The Rev. Monica Mainwaring recently led an afternoon workshop on spiritual formation for children and youth. We discussed our own experiences and some of the resources that we use including the wonderful Godly Play (not forgetting the importance of proper training and setting of expectations for play leaders) and the cool Whirl program which is linked weekly to the lectionary. Monica is a fan of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, based on the work of Sofia Cavalletti and Gianna Gobbi (a Montessori educator) who spent many years observing children making their own way to God in freedom and joy (see The Religious Potential of the Child more more details).
After having this rich workshop experience I began to reflect on my own childhood spiritual formation and the effect that it has on my today two decades later.
Sunday School after Baptist worship. From the age of eight until my mid-teens I attended a Baptist Church in Leicester. Everyone was kind, friendly and dedicated but this was not a church for young people. The average age of the congregation was fifty plus. The minister the Rev. Brian Thomas, with his rich poetic voice from the Welsh valleys tended to preach thirty minute plus sermons full of explanation and learning (I presume as I can’t actually remember). After the long service I would go and study the bible and talk about life with a gentleman whose name I cannot remember but always wore a neat grey suit. I am not putting any of these people down but as I consider the role that I can play in other young people’s formation it is useful to reflect on the fact that I remember nothing that is relational to God from my experience. In fact the experience probably drove me away from God, or at least church, for quite a few years.
Parallel to this I was a member of the Boys’ Brigade (BB) the Christian equivalent to the scouting. I can recall even today without hesitation the object of the BB. “The advancement of Christ’s kingdom amongst boys and the promotion of habits of obedience, discipline and self-respect.” Whilst the formal opening worship that we held at the start of each meeting, or the uniform, or the practice of drill on the parade ground may have been decidedly old school I credit discovering the foundation of my faith because of the BB. Our BB Company (unit) owned two campsites in Guernsey, part of the Channel Islands. The campsites would be rented out to other BB companies for summer camps. I was also fortunate to go on many trips to Guernsey to help erect, dismantle and maintain the campsites. It may have been cheap labor but it allowed me to have a second summer home. A home where I had lots of free time to wander safely along a rugged coastline. To climb the rocks jutting out into the sea and talk to God. Sitting on those rocks I would let out all of my built up emotions, bullying at school, feelings of being different. Guernsey was my safe place to be with God. I found it easier to be close to God there than in any church. Victor Hugo wrote Les miserable whilst exiled in Guernsey. Maybe that is why I have always believed “to love another person is to see the face of God”.
In the formality of the Sunday School classroom – I struggle to recall what lasting formation was gained. In the freedom of the beauty of Guernsey I built a personal relationship with God.
Last Sunday I led the Seekers formation class at St. Peter’s (Grades 3-4). We watched the Whirl video about Jesus calling his disciples to be fishers of men (Luke 5:1-11 epiphany 5c RCL). Then we played a game of trust. We took it in turns to be blindfolded and then listen to our friends guide us by voice command around a maze, made out of tape on the floor. Trying to avoid obstacles the blindfolded kid needed to trust their guide to get through the maze. At the end of 45 crazy minutes I asked who else the kids could always trust. “God” and “Jesus” came back the answer. “Just like the disciples trusted Jesus when he called them.” The seekers found their own way to make sense of the lesson. Good for them!