WAS St Paul missing something when he proudly stated that he had put aside childish things when he became a man? Those who minister alongside children will know that their own spiritual life is enriched by that shared experience. Children have an intense focus on the wonders of creation, and a passion for justice, and do not hesitate to ask uncomfortable questions, before they turn on a sixpence to ask for a biscuit. Children do not divide life into religious and secular spheres or separate the spiritual from the mundane.
Faith in Children, with its delightfully ambiguous title, reminds us that most children, even those from atheist homes, arrive at primary school with a concept of God. Most children have had some kind of spiritual experience. Our role is to provide a supportive environment as they learn a vocabulary to describe that encounter. For this, the adults around them need to reconnect with their own inner child to enable a nurturing conversation. Children learn to make sense of their world as they encounter Bible stories, myths, and fairy tales. They need to see the weight that adults place on these different kinds of literature.
“When I think about God I think about chickens.” Arresting statements from children, like this from four-year-old Oscar, ground the book in real-life ministry. This quotation is not cute, but a window into the boy’s developing understanding. This book provides useful summaries of child-development theory from Piaget, and of faith development from James Fowler, John Westerhoff, Sarah Brush, and Sandy Eisenberg Sasso. These remind us that many adults are often at similar stages of development to children and young people. Being able to work well with the young helps us to support better the faith development of adults.
Read this book from cover to cover, as the ideas develop chapter by chapter. The author’s experience as a teacher, priest, Godly Play practitioner, and researcher illuminate the theory. The useful index will help readers return to refresh their knowledge as they meet new children with different ways of operating in the world.
It is the index, however, that highlights a gap. There is little here to advise those who minister among under-twos. Opportunities to communicate knowledge and faith will be missed if the church crèche is regarded as holy babysitting. Toddler groups are important and effective mission fields, as the Diddy Disciples scheme demonstrates.
Jesus told his disciples to become like children. Children experience life in all its fullness in every moment of joy, hope, and sadness. This book helps its readers to understand how to do that.
Rona Orme is a licensed lay minister in the diocese of Salisbury, and a former Children’s Missioner for the diocese of Peterborough.
Faith in Children
Church Times Bookshop £9