“Blessed be children, which brings down something of heaven into the midst of our rough earthliness.”
– Henri Frederic Amiel
Thank you for taking the time to read my message to faith leaders. As a person of faith, and as a person who works with and cares deeply about the well-being of young people within your faith community, you’re likely here to explore new ways to minister to children. If so, wonderful! Please read on.
For over three decades I’ve had the great privilege of working with young people, within faith communities and within secular community-based organizations. Regardless of the setting, my observation has been that children inherently seek to understand, feel and know for themselves what God may be, or may not be, in their lives. Faith leaders and religious education teachers too frequently assume that because a child or teen has arrived at the appointed hour for class or religious services, that they’re eager and ready to “learn” and experience the faith that they have been handed. Some are, and many are not.
Children are natural seekers. But they seek many things. They seek to understand their surroundings and the wider world that they find themselves in. They seek to find their place and be accepted among their peers and they seek longingly, in one way or another, the approval of the many adults in their lives. They worry about their bodies, family members, pets and a village where they heard that bombs dropped overnight in a far off country. And they seek spiritually, which may be embedded deeply within and far from the top of where the teacher and minister may be waiting.
And that’s the rub and the opportunity. Well crafted curriculum, safe spaces, and child-to-staff ratios are good starters but these along are not enough. Children need to know and have a sense of the person, the teacher or the clergy person who is standing and speaking in front of them. Those who teach and those who minister need to reach and intersect at the point where the child is, and not the other way around. Once done, the journey, the spiritual journey for child and teacher, and the adventure of exploring how that of the Spirit gives breath and meaning to our very existence, becomes in essence a grace-filled moment, a splendid ride, that can last a lifetime for both. In reality, isn’t this why we minister, and teach religious education?
Those who know me in and out of “church” have heard me say, I don’t care what color you paint your God … just get one if you can. That’s the foundation (and opinion) on which this section named “Message to Faith Leaders” is built. Walt Whitman’s words, “Argue not concerning matters of God” could serve as an overarching mantra for these pages as well. Here, at least, let’s not be hampered by doctrine or denomination. Let’s instead be about that raw and indomitable Spirit that rides in on many ‘colors,’ that resides within our places of worship that children are eager to know and seek to receive for themselves.
There are many excellent sites and useful resources out there tailored specifically to attract young people into a particular faith community and prescribed orthodoxy. This site is not one of them. The primary goal of this section of Youth Workers Toolbox is to share what has helped various faith leaders to build safe and enduring communities within their respective denominations, which in turn can be shared freely with others who teach and minister representing other pathways to experience the divine in our lives.
Now we can begin!
Text by K. Lee. Image of wall art by Jen Moura