Children in a Small Faith Community
If yours is a relatively small faith community (not more than 50 people – including school-age children), which has become used to having participative discussions after the gospel, then perhaps, without fully realising it, your faith community is doing the best and main thing in communicating a knowledge and appreciation of the faith to the next generation.
Such involvement of children and teenagers could be the best possible form of catechesis and initiation into the community.
Not only that, if children and teenagers feel that they are an integral part of the Sunday Liturgy process they will be more inclined to come and participate with interest.
In the initial stages a conscious effort might be required to encourage the younger generation to participate. And when they do share their questions, what they think and feel, whatever they offer, must be treated with utmost respect by everyone.
The faith community normally needs to prepare itself to do this well. Such catechesis, integrated within the small faith community celebration, would probably be much more effective, and easier to organise, than a separate Liturgy of the Word of children on Sunday.
Additional and separate short sessions of catechesis and preparation could well be appropriate for children as they get ready to move towards a new step of sacramental initiation. Such sessions would happen with the knowledge and support of the entire faith community and done in conjunction with the children’s parents, who have the main responsibility for their children’s development in faith.
Some people are fond of saying faith is caught, not taught. What they mean by this is that faith is picked up in the same way we pick up how to play. We see someone playing and we like what we see. We become convinced that we too want to be players. Once we want to play we imitate what we see; we hope we can join in the game.
Those who are better give us feedback and encouragement: “Good shot”, “Nice swing”, “Yes, that’s it”. We learn from our mistakes and from the praising when we do well. We ask for help “How do you get it to spin like that?” Pretty soon we’ve mastered enough basic techniques that we can show someone else how to play.
We join a team, we get a coach, we practise. These are the ways we learn to play. Much later, after we have become pretty good players, we might take a class on the fundamentals of the game or about the history of the sport. But most of us never do that. Most of us learned to play from those we saw playing, and we continue to learn by playing with those who are better than we are. We also learn by showing other newcomers how to play.
Faith happens in the same way. Faith is revealed to us when we see others living a faith. We are curious, interested, attracted, converted. We imitate those who believe, we seek to join in the community of active believers. As an active member of a believing community we learn more about our faith and what it means for us in our living.
We become models for others as we show them what faith means in practice. We are ready to listen to the questions others ask and we share our knowledge and wisdom and opinions.
We live our faith each and every day, but the main “faith-game” for the community is when it gathers for a shared Liturgy on the Day of the Lord, Sunday. It is at this gathering that our faith is manifested and nourished and shared and supported. The main player in this Sunday “faith-game” is Jesus Christ himself.
As far as our Sunday Gatherings are concerned we need to lift our game because most of us act as if we are dumb. Very few are able to speak about their living of the faith. It is a structural problem as well as an individual one: opportunities for faith sharing need to be built into the way the Liturgy is celebrated. A sharing of reflections after the gospel could be the main way of doing this, but the informal chat in the gathering after the formal conclusion of the Liturgy is also very important. Again, small community celebrations have an advantage in making all of this happen.
Some of these paragraphs are based on material by Nick Wagner, Editorial Director of Ministry & Liturgy. Used with permission