My Baptism Book is designed to help adults to help young children to discover more about baptism, and to support and love them into a relationship with God, which is personal and lifelong. It is not about religious instruction, or religious education, but Christian formation.
If you want to know more about Baptism and Initiation – the theology and liturgy – you can discover this via http://www.cofe.anglican.org. Click on Life Events.
All babies and small children have an innate capacities and awareness which makes them open to things spiritual. This is the starting point – who am I, what am I for, where am I going? These are the basic questions to which humanity is ever seeking answers. Around this are gathered those innate gifts, abilities and discernments with which children are already equipped, and whose protection and development need to be taken into consideration at every stage. These are:
A capacity for:
- Play and delight
- The giving and receiving of love
- Awe and wonder
An awareness of:
These are the building blocks of our spiritual lives and their acknowledgement and development are crucial to lifelong faith.
What adults need to do is equip themselves and the children with appropriate vocabulary to articulate and thus explore their thoughts and feelings and secondly, to create an environment where children can feel confident to do so.
So how can you do this?
Firstly, it is crucial to recognise that the successful faith nurture of children must be a partnership between home, school and church. In reality, a church’s contact with children is perhaps relatively small, an hour or so a week at best, assuming that the child is a regular attender. Many denominations are now recognising the home as the ‘first church’ and are working actively to support and resource under fives and their families to nurture faith in the home. It is where the first key question of identity, ‘Who am I?’ takes shape and form. It is out worked through story, song, verse, simple ritual, wondering questions, reflection and relationships
Secondly, it is equally important to realise that the spiritual nurture of children involves much more than knowing some Bible stories, the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed and the Ten Commandments, important though these are. Children are equal pilgrims with us on the journey of faith. We need to lose the default belief that ‘adults worship and children learn’. Worship and learning should be an entitlement for all, lifelong, relevant and inextricably linked.
Worship is a prime source of nurture for children. A congregation that welcomes children into the heart of its worshipping life, is one who not only owns and supports the nurture of its children, but is giving the love and support needed to sustain them into a lifelong worshipping believer by offering them an encounter with a living God.
To be involved in the faith nurture of children should be both our privilege and our pleasure. This involvement is crucial to our own souls’ health as sharing in children’s early faith exploration and formation reminds us as adults of what we have forgotten and that it is in this way the Kingdom lies.
Thirdly, we now know that children are not ‘empty vessels’ and that even the youngest come equipped with key values and discernments. Much of the failure of past education systems was that this was not always recognised or understood. Adults, from the best of motives, delivered religious instruction that ‘educated out’ innate, spontaneous spirituality. This resulted in a divergence between the child’s innate awareness, insight and often profound spiritual experience that grew ever wider as the child matured and developed.
How do children learn?
They learn primarily in two ways.
Explicitly, through material and learning experiences prepared and designed to widen their knowledge base and experience. But they also absorb a huge amount of information and knowledge implicitly, from the environment in which they find themselves. The old adage, ‘Faith is caught, not taught,’ demonstrates this perfectly. The key tenets of any faith are received and grow via experience and the sharing with others in the faith community.
This was how the Church historically functioned, and gradually, an emphasis on instruction, rather than experience, took over. So began a process of exclusion of children from the Church. The innate spirituality with which all children come equipped was disregarded, and thus the key building blocks of a life of faith remained undervalued and undeveloped, making the emergence of mature, lifelong faith unlikely.
The Church has traditionally built its approach to teaching and learning on a schooling-instruction model, in which the adults are regarded as the ones who know, teaching the children who don’t know. However, learning in terms of faith formation is not just the same as learning in schools and many now question such an approach and are seeking new ways of nurturing children in the faith. Children’s faith and spirituality is the responsibility and concern of the whole church.
Children learn and grow when they are respected for who they are: spiritual beings, created and loved by God.
'Children are a gift to the Church. The Lord of the Church sets them in the midst of the Church today, as in Galilee, not as objects of benevolence, nor even as recipients of instruction, but in the last
analysis as patterns of discipleship.
From ‘The Child in the Church’ (British Council of Churches, 1976)
Where the child is perceived as a gift, the adults become ‘co-learners’ and faith opens. Where children are seen as problem, the adults become ‘teachers’, faith becomes closed, didactic and old, dated methods of teaching are reinforced - methods which are now recognised as failing children. Children, by their presence, help us to remember what we have forgotten. This way lies the Kingdom.
Children learn and grow through belonging. Children must feel that they belong in their church communities just as much as many adults do. Children need to form positive relationships with people other than their immediate family. It is not enough to say, ‘Children are welcome here’.
Children learn and grow through participation. They must be allowed to participate in the activities and rituals of their faith community and there must be opportunities for children to act on their faith, for example expressing it in worshipping God, in serving others.
Children learn and grow by watching others. This modelling is powerful teaching for children and contributes to their decision-making: are these the kind of people I would like to be? Is this the kind of way of life I want to follow?
Children learn and grow through their experience. They learn best when they are actively involved in their own learning, and so, for example, they need to experience, to ‘enter into’ the stories of faith, and not just hear them. They need to be involved in the mainstream worship of the church, alongside the adults.
In creating learning opportunities, due account needs to be taken of a child’s stage of development, but also of who they are as individuals – not all children are the same. Children who are part of an actively Christian family, or who attend a Church school will have a vocabulary of God language, which may have been denied a child who has experienced neither. But research has shown the same innate spirituality is present, even if the child has not have been given the encouragement, or the vocabulary to express it.
Children need particular adults alongside them who will help them to make meaning from new knowledge and discoveries, not as ‘people who know’, teaching children who ‘don’t know’ but as fellow pilgrims on the same faith journey.
We hope you enjoy My Baptism Book, and that it will help you and the children you use it with, to discover more about what it is to be baptised – children of the same heavenly Father and inheritors together of the Kingdom of God.
National Children’s Officer