Special Guest Blog: We invited Rev. Stephen Bouman, the Executive Director of Evangelical Outreach and Congregational and Synodical Mission in the ELCA offices in Chicago to address the needs of children within the church, and to talk about a new position being created at the churchwide offices. Thank you Stephen for sharing with the Network!
When you walk the streets in Arusha, Tanzania, you hear a certain greeting as ubiquitously as “how are you doing?” in our society. They greet each other with this Masai phrase: “Kisserian Injera,” which means, “how are the children?” And the answer in Masai translates as: “it is well with the children.”
It is in this “kisserian Injera” spirit that I am very excited to announce that we in CSM will be posting a new position: Program Director, Ministry With Children. With this position we will now be able to accompany the networks across the church and our society which support the spiritual life and well-being of the first third of life. We will be able to connect to leaders called by the church to support ministry to, and with, youth and young adults. I am very grateful to all of the advocates, supporters, and long distance runners in ministry with children and families. Your faithful service, witness, and holy agitation have helped to make this happen.
I want to thank the Network for lending me the platform of the Network blog. I have been thinking of this question a lot lately: “what do children need in our world today?” These are some which have involved my thinking, prayer and action. You can add your own to the list.
Spiritual Identity: At a day care center for unaccompanied minors (refugee children) who crossed two borders from Central America to flee violence, poverty and reunite with family I had a conversation with a couple who have provided foster care for over thirty of these vulnerable children of God. “They come here so strong in their faith. We pray before meals and at bedtime. They are like little evangelists sharing their faith every day because of their gratitude for being welcomed and support for their spiritual lives.” We all need to know: “you are my beloved child.”
Safety: children are growing up in a world of bullies, gun violence in our schools, malls and neighborhoods, pernicious messages and predators coming at them through the internet, and domestic violence. At the border I spoke with a thirteen year old girl from Honduras whose family was being extorted, whose brother had been killed and she was next.
Advocates\Justice: When we baptize our babies of whatever age we do not leave them at the font. It is baptismal ministry to follow them into the world, to struggle for the quality of their schools, opportunities, mentors, communities.
Strong Communities and Churches: Children need the ballast of strong and durable connections, human solidarity to accompany their lives.
Noble Vision: They need help growing into their agency to make a difference in the world as a way to follow Jesus.
The Hope of Resurrection:
God bless you all as you play your part in an apostolate to, and with, the children of our church and our world.
Rev. Stephen Paul Bouman
Evangelical Outreach and Congregational Mission – ELCA
If you were to pick up the phone and call the ELCA churchwide offices in Chicago, and said that you had questions about children’s ministry, or Sunday School, or something similar, there would be no one to take your call. It’s true. Say it’s a question about a resource…or perhaps about background checks for volunteer teachers, or maybe continuing education opportunities; there’s no one there who could help you. Or, go to the ELCA web site. There are no pages there that reference children’s ministry.
Don’t get me wrong, you’d probably get transferred to someone, and they’d be nice and would try to help. (They’re all really nice people there) But there would be no one there who could answer your questions, or even tell you where to look.
Those positions were eliminated years ago.
Now I don’t want to get into evaluating those moves. I don’t know why those decisions were made, and the folks who made them have moved on. It could be that in the world of the church, at that time, the decision made total sense. It’s not up to me to judge. But I’ve noticed something interesting:
A few years ago, after a massive restructuring of the ELCA offices, and a reorganization, there were no children, youth or young adult positions left. (The Youth Gathering remained staffed…but that’s self-funding.) After some time and reflection, new positions were created in youth ministry and young adult ministry. And I think the direction these new positions took makes all kinds of sense. No longer “Directors” with heavy programmatic responsibilities, these new position descriptions include being aware of and knowing the landscape; networking; communicating; convening; linking congregations to resources and leadership development for both youth and adults.
But nothing has been done with regard to children’s ministry. There is no one in our denominational offices that relates to those who do ministry with anyone from birth to grade 6.
To be clear, I don’t think that having this position in Chicago would solve our problems. It would not. Our problems with shrinking participation in faith formation for children (see my last blog entry) are congregational problems that will require congregational solutions. But what kind of statement does it make when our denomination doesn’t spend any resources on the first third, of the first third of life? I think that’s troubling.
Ministry is a continuum. We all know that…it’s been one of the operating principles of the Network since its formation (and the church in general for a lot longer than that.) So to expect that we can begin resourcing for ministry with young people when they hit age 12 or 13 without any attention prior to that isn’t realistic or healthy.
I also think it sends an unhealthy message to congregations. We know the developmental importance of engaging children and their parents in faith formation at an early, early age. There is so much ‘bang for the buck.’
I believe this needs to change. I believe churchwide resources should be spent in this vital area (Not at the expense of the other two, but in addition to them). A position structured similarly to the youth and young adult positions will allow for someone at the denominational level to ask the questions…to do the research…to network…to share resources…to invite practitioners to the table to think about solutions…to train…to think big picture with their colleagues…and… to answer the phone.
It would be both a gift, and a statement, to the church.
Networked in Christ,