The various ways we live and function together as the people of God in a given place communicate our image or picture of the value and role of children in the body of Christ. Some of these messages are explicit, many more are implicit. They can variously communicate to children and their caregivers that children are “on the way but not yet arrived” Christians, an inconvenience to be barely tolerated, or a welcome and highly valued segment of the church family. I believe these paragraphs in Rebecca Nye’s book Children’s Spirituality (pages 73-74) are worthy of considered reflection:
Most churches have both explicit and implicit images depicting children. Sometimes the images conflict without our realizing it, and this confusion may scupper attempts to get to grips with children’s spirituality. Why not explore this in your context? For instance, where are images of children seen in your church and what kind of images are they? Maybe there are children in the stained glass or other church artwork. What impression of children do these capture – vulnerable, loving, dependent, idealized? Are only adults represented in the imagery?
There are also images in the words, and sometimes actions, of our worship. Is the congregation referred to as ‘children of God’ only in the context of confession of sin and dependence? At what point are real children ‘visual images’? What images come across? Perhaps it’s the image of children escaping to their groups like animals released from a cage. Or as gift bearers during the offertory. Or as entertainers or light relief in the ‘show and tell’ after the serious part of the service. Or relegated to the back pews or area out of sight where it doesn’t matter what they do. Are they allowed to sit together in one place, perhaps at the front, or does this feel more of a requirement? Whose benefit is that really for? (In one church a ‘cry area’ for restless babies and toddlers was referred to as ‘the sin bin’ by the church warden. The ramifications of this imagery are striking!)
What is your congregation “imaging” both about children and to children concerning their place and role in your faith community? Contemplating your “ways of being” with children may uncover both surprises and challenges.