Today's PAYG was the well known incident where Jesus' disciples were squabbling about greatness and Jesus took a small child, set 'it' amidst them and said - you need to become like one of these. For two millennia since then, churches have had a complex relationship with children, so much so that I feel a bit tentative posting, and know even as I type this could be misunderstood or misinterpreted. So, a reminder of the disclaimer stuff - my blog, my mess ups.
How do we make churches a place where children discover their inate spirituality and grow in faith? How do we do this in a way that is helpful for as many peple of all ages as possible? How do we truly value everyone equally? I have a suspicion if I knew the answer to that, I could be a very materially wealthy woman!
Sometimes it seems easier to work out what we are getting 'wrong' or what is not really helpful than the converse. Something which, I think, is made more complicated by the fact that the church is out of kilter with a society where childhood has become almost a cult in its own right over the last century or so. Thank goodness children are now protected by law from exploitation and abuse; that they are educated, inoculated and given top class health-care. Thank goodness that catch-nets are there for those whose parents cannot cope. But there is flip side... we have become so cautious that children are denied the simple pleasures that even my generation took for granted, we have teachers fearful of chastising poor behaviour, we have expectations that every (or almost every) aspect of life is totally child-friendly/accessible and so on. If I am honest, I am not quite sure that if Jesus was in the same situation today, at least in Britain, that it would be a child who symbolised the 'least' in society. Not that I'm quite sure who it would be instead - possibly a single, homeless, adult male as, top my knowledge, they have the least 'rights' under UK law.
None of this means that in churches we can get away with ignoring or marginalising children; au contraire, we must work harder to wlecome and encourage them. But it also means that we have to beware the risk of marginalising some other part of society in the process... people with hidden disabilities perhaps, or people with mental health issues, or single adults in their thirties and forties, or whatever it is. Part of nurturing children - and adults - is help each come to understand that society is so much bigger than 'me'.
Jesus took a worthless individual and set 'it' amidst the crowd... unless you become like this, you have no place in my kingdom.
Children - in
People with disabilities - in
People with mental health issue - in
People who don't conform to societal stereotypes - in
Whoever I perceive as worthless - in
So, here I am - trying to work it out, failing miserably, risking being misheard... but willing to hear Jesus challenging me in my attitudes, my exclusions, my evaluations.
Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.