The Deanery of Nordic and Baltic States gathered in Stavanger, Norway from 8th to 10th September 2017. You may read more about the Synod from Bishop David’s blog.
Below are Alexander Nwokeji’s notes on the two presentations in the Synod. These were done over Skype from the UK.
Children and the Kingdom/Children and the Church with Professor Haddon Willmer of the Child Theology Movement.
Prof Haddon Willmer has been involved in Child Theology since after retiring 20 years ago.
Haddon has been exploring the question of what goes on when the church engages with children, and what comes of that engagement. Based on his findings, there is no clear answer to that question except broad options, as outlined below.
Idealization of Children
Here, there is a feeling of children being beautiful and to be loved. Children are so weak but yet possess enormous power to life. They are the image of God, embody spirituality, and are believed to be closer to God than adults. However, Haddon argues that human being as a whole (not Children only) is the image of God.
According to Haddon, idealization of childhood was made popular in some parts of British post romantic culture. This idealization regards childhood as being the best time of one’s live. Haddon doesn’t seem to agree with this view, as he argues that telling a child that she/he is in the best time of her/his life would not be proper. Every child looks forward to growing up and becoming an adult.
Instrumentalization of the child’s life
We believe children have more future than we do. They are the future of industry and society. As a result of this, they become our anxiety, ambition and future as we want to have a future in their lives. We want them to become our legacy when we go. This leads to a situation whereby children become structurally and emotionally instrumentalized. Question is: how do we prevent this instrumentalization of children from becoming exploitation of children? How do we prevent adults from exploiting children to satisfy their own wish? Also, when the church engages children to sustain the church for the future, does this amount to exploitation? As a church, we are committed to not making instrumentalization become a submission to exploitation. The solution is to serve one another.
Theology of Children
The structure of child theology is such that the child is seen through the church’s theological teaching. I.e. Each church interprets children within the boundaries of its theological heritage. The question is: what if this theology is shaky and need to be transformed? What if the theology is authoritative? As a church, we should learn to see children as critique of our own theology. Jesus said; unless you humble yourself like a child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Through this statement, Jesus invites us (the church) to humble ourselves like children, and go back to our theological roots, with a view to making it better for the children if necessary.
Children and the Kingdom/Children and the Church with Tony Cook, Head of Youth and Children’s Work for the Diocese of Bath and Wells.
Tony Cook talked about his experience in Youth and Children ministry. According to him, in children ministry (Aged 5 – 11), great emphasis is placed on the various programs for the children. Whereas in youth ministry, it is all about the relationship we build with them and the time we invest in them.
In children’s ministry, programs, activities and events are the valuable tools employed to help children understand the wonder of God. These tools offer a child the time and space to discover the marvel of God. By doing repetitive and new things, children are able to question and wonder. Children need to feel safe, secure, and loved. They need opportunity to worship God in their own way and alongside others. If we get resources and events planned around children, it would help them a lot. Some examples of initiatives are as listed below:
● Godly Play
● Open book – retelling stories
● Mercy Church
● Holiday Club – Interactive craft work
● Organizations and Websites e.g. Scripture Union, Urban saints, Engaged worship etc.
● Children’s ministries
Consider having real events and outreach to Children. There is no excuse not to have things to work for children. We should make the most of the resources we have. We should also be creative with events to get resources for children.
● Christmas Eve event
● Church Garden
● Art in the Church
Children share their excitement and energy in the church. Jesus said: bring the children to me. Without children, we miss what God has to reveal to us through them. God has a lot to reveal to us through children.
In youth ministry, there is less of program and activities but more of building relationship with them. This is because programs without relationship amount to entertainment. We need to show the youth love and try not to judge them. Doing so would help them not to make bad choices. We need to deeply invest in the youth timewise.
According to Tony, young people ask for time to know them. They want to know that we are there for them. We need to listen to their thoughts, hopes and aspirations. We need to share Jesus with them both in word, and actions. If this becomes the foundation of our youth ministry, it would be helpful.
Some general advice from Tony:
Endeavour to build relationships with the youth. It is difficult to do discipleship without relationship.
Parents should strive to spend time individually with their children.
In summary, church without all ages is not very pleasing. The church should mimic the old church where we are all inclusive. It should be for the whole community; hence it should pray and share with one another. By doing so, numbers will be added everyday (including children). Church is still one of the few institutions able to gather people of all ages together, as it gives a feeling of being part of a family, even if one doesn’t have a family.