“People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. And therefore Jesus said to his disciples, “Let the little children be sequestered, for we know not what they will do.” Luke 18:15-17.
That’s not how it goes! Let’s try again.
“People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom as a little child will never enter it.” Luke 18:15-17.
The emerging field of what is becoming known as “Child Theology” boasts a long and rocky history. Child Theology refers generally to the state of childhood in relation to the Christian faith, and refers specifically to the history of God with God’s people transmitted through Biblical and ecclesial tradition; all tied up in the experience of a child. The aim of Child Theology is to liberate the child from our fixations upon them as “not yets” and to begin to originate the value of a child from within the child itself and from the child’s connection to God as the Imago Dei.
Consider that a child’s reflection of Imago Dei is as close to God than that of an adult; maybe even closer, if we see the beauty in the ancient legend that the angels whisper the secrets of the universe to newborn babes. But children are sometimes seen as “partials” or as “not yets”; perhaps even as a group that must be sequestered, marginalized, and devalued until maturity. But we appeal to our better judgement when we realize that “the image of God” does not equal “maturity”, nor does it reside particularly in any class, social status, age, or label.
Jesus’ treatment of the marginalized (orphans, widows, women, the sick, children, immigrants, and aliens) gives children an uncompromisable status among us as invaluable members of our community, those made in God’s image, those with whom we can engage theologically by giving them a place in the worshiping community.
At FCC, the wide arms of Christ extend past all labels and categories. Everyone belongs in our Meeting House as an equal part in our church family. Even noisy or fidgety children. Why? Because Jesus welcomed them. One of our UCC contemporaries, Rev. Dr.Carolyn Landers Pettigrew, D.Min, writes, “Their [children’s] presence helps the congregation to act as a koinonia (community) called into being by Jesus Christ.”
Ok, this all sounds fantastic. We welcome children! We have the baby nursery. We have a Nursery School. We have events for young families. We have Church School. We have a cry-room. What more do we need?
We need a culture that welcomes children as Jesus welcomed them in the book of Matthew. We need to embrace the identity that the apostle Paul saw in them in 2nd Timothy. We need to acknowledge the power they possess as noted by the Psalmist: God silences foes and oppressors through the lips of children and infants. This means that we are ALL responsible for making children feel welcome in our church and in our meeting house, and we are responsible for how we make their parents and caregivers feel as they navigate an environment that has historically been hostile to fidgety, lively children. We must work to steer the ship of the future into fully embracing our moniker of “a welcoming church.”
If children feel that they do not belong when they are young, they will never desire to belong when they are older.
Summer time is unique at FCC. Our Board of Christian Education elects to offer only a nursery for babies in the summer time so that those who are not on vacation can experience FCC as a family. Out of respect for Pastor Dale, Pastor Ben, and for our musicians and listeners, we work together to assist a family with a screaming child to a place where the child can safely exercise their lungs. However, the idea that children do not belong in the meeting house doesn’t sound like something to which Jesus would have agreed.
Betsy Woodward, Director of Christian Education in San Mateo, California participated in a resource study by the United Church of Christ in 2002. In this study, San Mateo’s DoCE made three points about involving children in worship:
Children belong in the worshiping community.The worship service is an extremely important part of church life, and children need to be included and welcomed so that they learn that they belong.
Children learn from the moment of birth, if not before.We take our infants everywhere, yet some say, “children don’t belong in church.” God comes to us at all ages and all stages. God comes to those who are fidgety, curious, and talkative as well as those who are quiet and serene. Children’s spiritual life grows through experiencing God in worship.
The Meeting House belongs to all of us.If young families do not feel their children are welcomed and belong in the church environment (not just in the church school and nursery), they will not stay. Family worship makes the Meeting House an accepting space for children and also takes their involvement to a deeper level. They learn that they belong in the Meeting House: It is also THEIR sanctuary.