Welcome is not the same as inclusion
Sian Hancock reports from the latest conference of the Children’s Ministry Network (CMN)
The Children’s Ministry Network is a forum for those responsible for work with children nationally in denominations within Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) and Christian organisations in agreement with the aims of CTBI. The group meets twice a year for a conference reflecting on current issues faced by children and young people and for a business meeting of its members. It recently held its 48-hour conference in Perth, Scotland continuing to give the context from one of the four nations.
The title above captures the essence of the themes addressed throughout our time together as research, theological perspectives, the activities of parachurch organisations and new resources were explored. How much of our children’s ministry welcomes and accommodates and what may be needed to cultivate true belonging through a fully inclusive approach?
What do children see when they look at church?
Looking at research on ‘The invisible church’, Steve Aisthorp, Mission Development Worker for the Church of Scotland, highlighted the frequent use of the verb ‘to see’ and its derivatives in John’s gospel. He likened that to the experience of Christians leaving church and cartography (the study of maps). As believers become familiar with belonging to a local church they begin to really see church - its traditions, practices and people. This creates a mental map of what they know of church.
However, physical maps don’t always show the reality of the landscape sometimes the typography has changed. When changes are seen it can cause people to wonder - their curiosity is stirred and questions form as they seek to build meaning and deepen understanding. When this change is confronted the map needs to be updated. When seeing with a realisation of how things really are, many people actively respond by leaving church.
According to the World Christian Encyclopaedia there are an estimated 178 million churchless Christians. Having looked at the key reasons for leaving church, we reflected on the research findings before considering the significance and shape of the following aspects from the perspective of children and young people:
Fostering inclusive Christian community
New ways of being...
Equipping churchless Christians
The experience of children
Changing attitudes & perceptions
Connecting with rest of life
What do third places look like for children?
You might like to consider what do children see when they look at church? What does it mean to be faithful to the historical tradition with a responsibility for children, young people and families?
The full report on the research can be found here.
Children before God
The Revd Dr John McNeil, Superintendent Methodist Minister, joined us to share his recently published book Children before God. He examines the biblical themes, imagery and language within the work of Jonathan Edwards and John Calvin. He identifies the distinctions between these two theological perspectives and seeks to propose a theology of children where grace is the condition by which the child grows and moves forward, rather than a catalyst kick starting their growth by its intervention.
This is a significant UK contribution to Christian thinking about children in the Bible, aimed at theologians and academics. It is a challenging read but well worth perseverance.
Scripture Union is known for its resourcing, equipping and partnering with churches to serve local schools, do mission and facilitate holidays. We heard about Classroom Outdoors - activity centres from Andy Bathgate, CEO from SU Scotland. In Scotland, outdoor education remains a priority and access to it should be reflective of life in Scottish communities - inclusive and affordable residential breaks. Outdoor education focuses on the development of the whole person as it raises self-esteem and helps to develop personal and social skills. Linking to Christian values taught in school, the religious observance in this context is based on a conversational approach to nurturing spirituality.
Sandra Blair from Youth for Christ was pleased to share with us Celebrating Young People - 2018 The Year of Young People in Scotland. Focussing on Generation Z - the iGeneration, we reflected on what happens in children’s ministry that changes in adolescence and results in YP walking away from church. As we explored this issue we looked at recent GenZ research.
The concept of Play Church originated in Sweden. It provides a designated space and quality materials accessible for children to engage with during a service. Designed for an Anglican setting, Claire Benton Evans, Children and Youth Officer in the Diocese of Edinburgh, explained how she had managed this project to create something that was portable, replicated adult church but would enable children to feel in touch and part of what’s going on in church by mimicking adults.
It was an interesting and colourful response to churches where children are occupied with colouring activities at the back while adults worship. Tucked away were object boxes for key sacraments like baptism, communion, marriage and prayer for children to play at. It highlighted some of the differences between styles of church amongst CMN.
Challenging sectarian attitudes in Scotland
Sectarianism can take many forms on the basis of narrow religious, political and cultural identities. Nil by Mouth is a charity that works with young people in schools, colleges and universities to promote equality and diversity and to challenge sectarian attitudes and behaviours in Scotland.
Jamie Lithgow, Education Officer, shared the work of the charity and its history. Set up by teenager Cara Henderson after the fatal stabbing of her friend Mark Scott in 1995, who was wearing a football scarf assumed to reflect a particular set of values in an area of Glasgow renown for holding opposing values. The work of the charity has inspired many to advocate for change and motivate a culture that seeks to understand and respect others.