Building the Continuum

Supporting Formation and Vocation in The Episcopal Church

Needed: A Theology of Children

by Jerome W. Berryman

A 90% cut is not a budget cut. It is a statement.

Budgets are statements of values. The proposed budget for 2013-2015 appears to be a formal declaration of indifference for those who make decisions about funding the mission and ministry of The Episcopal Church regarding our church’s theology of children!

At the same time, the real action is not at the “national” church. The real action is in the parishes, where you are.  On the same day the budget was released I heard about yet another Christian educator getting sacked. I also received an email from the rector of a church in Oxford, UK, where they are going to extend the west end to make a welcoming place for children with a Godly Play room, and when it is not in use it will be a place to welcome adults. There’s the future. When we welcome children we welcome Jesus and the one who sent him.

The theology is in the details and there is theology at work in this, unconscious though it may be.

It may be that we are struggling with a theology that advocates ambivalence (advocates unconsciously both a high and a low view of children at the same time), ambiguity (advocates unconsciously never being clear about what we mean by the word “children” when we talk about them), indifference (advocates unconsciously never talking about children at all), and grace (advocates unconsciously that children are a means of grace necessary for the church’s being, especially as the Kingdom).  I bring this up, because we need to make this unconscious theology more conscious, so we are no longer controlled by it.

The power of the theology of ambivalence, ambiguity, indifference, and grace is that all four themes have a great deal of truth in them.  What is needed is to move the graceful part firmly into the center to interpret and nourish the constructive parts of the other three themes.

Okay, that’s enough theology, but here’s the point. Whenever you see a child in the church approach the child, make eye contact, and say “I’m glad to see you.” Pause a brief moment, smile, then go on your way.  You don’t even have to mean what you say, but I predict that if you do this over time you will mean it and that you and your parish will change.

This is not something that the “national” church, a diocese, or the budget committee can do for us.

This is also why the ministry we are engaged in is so important in every church and in every generation.  It is also why the voice of Christian educators and formation leaders needs to be heard and acknowledged in the politics of the church with full awareness of what is at stake theologically.

Jerome W. Berryman is an Episcopal priest and is known the world over as the founder of the Godly Play spiritual practice for children. He is the author of numerous books, including “Teaching Godly Play” (2009) and “Children and the Theologians: Clearing the Way for Grace” (2009).


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5 thoughts on “Needed: A Theology of Children

  1. I like the honesty that we may not feel sincerity in greeting a child. But community will change and we will change if we do so. I love Godly Play. When telling a story I feel like I am a child first hearing it myself. I wish this is the program I grew up with.

  2. This news is very sad to hear. In the UK the Church of England is planning to cut the post of national Children’s advisor.

    We have been using Godly Play here in the North of England for the last five years, and more recently materials from the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd which has transformed our work with children in one of the most deprived communities in the country.

  3. Suzi Robertson on said:

    Jerome, thanks for this. I hope every General Conference delegate and every employ at 815 is forced to read it. I might add that children know what we are doing. They may not be able to verbalize it for lack of language, but they know when we welcome them and when we do not. If they are in churches where they are not welcomed, they will likely eventually go somewhere where they feel welcomed. You implied that we can rise above this and we must.

  4. Reblogged this on ChYPs Ministry and commented:
    A very thoughtful look at the place of Youth & Children’s ministry in budgetary processes!
    I particularly love the suggestion to say something to any child you see in church!
    [HT Mary Hawes and Miz aka DOPCANDY]

  5. Pingback: “Needed: A Theology of Children” | What Can We Leave Out…

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