Letter from Kate: Fostering Spiritual Growth in our Youth

Greetings St. Paul’s,

I’ve been reading a book entitled Offering the Gospel to Children in which author Gretchen Wolff Pritchard challenges the assumption that “three-year-olds don’t come to church to pray, to know God, or to share Jesus’ risen life.” She challenges congregations to consider the Christian formation of children a ministry richer and more dynamic than “sacred babysitting”.

Pritchard describes traditional children’s ministry as “leading children to think of the church’s role in their lives as that of standing by and supplying moral directives to be thankful, glad, kind, and loving, and to think of God preeminently as a loving provider of daily blessings, and Jesus as an example of peaceful and patient behavior. Time set aside for activity deemed as sacred reinforces our culture’s assumptions that explicitly ‘religious’ activity belongs in isolated moments, separate from normal spontaneous activity, and that it always involves sitting still, passively absorbing the interpretations of teachers, and operates almost exclusively on verbal and conceptual levels.”

I don’t know about you but that sounds a tad condescending and, to be honest, boring. For Pritchard, children have a real spirituality and an intuitive sense of God. Religious educators aren’t teaching children about a subject they know nothing about. Religious educators provide children with tools – images and stories – that will allow them to work with their own experience, to speculate and wonder, and to build (in their own way) a conscious and articulate faith.

Matthew 19: 13-15 tells us, “Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’” My New Revised Standard Version Harper Collins Study Bible points out that the phrase to such as these means those of humble status. Jesus seemed to understand that children were viewed as low in rank and status, yet he made physical and spiritual space for them.

This is what our prayground does – provides physical and spiritual space for our children. By having a prayground, we, as a congregation, are embodying our inclusiveness and intentionality. This is our congregation “walking the walk” when it comes to desiring more families in our midst. This is our congregation offering radical hospitality to families. By having a prayground, we are offering children the chance to see their parents and other adults worshipping so they know this is what life looks like together as children of God.

We are all adopted into God’s family through baptism, and it is important to worship together. However, children are not small adults. They experience the world through play, and church is no different. There will always be noise as the children engage in Christian formation through play. I invite you all to embrace it, and view it not as distraction, but for what it is – the youngest members of our community engaging in energetic and unashamed worship. Here at St. Paul’s we have a unique opportunity, as a multigenerational congregation, to not only provide our children with the tools to grow their own sacred wonder and faith journey, but to rediscover our own in the process. I invite you all to our prayground – come get to know our wonderful children and families.

May peace and joy be with you,
Kate Gould, MDiv (Family Minister)

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1 thought on “Letter from Kate: Fostering Spiritual Growth in our Youth”

  1. Great commentary. As to children learning by playing, we all see children at museums or exhibits of any kind, looking for wheels to turn or buttons to push. Delightful to watch and reminder of their excitement with new experiences.


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