Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Children in the way

People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.” (Mark 10:13-16)

A few years ago the Church of England produced a report called “Children in the Way”. It was a deliberately ambiguous title because it could be read two ways. Either, children in the Way – “the Way” being an early reference to those who followed Jesus -  or children in the way, referring to the attitude of some who see children as irritants, getting in the way of their Sunday experience.  It’s incredible to think that people would take that attitude, but sadly they are present in every church, and the report produced by the Church of England was an attempt at getting Christians to take children seriously. Not just seeing them as the church of tomorrow – our insurance that the institution will continue to exist after we have gone – but as the church of today, to be taken every bit as seriously as adults.

I have always done all that I can to encourage children and families to attend church wherever I have served, but I am aware that not everyone thinks as I do. In fact some of my experiences in previous churches have been, to say the least, extremely disheartening. In one church for example I worked hard to get a young family to come and bring their children to church, only after a few visits for them to suddenly stop. Investigations led me to discover that some people in the congregation had disapproved of their presence, thought the children unruly and had let the parents know in no uncertain terms. I cannot believe that anyone could be so selfish and destructive of what were some of my best efforts. It put me in mind of a Laurel and Hardy sketch in which Laurel (or was it Hardy, I always get them mixed up) was filling a tank with buckets of water, only for Hardy, when his back was turned, to empty it. After a while Laurel realised that the tank was not getting more full and discovered what had been happening. Cue laughs. But this is no laughing matter and puts me in mind of some very tough words of Jesus when he once said to his listeners: “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” (Luke 11:23)

Who is the church for if it is not for everybody, and that everybody surely must include children. This is the point Jesus was making to the disciples who tried to dissuade children from bothering him. “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these,” he said.  The presence of children is meant to be a constant reminder of what we are to become if we want to be open to God. Those who would want to remove them are in danger of closing God out of their lives and we know where that will lead.

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