News & Media

New Edition of Equip - Will our Faith Have Children?

Tuesday, 17 March 2015 | Editorial by Gordon Preece

The theme of our first Equip for 2015, maintains our meta-theme for the last two years, ‘the hopes and fears of all the years’. Here we focus on children, often, as our first two writers remind us, expected to be seen and not heard in church, leaving the adults alone for AO church, as a rehearsal for later leaving the church, as recent research shows.

We twist the theme of John H. Westerfhoff’s classic 1976 book (rev. 2000) Will our Children Have Faith? Christian education, to Westerhoff, modelled itself on the instructional paradigm of secular schools. Instead of faith formation occuring in various contexts -- the family, church, school, and church school -- religious education is relegated entirely to Sunday morning classes. There children learn biblical facts, but will they learn or experience faith? If ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ how can we be parishes or communities of faith and character that nourish and nurture children’s faith, instead of only teaching them facts or morals?

Despite our sentimentality, that children are to be passively cared for, caring is devalued in our society, by association with women. Someone warned me not to stereotypically have all women-writers on this topic, but I could only avoid it thanks to Justin Denholm, a volunteer apprentice children’s minister, and Philip Hughes providing reviews. Thankfully we have three of six male Sunday Club teachers at Spotswood Anglican. And thankfully, we have outstanding women writers and children’s education practitioners in this edition.

Alison Sampson kicks off with a heart-felt and well worked out apologia for children staying in church and actively learning with and from adults in a liturgical and musical context conducive to active learning, remembering, and Christ-like character formation. Beth Barnett seeks to go behind the stereotypes of children as ‘trouble or trophies’ to tap into their potential as part of God’s people, active, living limbs and hearts of the body of Christ. She rightly sees this as a matter of generational justice, restoring children to their rightful place with Jesus in the heart of our life, as his apprentices, not mere appendices to our church growth, heady teaching, adolescent entertainment agendas. She warns us against moral prophylaxis and parental self-justification, being justified by the moral behaviour and exemplary family values of our kids. The cartoon she includes is a magnificent warning against collapsing the riveting multi-coloured and layered meanings of scriptural stories into the black and white moral of the story.

Barnett also warns against ‘educational paralysis as a substitute for discipleship’. A kind of Sunday School Naplan with performance markers and painting by numbers can divert spiritual desire and deflate the daring adventure of discipleship. I’m reminded of Harry Chapin’s wonderful song-line ‘roses are red young man and green tree are green’ with the teacher incriminating the child’s playful, colourful imagination. Finally, Beth warns against ‘Putting all our eggs in the Sunday basket’, forgetting that the awe is in the ordinary, the weekday worship of everyday life (Rom 12:1,2).

Our resource section is rich in models for putting these warning and positive proposals into practice. Denise Cooper-Clarke describes the highly effective Mainly Music model for reaching out to the unchurched. Colleen Arnold-Moore critically affirms the imaginative and tactile Godly Play model and how to adapt it to an Australian, not U.S. context. Reviews by Justin Denholm, Bp.Philip Huggins and Philip Hughes of recent Australian research and Dorothy Hughes’s (no relation) calendar of coming training events show the resurgence in the sense of importance of childrens’ ministry.

Three other books worth mentioning regarding children are Fiona Stanley et al’s challenging Children of the Lucky Country?: How Australian society has turned it back on children and why children matter; Patrick McKinley Brennan’s brilliant collection The Vocation of the Child, especially Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore’s measured resurrection of the role of chores in children’s lives in a consumerist society; and Mary Anne Phemister’s biography of Wilberforce’s unjustly forgotten Clapham Sect member, playwright, poet and Sunday School founder Hannah More: the Artist as Reformer, is a reminder of what Sunday Schools meant for the general and biblical literacy of the poor. At a time of grave educational inequality and biblical illiteracy within and without the Church our female writers imitate her and challenge the men amongst us also to educate our, and where possible others’ children also, in the scriptural texts that give substance to our life, young or old.

Gordon Preece is Director of Ethos and Minister of Spotswood Anglican