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What comes first; children in church or a space to welcome them in church?

How do we create appropriate spaces in our sanctuaries, in our worship, in congregational life in general?

What makes a space truly welcoming for children?

These are some of the questions that the First Third Ministries Leadership Team is actively exploring. The goal is to provide communities of faith with ideas and resources to create and maintain family friendly spaces.

Shanna Bernier (Regional Council), Martha Randy (Cedar Park), Jennifer Carroll (Trinity, Rosemont) and Rev. Joëlle Leduc (Ste Genevieve) met in the sanctuary of Cedar Park United Church in a hybrid format to start reflecting on these important questions and planning the next steps.

Here are some of the highlights of the conversation:

How designated spaces for children and their families are designed and maintained sends a message to those who use them. Being intentional about what kind of message we are sending is key. For a child to come to a church where all the pencil crayons are worn out, there is no pencil sharpener, and the colouring sheet are used ones from one season ago would be the equivalent of an adult walking into a church and being handed a hymn book with torn out pages and a bulletin from three months ago.

Where and how a space for children is organised is highly contextual. It depends on the space available, the number and age of the children, the culture of the congregation, etc. Therefore, the team intends to explore a wide variety of spaces in our churches and explore their strengths and challenges so our communities of faith can build on each other’s experiences.

Spaces are not only physical. What space do children take in our planning, in our worship, in any of our church activities? We must be careful and intentional about the goals of the activities we offer children. Is the activity’s goal to provide them with fidget tools so they can better follow what is going on? Is it an activity that will help them experience the Biblical stories, rituals, and the presence of God in their lives? Or is it mere entertainment to get them out of the way of the adults? Being welcoming and inclusive means moving away from the latter.

Is the Sunday School model still pertinent in our current context? Sending the younger people to Sunday school during worship was, historically, a solution to a practical demographic issue: there wasn’t enough space for that many children in worship. For most congregations, it’s no longer the case. What kind of children’s ministry is most effective in what kind of context will be part of our reflection and of the resources we want to provide communities of faith.

You are interested in taking part in this reflection? You would like to share your community of faith’s experiences, successes, and challenges?

Contact us!

Rev. Joëlle Leduc,
Chair of First Third Ministries Leadership Team