THE SYNOD debated a report on the Children’s Society’s Good Childhood Inquiry, and added a following motion making explicit the Church’s intention of bringing children to Jesus Christ.
Introducing the debate, the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, asked whether the Church had the understanding, imagination, courage, and determination to keep it in the headlines, and discern the part it could play?
“We are schizoid about children,” he said. “We appear to regard them as ‘a generation of savages’ . . . while becoming almost obsessively neur-otic about a child’s need for protection against assault.”
The report had clear recommendations on child-rearing, and simple evidence-based guidelines for building family life. Fathers were crucial. The report also pointed to excessive individualism, and emphasised a shared responsibility to press for the reform of the “relentless educational testing regime”, the curbing of advertising to children, and the improvement of mental-health care.
Bishop Stevens acknowledged that there were some who had been disappointed with the Children’s Society report, because they had expected an analysis that set the issues clearly within the Christian tradition.
The Archbishop of Canterbury said that he was grateful to have been associated with the report as its patron. He was excited by the title, Being Adult about Childhood: the New Testament frequently reminded them to “grow up in Christ”, acknowledging their radical dependence on God.
To patronise children was to show an attitude too self-satisfied to listen; demonising them indicated that adults were too frightened to listen. Opponents of the report had seemed to conclude that it cast blame for inadequate parenting, the Archbishop said; but he had read it as saying that actions had consequences: adult failure had an effect on children; domestic instability was a “toxic element” in their lives.
It was important that the Church took to heart its imperative to support the Marriage Project through parenting courses, and to re-imagine the place of fathers. Churches should also examine the extent to which they were welcoming to children; market research was needed here. Liverpool and Blackburn dioceses already had child-friendliness awards.
The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Stephen Venner, said that children and young people cried out to be heard as they were rather than being made to feel that adults were talking to them in terms of what they would become. Adults should take notice, so that what they heard made a difference. “We don’t hear what young people say to us.”
Canon Alma Servant (Manchester) said that the language people used to talk about children could put a fence around who was expected to care, for instance, when children suffered violence. “As a non-parent, it shatters you. People say, ‘Every parent feels it.’ But that is too narrow. It should be, ‘Every human feels it.’”
She asked the Synod to remember all the single people who cared for children, and she linked the lack of love for children with the lack of care and respect for old people. The Church could also help godparents be “imaginative friends” to their godchildren.
The Revd Professor Paul Fiddes (Baptist Union) said that the report did not reflect on the relationship of the child to God, even though the Good Childhood Inquiry spoke of the spiritual dimension. He wanted to see more about the theological foundations for the reasons why Christians should be concerned with the findings of the Inquiry. He wanted to see more about the theology of growth in Christ. He would also like more about how growth in human relations could integrate with growth in God.
Christina Rees (St Albans) highlighted the Inquiry’s reference to the number of young people with mental-
health problems and youth-justice issues. She wanted to see more state money going into prevention in youth-justice issues rather than the criminalising of children.
“I don’t think we like children in this country, and especially not young people,” she said. They needed an experience of conversion, to see children in a different light, and through the compassionate eyes of Christ. This would help make Britain “a place where every child can feel love, their birthright”.
The Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd John Goddard (Northern Suffragans), who was an adoptive parent, said that they had a choice in how they chose to honour children. But he and the Bishop of Leicester were “desperately sorry” that this had been only a take-note debate. The Synod should act: “Children matter now.”
Mark Russell (Archbishops’ Council) said: “This is the most pressurised generation ever.” Children had to face pressure from exams, among other things. He said that too many parents behaved like children, and recalled his parents splitting up. “We should do more parenting courses,” he recommended. This was not the time to cut youth-work posts.
Mary Nagel (Chichester) spoke of the lack of adult male role-models for children. Sunday school was seen as “women’s work”. It was a problem for single male clergy because society had become suspicious: “What is he doing with that child?” they wanted to know.
The Bishop of Lincoln, Dr John Saxbee, said that the Board of Education was taking the agenda forward, and it would be addressed at the next group of sessions. “The Good Childhood Inquiry is already informing the way we are doing things.”
Canon Jonathan Frost (Guildford) spoke of how child services were under threat. The Church should be an advocate for them. The Church must end its “theological reticence” and raise the “theological literacy” of local authorities.
Linda Jones (Liverpool) said that the Church was doing a range of things to encourage children and families in church, although: “We are doing nothing at the moment to support fatherhood.”
Edward Keene (Church of England Youth Council) said that the report “does not seem to say anything particularly new”. It identified discipline as a major current in Christian social thought, but that needed to be contextualised: it was the working out of Christian love.
The Synod voted to take note of the report.
Alison Ruoff (London) moved a following motion that asked the Synod to “renew its commitment to enrich the childhood of all the children in England by helping them to discover God’s love”. With only ten minutes of debating time left until the end of Sunday’s business, she said that there was nothing in the report about God’s love for children.
Emma Forward (Exeter) supported this motion. “If Synod cannot say God is the answer, I don’t know why we are here, and I despair.”
The motion was put, and carried overwhelmingly. It read: “That this Synod renew its commitment to enrich the childhood of all the children of England by helping them to discover that God loves them, is for them, and offers them friendship, purpose and fulfilment through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”