Practicing Religion With Our Children
Religion is an activity, something we do. It is the part of our lives that we devote to God. It is not limited to, but is greatly supported and enhanced by our worshiping with others. That is why we come to church—to join hands with others to make our prayer strong and to provide a place for Christ to enter into our lives together.
Children have a natural, evolving relationship to God. At birth they come to us from another home, a home with God; they hope to find with us on earth a memory and a reflection of the home from which they have come. The purpose of religion is to nourish and support the child’s inborn reverence for the divine. We adults try to activate in the child a heartfelt awareness of God’s working here on earth, seen through the lens of that reverence, and to develop the healthy habit of strengthening that reverence through worshiping with others.
For these reasons, The Christian Community offers several activities for children. These activities are meant as a nourishing, supportive extension of family life and are possible at all because the parents create religious substance through their own participation in the adult communion service, The Act of Consecration of Man.
For children, there is first of all Baptism. In The Christian Community, Baptism is a children’s baptism. It does not make the child a member of the church, for membership will be his or her free choice as an adult. But Baptism receives the child like a seed into the community of those who are aware of the working of Christ. The community promises to carry this child within itself and to nourish the child’s relationship with God.
For the pre-school child, the practice of religion takes place mostly within the family–prayers at bedtime, grace before meals, age-appropriate fairy-tales and stories which nurture the child’s natural openness and reverence, mostly by avoiding precocious intellectualism. Young children are always welcome to attend the Baptisms of other children, which helps strengthen their connection with their own christening. Strong relationships cultivated with their godparents also strengthen their connection to the community. Small children (below first grade) are also warmly welcome to attend Festival Gardens, such as the Easter garden or Advent Garden for children. In addition, they may sit with their parents in the Sunday Service for Children, especially if older siblings are attending, or as their own participation approaches.
With their entry into first grade, they step into the wider school community as a learner. This is also the case in religion. To the practice of religion at home and the festival gardens is now added the practice of religion together with other children at the Sunday Service for Children. It is worshiping the divine together. That is why there needs to be at least two children. Each child is greeted individually at the door, but the prayer the children speak is choral. The senses are gently addressed through the picture, the warmth and color, the flowers and the words. By purposely not being dramatic or overwhelming, we encourage the child to look actively, to seek the divine. The content emphasizes the importance of learning the great lesson of earthly life: that Christ is love’s teacher in life’s learning and working.
At age seven religious instruction also begins. In the early years it is given mostly in the form of stories, songs and verses. Approaching Confirmation at 14, it more often takes the form of discussion. Ideally, up to about the age of nine, the emphasis of instruction is on God the Father, as illustrated through fairy-tales, legends, through stories that show the divine wisdom in nature and through the Old Testament history of the Hebrew people. For fifth graders, the emphasis is on the Son and the New Testament. For grades eight and up, the emphasis is on the Spirit, that is, how the divine works in individual destinies, in the biographies of those who are servants of the divine.
In the Sunday Service for Children, the heart gently awakens the will to worship God. In religious instruction, the heart gently awakens the head, to the understanding of the working of God. They complement and balance one another, developing the child’s religious life from both sides, in a way that will enable him or her later to make a free but informed choice about religion as an adult.
During the summer there are two-week children’s camps and in some regions family camps. These constellations provide another level for the healthy weaving of the religious life into a communal life. Many children form friendships there beyond their own school setting. This special time of daily singing and stories, of making things, of outings and sleeping and eating together, of creating a life together, form a reservoir of inspiration for the young person for the rest of their lives.
Confirmation at age 14 is both a culmination and a new beginning. The seed of the young person’s religious life, which has been surrounded and nourished by the community, is released into life. For the first time, the young person attends The Act of Consecration of Man as an independent adult and receives his/her first Communion. After this, their attendance is their choice. Many still attend with their families. Much depends on whether there is a group of people their own age. They may want to become counselors in the children’s camps. They may want to attend our Youth Conferences. There are also International Youth Conferences where older teens and those in their twenties find their own connections before settling down into the more local communities as young adults. Often it is the Baptism of their own children which stimulates their re-entry as active participants and creators of the life of The Christian Community.