This question could be asked of any of us, of any age-level–why do liturgy? For each of us, liturgy offers an unparalleled experience of being joined to Christ and made worthy to offer divine worship in the Holy Spirit. This experience is not limited to adults, nor limited to the Liturgy of the Eucharist–it inherently includes all of the baptized, all those filled with Christ and the Holy Spirit. And in doing liturgy, sharing in this divine worship with Christ our Savior, each of us–child, parent in the pews, and Liturgy of the Word for Children is formed.
Liturgy teaches each of us, “not by means of an artificial system of aim-conscious educational influences,” but by simply creating “an entire spiritual world in which the soul can live” as God desires. Doing liturgy in any form disposes us by wrapping an individual in Christian witness, the witness of those present on earth, and of the communion of the blessed in heaven. Liturgical habits can provide words and actions ready to become the response of ongoing conversion, months, years, or even decades later in a person’s life.
While liturgy has an objective aspect (meaning, the Mass is the Mass, even if “celebrated poorly”), the objective truth of liturgy, “has no end in itself apart from the formal, and therefore subjective, response of the faithful.” This is where Liturgy of the Word for Children plays an essential role–encouraging adults to open themselves to the fullness of the liturgy to discern, through the Holy Spirit, how to foster a liturgical environment where our younger children hear, experience, and respond to Christ.
We do this confidently, knowing that in his earthly ministry, Jesus himself affirmed the religious potential of young children, correcting those who would assume that children have no place in the Kingdom of God. Likewise, we trust in the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit who lavishes supernatural gifts of grace on all of the baptized, calling each of us to be committed to spreading the Good News. In doing liturgy, we respond to this call with humility, trust, and love for God and His people.
Teach the history of baseball, beginning with Abner Doubleday and the impact of cricket and imperialism. Have a test.
Starting with the Negro leagues and the early barnstorming teams, assign students to memorize facts and figures about each player. Have a test.
Rank the class on who did well on the first two tests, and allow these students to memorize even more statistics about baseball players. Make sure to give equal time to players in Japan and the Dominican Republic. Send the students who didn’t do as well to spend time with a lesser teacher, but assign them similar work, just over a longer time frame. Have a test.
Sometime in the future, do a field trip and go to a baseball game. Make sure no one has a good time.
If there’s time, let kids throw a baseball around during recess.
Obviously, there are plenty of kids (and adults) who know far more about baseball than anyone could imagine knowing. And none of them learned it this way.
An end of summer examen for us as catechists and teachers:
Is Godin’s example in any way similar to…
how we catechize (adults or children) in parish life?
how we share the faith in Catholic schools?
how we prepare children, adults, and married couples for sacraments?
how we theologically form those preparing for lay or ordained ministry?
The heart of the discussion focuses on two big ideas:
the importance of a team approach between everyone who ministers to and with youth–from nursery, right on up to teen/student ministries
an essential focus on truly serving the needs of families, a partnership, in contrast with the idea of simply “filling up” kids with all they need to grow as disciples at church at the expense of parents/caregivers as partners
How do these ideas resonate with your ministry experience?
Two options for free printable guides suitable for elementary school and middle/high school:
For elementary school, from the “Education in Virtue” Series of the Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist, a Lenten Journal featuring space to draw responses to Scripture and age-appropriate definitions of virtues to spur discussion in a classroom, catechetical setting, etc. –> https://educationinvirtue.com/free-resources-for-lent/
For middle and high school students, a monthly selection of short reflections on those who have lived tremendous lives of witness to the Christian faith. When we think of capital-T “Tradition,” it’s not something contained in mere words of a Catechism or Vatican documents, but a living transmission of the faith.
One source of this life is the witness of others, especially those later designated as canonized saints. These monthly Teaching with the Saints workbooks (free!) from the McGrath Institute of Church Life include reflective questions to help offer students a way to move beyond information to a connection with their own life as a disciple of Jesus –> here.
The amount of research on what “keeps kids religious” can be dizzying. Yet, this research matters, not because we need to “keep” kids a certain way, but because God has a personal plan for each one of them, and desires a relationship with every person that grows throughout one’s entire life.
How to Keep Kids Growing as Disciples into Adulthood. That’s the Question.
When we consider this most generally, the conclusions aren’t shocking:
In research using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, sociologists Christopher Bader and Scott Desmond found that children of parents who believe that religion is very important and display their commitment by attending servicesare most likely to transmit religiosity to their children.…One of the strongest factors associated with older teens keeping their faith as young adults was having parents who talked about religion and spirituality at home, Smith said.
Other key factors included having parents for whom personal faith is important and who demonstrate that faith through attending services. Teens whose parents attended worship with them were especially likely to be religiously active as young adults.
Among related findings, parents from religious traditions that in general promote greater commitment and encourage discussing faith outside the sanctuary also were more likely to have children who remained active in their faith as young adults. (NSYR, HuffPo, 2014)
Pulling out practical, concrete examples–that can be harder. Fortunately, additional studies and reflections provide clues.
It wasn’t just that parents took their kids to church (where “professional clergy” could feed them spiritually), but that the children were included and integrated into the church through the avenue of service. The habit of serving others in the church and community likely formed these young adults in a way that kept them from identifying merely as a churchgoing “consumer,” but instead as a contributor to the building up of God’s people.
Talking About Religion and Spirituality At Home
Brad Klingele, a teacher (and former Youth Minister), writes:
As educated Catholics, we all to try to help our children to have an adequate ability to think clearly, to analyze, and to gain an accurate understanding of the world and of our faith. My family spends countless moments discussing events, ideas, and our faith. Each day presents opportunities for intellectual formation. We value abstract reasoning. Most educated Catholics conceptualize passing on the faith as participating in the sacraments and passing on the truths of the faith.
The truths of the faith. To hold something to be true, we tend to think that we have an understanding that we can articulate in words. Almost everything about our culture encourages us to think of truth as an idea, a concept. Our educational culture since the Enlightenment encourages verbal and written articulation. Outside of encouraging weekly Mass and some service work, we think of passing on the truths of the Catholic faith as passing on a correct conceptual understanding. A dear family friend, Fr. Joe, calls it Catholicism as Philosophy.
What Klingele senses is a challenge for many–including/especially parents who are very passionate or well-formed in the Christian faith). An overly conceptual understanding of truth (=”ideas”) is not necessarily talking about being a disciple of Jesus Christ in a way that children at different ages and stages desire.
As Marc Cardaronella writes, “Articulating faith means internalizing it, owning it, and making it a part of you. That requires dialogue.” In the study, “Understanding Former Young Catholics,” Nicolette Manglos-Weber and Christian Smith find that “narrow and rigid viewpoints” are often viewed with suspicion by emerging young adults. Talking about beliefs in a way that is affirmative and open to dialogue not only helps form young people in the faith, but also models how to be passionately in love with Jesus and respect the different beliefs of others. [If you’re familiar with Alpha, think of it as an adaptation of Alpha culture in the home.]
Fortunately 🙂 when it comes to talking about religion and spirituality in the home, it’s not all up to us as parents! God communicates with our children, just as He does with us (Praise the Lord for that). In the LifeWay Protestant household research:
The biggest factor was Bible reading. Children who regularly read the Bible while they were growing up were more likely to have a vibrant spiritual life once they became adults.
This statistic doesn’t surprise me. God’s Word is powerful. The Bible lays out the great story of our world and helps us interpret our lives and make decisions within the framework of a biblical worldview. Bible reading is a constant reminder that we live as followers of God. Our King has spoken. He reigns over us. We want to walk in his ways. (Trevin Wax, “Parents, Take Note…”)
The inspired Sacred Scriptures are a powerful gift to us as human beings who so crave communication. God hands on His very-self to us in the “wellspring” of Sacred Scripture (Dei Verbum, para. 2, 9). When our kids read it (or have it read to them), God works.
Prayer also offers the opportunity for God to speak into the family, including kids. Manglos-Weber and Smith found that among young adults who were continuing to grow as disciples in the Church, 56% prayed alone frequently, compared to only 33% of those who left the Church praying alone regularly. Prayer can take on a wide range of forms, whatever works for your children’s ages is a great place to start. Singing together is also prayer–the LifeWay study found that listening to Christian music ranked highly among Protestant youth who continued to practice their faith as young adults.
Cultivating habits of prayer and Bible reading allow the Holy Spirit to speak and move in powerful ways, to direct our “talking” to what is most important for each of us, in our families, right now–and encourage our children to delight in listening and conversing with God our Perfect Father, through His Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit directly.
Faith Outside the Sanctuary
None of us can be perfect parents. It’s a fact. But regardless of our challenges, stumbles, and hard-times as parents, unconditionally loving our children is essential. It’s our humble imitation of God’s love for each of us. It builds the basis of trust necessary for everything else, “Otherwise, your efforts fall on deaf ears” (Cardaronella).
As Manglos-Weber and Smith explain:
Emotional closeness between Catholic parents and their teenage children—especially with fathers—influences whether teens remain Catholic into their 20s. Greater relational distance between parents and teens increases the chance that the latter will leave the Church in emerging adulthood.
Well before the teenage years, imitation plays a significant role–do we as parents model a faith our children would logically want to imitate? i.e. does following Jesus bring us joy? make us pleasant to be around? lead us to love in illogical and moving ways?
Klingele reflects on a conversation with another father:
Phil and I agreed that we cannot hope to help our children to stay Catholic when they are cut off from the people with whom Jesus is closest…If Jesus is closest to those in need, and our only connection with people occurs across the ocean of a soup kitchen pot, we are not close to Jesus. We cannot find our Lord when we are absent from him, and he is with the poor…When our kids realize we are equally poor, and that we must continue the Eucharist through the sharing of our very lives with our brethren, our kids will meet and stay with Jesus.
He recognizes that if he does not live a commitment to what the Gospel is outside of Mass, then not only is his life as a disciple muted, his children’s growth as disciples of Jesus Christ will be stunted.
Much to ponder–I say that with great humility as a parent of young children who remind me all of the time about what imitation means.
Due to the writings of Sherry Weddell, “intentional” has become the ubiquitous adjective on “disciples.” And that’s not a bad thing. It’s true. And, extra-true 😉 when it comes to forming disciples starting in childhood and continuing through adulthood. The intentionality in homes and parish communities matters.
In conclusion, a set of personal questions from Trevin Wax for any household or parish to pray with, ponder, and discuss from time to time:
What kind of culture do we want in our homes and churches?
What space are we creating for our children to flourish?
How are we rooting our families in God’s Word?
How are we modeling prayer and repentance?
What does faithfulness look like in our home?
What are the songs that are in our hearts and on our lips?
For the past week, we’ve been diving into key points and applications from Christel Manning’s “Losing Our Religion: How Unaffiliated Parents Are Raising Their Children”. In closing, I’m sharing her own personal experience encountering a Catholic parish as a “None” parent. I’m thankful to Manning for incorporating her own personal experiences into her valuable work of sociology.
Manning, like many other parents who identify as “None,” experienced new questions during the “early childhood” stage of her daughter, Sheila. Embodying the diversity of her framework for understanding the beliefs of Nones and range of options to offer worldview formation for their children, Manning took up the recommendation of a Catholic friend, and enrolled her daughter in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd at her local parish. Here’s her reflection:
The teacher leading the program was a lovely woman, gentle and non-dogmatic and so good with kids. My husband was initially opposed to any kind of church-based education, but I convinced him to give it a try…I enrolled Sheila for the first year. She loved it…When we went to England for Christmas, my husband’s family was duly impressed with Sheila’s knowledge of religion…At the end of the school year, however, the doctrinal basis of the program became more clear. The first year curriculum, geared to very young children, was centered on the idea that God is a good shepherd who will take care of you–a fairly generic concept that I could accept. By contrast, the second-year curriculum involved teaching children the Catholic creed and preparing them for first communion. I did not feel comfortable with that. Parents were encouraged to attend church with their children, and in talking to other parents I realized that everybody else was actually doing that. I felt like a fraud. So the next Sunday, I went to mass and I took Sheila with me…There were rousing hymns singing glory to God, prayers, a reading from the Bible, a homily on a topic I cannot remember people lined up to receive communion. The hymns struck me as militaristic, the Bible reading felt irrelevant to my life,and the prayers reminded me that I do not believe in God. Sheila was bored and fidgety. I was bored and alienated. It was clear this was not the right path for us. I was disappointed, but also relieved. (192)
What appealed to Manning?
the recommendation of her Catholic friend, who did not hesitate to share an experience that was positive for her child with her “None” friend —> personal endorsement/invitation is the most powerful marketing
about Catechesis of the Good Shepherd? We see it in her own layperson’s description, “a Montessori-based two-year program for preschoolers and kindergarten age children that allows children to choose from various religion-themed play activities rather than imposing a unified curriculum on them” (192). While this is incomplete in a technical sense (i.e. Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is in Catholic language a “systematic” catechesis and stretches to age 12) it reveals what resonated with a “None” parent —> our marketing “key words” for outsiders do not need to be what’s most theologically important to us “church folks”
the Level 1 (ages 3-6) emphasis that “God is a good shepherd who will take care of you” was experienced by Manning as pre-evangelistic, it connected to her existing values –> the Church’s teaching on the role of pre-evangelization should not be overlooked 🙂
As described in her research, it was her interest that convinced her husband to allow the “testing the water” in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. After the child’s interests/needs, spouses exert the second most powerful “push” to explore religious worldviews. And it’s usually the woman. –> #MarketToMoms #ConnectWithMoms
Those familiar with Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) will notice that Manning’s perceptive description isn’t quite accurate, i.e. our “insider” understanding of different “Levels” each spanning approximately three years is not clear to her. And this isn’t her fault, she’s not trying to be a catechetical expert (and yes, the parish mentioned runs typical Level 1 and 2 CGS programs). This impacts her expectations and understanding. –> When describing catechetical programs to parents, let’s remember that they don’t have the time to research or prepare to be familiar with our “insider” language.
Manning takes her daughter to Mass. (!!!) Did you catch that? How blessed are we to receive such seekers in our midst! Remember, Manning is a “None,” her husband initially opposed the idea of having their daughter attend Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, Manning herself already feels “uncomfortable,” and yet, she still goes. This is a huge leap on her part. –> Our attitude toward seekers should respect and honor the risks they’ve already taken to encounter us on “our turf,” rather than veil a disdainful or critical, “where have you been all these years?” We rejoice (note Jesus’ 3 parables in Lk 15) that the Holy Spirit has led them this far.
Manning’s daughter was bored and fidgety. –> While liturgically oriented Catholics may love having their young children with them at Mass, it’s unlikely a seeker or “None” will find that experience life-giving. We shouldn’t force them to by failing to care enough to offer a memorable and engaging experience for their children. It was Sheila who indirectly “brought” her mother to Mass this time–imagine if Sheila had spent the car-ride home telling her mom about the kids she met, how much she loved the singing, how fun it was–many parents would come back a second time (or more!) simply because their child had a great experience. That’s how us parents work 🙂
Again, I’m grateful to Christel Manning for sharing so personally in the conclusion of her book. Rarely do we get such a detailed description of how a “None” parent/child can go from non-attending, to catechesis, and even make it to Mass.
Having concluded this series on Losing Our Religion, what new thoughts are you thinking about “Nones” as parents?
Knowing that Nones are the fastest growing “religious group” in the United States, it’s natural to wonder–so what exactly do “Nones” teach their children when it comes to religion or other worldview questions?
Key Point #4: How Nones Form Their Children’s Worldviews
When it Comes to Worldview, What Do Nones Do To Raise Their Children? (Table 5.1)
Options for Incorporating Worldview into Upbringing of Child (below)
Intentionally incorporate worldview into home life
Enroll child in institution that transmits worldview
Change in parent affiliation
Yes (Judaism, Christianity)
Yes (CCD, Sunday School, Hebrew School, etc.)
From None to Christian or Jewish denomination
Yes (secular philosophy or seeker spirituality)
Yes (plural worldview education)
Yes (from None to UU or AHA)
Yes (CCD, Sunday school, Hebrew School)
What we see in the chart is that Manning identified five general “types” of how None parents seek to transmit worldviews to their children–conventional, alternative, self-provider, outsourcing, non-provider. She concludes:
There is more variety in how Nones raise their children than existing research would imply. It is not just a choice between doing nothing and going back to church (136).
And on top of this, contemporary American religious life has a general “fluidity,” so Nones (like all Americans) are likely to shift between methods (whether deliberately or not).
What to think?
Manning suggests, “These five options for incorporating worldviews into the upbringing of a child could, theoretically, be applied to churched parents as well” (p. 186) –> Yes! In Children’s Ministries we can grow in awareness that even our faithful churched parents have different methods for sharing the faith at home. Since in Catholic teachings the parent is the primary catechist, how we in ministry empower and support parents is critical.
Many Nones take a “conventional” approach, which means they come to church programs and often even change their affiliation as a result, this is a significant opportunity!
“Outsourcing” parents represent a more challenging opportunity–the kids are at church, but nothing at home. Capturing the interest of these parents is likely the special task for our discernment and on-going consideration. It’s not easy in a busy world, but there’s a point of trust with their child to build on.
There’s a place for marketing children’s ministry outside of parish communities. None parents are clearly in the marketplace for “institutions” and organizations to offer formation for their children. They might select your program for completely non-religious reasons (i.e. the environment is engaging, the schedule works, etc.) — this is an opportunity for outreach.
As always, feel free to offer your own insights, observations, and applications in the Comment box.