Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What to look for in the parish part 2

"A church for children" was the one comment I treasured from the visitors' book at our former church in small Cotswold village.
I'm not sure how exactly that guest, who had apparently simply dropped in to the building during the week, had reached that conclusion.
Perhaps it was the displays of children's work all round the building and the child-sized tables and chairs set out in the north transept, where the children met each Thursday after school.
Perhaps it was the notice board, which proclaimed that the only "Prime Time" Sunday service in that parish (part of a multi-parish benefice with one priest and one Reader...so all the churches had made sacrifices over their patterns of worship) was an All Age Communion.
Whatever made them pick up that impression, it really was the right one.

This didn't mean that Little Church in the Cotswolds was crammed with young families - there were many weeks when my 3 children were 50% of the young congregation.
It didn't mean that we had an amazing Sunday school programme.
But all the same, that unknown visitor was spot on.

Little Church in the Cotswolds had grasped something important about the nature of an inclusive church, and though we were neither culturally or socially a diverse community, we did understand that adults and children belong together in the church...that when children are excluded (either because they are not welcomed at all, or through well-intentioned programmes designed to keep them busy while adults get on with the "serious business" of worship) the community's offering of lives and selves to God is incomplete.

So children were part of everything we did in that place.
They received Communion, of course - but they also administered it from time to time...One of my most precious memories is of standing around the altar on Maundy Thursday and watching the Dufflepud, aged perhaps 5, give Communion to Arthur, a retired Colonel, retired Church Warden, on-going saint, aged perhaps 80.
Children served at the altar, they read lessons, they welcomed, they took the collection. Often they helped with the teaching, either by their insights that fed into my sermon prep and that of the vicar, or by writing and offering an interpretation of the lection for the day.

Their parents were never left feeling that they alone were responsible for keeping unexploded bombs under control so that the other adults could get on with "real church"...Rather, other adults (many of them grandparents) shared in the responsibility of helping children to belong, to contribute, to worship.

I'd not really thought about it much then - it was just the way it was....and now, of course, I'm in danger of buying into a church-culture that seeks to provide ways of keeping children gainfully employed during worship.
But, since every advert in the Church Times is anxious to appoint someone gifted at working with young families, I need to think through how my vision of an inclusive church could actually be played out. Ironic if that tiny, "failing" church held the key to this one...

1 comment:

marcella said...

I wonder if any parish would dare to advertise for a Priest who WASN'T interested in fostering community relationships and building on work with children and families. The two local job adverts I've seen seem rather too similar to be real reflections of what the parishes themselves want - but then again it's probably better than a Devon one which is asking for a "sensible Catholic" - I wonder if anyone would ask for an insensible one.