Churches are recognising the importance of partnering with parents and resourcing faith in the home, as well as the vital role intergenerational relationships and participation in a church community play in growing faith in children. The Lutheran congregation at St Paul’s, Box Hill, in Melbourne is implementing strategies to walk alongside families as they learn about God’s grace and Jesus’ love for them.
The partnership with the child and their family starts at their birth and baptism.
At St Paul’s, new babies are welcomed through our cradle roll with a card and gift. From the time of the child’s baptism we assign congregational sponsors to welcome the family, pray for them, walk with them on their faith journey, make contact on baptismal anniversaries and present a ‘faith chest’ (pictured below).
Faith chests include articles such as bunny rugs and baptismal cloths made and embroidered by members of St Paul’s, a photo book, tracts and other items, and are a place to store reminders of the baptism. They were introduced in 2002 as a way of linking more closely with those who are baptised into God’s family and become part of our local church family. These are another way of encouraging the family and stressing our involvement in this amazing event.
Churches are one of the few places in which people can PARTICIPATE in intergenerational worship, learning, faith sharing and service.
Following the baptism the family is let know about available resources and ministry opportunities they will be invited to over the years. This includes a first baptism anniversary milestone, when the children gather with family, godparents and congregational sponsors to share memories of the baptism day, celebrate and learn about some of the resources for faith at home. Baptism birthdays are celebrated with a card and tract sent each year – one girl was so grateful to receive hers she made a thank you card.
Children and parents/carers are invited annually to take part in our Milestones Ministry (similar to Grow Ministries ‘Faith Trail’). These include steps such as first communion and receiving a Bible, as well as beginning school and prayer.
During worship the child is blessed and presented with a handmade milestone pebble. The pebbles remind the family of the event and encourage further discussion at home – one family has displayed their collection of pebbles on a board at home, and are thrilled when they can add a new one. We then have a teaching session in which families explore the topic with activities and discussion.
Participation in intergenerational worship is valued at St Paul’s, with children welcomed with toy bags and activity sheets related to each week’s Bible readings. We have members present children’s addresses and children can also serve as acolytes. The Creative Worship Team seeks to consider the needs of children and families in worship, especially during church festivals and seasons.
Each Sunday morning we have a time of children’s ministry called FISH. FISH stands for Families Integrating Sundays and Home, implementing the vision of the child, youth and family team linking what happens in worship on a Sunday with supporting families in their faith journey throughout the week.
As peer relationships are important for faith growth, the children are in age-based groups at this time, and we seek to model faith practices that can be repeated at home, using the FAITH5 as a basis for the gathering.
GIFT (Generations in Faith Together) events are held once a term, and these aim to engage all ages in activities to share faith and build intergenerational relationships. Through these events we learn about the church year and seasons, rituals and traditions of our Christian faith, and serve others.
Grow Ministries provides many resources and suggestions for activities. We incorporate craft activities, questions to begin conversations about faith with others, a quiet corner (for reading or videos), simple tactile activities for young children, cooking/decorating, a service activity, and show hospitality with a morning tea. Many of the activities are designed to be continued at home.
Communities of multiple generations are increasingly rare, as it becomes less common for people to access extended family networks. Churches are one of the few places in which people can participate in intergenerational worship, learning, faith sharing and service.
Digital space is a way to make faith resources available to families anywhere, anytime. I was inspired by John Roberto at a 21st Century Faith Formation conference to set up a website and Facebook group to support our Child and Family Ministry. On the website we include the weekly Taking Faith Home, a monthly calendar and ideas to develop the faith-forming processes of caring conversation, reading the Bible, prayer, ritual and tradition, and serving others. The resources are changed to tie in with the seasons of the church.
Our Milestones Ministry is supported online too, extending the teaching into the home and making it accessible to families who might not be able to attend worship.
Research shows a vital element in developing a faith that ‘sticks’ is a warm and supportive relationship with parents and grandparents, and so the website includes parenting resources and ideas for grandparents in encouraging faith growth.
Everyone in the congregation benefits when we include children in all aspects of faith practices and support parents and families in their role as faith nurturers.
As researcher, writer, and professor of practical theology Joyce Ann Mercer says: ‘The best curriculum for forming children, youth, and anyone else in Christian faith is guided participation in a community of practice where people are vibrantly, passionately risking themselves together in lives of faith in a world crying out for the love of Christ.’
Keren Loffler is Coordinator of Child and Family Ministry at St Paul’s Lutheran Church, Box Hill, in suburban Melbourne.
This feature story comes from The Lutheran September 2016. Visit the website to find out more about The Lutheran or to subscribe.