Claire Dalpra asks whether we do things for the children or for the adults.
We're at parish communion. I look down to find my four-year-old daughter, Natalie, and her little friend have disappeared under our row of chairs. They're lying with bottoms and legs exposed, pretending to be explorers looking for a treasure in a cave. I spend the whole of the pre-communion hymn and Eucharistic prayer trying to entice them out but give up when I see two six-year-olds trotting towards us on a hobby horse. No wonder the visiting celebrant looks totally bewildered when he glances over to our crazy corner of the congregation.
Maybe that's why some Christians are getting creative about fresh expressions of church for young families. It's a sad thing to see new families come to church and spend the duration of the service trying to keep their young children quiet. At a time of life when parents are exhausted, I'm not surprised people are looking ways in which children can explore spirituality at their level, while providing a short, safe, guilt-free environment for parents where little ones aren't demanding to take dolly and pushchair up to the rail for communion, or running helter-skelter round a hall during a 30-minute preach in a 'supposed' all-age worship service.
However, this type of fresh expression comes with a health warning. The spiritual needs of both children and adults need to be considered in the long-term. If these fresh expressions really are church and not just services, the discipleship of all is crucial. At the same time, we mustn't fall back into the trap of believing one gathering can do all that is needed, especially when such gatherings often happen only monthly.
Faith at home resources
As the new Guide page on fresh expressions of church with children describes, creative responses to this discipleship issue are beginning to emerge. Some fresh expressions are using crèche facilities to enable part of their time together to be more focused on adult discipleship. Others are finding an evening meeting for parents' spiritual exploration over a glass of wine works well. Lastly, there are some fantastic 'faith at home' resources to encourage families to explore discipleship together on an ongoing basis between the large, occasional gatherings.