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Reform Magazine | September 19, 2021

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Here and now: Reuben Watt

Here and now: Reuben Watt

Are we making church-friendly children, or child-friendly church? asks Reuben Watt

If you attend a United Reformed Church, you may be lucky enough to go to one that has been awarded a Child-Friendly Church Award. This award is given to churches that ‘welcome and integrate children and their families into the worshipping life of their church’. When speaking about this award to people, I find it easy to forget the order – is it the ‘Child-Friendly Church Award’ or ‘Church-Friendly Child Award’? These mishaps get me thinking: Are we making the children that attend our churches fit the way we do church (church-friendly children) or are we adapting the way we do church to suit the children (child-friendly church)?

Back when I was a child (some argue that I am still one!) I loved coming to church. I used to dress up in my Sunday best – which was normally a Spiderman or pirate costume – and arrive nice and early to then run around the church, even in the middle of the service. The best thing was, no one cared. I was able to be myself. I didn’t have to sit down in silence without moving a muscle, worried that the person behind me would tell me off. I was able to jump up and down as we sang a hymn and could colour away to my heart’s content in the middle of a sermon. That, to me, that is what a child-friendly church is about – welcoming and absorbing the behaviours of a child. A parent should be able to take their child to a church like this without having to worry about being embarrassed.

Recently, the way that we do church, especially for the younger generation, has been changing, particularly with the increase in Fresh Expressions: things like Messy Church and Forest Church. This is the Church adapting to suit the needs of the children. Having been a children’s and youth worker during my gap year, I got to see first-hand the effect that Messy Church has on a young person and their family. In a study in 2019, the Church Army found that 81% of those that attend Messy Church would not otherwise be linked to a church. This sums up why the need for a child-friendly church is needed: to make children and their families feel included in the life of a church…

Reuben Watt is Moderator of the United Reformed Church’s Youth Assembly

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This is an extract from an article published in the September 2021 edition of Reform

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