A good question: What role should children play in church?
One question, four answers
‘Let them play’
Children should play. Children should play in the church. Play is the work of childhood. Play is how children experience, explore and express life in all its fullness. Children are a gift from the Lord to families, churches and communities, and need to be received as children (rather than as mini or future adults). We need their playfulness.
If you are blessed to have children as part of your church, let them play church. Provide them with appropriate costumes, props and spaces. Watch them play weddings, baptisms and funerals. Watch them play Sunday services, even Communion. Watch them play out the mission and community activities of the church. Children naturally play out their experiences as they make sense of them. You will learn so much about your church and their faith by seeing it through the eyes of children…
Sam Richards is Head of Children’s and Youth Work for the United Reformed Church
‘I’m happy with adult-only church services’
My flippant answer: ‘To annoy and distract me from what is being said.’ I’m selfish and enjoy having services directed at adults, taking an intellectual approach not possible when children are present in a service. I’m very conscious that children should participate actively in church, as they are part of God’s family – but so are the elderly who are often expected to adapt to children at their own expense.
When I happen to be in a service with children, it seems not much different to my childhood experiences. We have them sit through a few hymns or songs we think they’ll appreciate, give them a message and send them away, sometimes to have them return later in the service to show off what they’ve learned. For some years, we were members of a Church of England congregation where children came into service for Communion. They would dribble in noisily during our reciting of the Lord’s Prayer, and continue with their mumbles during Communion, disrupting for me, the most sacred part the part of the service, time for quiet reflection and meditation…
Anne Samson is a historian
‘Equal partners in our life together’
The Church of Jesus Christ is first and foremost not a building but a group of people of any age, who meet together to worship God, to learn about faith and the Christian life, and then to go out and serve our glorious God in the world, according to their gifts. Because Jesus calls people of all ages to belong to the Church, there is no age restriction, and adults and children are equal partners in the life of the Jesus community.
This means that both learning and worship are for everyone, and should be designed so that all can worship and learn together, preferably sharing together, each helping the other. It is two-way traffic. Some people fear that such a development makes our key activities childish and superficial, but properly planned and happily entered into, worship and learning together becomes an exciting adventure…
Stephen Thornton is a retired minister of the United Reformed Church
‘I like sharing my feelings about God’
In 2018, the children’s and youth work committee of the United Reformed Church consulted under 11s about their role in the Church, asking what they liked and what they wished for. They received 350 replies. Here are some of their likes:
I like eating the bread and grape juice.
I like learning about Jesus and Sunday School.
I like it because we worship God respectfully.
Church parades and the nice people.
They care for people who need it.
I play my ukulele.
I always feel welcome and included in church.
I like sharing my feelings about God.
Being involved in the service, taking the offering.
It involves all ages and everyone can feel included.
I think the community is good.
Learning new things about Christianity.
Learning about stories from the Bible.
Playing with the toys and Play-Doh.
Being in the nativity play.
Provided by the United Reformed Church’s children’s and youth work team
This is an extract from an article that was published in the February 2020 edition of Reform