Read the rest here.
On Sunday my niece told me that at her Methodist church, they’re planning to do away with Sunday school for kids during the regular church service. I was really surprised that they had something for kids to do while the service was going on. When I was growing up in this church in the 1970s, kids were present for the main service. As an adult, I’ve either been Roman Catholic or Orthodox, and there’s never been any question in either church but that children must be present for the liturgy. I didn’t know that any church did it any other way. I was ignorant.Turns out that there are strong second thoughts among Protestants about an approach to youth ministry that treats young people as separate from the adult congregation. A new documentary — available for free viewing online here — claims that “youth ministry” has been a disaster.
Nobody's arguing for getting rid of Sunday Schools or religious education for children, but rather that segregating the worship community by age is not really a good idea after all.
As I said in Rod's comment boxes, I can't believe that when he was Catholic he never encountered "Children's Liturgy" or "Children's Church," which I've referred to here on occasion as “The Rite of Dismissing the Children So They Can Go Color Things." Many, if not most, Catholics have seen this: young children are called forth to the altar, a prayer is read or a blessing given by the priest, a "youth leader" holds aloft a book which is probably a children's Lectionary, and the leader or leaders and children process out of the church. There is, alas, no orderly re-entry process; the children drift back into the main church in a highly disorganized fashion sometime between the end of the homily and the beginning of the Canon. If the church is crowded, other adults may have taken the children's seats, leaving frustrated parents squeezing their young ones back into the pews somewhere around their knees, with plenty of glaring from those who stole the children's original seats as they are inconvenienced by the return of the little ones.
As to exactly what goes on during "Children's Church" I confess that I don't really know, though that has not stopped me from writing about it before. My girls never participated (despite some occasional pressure to do so). All I know is that what is supposed to happen is that the children are to be read the readings in a simplified form and then a little talk is to be given. This talk is not a homily because it is given by lay people (even though the original instructions call for a homily--but that would require a priest or deacon to conduct the Children's Liturgy). Crafts are most emphatically not supposed to be done, but that doesn't stop children from carrying aloft various coloring pages or Popsicle-stick art when they return, so I suppose people don't know about the "no-crafts" provision.
My view on this, as I've said before, is that all it does is postpone a child's full participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Is a five-year-old going to understand every word of the readings and Gospel? No, but there are plenty of resources to use to help a child understand the readings before Mass on Sunday. Are young children going to understand the homily? No, but there's no prohibition against them looking quietly at an illustrated Bible or other child-friendly material during the homily. And with each passing year, a child being instructed in this way will grow more and more familiar with the Mass, and more and more capable of entering with the Church in this highest and best form of worship.
What do you think? Is Children's Church, as I call it, a well-intentioned but ultimately bad idea? Or is it something worth fixing, even if it ends up being rather different from how it's often done today?