IN THE past few weeks, the Church of England in parish after parish has discovered technology that it barely knew existed, and has used it to pump church into the homes of parishioners. It seems that many of them have not, however, fully appreciated the dynamic of the household itself, and the potential for it to discover a new rhythm of Christian living together.
For most children and young people, the lockdown means that they spend nearly all their time at home with the family. Many churches’ response to this situation — if they have the resources — is to replicate Sunday and midweek activities online. These continue to take a compartmentalised approach: Zoom sessions for youth groups; services and sermons aimed primarily at adults; and a plethora of special activities for children.
A passage that is often quoted in relation to raising children in the faith, however, is Deuteronomy 11.19: “Teach [these words of mine] to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
We might all be at home, if we have a home, but are we talking to our children? When we go on our daily bit of exercise, is that a family activity or a solitary one?
I have so often found on walks with my children that we have the most profound conversations about life and meaning. Recently, on our daily walk, I spoke with my youngest about parenthood and boundaries, where we get our values from, and what matters to us.
I didn’t start the conversation: it just bubbled to the surface as we strolled along together. In the midst of this awful time, parents need to spot the kairos moments — those that are most opportune for passing on the faith — with their children.
WE SHOULD not be paying attention to the part played by the home in faith formation simply because circumstances demand it, however: the theme is all through scripture.
One of the most famous and often quoted passages are these words from the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they set it on a lamp-stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your father in heaven (Matthew 5.14-16).
When I have heard sermons based on this passage, it has rarely been emphasised how important the home is as a place where our light is to shine. The “city on a hill” is often referred to as the Church, the household of faith, the gathered community of light — shining brightly, revealing God’s love to the world through worship and witness.
In the passage, however, there are two pictures: one is a city on a hill, but the other, often overlooked picture, is of the lamp-stand giving light to everyone in the “house”.
In Hebrew, the word for home or house has some nuances about it. The word that is used, bayith, can be a house, a tent, a family. It can also mean “to work, to make”, and “covenant and sign”.
What sign might it be to those around us if our homes are lit with the light of Christ? We cannot share with the world what we withhold from our own homes and families, those closest to us.
IT WAS wonderful, then, to see the initiative Faith at Home launched by the Church of England last week. It builds on the work of the Renewal and Reform projects Growing Faith and Everyday Faith, to support the faith development and pastoral care of children and young people. Promoting Faith at Home, a message on the Church of England Twitter account said: “The home is back at the centre of everything now.”
My prayer is that the home is not only the centre for now, during the current crisis, but that, once the pandemic is over, it remains at the very heart of worshipping communities.
It could be that what has been a necessity during the lockdown becomes a permanent gift to us: an opportunity to press “re-set”, so that the home is central to our worshipping lives.
Let us rediscover the vital dynamic of the household — championing the home, encouraging the sharing and the living out of faith in that place, celebrating these little communities in all their creativity and mess.
These spaces, with those closest to us, could be an important way in which we witness to the love and presence of God in our lives and in the world in the days to come.
Ali Campbell is a youth and children’s ministry consultant, and a former youth adviser for the diocese of Chichester.