UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Reality Check

Missing children

By David Ewart


September means back to school, as well as the start of a new cycle of church programs for all ages. But September is also the month when church elders once again tell younger members about the good old days of flourishing Sunday schools, and offer puzzled anxiety — or accusations — about what’s gone wrong.

In the United Church, Sunday school membership rose with the postwar baby boom, peaking at 757,000 in 1961 as the first of that generation graduated from Grade 6. The decline that followed was not because Canadians stopped having babies. From 1965 to the present, births have hovered at around 375,000 per year.

By 2012, Sunday school membership had declined by 90 percent to 61,000, with half of all Sunday schools having 25 children or fewer. The threshold to be among the 10 percent of largest Sunday schools was 60. And 20 percent of pastoral charges were already facing a future without any children in Sunday school.

Adults can bring energy, curiosity and enthusiasm to church. Adults can learn, play and grow. We don’t need children for these. And churches, like other volunteer groups, can thrive as adult-only organizations.

But we know in our hearts that a church community doesn’t feel right if all generations aren’t fully present. Children embody — in a way that only children can — the conviction that all are precious in God’s sight; that the world is created to be good; that everyone has a place at the table; that all should be treated with justice; and that we need to build healthy bonds with others if we want these values to be realized.

If there are no children, we are missing the truth that Jesus saw: “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Adults need children to show us how to enter the state of grace that Jesus called God’s kingdom. A church just can’t really be a church without children.

Rev. David Ewart is a United Church minister in Vancouver.

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Announcement

New Observer editor and CEO, Jocelyn Bell. Photo by Lindsay Palmer

New editor named

by Observer Staff

Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

A perfect send-off

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: My Year of Living Spiritually

by Observer Staff

Anne Bokma left the Dutch Reformed Church as a young adult and eventually became a member of the United Church and then the Unitarian Universalists. Having long explored the "spiritual but not religious" demographic as a writer, she decided to immerse herself in practices — like hiring a soul coach, secular choir-singing and forest bathing — for 12 months to find both enlightenment and entertainment.

Promotional Image

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

October 2017

A tale of two cancers

by Catherine Gordon

One year after the writer discovered she had breast cancer, her sister in California received the same diagnosis. They both recovered, but their experiences were worlds apart.

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

November 2017

Grey matter

by Trisha Elliott

Is consciousness just a function of the brain — or something more?

Promotional Image