I’m going to be honest: I have mixed feelings about the Sunday morning children’s talk. On the one hand, I have low hopes for it as a significant formational moment for either children or adults. On the other, I value the place of children in worship, and support the notion of creating identifiable space and time for our little ones in gathered worship.
So how do you make the most of the children’s talk as a teaching opportunity?
Story and the Children’s Talk
Ivy Beckwith’s book, Formational Children’s Ministry, is one that has helped me with creative and research-based approaches to the children’s talk. One of Beckwith’s emphases is the importance of story in the spiritual formation of children, an insight that research in the field of psychology confirms.
Now, when we think of “story” and “children’s talk”, our minds go immediately to the biblical narrative, which is right and appropriate. Connecting children with God’s story is most important. But sometimes the gospel reading doesn’t lend itself to a simple children’s talk. Or maybe there is a special feast day being celebrated in worship – All Saints, say – and you want to somehow draw the children into conversation with that communal moment.
This is an opportunity to draw children into the Church’s Story.
“Knowing the stories from church history is an important piece of the positive spiritual formation of our children. Helping children understand they are part of a movement that has been alive for more than two thousand years in places all around the world is an important part of their spiritual development and spiritual memory. Helping children meet and know the characters from church history who have followed Jesus in harrowing, life-threatening, and life-ending situations is a way to begin to capture their imagination for what it means to be a person who loves God and follow Jesus no matter what the cost. These brave and faithful men and women are great models for our children of what living according to Kingdom values looks like.” (41)
In my own ministry, I tell the Church’s Story during the Children’s Talk about once every four to six weeks. So for example, in January, I told the story of Martin Luther King Jr. on MLK Sunday. In February, we celebrated Black History month, and I told the story of Harriet Tubman. This coming Sunday, with St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner, I will talk about St. Patrick and his desire for people to learn about Jesus. In June, when we mark the National Aboriginal Day of prayer, I may talk about St. Kateri. And so on.
There is some work involved in incorporating the Church’s Story into your children’s talk.
First, I do a bit of research about the person I am presenting, and ask myself: What good example of the life of faith does this person offer, in particular? Next, I sort out what part of their story I will tell, in a way that is brief and simple enough for children to understand. Then, I look for photos or portraits so that the children can capture of visual image of the person being discussed. I’m lucky to be in a context with screens, so I can easily project the photos so everyone in the congregation can see. (For those without screens, another possibility is to print an image, although I realize that introduces additional cost and hassles. Posting the image somewhere in the entrance to the church means that adults will have a chance to at least glance at the image, before and after service.)
At the end of the Children’s Talk, I give thanks to God for the life of the person we have remembered, and ask God to help us, like them, grow in… [insert the commendable quality being held up.]
How is it working in my parish? Honestly, I haven’t heard any feedback on these Church Story moments, either positive or negative. But I keep plugging away at it, because I know that the witness of the lives of fellow believers is a source of encouragement and hope to children and adults alike. As Beckwith says: “Familiarity with the history of the church helps [us] to see that the work of God in the world did not end with the last page of the Bible. Having an understanding of the history of the church…helps [us] see the continued work of God over the centuries and assures [us] that God’s will continue through [us] as well.”