Saturday, 18 July 2009

where have all the children gone?

The ones who attend 'leafy parish in the burgh' are on holiday - some lucky ones are off to Disneyland, Paris. I wouldn't mind that right about now :)
But it raises that old chestnut about the dilemma of having a childrens/ all-age section in a service when the service has no children - or the two remaining children are teenies and very, very shy.

Although the sermon and prayers are all done for tomorrow - huzzah the small matter of the all-age part of the service remains. What to do in the absence of children?

It's a question that's often popped into my tiny mind when I've had to face a similar situation. Usually this slot becomes the 'trailer' for the sermon but surely there are other ways to use this time in a more creative/ centering way? As the overall service is a quieter, reflective one, in contrast to last weeks 'noisy church', I am very tempted just to ask folk to 'be', to sit and relax quietly in the moment and gather themselves up from the week that's gone before.

But, yup, as I said, the whole thing gets me wondering about this part of the liturgy. How to ensure it is both distinct in its own self and yet part of the whole... and also not done for the sake of just being done 'cos it's what we always do?

Mind, the 'where have all the children [insert 'young people' here] gone?' is a catch-cry in parishes, presbyteries and at General Assembly. It makes me wonder a bit. I worry a wee bit about a tendency in the church towards a sort of young person idolatry. Or of young people being seen as a sort of holy grail solution to all the church's problems: 'if we had young people we'd be growing, not declining,' is the possible thought at the back of that.
A fear. Desperation?
Sometimes I think we forget about all the children and young people who comprise the groups who use the halls and church spaces during the week... they don't come on Sunday but they are there during the week. And I'm reminded of a comment a friend of mine made - who fits into the 'young person category' according to church definitions - about being a little tired of being asked to do stuff/ be on committees, etc. purely for the underlying reason that she fits the category and so the church can be seen to be supporting young people. Interesting catch-22, huh?

I'm not so worried about children and young people as I am with the thought that there are actually a couple of generations
missing in the church. And also that there appears to be a growing age apartheid: there are churches full of young people... but no other age groups. And there are churches filled with quite elderly folk... and no young folk.
I'm less concerned with the need for young people and more concerned for a more integrated age approach to worship that goes beyong 'dumbing down' all-age worship just because we don't seem to be able to acknowledge very well the spirituality within children... and that they have to have absolutely everything explained: kids can deal with mystery and we do them a disservice if we think otherwise.
It drives me slightly nuts that when we use the term 'all-age' what tends to happen sometimes is noisy, busy, bouncy and lacking in substance. Don't think it is particularly satisfying to younger folks or the grown-ups. But it's easy to rant: what's a way of doing something that's more constructive? Unlike clothes, and even then it doesn't quite work, one size does not fit all liturgies.... Hmmm.

And I digress... I must go and do this all-age address!!


Mrs Gerbil said...

I agree, there can be young person worship in churches. I remember when I first left uni & returned to my home church it sometimes felt I was being asked to involved because I was young. Having said that, it can be difficult being the only young person (at the time I was youngest by 10ish years) and I think older people think if the appreciate the young persons views and ideas they'll stay. It worked for me!!!
As for children not attending in the summer months. I think that's a historical thing that the church has lumbered itself with. The Sunday Schools would have their end of session prize giving and it was prety much a given that there would be no provision for them during the summer. That not only turns the children away from church during non-Sunday scholl time, but also their parents. I think it's inmportant children always feel part of the service, but their part of the service is as important to the whole congregation as any other part of the service and their should be less demarkation.
Sorry, just my rambling thoughts. I'll stop now. Hope the locum stuff is still going well.

Danny said...

I agree with all of what you say here Nik and I have been slowly trying to adapt the 'children's slot' in my church and to introduce more all age worship and in the summer to give them the occasional Sunday 'off' so they get a longer time in the summer club. (We run a summer club rather than Sunday school in the holiday weeks but the kids still come into church for at least part of the time).

I also get the kids to talk to the congregation from time to time throughout the year instead of always me talking to them. This year the Sunday school are choosing our harvest project and they will lead a service where they tell the congregation what the project will be and why they have chosen it.

I don't like dumbing down for all age... instead I go for a shorter service than usual - say 45-50 minutes - and I get the kids to take part (if they want too)... perhaps doing the prayers for others or reading scripture or a reflection, etc. The last all age service was a baptism and two primary age boys from the Sunday school were doing the prayers for others. The boy who prayed for the baptismal family and the babies (twins) was so moving in his direct and honest approach to God... I had to stop myself from yelling AMEN!

My church has very few young people (8-10 on a good week) and the ones we have are a wide spread of ages from 2 right up to 16... so it is the one 'sunday school' but a real family approach within it and I try to take this into the all age worship.

There are no easy answers to your question about where the children have gone... but we owe it to the ones who come to be creative and flexible and inclusive and not just stick to the same tired old traditional children's bit.

Rambling for Sunday is done. Glad you seem to be enjoying the locuming :-)