• My fifth year as Children and Youth Coordinator at Duncan United Church
  • I have been blessed to work with a congregation that values children and youth, and the programs that have been put in place to further their spiritual development.
  • And we have children coming to church! We are blessed – so many churches, even in Victoria presbytery, have no children or youth coming to church at all.
    • mini-baby boom over the past couple of years with 5 or 6 infants and toddlers attending regularly with their families.
    • we average 10 to 20 school-age children and youth in our Sunday Journey program each week.
    • 10-15 youth on Friday nights who are building community with Sarah
    • we are also building connections with youth from Lake Cowichan and from United Churches in Mill Bay, Chemainus and Cedar, as well as all over the island and province through the annual IslandTime and Evolve youth and young adult retreats
    • we had approximately 25 children and youth attend 3 weeks of Summer Journey day camps this past July, about half of whom did not attend our church
    • and our church is full of little ones, moms and grandmas each Tuesday for Mother’s Morning Out.
  • Whenever I have asked for donations for funding for children and youth programs, our congregation has generously donated to this ministry: from purchasing Godly Play materials for our classroom, to funding an additional Friday night youth leader, to providing financial assistance to send children and youth to summer camp at Camp Pringle.
  • What we need to do a better job of, though, is building relationships between our congregation members, and our children and youth.
    • Relationships build community, and if our children, youth and families have relationships with our congregation members, they will look forward to coming on Sunday and will keep coming as they get older because of the community that forms here
    • Three ways to do this: teaching, welcoming and serving alongside them
  • I believe that building stronger relationships between our congregation members and our children and youth will ultimately strengthen our church into the future
  • Teaching our Children Faith
  • This past spring, I took a Children and Youth Ministry course at Vancouver School of Theology.
  • Required reading included John Westerhoff’s book “Will our Children Have Faith,” originally published in 1976 but still very relevant today. He wrote that children needed to be immersed to have faith, just like learning a second language:
    • Faith cannot be taught by any method of instruction; we can only teach religion. We can know about religion, but we can only expand in faith, act in faith, live in faith.  Faith can be inspired within a community of faith, but it cannot be given to one person by another.  Faith is expressed, transformed, and made meaningful by persons sharing their faith in a historical, tradition-bearing community of faith.[1]
  • To immerse our children in faith takes our whole community. Just like it takes a village to raise a child, we all need to form the church village for the children and youth who call this place home.
  • It is important for children and youth to experience intergenerational worship often, including communion, to begin to learn about how to worship and how to be part of a church community. So sometimes the quiet contemplation of worship may be disrupted to put our children at the centre of learning how to be in church.  This year, we are going to have some of our monthly intergenerational services on communion Sundays, and others on alternate Sundays, so that our children can learn about communion, but so that the congregation can also have some non-intergenerational communion services.
  • For Sunday Journey, I have a small team of approximately 12 staff and volunteers in place to teach our 3 age-group classes and act as doorkeepers for Godly Play 3 Sundays each month.
  • I am always looking for more teachers, especially to support our parents in our “Dancing on the Sun” preschool class, and some more trained storytellers for our Godly Play program.
    • If this role calls to you, please let me know. We want to engage the energy you have available, not overload you.
    • Transform lives while being transformed yourself
  • If teaching is not for you, there are also other ways to become involved.
  • For example, our Godly Play room turns 10 this year and is starting to look a little worn around the edges! I would like to continue to improve our Godly Play materials and I have a list of stories that I would like to purchase for our children this year.  If you would like to donate a story, please let me know.
  • Welcoming with Radical Hospitality
  • Jerome Berryman, founder of Godly Play tells a story about a young girl in his congregation who said “There goes the man who is always glad to see me.” Jerome made a point of telling children and parents each week that he was glad to see them.
    • Berryman goes on to suggest that:

…as Jesus said, you will slowly over time discover that when you welcome a child you welcome him and the One who sent him.  Such a fundamental discovery will enrich everything you do and show the way into the kingdom for you and the congregation.  The congregation will become a healthy place, where unhealthy people can come to heal and all will thrive.  The church will no longer be a place of ambivalence, ambiguity, or indifference toward anyone.  It will be a place of grace.[2]

  • My son has experienced the power of congregation members congratulating him on a job well done when he has played the piano in church or participated in a pageant or liturgy reading. But not all of our children and youth are comfortable with public speaking or performing.  So we need to practice radical hospitality with our children and youth, just like we do with all adults that we welcome to our church.
  • We all need to learn each child and youth’s name – and welcome them and call them by name.
    • Nametags – will continue
    • Get down to their level and look into their eyes to say hi.
  • I would love to have congregational buddies, particularly for families where mom or dad is busy with more than one child, or for youth who are wondering why they should bother to come to church.
    • You could help a child or youth buddy find the scripture reading in the Bible, or the hymn in Voices United or More Voices. Show them where we are in their children’s bulletin.  Ask them if they want to help with communion, or with the offering.
    • Please let me know if this is something you would like to do, and let’s make sure we talk to the parents, as well as to the children and youth, to make sure that these relationships develop in an environment where everyone is comfortable.
  • This year, we are also beginning to offer Messy Church on Saturday afternoons 6 times through the school year. Come hang out and do a craft.  Help us worship.  Share a potluck meal together.
  • Our young parents in particular are hungering for connection with people in their church family. Invite them to come to an AOTS meeting, a UCW meeting or Circle of Friends.  Intergenerational events like Harvest Fair, coffee time and pancake breakfasts are also great opportunities to get to know children, youth and parents – no blue mug needed!
  • Church is one of the only places left in our society where the generations gather as a community, and for some families, their generations may be scattered across Canada or the world. A congregational buddy or adopted grandparent may be so welcome!
  • Opportunities to Serve
  • People do not need the church to participate in social justice and advocacy.
  • As a church, we need to make the connection for our children and youth that they should be involved in making a difference in the world around them because that is something that people who follow Jesus do.[3] As our youth grow in the church, we need to provide opportunities where they can work alongside congregation members to do the work in the world that God calls us to do.
  • We need to look for ways for our youth in particular to put faith into action – they need to practice, and this needs to be real work that makes a difference. This might be cutting up vegetables or setting up tables for community dinner.  It might be serving at pancake breakfast.  It might be moving furniture for garage sales.  Our summer day camp youth went to play games with the folks at the food bank – a first for many, and an opportunity that provoked a lot of anxiety.  Create the opportunity, and help our youth learn and connect with our church.
  • We also need to continue to teach our children and youth about diversity and tolerance. How can we integrate interfaith learning from our newly arrived Syrian families in the valley?  Our summer day camp youth learned about the Sikh faith by worshipping at the temple with them and sharing a vegetarian lunch together.  Imagine doing this with other faith communities – what a powerful way to learn about the world.
  • We can also share our learning from Cowichan 101 with our children and youth – I wonder if we could take our youth out into the community with an elder to identify native plants, try spearfishing or a spiritual dip in the Koksilah river in January? How would these hands-on activities complement the classroom learning our children and youth already get as part of their schooling in the Cowichan Valley?

Conclusion

  • By seeking justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with our God, Duncan United offers the radical vision of a community that is opening hearts through fostering God’s love in the world.
  • By strengthening relationships with our children and youth, we can build a community to which children and youth become strongly attached, which will continue to flourish into the future.
  • Matthew tells us that Jesus said that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. If we all work together, we can each make a difference in the lives of the children and youth who come to church on Sunday.
  • I’ve put 10 great ways to connect with our children and youth into today’s Dove newsletter. Venture downstairs to learn with them, be a worship buddy, come hang out on a Thursday or Friday night, or find an opportunity for them to serve – you will transform a life or two, your own spirituality will be deepened from the experience and our church as a whole will be strengthened.  Together anything is possible.  Thanks be to God.

[1] Westerhoff, Will Our Children Have Faith? Chapter 1, Kindle edition, loc. 449.

[2] Berryman, Children and the Theologians, p. 255 (Kindle edition).  Berryman also notes that this statement is made in all three of the Synoptic gospels (Matthew 18:5, Mark 9:37 and Luke 9:48).

[3] Ivy Beckwith, final keynote presentation at the INSPIRE Conference, March 5, 2016.