Tēnā koutou katoa
Jill Kayser is an undoubted taonga of our Church. She is a person of great integrity, remarkable resilience and amazing vision. The following article is written by Jill for this year’s national Children’s Day on Sunday 5 March.
It raises once more for all of us the vital nature of our work with children and, in particular, how key they are for our mission and ministry in the wider community. We could do no better than to make this article a part of our annual strategy in every parish.
Whakatōngia to wairua tapu
Hei awhina, hei tohutohu i a mātou
Hei ako hoki i ngā mahi mō tēnei rā
Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand
ONE SMALL THING
Jill Kayser, the Presbyterian Church’s national Kids Friendly Coach
“Treasure our children” is the theme of our national Children’s Day on Sunday 5 March. Many churches around the country will be responding to this call by organising community events, setting up bouncy castles and sausage sizzles in their church grounds or even organising outdoor ‘kids friendly’ church services. These are all great initiatives to promote our commitment to serve children and families. But what about the rest of us? Maybe we’ll include prayers for the children of our nation at our Sunday worship service?
“Let’s face it we can feel so overwhelmed by the statistics of neglect, abuse and maltreatment injuries inflicted on so many children in our beautiful “Godzone”, that we struggle to know how to make a difference, especially when there are only a handful of children associated with our worshipping community.
“’Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love,’ said Mother Theresa. I’d like to see adults in all our churches committing to one small thing this Children’s Day: to pray for one child every day. A small thing done with love that could transform a child’s (and adult’s) life.
“’Pray for Me’* is a Kids Friendly campaign that invites churches across New Zealand to partner every child in their congregation with an adult to begin a year-long commitment to friendship and prayer.
“Most of us come to faith through relationships. Few Christians reason their way into faith or find Jesus through a Sunday School lesson. Research emphasises that ‘significant others’ are key in a child or young person’s faith formation. Children need older Christian friends and older Christians need children friends.
“The early church was clearly intergenerational, but despite us being one of the few organisations in the Western world that can have up to five generations ‘together’ under one roof at any time, we often fail to know or love each other. Most our churches today mirror what sociologists are calling a ‘worrying Western societal trend of age segregation’1.
“’While there is place for some level of age segregation, persistent segregation can sow distrust and prejudice between generations, cause different age groups to be blind to each other’s needs and rob people of the chance to learn from those younger and older than them,’ says Boston Globe writer Leon Neyfakh 2.
“This applies to faith too. Children ‘learn’ to be a Christian by interacting and making friends with those of different ages. (And of course the elderly benefit from spending time with children too.)
“Age segregation in Western society is the product of trends with roots more than a century deep, but there’s reason to believe it can be turned back. ‘We’ve overdone it,’ says Barbara Rogoff, a psychologist at the University of California Santa Cruz who studies age segregation. ‘We wanted to protect kids from working in factories 100 years ago...but we have excluded them so much from the life of the community that they don’t feel like they have anything to contribute, and they don’t have as much opportunity to learn3.’ Sound familiar?
“The secular world is responding to this phenomenon by intentionally creating opportunities for young and the old to mix together more. ‘Intergenerational integration’ is happening in old age homes, kindergartens and community centres. The time is ripe for us (Christians) to reclaim our intergenerational roots. ‘Pray for Me’ is just one way to do that.
“Last year my church, St Heliers Presbyterian, rose to the Kids Friendly challenge and on Children’s Day asked adults and children to ‘sign up’ to be assigned a prayer buddy.
“A few Sundays later prayer buddies were invited to share morning tea after church. In our short time together, I and my Prayer Buddy Jack (what a great team – Jack and Jill!) found out quite a bit about each other. I heard about Jack’s family, his school, his best friend, dreams and prayer wishes. He learnt a bit about me too and is looking forward to meeting my Boxer dog Dusty!
“Before Jack was a cute boy at my church. I had no way of ‘knowing him’ or making Jesus Christ known to him. On the Monday after our morning tea I wrote a letter to Jack telling him how pleased I was to meet him. I included a laminated card with the Lord’s prayer on one side and the Peace Prayer on the other. I told him how I’d made that same card for my son Blake when he was a little boy and how it sat next to his bed for years so he could use it to pray each night. I also sent him a photo of the two of us to put on his fridge to remind him that I’m praying for him and he for me. Jack and I are starting a friendship and who knows what could happen? Maybe I can be one of the messengers of God in Jack’s life who helps him meet Jesus.
“Effective discipleship does not happen through a course. Disciples are formed in the full life of the Christian community and we all have a role to play in influencing a child’s faith, not just those who put up their hand to run the Sunday School or the holiday programme.
“The commandment in Deuteronomy 6 to impress your ‘love of God’ on your children…was given to the whole community; to the ‘mish paw kaw’, not just to the nuclear family as is so often interpreted today.
“Mark Griffiths, children’s ministry guru and author of One Generation from Extinction reminds us we all have the power to turn a child on to Christ for life or immune a child against Christ for life, just by the way we are with him or her.
“Few of our children will remember a Sunday School lesson or even a Children’s Day celebration, but many will remember a person who prays for them and embodies the love of Jesus.”
Download the “Pray for Me” resources from the Kids Friendly website and inspire your people to do one small thing this year with great love - http://www.kidsfriendly.org.nz/pray-for-me/* Kids Friendly “PRAY FOR ME” campaign was inspired by a similar campaign launched in the USA.
1, 2, 3: What age segregation does to America. The Boston Globe, 2014