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Multiply: Ministry with Children and Young People

We share here a presentation Elisabeth Sutcliffe, our Children and Families' Minister, was invited to give at a recent national conference 'Multiply.'

I’ve been asked here today to share the story of our sacramental church that is growing younger.


When I was asked, my first thought was, “What am I going to say? We haven’t had a flashy project with clear outcomes.” But what we have done is create an all age, inclusive church community where everyone is welcome. And what a difference it’s made!


Culture change isn’t easy, but by looking at the story of our all age service and sharing the voices of our children, I hope to give you a glimpse of how welcoming children and families for who they are and the gifts they bring, can enhance your whole community.


So first, an all age service a couple of years before I started working at St Andrew’s. There was a place for children – a small table with activities at the front, where they could more easily see. Great! There was an action song, but the children were busy colouring and the adults weren’t convinced about joining in. And then in the talk, the children were asked some quite factual questions about the story and then given an activity to do while the priest turned to the adults and spoke to them. There were so many ‘nearlys’. Children were given a space in the church, but then there was still not much for them to see. Children were given the chance to speak – but only really to be ‘tested’ on what they knew, and not to contribute or share something of their own faith or spirituality. There were maybe 8-10 children there.


Next, It’s 2020. I’ve been in post for 8 months, we’re mid-lockdown and I realised an all age service on Zoom was going to be really important. It was risky – people were encouraged to share their faith in break out groups and we finished with an action song. We explained that, while we couldn’t hear each other sing on zoom, we could share the actions. And they all did them. I still remember my surprise and joy of seeing toddlers to 90 year olds across my screen, all joining in. Something usually thought of as maybe more child-like was now being seen differently – it was instead a powerful way of everyone connecting as a community. We had about 10-12 children there.


Fast forward to earlier this year - an all age service for Candlemas. There’s a large space at the front for children and families so they can see, move, and make a Candlemas nightlight. A drama of the gospel story was led by one of our newest families together with two of our older, long-standing congregation members. For our prayers, all are invited to find someone of a different generation to speak to and to share what they are bringing to God in prayer. All generations are welcome, and meet with God together.  At these services now, we usually have 25-35 children. On Easter Sunday, we had 50.


So that’s a little glimpse of the story at St Andrew’s. Very little of the basics of what we actually do, has changed – we still have our monthly all age service, a midweek toddler group, Sunday morning children’s groups, a Messy Church. But how we do them has changed.


What lies underneath this change?


Let me remind you now of another story. A story when there was a huge, hungry crowd and a small child. A small child who gave everything he had to Jesus, just 5 loaves and 2 fish, but that gift meant that Jesus could feed over 5000 people.


I often find that children’s reflections can help me recognise something of God in a new light. So what did some of our children at St Andrew’s notice about this story? One child said:


“Children are kind and caring and are responsible for being kind and looking after other people, and not just adults.”


Not just adults.


So often I hear that children are the church of tomorrow. But they are part of our church today. They can contribute to God’s kingdom now.


At St Andrew’s we‘re developing a culture where children are welcome for who they are, knowing they’re vital members of the Body of Christ. It’s not perfect, and takes compromise, but we strive to be a space where adults and children both feel they belong.


We recognise that children have their own relationship with God, so their faith needs to be nurtured, not taught. We try to journey with them, and learn from them too.


So we don’t just ask children closed questions - with a fixed answer we think they should know. Yes, this would help our talks and plans stay on track. But we want our young people to share their own faith, their questions, their doubts, their beliefs. And not just for their benefit. When we ask open, wondering questions, we leave space for something more – because our young people sometimes speak far more clearly about God than we ever could.


Our children are part of our church today.



How else did our children respond to the story? Another child said:


“I’d be like the child.  When I’d be bringing out the food, ‘This is all I have but nothing is impossible. There’s always a way…’”


The disciples thought they had to send the crowd away to eat. A child recognised what Jesus could do.


Time and time again, we discover our children and young people aren’t just members of our church today, but leaders. They recognise that with God, there is always a way, but they have to act.


Being leaders doesn’t mean we only hand them a reading and ask them to stand in front of a microphone. Yes, they lead our readings and prayers. But being leaders also means they contribute their own ideas, they share their own gifts – and wow, what amazing gifts they have!


But most importantly, when we let our young people help set the agenda, their actions can inspire us.


Last Autumn, one of our eight year olds wanted to do something for the homeless. So our younger youth group – ‘Toastie Club’ – did a sponsored sleep out in the church. They then led a service for Homelessness Sunday, sharing some of what they thought was important.


This really spoke into the hearts of the adults in our congregation too, so just a few weeks after our young people put supporting the homeless at the top of their agenda, our PCC did the same thing – offering to partner with a local charity and offer seed funding to ensure there would be a night shelter in Bedford last winter.


Our children can be leaders.



Our last child’s observation?


“The child brought food and let God hand it out to everyone.”


The child noticed where God was working, and joined in. And that’s what we need to do in our ministry with children and young people.


We can’t do everything. So we look for sparks of hope, signs of where God is working, and then we join in.


Re-establishing after the pandemic, children and families were finally coming back in person. There was a spark of hope for the future. But we didn’t have enough children or volunteers for all our groups each Sunday. So what did we do? We ran one children’s group for everybody. It wasn’t always easy trying to offer something for toddlers to teenagers, but it had benefits – the children cared for each other, and learned about God from one other. And we now hope to begin leading three children’s groups on a Sunday morning.


We look for the sparks of hope, and join in.



So that’s some of the story of St Andrew’s. Nothing ground-breaking. But a firm commitment that in everything we do, our children and young people are a vital part of our church today.


We welcome them as they are, into a church that is as much theirs as anyone else’s. And doing this benefits our whole church family, not just our children.


So as you go from here, here are three questions to reflect on:


•      Can you think of a time when a child helped you to recognise something about God?

•      I wonder, how can you make space and opportunities for this to happen more often?


•      How do you ensure children’s voices are heard, valued and acted on?

•      It’s not always easy – some people may feel if you are listening to children’s voices, you are no longer listening to them. But it is so important to do.

•      Where is the spark of hope for your young people’s ministry, and how are you going to kindle this?

•      You don’t have to do everything, but you do have to do something. God is there – are you?

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1 comentario

Nneka Williams
Nneka Williams
29 jun

Well done Elisabeth, Roseanne and all the lovely people who create a lovely space for our children to explore their faith xx

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