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Children’s attendance at church: a Unitarian ex-Anglican’s experience

27 October 2010


From Carol Palfrey

Sir, — Huw Thomas’s article (Comment, 22 October) about the importance of involving children in the life of the Church set me thinking about my own upbringing in the Anglican tradition.

My parents were staunch members of the local congregation, and I was therefore required to attend a church service every Sunday. Although I must admit that I often found this discipline tedious, none the less, I am grateful to my parents for teaching me how to behave appropriately in the formal setting customary for acts of worship in the 1950s: how to sit still; how to find my way around the Prayer Book; how to remember the words; and, most important of all, how to concentrate and listen.

This last benefit arose from the strategy I found to deal with lengthy sermons; this was to challenge myself to remember what the priest had said so that I could give a reasonable account of what the sermon had been about. From an early age, this strategy provided a foundation for discussion with my parents, and other adults, and gave me the opportunity to test out my developing views on theological matters.

I am not for a moment suggesting that today’s children be subjected to the strict regime of earlier times, but it seems to me that there is a nice balance to be struck between involving them in the life and ceremonies of the Church and teaching them how to behave in a way that will not unduly interrupt proceedings.

I ceased worshipping with the Anglican Communion many years ago, but I still retained a desire for a religious and spiritual dimension to my life. After a long search, I have now found my “spiritual home” with the Unitarians. The children are a very important part of our religious community. Our services always begin with the ceremony of lighting the Unitarian flaming chalice, in which the children are encouraged to take part; this they do with great enthusiasm.

Every service includes a story specifically designed to appeal to the children, but which is open to more sophisticated interpretation by the adult congregation. The children then leave to attend their Sunday school. One of the projects carried out as part of their learning experience has been the creation of a paper replica of our “Roundel” — a stained-glass sculpture representing the all-encompassing religious embrace of the Unitarian Church — normally mounted on the front of the central pulpit.

The children’s version is currently on display, while the original is on loan to an exhibition at our local museum.

This morning’s service included a “Naming Ceremony” in which the sister of the little girl at the heart of the event played an important part, watched by a collection of cousins and friends, who were then invited to join the children of our regular congregation for activities arranged especially for them.

I am sure that in the Anglican Church similar initiatives are under way. The aim must be to achieve a balance that will cater to the needs of everyone.

Solar Via, Happisburgh
Norwich NR12 0QU

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