By Racquel Ray, Assoc. Minister (Acting)
Children’s presence in the community has been acknowledged from Jesus to today. However, at times, the church failed to recognize the importance and contributions of children in its mission. Here at Barrington Congregational Church United Church of Christ, our young folks are integral members of the community. This is in keeping with the Gospel message.
Children have been integral and contributing members of the church from Jesus’ Incarnation through the child Mary, the crowds that followed Jesus numbering thousands of men plus women and children, and our current dynamically multi-generational church Body. Children are woven into the fabric of our communities whether neighborhoods, schools or churches. As promised through the Baptismal Covenant the church has received children into the body of Christ. Children are not the future of the church. They are the NOW of the church; full and present members of the Body of Christ. The church has a unique obligation to children; to acknowledge, accept and accompany young people (and their parents).
Scriptures illustrate through Mary, the crowds, and the boy with fish and loaves in the Gospel of John (1) that children have played an integral role in the life of Jesus and His ministry. Jesus often used children to illustrate his parables teaching adults to be childlike. In the Gospel of Luke children were brought to Jesus, “even infants, that he might touch them.”(2) Matthew’s Gospel shows that children were brought to Jesus so that He “might lay his hands on them and pray.” (3) Mary, the theotokos, the Godbearer, was young – probably thirteen or fourteen.(4) Authors Kendra Creasy Dean and Ron Foster write of Mary:
Although a teenager, Mary need not “find” her ‘self’. Her identity is a gift, bestowed upon her by God alone. Who am I? Mary may wonder. And God replies, “You are my favored one, beloved and beautiful to me.”(5)
The feeding of the crowds of five thousand in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; and the feeding of the crowds of four thousand in Matthew and Mark indicate the crowds were comprised of men plus women and children. The Johannine narrative explicitly tells of the importance and contribution made by children:
When [Jesus] looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”…There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish…Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those where were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. (6)
Clearly, children were implicitly present in Jesus’ ministry as part of the crowd that followed Jesus; crowds and congregations are comprised of people – including children. Children were also explicitly contributing members of Jesus’ ministry; Mary the Godbearer and the Boy with loaves and fishes the founder of the feast for five thousand. Children’s spirituality in the Gospel narratives simply reflects young people being who God created them to be, having spiritual agency and ministering to the Body of Christ. The role of the church, the community and our ministers is to likewise acknowledge, accept and accompany young people as Jesus did. Jesus accompanied children accepting them as divine creatures. And so must we.
Over the last three days (as of this writing) the BCCUCC campus has been joyfully full of sparkling squeals of our youngest members. Last Saturday’s Pumpkin Palooza brought families and friends together, in-person, outdoors for the first time in over a year. Sunday after our worship service families migrated to the playground as kids played and parents reconnected. On Monday night, families gathered on the terrace for campfire and community around our youth.
The Faith Formation and Youth Ministry team (FFAYM) is an enthusiastic and energetic bunch of ministers, especially our Faith Formation Director Andrea Terni Bullard. This devoted group met a few weeks ago to brainstorm fall and winter programming, including support for families and youth. And this is the work of the Gospel; finding creative, relevant, and impactful ways to centralize our youngest members.
As our program year progresses and we approach Advent in a few short weeks I would like to commend our FFAYM programs to your attention. As our children and youth are vital to our community, we need your support in our Church School and Youth Ministry efforts. Classroom teachers are needed on Sunday mornings. Adult chaperones are needed for weekly and monthly Youth Group meetings. Please prayerfully consider whether God is nudging you to help out? Your ministry on behalf of our younger members will be a great gift to our church!
1 (Coogan, Brettler, Newsom, Perkins, 2010) John 6:9
2 (Coogan, Brettler, Newsom, Perkins, 2010)Luke 18:15
3 (Coogan, Brettler, Newsom, Perkins, 2010)Matthew 19:13
4 (Kenda Creasy Dean, 1998 )p.46
5 (Kenda Creasy Dean, 1998) p.46
6 (Coogan, Brettler, Newsom, Perkins, 2010) John 6:5-11 paraphrased