Getting serious about children's formation

Seeing with fresh eyes. I think that’s the best gift that Godly Play for All Ages gave me this summer. It was a chance to hear the great stories of the Bible told in a simple, easy-to-understand way, without a lot of baggage. 

My years of adulthood, especially those years spent in seminary, have taught me to view Bible stories with a certain post-modern lens, to think in terms of metaphors, of textual analysis, of the deeper meaning behind the literal meaning of the words. And that is, of course, as it should be, particularly for someone who wears a collar and attempts to preach the Word of God every Sunday, every Wednesday and sometimes in between. 

But it was also nice to step back and, like watching an animated film with a child, just enjoy the story for the story’s sake, and draw from it some simple life lessons. We never get too old for that.

But now our pilot program with Godly Play has ended. And we, as a parish, have some decisions to make. What do we do now? 

Despite our fondest hopes, Godly Play for All Ages did not bring in any new families looking for a church home. By that measure, we cannot deem the program to have been a success. And to be honest, it wasdisruptive for our coffee hour fellowship. Every week, I had to assume the role of bouncer, forcing people still sipping their coffee either to join our class, or hush talking, or leave. That was awkward. 

On the other hand, it was readily apparent how beneficial the class was for Amaya and for the other children who occasionally took part. I never left class thinking “Well thatwas a waste of time.” So it seems to me we need to do something, but Godly Play for All Ages is not the answer. 

Whatever we do, it’s gonna be a mountain to climb. Near as I can determine, we have not offered regular Sunday school classes for children at St. James since the early to mid 1990s. But on the survey conducted at our Annual Meeting in January, it's something the congregation indicated is strongly desired. 

Of course, offering regular Sunday school classes for children takes a big commitment. Not only do we need children - something that's often in short supply - we need teachers, at least two for every children's class. Those teachers must be trained and receive the appropriate Safeguarding God's Children certification. We need to invest in a curriculum and teaching materials. Staffing a children's class will necessarily draw resources away from other activities. And it’s a commitment that must be met every Sunday, not just when it’s convenient. 

I’m happy to report that we do have the start of a children’s formation team. People have come forward and offered their time and talent. But this isn’t something that two or three people can pull off alone. Teachers need backup. And a successful children’s formation program really needs someone thinking about it every day, devoting time to making it a success, exploring curriculum options, making sure we have supplies, and getting the word out to the community. In other words, a children’s formation program needs a parent. 

Is this something you’d be willing to do? If you have an interest, please contact me this week. Our parish leadership will be discussing this week how to move forward. In short, it’s time to stop playing, and get serious.