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Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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World Children’s Day suggests that children are our future, so let’s prioritise them

World Children's day - The catholic weekly - Children are the future
Images by Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2024

The future of our beloved church relies on our wonderful children, and this year Pope Francis has declared the first World Children’s Day to be held on 25-26 May. So why aren’t they more of a priority in our parishes on Sundays?

Despite much discussion around our declining and ageing congregations, much of parish life is still geared exclusively to adults or else does not sufficiently take children’s needs into account.

But children’s ministry is essential and needs to be a much higher priority if we want the church to thrive and grow. There are exciting examples in Sydney parishes of how it can work. All we need is commitment and a willingness to accept kids as they are.

CHILDREN’S LITURGY

If you attend the Sunday children’s liturgy at our local church, St Declan’s in Penshurst, you’ll witness a very large gathering of kids, all chatting excitedly. With their ‘Little Church’ bags flung over their shoulders, they patiently stand behind a young group member who is holding a Little Church banner twice his height, ready to lead the procession down to the meeting room to listen to the day’s Gospel readings.

Half an hour of teaching the Gospel to a huge group of kids is a challenge, but there will be some dedicated mums and dads (like me) who are quite happy to take it on.

For me it’s a privilege, not a trial, and often you’ll find the children very well read and informed. They certainly keep you on your toes.

MUSIC MINISTRY

Our Little Church Band is an opportunity for musically-gifted school-aged children. As a band leader, I find this ministry most rewarding and a great way to engage them.

They are inspired, coached and supported with monthly practice sessions that are also a chance to build friendships with their fellow band members.

As they build up a repertoire they gain experience across different genres and in church ministry, which will serve them well as they grow in mission later on and keep them connected to their parish.

You may have some young ones awaiting a call to music ministry at your parish. But how do you know if you don’t invite them and accept that they are inexperienced and not mini-adults?

World Children Day - The Catholic Weekly - Children are the future
Images by Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2024

SERVING

Based on the teachings Jesus shared with us on the importance of serving others, there are ways children can support the broader community too.

Parishes can collaborate with schools to arrange visits to aged care centres, fundraising for the underprivileged, or youth leadership programs.

Let us not forget the all-important sacramental programs—baptism, reconciliation, first Holy Communion and confirmation lay the foundations for every Christian’s life.

These can be successfully driven through collaboration between the school’s family educator and parish fostering a sense of belonging among young parents and their kids.

Parishes such as St Declan’s, led by Missionary of God’s Love priest Fr Chris Ryan, are very good at doing all of the above. But how?

It begins with good leadership and a mission. St Declan’s mission statement is ‘Bringing the love of God to life in people’. It has a large and culturally diverse vibrant community where everyone is encouraged to identify their God-given gifts, join a ministry or group and get involved.

The parishioners have purpose and feel a real sense of belonging. Families want to witness a growing and vibrant parish for their children’s sake and are therefore eager to invest and contribute to its life.

There is a dedicated children’s ministry team which constantly develops and refines its programs alongside the parish priests and local schools. This creates constant momentum.

The longevity of the church, which has survived for more than 2000 years, can at times usher in complacency and a ‘business as usual’ mindset. We need to shake things up from time to time to keep it flourishing.

World Children Day - The Catholic Weekly - Children are the future
Images by Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2024

When we change some of the ways we do things to make children a priority in our churches we reap as many blessings as they do.

Just as the song The Greatest Love of All says, children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.

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