From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Conference centers on special gifts children bring to the church
John Rollins <firstname.lastname@example.org>
26 Oct 1998 20:35:50
Conference centers on special gifts children bring to the church
by Carol E. Barnwell
(ENS) "What happens when we assume a child has an identical and
as urgent a claim on Sunday worship as anyone in the
congregation?" the Rev. Caroline Fairless asked participants
during the 1998 National Episcopal Children's Ministries
Conference. Her comments challenged Christian Educators to do
more than "accommodate" children in worship.
"It is to our soul's health that we listen to children and let
their natural awe and wonder draw us out," Presiding Bishop Frank
Griswold told participants. He said the ministry of children
"changes adults, allowing them to recover a sense of mystery" in
worship, noting that the Book of Common Prayer gives the Church
"authentic ways to stretch tradition" and to create alternative
ways to integrate children fully into worship.
The conference, two years in the planning, was sponsored by the
Office of Children's Ministries of the Episcopal Church and was
designed to chart a course for children in the church. According
to the design team chair, Anne Tuohy of the Diocese of Chicago,
the five-day conference at Camp Allen, Texas, was based on the
Children's Charter adopted at the last General Convention.
"The conference proclaims the Children's Charter and gives
participants the tools to incorporate it into the fullness of the
church," Tuohy said. She gave credit to the vision of Howard
Williams, former director of Children's Ministry, for the idea of
the Charter. "Seven years ago, 12 dioceses began using new models
of ministry with children and that number grew to 20. From those
models came the Charter," she explained.
It is a commitment to fully draw children "into our lives," she
said, pointing out the "key piece is listening to children's
voices and allowing them to lead us."
Workshops offer variety
More than 425 participants came to the rolling, piney woods of
East Texas from across the United States, from Ireland and
Australia. Each day of the conference focused on one of the three
parts of the Children's Charter: nurturing of the child; ministry
to children-church and the world and advocating on their behalf;
and ministry of the child-engaging and supporting children to
encourage lifelong ministry.
More than 75 workshops engaged conference-goers in every aspect
of children's ministries and included: preaching to children,
advocating on behalf of children, nurturing volunteers,
recognizing the gifts of "special" children, a pastoral response
to gay and lesbian children, children's health issues and their
Helen Barron, president and CEO of Living the Good News for 16
years, now produces Christian Education materials for the family
with her new company, Candle Press in Denver. She suggested
strategies for godparenting in her workshop and felt the
conference was "outstanding." "The design and liturgy team built a
community and then invited us into it," Barron said, clearly
elated to be with so many people who "have a heart for children's
ministry." The challenge, she believes, will be to put the ideas
to work in congregations which are not open to change.
Paula Baldwin, Director of Religious Education at Palmer
Memorial Church, Houston, Texas, was especially touched by plenary
speaker Dr. Eileen Lindner of the National Council of Churches.
"She listed the five times in a child's life when they want the
church to be there and the five times clergy think the church
should be present. They didn't jive at all!" Baldwin noted.
Children listed divorce, the death of a pet, being held back in
school or a friend moving while the Church's list included times
like Baptism and marriage.
"This kind of conference helps adults learn to open their
hearts to hear each other and our children," Baldwin said. "We
need to respond rather than react to how we plan children's and
family services," she added.
Ruby Peasure found reinforcement for the things already going
on at her church, St. Edmond's in Pacifica, California. "Being
child-friendly doesn't mean patronizing," she said, "and we are
already very inclusive."
She said children create a different energy that excites a
congregation. "As I've listened to all the new ideas throughout
the conference," she added, "I think, `We can do that even though
we are small!' It opens my imagination to the resources we
already have and lets me know we can be effective, even though we
don't have a large congregation."
A model for all
The Authority of Generations, a model designed to build
personal relationships, was used throughout the conference. Each
day began with the process using scripture, hymns, prayers and
personal responses to questions. Tuohy said that the process
gives equal access to eight-year-olds and 60-year-olds alike and
helps find value in each voice. "The elders provide the voice of
wisdom, while children provide the prophetic voice," she said.
Trained "weavers" and "discerners of song" guided the process,
choosing appropriate hymns to sing and weaving the different
stories together when everyone had spoken. Ernesto Medina,
missioner for Christian formation in the Diocese of Los Angeles,
developed the Authority of Generations as a result of an intimate
conversation with a ten-year-old child. In sharing the stories of
their "most holy object" Medina said that the two were able to
"share some of our most holy moments. . .the essence of love which
we experienced from God."
He said that the Authority of Generations process is "one of
the scariest things we have ever had to do, but the results are
well worth" the effort.
Saturday evening, a dozen children addressed the group. They
told how God was present in their lives and, in some cases, how
they had established ministries in their communities. Ben
Griswold, a member of St. John the Divine, Houston, shared his
story of helping establish an outreach program to children in a
Bolivian village. Others told how the Holy Spirit had been at
work in their lives.
Worship was rich with exciting music, echoing prayers and
spontaneous dancing in the aisles-a celebration of openness that
each component of the conference had encouraged. Gathering
prayers with echoed responses drew the congregation into worship
as a breeze lapped at the tent set up to accommodate the event.
The worship team designed interactive readings and dramatic
presentations to engage the congregation. Liturgies were designed
"to crack open and deepen our personal stories," said team
Upon entering the closing Eucharist, each person was handed a
rough stone. During the service they were asked to transfer their
troubles and the hardness of their own hearts onto the stone and
then, in turn, place the stone into a cleansing pool of water.
Bishop Griswold told eight-year-old Andy's story: Andy clenched
a piece of bread in his fist following a Eucharist only revealing
his treasure on the car ride home. He was "taking it to Mom" who
had not attended the service. At home, Mom was still busy
preparing for the arrival of dinner guests. Andy walked up behind
her, handed the bread to her and said, "Mom, the body of Christ."
"Now, who understands the Eucharist?" Griswold asked. He called
the Children's Charter "a living response of God's love for us,"
and admonished each person to carry it forth.
--Carol Barnwell is the editor of the Texas Episcopalian, the
newspaper for the Diocese of Texas.
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