Written by Rev. Dan Pyke
The film Encanto tells the story of a grandmother who learns to see the people in her family, not for the magical gifts they possess, but as persons. In the film’s concluding moments, the grandmother shares her insight:
“The miracle is not some magic that you’ve got. The miracle is you. Not some gift, just you.”
In this moment, she recognizes the characters for who they are, and not simply for the resources they provide to the family. (And finally – we’re able to talk about Bruno!)
Children in Canada
The recent report “Inspiring Healthy Futures” highlights a vision for Canada’s children, youth, and families. According to the report:
“The pandemic magnified all of society’s ills and inequities for all to see. If we have an ounce of moral fibre, we must take action. Going back to life prior to COVID-19 is not an option, as that ‘normal’ was not working for a lot of people.”
Further, the report recognizes that Canada:
- Ranks 30th in child well-being among 38 of the world’s richest countries
- Has one of the highest rates of adolescent suicide
- Has 1 in 5 children living in a household with an income below the poverty line.
There’s a lot in this report we need to pay attention to, but I want to note the intentionality to see schools and communities as health and well-being hubs. As churches, we have incredible opportunity to be part of this conversation.
Caring For & Carrying Children
In many of our churches, we want to see children, but not hear them. We “receive” them, so we can send them off to programs, allowing us to do “real church” without their distractions.
But are age-segregated programs still the best and only way for churches to pass faith onto their children? They seem at odds with Jesus’ vision for children, and their place in the Kingdom of God.
“And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Matthew 18:5-6
As our churches learn from the pandemic and its accompanying restrictions, we have responsibility not to simply go back to where we’ve been, but to pay attention to where we need to go. Many are asking questions about how to increase their Sunday morning attendance, or expand the influence of their online platform. They’re wondering how to grow or increase in innovation and relevance.
For many, we’re existing in survival mode.
Instead of focusing on relevancy, or building our brand, I want to challenge us to pay attention to the children in our congregation. To echo ideas from Andrew Root, our churches need to care for and carry our children. And coming back to the “Inspiring Healthy Futures” report, our children need our churches to care for and carry them.
Praying & Serving In Your community
Now you may be thinking – “But my church has no children! That’s the problem! We have no future.”
This is where we need to expand our thinking.
Of course there are children connected to your church – grandchildren, neighbours, schools – so how can you begin to see them as part of your congregation?
Are there not children for whom you can be praying?
Unfortunately, it seems that we no longer see our children as persons. This ideology – of seeing our children less as people and more as resources – is a significant moment in the death of a church. As Root further writes, “In the loss of personhood the congregation is no longer a church community but becomes an institutional shell absent the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
We have children in our neighbourhoods who are hungry; others who need literacy support. We have students who are asking questions about faith, and yet only 14% of young people say they trust organized religion completely.
What if, instead of insisting a child or youth fit into our program models, we began to dream of ways that members in our churches came alongside children and youth in our communities? What if we commissioned people in our churches to volunteer as literacy mentors or prepare food in breakfast programs? What if we strived to find new or additional ways to carry the children?
We need to pay more careful attention to the faith-forming environments in our churches. We emphasize the family and peer-based groups, but miss out on the opportunity of relationships formed across generations. I’m not saying to do away with age-based programs, but I am encouraging us to not see them as the only model for faith formation of our children.
I would love to see more churches trying out intergenerational ministry experiences, which is ultimately about making a commitment for multiple generations to do life together.
John Westerhoff notes that “without interaction between and among the generations, each making its own unique contribution, Christian community is difficult to maintain.” Many of us lament the loss of community in our churches – is that in part because of how we have dismissed children to their own programs?
If we really want to be serious about growing our churches, and passing faith on to the next generation – we need to be more intentional and consider the responsibility we share as believers to tell the next generations of the praiseworthy deeds of our Lord! (Psalm 78).
The Real Gifts
The Inspiring Healthy Futures report is significant for our country, our children, and should be significant for our churches. As leaders across the country work together to create community hubs for the flourishing of our children, there is incredible opportunity for our churches to join in, and ask “How can we help?”
Our country has identified a need, and Jesus has already affirmed that the place of the church is to be welcoming our children. As we move out of a period of decreased social interactions, there may be opportunities for our churches to provide communities where children are known and supported, where they’re cared for and carried. May we not miss out on this invitation from God.
Coming back to Encanto, the family celebrates the presence of Mirabel, the only child without a magical gift. Shoved aside throughout the film because of what she wasn’t able to contribute, her family finally sees her as a person, and not for her lack of resources. As the film wraps up, her uncle concludes “You’re the real gift, kid, let us in.”
Even better, to echo the words of Jesus, when we welcome children, we welcome Jesus. May we see our children for the real gifts that they are, become like them, so that they can show us the Kingdom of heaven.
 Andrew Root, The Congregation in a Secular Age, 228.
 Andrew Root, The Congregation in a Secular Age, 223.
 Springtide Research Institute. The State of Religion & Young People 2021: Navigating Uncertainty. 33.
 John Westerhoff, Will Our Children Have Faith? 53.
Rev. Dan Pyke serves with the Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada (CBAC) as the Director of Youth & Family Ministries. In partnership with this role, he directs and lectures within ADC’s Next Generation Ministry program. Previously, Dan served as a pastor in CBAC churches in Grand Bay-Westfield, NB, Douglas, NB, and Upper Canard, NS in roles focused on youth and children’s ministries.