Twelve Marks of a Child Friendly Church
The health of a church can easily be gauged by the number of children who find themselves actively engaged in its life and ministry. An All-Age Church should always be sensitive to the children, lest the future present a bleak prognosis. We at ACF are blessed and privileged to have so many children attending and are being part of the church family and as we work together to build our church, I would like to bring to your attention twelve marks of a Child Friendly Church- a vision that we should try imbibe and achieve.
- A place where the children feel welcomed, counted, honoured and at home. Affirming of dignity and space is what children must primarily have wherever they are. Once they find themselves valued and their aspirations met, they would love the place. We should therefore be looking at practical ways of making this possible.
- A place where children love to come back. This would require meaningful and appropriate programmes for children which could include among many others Children’s Church, Group Outings, Camps, Cultural Events, Games, Story Telling, Sunday School, Vacation events and Bible Studies.
- A place where children are included in all aspects of life– including decision making and at the Lord’s table. Children are not decorative pieces they are individuals with inestimable potentials and unique dreams. To make church meaningful to them we should understand the importance of a paradigm shift in several aspects of the life of the church including decision making. The children should be invited into the process of decision making, heard and understood and their opinions valued. Instead of making decisions for them we should learn to make decisions with them or even to honour their decisions. A positive step towards this is surely the decision to include all the children at the Lord’s Table even before they are confirmed. It is good to see children actively being part of singing and in enactments. We sure can do more.
- A place where children are offered appropriate spiritual nurture. It is a fact that we at times become too blind to the spiritual nurture of children when we go about with our traditional ways of being the church. The sermons do not connect to them, the music is alien to them and the liturgy often archaic. Special effort must be made to ensure proper spiritual nurture of children. The praxis and the methodology, the content and the approach need to be creatively discussed.
- A place where children are safe. One of the non-negotiables in our building of an appropriate children ministry would be safety of the children. All safe-guarding protocols should be in place in ensuring that the personnel who connect with children go through appropriate vetting and training. We should ensure that the locale is totally safe and child friendly and that proper redressal mechanisms are in place should an alarm be raised.
- A place where rights and needs of children are properly understood. The rights of children are varied and include among others the rights to non- discrimination, identity protection, proper family care, protection from abuse, access to information and entitlements and to rest and play. The church should be a space where they are made aware of these and further rights and a place where they see these rights honoured.
- A place where children with special needs are appropriately ministered to. Not all children are the same. Some are very special. Accessibility, Sensitivity, Inclusion and Care are basic guidelines that everyone need to keep in mind in formulating an appropriate worship and nurture context to the vulnerable. It includes not only having sign language interpretation for the hearing impaired and the braille resources for the seeing impaired, but also calls for attention into the multi-faceted needs of people living with varied challenges.
- A place where children can openly share their struggles of life. One of the most important needs of children is right guidance and counselling at the crossroads in life. They keep encountering various challenges in the day-to-day life, some of which require proper ethical and moral guidance to meaningfully tackle. The Psycho-Social and Counselling support a church can offer could be an inestimable resource.
- A place where children form healthy friendships. There is an adage which goes, ‘tell me who your friends are, and I will tell you who you are’. It is an undisputed fact that peers influence the character of children tremendously and therefore making right friendship is very important. Any peripheral effort towards this would yield lesser fruit than providing the right ambience for children to choose the right kind of friends.
- A place where children learn to live responsibly with each other and with nature. Everyone has a responsibility for the well-being of the other and to ensure harmony of relationships with each other and with nature. With the Climate Crisis almost turning out to be a climate emergency children should learn to live with just practices. They should not be bullied but more so should also learn not to bully anyone. They should understand what it takes to live a life not hurting anyone- a life both sensitive and sensible.
- A place where people of all ages are sensitive to the rights of children. It just requires one person, or one incident to jeopardise all that is done to build a ministry for children. It is therefore important that every person who is part of the Chaplaincy is sensitised to the rights and needs of children. This would include having special sessions for parents and elders on caring rightly for the children.
- A place where compassion for lesser privileged children is inculcated in each child. The heart for mission is nurtured in children while they remain unaffected by the selfishness of the world. This could be done by exposing children to the lives and contexts of lesser privileged children and people through stories, sharing of experience and wherever possible exposure visits.
The Future We are waiting for is coming soon!!! While we weave dreams about the future and quill our visions it is important that we ensure that strong foundations be continued to be built so that the church of tomorrow will stand firm on the same. The cornerstone of any such building continues to be Jesus Christ who said: Let the Children Come to Me. Do Not Stop Them. The Kingdom of God belongs to such.
Rev’d Vinod Victor
Chaplain, Anglican Church of Freiburg