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A children’s corner?

14 June 2013

Your column on how to lay out the church when reordering raised many questions for us, but our biggest question is about children. Should we have a children's corner? Is there a good rationale to help us think this out?

START from the premise that children are baptised members of the body of Christ. Although they are young and fidgety, their formation as Christians is fundamental to how we relate to them. At each stage, and at each age, what are we doing to form them in their faith?

First, we should consider that worship is the worship of all the people, not just an adult service with sops thrown in for children. But neither can we ignore the challenge of worship that is appropriate to help adults grow in their faith; so it is not a question of "dumbing down".

The biggest challenge is for rapidly growing family-service congregations, as there may not be a pool of families, leaders, and clergy who have learned how to engage children in worship. Children who run loose, avoiding any restraint, gain very little - as do their parents.

Is a children's play-corner the answer? I would say no.

Beginning with first principles in planning the worship: can we choose hymns, prayers, and movement in which children will be engaged as well as adults? Not dumbed-down hymns and songs, but music that engages the mind and heart - some of the great traditional hymns, perhaps, that we can sing wholeheartedly.

Movement and action engage everyone more than trying to be still. (Often I have been to family services where people just sit - even for the hymns.) And always give children service sheets and hymn books, along with everyone else, so that they can follow what is going on.

When considering seating, encourage those with young children to sit at the front, or at least somewhere where they have the best view of what is happening. Encourage people with children to come forward, and explain that if a child is fractious, he or she can be taken to the back for a few minutes, or outside, until they are ready to return. You may have regular members, who are cleared under child-protection procedures, who can help out.

The one part of the service for which you may have to separate adults and children is the sermon. It is good to hear the scriptures together, but the teaching of adults and children may be different. And, as one who believes "I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand," I like to find something that everyone can do together to earth the teaching of the day.

We are always working towards formation in our faith, but this is more difficult, in some ways, for those who plan worship. When you are the priest at the front, trying to lead people in their engagement with God, a minor riot that is going on at the back of the church can be more than distracting.

Use a "children's corner", occasionally, for separate sermons, or for fractious children; but, on the whole, work towards inclusion and formation for everyone.

Send questions and comments to: maggiedurran@virginmedia.com.

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