I had an interesting conversation this week that reinforced my prejudice. My friend talked about looking at the work and textbooks for, say, Maths, Physics, or Biology for senior secondary school students. And then my friend looked at the level of religious, ethical, and philosophical discussion used for similar aged students – that was at a far more naive, childish level. A student might be doing highly advanced work in other subjects, but for theology, our expectation is mostly that they have no such agility with the discipline. It’s a generalisation, sure, but we generally do not place the great philosophical and theological thinking before young people growing up.
Many churches have activities for children during services where those activities are well below their ability. When they are given a gift, children are often given gifts they will grow out of, not into. How many give a full Missal, a quality Study Bible, a New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa – at a baptism? Something that they will have for life; something they will grow into not out of; somethings that will be treasured on their shelf an used as they grow up and on into adulthood.
My friend told me complex prayers he was taught as a very young child – with ideas that went beyond his understanding at the time but which he knew he would grow into; and they have stayed with him as companions into his adult life. He talked about adults around him having serious theological debates in his presence as a young child – theology and faith was for adults, for life, something to grow into. Sure, children have children’s needs that need to and can be met. But, you are getting my point: faith is for life – not something simply for children and the unintelligent – like the Tooth Fairy.
I reflected, recently, that we don’t ‘childify’ remembering war at our ANZAC service. Why might we do that with our faith?
My reflection on Children at the Eucharist in my book Celebrating Eucharist
Let’s hear some positive stories of treating children with the understanding that faith is something for life, to grow into, for adults. What gifts do you know of that can contribute to this perspective?