… on the ministry of faith formation with children

THE SUNDAY PAPERs Editorial for the Fall 1 season

The Sunday Paper’s Editorial Page began, decades ago, as a hand-typed paper document, photocopied and enclosed with the paper copies of The Sunday Paper and/or The Sunday Paper Junior issues sent out seasonally by mail. When we added electronic distribution of our Sunday issues, as .pdf files sent seasonally by email, the Editorial Page also transformed into that format, except for the small minority of subscribers who have chosen to continue getting their materials by mail.

Last spring I announced that the document format of the Editorial Page would be retired, and replaced by a blog and Facebook, to foster dialogue and to link up with the many conversations going on digitally among church educators, parents, clergy and others. For the time being at least, subscribers will continue to receive the Editorial in document format, by email or as hard copy. But in recognition of the ways we now communicate and share ideas, Editorials will also be posted here, for subscribers and non-subscribers alike. In recognition of this new level of interactivity and connection, this initial blog post is a miscellany of teasers and starters, gleaned from some of the most fruitful online sources for thoughts about faith formation.

Rebecca Nye on children’s spirituality

A first hallmark [of children’s spirituality] is its tendency to be hidden, or between the lines. … It’s often about a kind of deep knowing which is not rational, visible, measurable or even explicable – the exact opposite of the education system’s values that have such a shaped impact on their lives. And yet, when felt, it can be full of meaning, powerful and intensely real. … For example, in response to many Bible stories, children will often draw or play out their favourite superhero’s battle with some kind of baddie or monster, often to the dismay of the adults who assume that ‘nothing has gone in today’, especially compared to the child who dutifully reproduces a nice picture of the actual Bible story.

However, hidden in this hero / monster imagery may be a deep process of reflection about good and evil, order and chaos, meaning and meaningless, sacrifice and redemption. …


Another hallmark is childhood spirituality’s very wide range and sheer abundance. I spent some time recently just sitting with small groups of children who were free to talk and play as they wished, for about half an hour in their school library. I noted down the themes which came up – it’s a staggeringly broad list of spiritual issues:

  • Facing fears
  • Evil, dark or chaotic forces
  • Sources of comfort and security and ‘good’ forces and power
  • Being known / being lost or forgotten
  • Feeling significantly connected to others
  • The mystery being a child: awareness of change who I ‘was’ / ’am’ / ’will be’
  • The mystery of death and dying
  • Unconventional ways of knowing – dreams, insights, premonitions, ‘feeling in my bones’ , empathic understanding
  • Explorations of what might be ‘real’ and ‘true’, and a sense of ‘knowing / feeling’ that is valid and powerful to them (but perhaps not to the rest of the world)
  • Love and loss
  • Material wealth versus ‘spiritual’ wealth – being happy or honest
  • Making personal sacrifices
  • The mystery of creation and ‘before time’


A clear hallmark is that children’s spiritual life is predominately non-verbal. … Studies have found that up to 30 per cent of adults report that their most significant, vivid spiritual experiences occurred in childhood, but that they never told anyone. Interestingly, when adults finally speak about these varied experiences, with all the resources of an adult vocabulary and Christian knowledge, they say these tools add nothing at all to the original, non-verbal experience.

Hat tip: Mary Hawes, Facebook
Dr Rebecca Nye is a researcher, consultant and trainer in the field of children’s spirituality and the author of Children’s spirituality: what it is and why it matters.


Benjamin Corey on Raising Christian Children after Leaving Fundamentalism

Teach them the Bible is an inspired story of God revealing himself to us, but it’s not an owner’s manual for life.

Realizing the Bible doesn’t work as an owner’s manual has the potential to be discouraging, but when we help our kids see that the story is one of a progressive revelation that ultimately introduces us to Jesus, we’re invited to begin asking a different set of questions about how to live life well.

Help them become love-driven instead of fear-driven.

While hard-line religion is fear-based, Jesus is love-based. It may take a lot of deprogramming to get here, but we must help our kids learn to operate from a center of love instead of fear.

Help them develop empathy for others—especially outsiders and those who are different.

In fundamentalism we were taught to fear outsiders, … and to stay away from all those slippery slopes that could harm our faith. In Jesus however, we find a man of empathy who not only wanted to know the outsiders, but actually preferred doing life with them.

Encourage them to ask the hard questions.

One of the things off-limits in modern fundamentalism is that pesky question asking stuff, which only furthers this false notion that our faith is some house of cards that only stands because no one has asked a certain question yet.

The best way to teach our kids that our faith is legitimate? … Encourage them to ask the hard questions. Praise them for it. Wrestle with the questions along with them.

And then teach them that it’s okay for us to not arrive at answers, but to learn contentment in the tension.


Benjamin L. Corey is an Anabaptist author, speaker, and blogger (Formerly Fundie, on Patheos). His first book is Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus. Benjamin is also the co-host of That God Show with Matthew Paul Turner and a syndicated author with MennoNerds. He lives in Auburn, Maine with his wife Tracy and his daughter Johanna.


Sharon Ely Pearson: Resource Recommendations

Looking for a book to read, program to offer in your church or a curriculum resource to implement with your children, youth or adults?

Check back here regularly for updates on new resources (and some oldies, but goodies) that I think are worth sharing. This is the spot to find bibliographies on topics as well as specific publications.

[Topics on the drop-down menu on this page: Baptism; Children and Worship; Curriculum (children and youth), Environmental; Eucharist; Faith at Home, Special Needs, and Top Ten Books]

Sharon Ely Pearson, an editor at Church Publishing and a leader of FORMA (the national network for Episcopal Christian formation), and maintains her blog Rows of Sharon: Thoughts of a Christian Educator as a resource for all those working in Christian Formation.


The Sacrament of Back to School

One opportunity to share a moment of sacramental grace occurs every fall, when young people head back to school. For a number of years, our church has done a large Blessing of the Backpacks. We combine this event with a project to gather school supplies for local children in need. Blessing of the Backpacks has been, by all measures, a successful church event: people are engaged, connected to the worship and liturgy, and they generously participate in outreach. But at first, something was missing.

One of my church responsibilities is choosing artwork for the weekly worship bulletin cover. A few years ago, as the day of the Blessing of the Backpacks approached, I had an idea. I recalled that I had seen numerous ‘first day of school’ pictures posted by parishioners on social media. On a whim, I emailed our Sunday school parents asking them to send me back-to-school pictures of their kids. Within minutes (minutes!) I was inundated. I knew I was onto something important. …   – Lisa Brown

Building Faith, published by the Center for the Ministry of Teaching at Virginia Theological Center, is a free website that offers practical resources for ministry with children, youth, and adults.


Secret of a Pew Whisperer: Explain the Game

… Did my dad enjoy having his football game interrupted by questions from us about what was happening or why he knew something? Probably not. There was probably a stretch of years where he couldn’t properly focus on the game because he would have to be constantly explaining things to us. But he didn’t complain about it: in his eyes, it was a duty, an important transfer of knowledge.

I have had some parents tell me that they don’t like having their children in church with them because they are a distraction. Their kids keep bugging them so that they can’t focus on what’s going on and therefore they don’t get anything out of it. But what if we shift the narrative a bit? Do they know what’s going on? Do they know how to play this most sacred game of the liturgy with understanding as to who’s doing what and why? … – Derek Olsen

Grow Christians is a partnership between Forward Movement and Plainsong Farm, with the goal of creating an online community of discipleship focused on the practical details of life at home. It is still in the pilot stage and welcomes feedback.
Derek Olsen is the author of Reading Matthew with Monks, an investigation of early medieval reading and preaching. Derek currently serves on the Episcopal Church’s Standing Commission for Liturgy & Music. An IT professional by day, Derek is also responsible for the St Bede’s Breviary, Forward Movement’s Daily Prayer site, and the St Bede Blog (formerly haligweorc). He lives in Baltimore with his wife, an Episcopal priest, and their two daughters.


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