We met for the fourth Potluck-with-a-Purpose to discuss Family Ministry: Children, Youth (ministry for the whole Family). An enduring image that emerged from the discussion is that you can’t fit square pegs into round holes. Often, that’s exactly what Christian communities try and do. “You can join us if you’re square like us,” is an invitation that will likely fail. If something has to give, has to change, perhaps it’s the Church.
The change might even be as simple as defining who we are more clearly. Perhaps one reason people are not attracted to communities of faith is that they are already feeling judged and unwelcomed by us. If we do a better job of re-branding the Church as a community of love, mercy and social action we might be better positioned to proclaim the Good News of God’s love more widely.
It is widely understood that St. Paul’s Church is a place that truly welcomes all members of the family to participate in worship and during the times that we gather. We have realistic expectations of children during worship and church events. We know that seeing children and youth engaged in worship and other activities attracts people. Children are not being shushed, and are safe to roam and run around.
So, in recognizing that attending Church is not the norm for most people these days, how do we promote St. Paul’s and what it has to offer? We want to see and welcome families in all their varieties. We want our children to see families that are different from their own. At Church we meet different types of people and all of us are seeking a relationship with God. When someone joins St. Paul’s Church they are joining our family.
Our hope is to create a community that is always open and welcoming to new people, a Church that is open to all. Youth and children absorb lots of things just by being amongst us and listening to the hymns, sermon and readings. So, a child in the pews or in the aisles during services is important, they are participating and listening even when being quiet and still.
Some suggestions that came up at the meeting include offering children the opportunity to make play altars, vestments, and baptism fonts. The worship services cannot be too long. The break out room might be more useful if a volunteer was present. It needs to be cleaned up and re stocked with newer toys and books. A more welcoming space would include high chairs and stools for children. We need to develop lay leadership for our youth work; a core group dedicated to this work. Have children-talks sometimes in worship. Invite the youth to gather regularly for pizza with an activity or talk, or just social time. Explore branding opportunities; there are lots of free advertising, there’s parades, and our church signage.