Where are the Children?
This Holy week I attended Holy Protection Russian Orthodox church for the rite of the washing of the feet.
In the church were many, many children..from 0-12 attending the service.
A twelve year old solemnly and perfectly read the prayers after communion
A three year old danced and spun in the beam of sunlight coming through the dome windows as she tried to embrace it
A younger child stared in awe at the icons and demanded to be brought to each one on the walls to reverence.
The church was without talkativeness, cell phones or plastic wrappers
Everyone solemnly paid attention and stood through the service which was nearly five hours long.
Where are our children you say?
Why do you ask now that they are grown?
Where were your children when they were young?
Did you take them out of school to come to the services?
Did you bring them to everything, or did you say, “this service is not for children”
Did you insist that Sunday was the Lord’s Day, or was it ok to be in soccer or little league–because its only a few weeks?
Did you pry them from bed as you would for School or a camping trip on Sunday mornings or did you say, “that’s ok, it’s been a tough week”.
“Where are our children?”
“Why do they not understand the importance of the church?”
The children have a natural desire to know God, their Father and their creator. But like most things which are natural in a child, unless this love and desire is fostered and nurtured it will become silenced in the face of our world.
Bring the children to church from the day they are baptized.
Bring the church into your home.
Be the example of the faithful Christian you desire your children to become.
Encourage each of the youth in your parish.
Encourage and support the young mothers.
Be the example of the faithful Christian you desire the children of your parish to become.
Within the church one thing that will set me off against anyone is the complaint about the young adults.
“They are not interested”
“They do not like depth”
“The don’t care”
“They don’t understand”
Primarily because I personally hate sitting in a room with the older generation speaking in generalities about my generation with the all-encompassing “they”
If I speak up I am promptly put in my place that I am simply an anomaly.
Shouldn’t we be looking to the anomalies and fostering their leadership in the church? Shouldn’t we be looking at the parents of the anomalies and asking, “what did they do RIGHT”
Personally, I feel blessed. I have mentioned it before and will mention it again. Every single one of my childhood friends is still actively involved in the church and many are current priest-wives or soon to be priest-wives. My closest friends from college all have a very active life in the church. We do “weird” things like have random akathist services and chanting parties. I have a friend who has become a monk recently. My husband has a similar story. His closest friends have all found their way to the seminary eventually.
Last I checked, these are the kinds of things we WANT our young adults doing, but the older generation continues to label us as the strange anomaly. The minority.
Here is a crazy thought:
The young adults who have left the church? No special activity or program is going to bring them back. Like anything else, getting someone “hooked” is about relationships. So stop putting down any young adult who has interest in the church and getting involved and stop complaining about all of the young adults who have left. I wouldn’t want to be around you either, and I WILL find somewhere else to go. Where are the young adults? Not at your parish where you complain all the time, that’s for sure.
The current youth of the parish who have no say in where they go… their parents need to make church a priority, not a “if there’s time thing” and “if the week wasn’t too busy” It is the responsibility of the people in the church to educate those parents so they can educate their children. It is also the responsibility of the parishioners to make the church a place a parent wants to be! Would YOU come back if people kept staring funny at your rowdy 3-year-old? Me either. I WILL find somewhere else to go. Where are the mothers with the young children? Not at your parish where you look angrily at them for bringing their children, that’s for sure.
And for anyone and everyone who steps into the church: It needs to be a place of love, compassion and hospitality. Not come cold, clannish, clique-filled establishment. You don’t need to like everyone, but it’s seriously not a big deal to say, “hi how are you, let me get you a coffee.”
And lastly…. BIG does NOT equal successful. Especially in the church. One of the church things I participated in had huge numbers, but very little depth; theologically and relationship-wise. When the leadership changed, the numbers initially dropped drastically… but the depth became deeper than anything I had previously experienced. Slowly and steadily the numbers increased again. The truth was that the big numbers from earlier were people drawn to a personality, not the church.
There is so much media and discussion flying around about the doom and gloom of Chrisitanity, but no one seems to discuss the positive changes that need to be made to do anything about it. The Apostles certainly weren’t fearful of those who had no faith… they just kept evangelizing and showing love and hospitality. We need to do the same.
(Due to the enormous response this has received, I have begun a 12-part educational series of posts on the Liturgy for study with children of all ages: Part 1)