focused practice looks like.  It also gets the reader thinking about their own childhood experiences and their own faith journey too.

I agree that spirituality is a necessity, not a luxury. Spirituality gives hope especially in really hard times and situations. As children and youth leaders we are under an obligation to meet this need. Spirituality should not be seen as the icing on the cake. The content of our ministry should not treat spirituality as such, and this should show in the work we do; children’s spirituality will bring fresh impetus and enrich children’s lives this can in turn enrich us.

I strongly resonate with idea that spirituality is more of a feeling. You don’t always have the words to put to it, it’s more of a sense of peace and a feeling. This is how I know my faith to be, it’s in my gut and heart. Sometimes it’s way too strong to put into words. From what Nye has talked about I feel encouraged as I understand this more, and will work harder to give children the time and space to be still in silence to feel when these moments arise.

I’ve learned that real spiritual work is how we treat one another, not just a topic to talk about. When we all open up spiritually, share and experience the joy of Christ we are changed. Andrew Root talks about this in his book, Is This The End Of Youth Ministry? He emphasises that it’s not always about fun, happy moments, it’s so much more: bonding and connecting on a spiritual level. I see the shared joy in the ‘Only God can do this’ moments, when people come together and find the joy that loving God brings.

How this book will impact my ministry

Nye has reminded me how pure children are. They are not as messed up as adults with worry, stress etc. – they see the pure Father in heaven and love without agendas. As I reflect on how this book will impact my ministry, I want to listen more and talk less; hearing more from the children rather than trying to fill their heads with an intellectually planned session. The children will and do energize our ministry, the congregation comes alive with joy when the children lead a service, they have so much to offer us. My role is to support and encourage their spirituality to come out.

Practically I will use the six criteria Nye unpacks as a checklist for my own practice and add spiritual qualities into session plans. Where we often ask was it fun? Was the teaching clear? We need to add questions about spiritual elements to emphasize the importance of spirituality and make sure this is seen as integral to Youth and Children’s work.

I will continue to train my mind to have spiritual lenses, so I can support children’s spirituality while making the space I have provided safe and welcoming for them.

Some of the ways I can do this are by:

  • Talking less and listening more allowing time for everyone to talk so I can really value the children’s contributions, I am guilty of filling the awkward silences.
  • Looking at our space at church and making sure it’s comfortable and quiet. Making sure there’s no unwanted distractions.
  • Making sure that when I’m with the children I’m present in the moment and not rushing onto the next task as church life can get busy (so much to do).
  • Valuing the process and setting time to encourage each other as others may see things in us that we don’t.
  • Acknowledging that leaders shouldn’t have all the creative opportunities and giving children more opportunity for involvement. This will show that their spirituality is valued and wanted.

I think a lot of the time our planning is based on what we expect the children to learn by doing all these things it will draw out the children’s own spirituality and give God the opportunity to speak through them.

Conclusion

Reading this book, I have been reminded that failure to nurture Children’s spirituality can harm them and us and our whole community, we don’t want to put them off or discourage them. Children’s spiritual lives are complex and it’s important to know how to support them, listening closely as children’s thoughts can be chaotic, as well as watching as non-verbal expressions are just as important.

Spiritual life is much more than just the odd special moments it’s a continual faith journey and process. Children are made in God’s image and can have their own relationship with God. There is no wrong or right way of being with God and he will speak through children in unique ways. Spirituality cannot be taught it is already naturally there. Spiritual language is not like mathematics: God the Father + God the Son + God the Holy Spirit = 1 not 3.

Our job as leaders is to look after what a child already has rather than rush to put in what we think they are intellectually lacking. Their spiritual life can benefit from some good structure that we can lay the foundations for in our ministry practices but there also needs to be room and flexibility for their own imaginations too. This will give them something that they can build on and find their own way in the future.

Above all else, we need to welcome children just as they are; that’s the relationship God wants with them. We must seek to build relationships based on unconditional love as they are much more valuable.

 

At the time of writing, Debra is an Apprentice Children’s and Youth Worker at St Paul’s Old Ford. 


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