Project Canterbury

The Way of Churchmanship
Suggestions for the Religious Training of Little Children

W. K. Lowther Clarke, D.D.

London: SPCK, 1932.


THE first draft of this paper was written after reading a series of pamphlets published by the St. Christopher Press and the S.P.C.K. under the title of "Children and Life." The purpose of the series is to help well-educated and modern-minded parents to deal with the problems arising in connection with the bringing up of their children.

For the series as a whole I have nothing but appreciation. I feel, however, that, when they deal with religious training, the authors do not aim wholeheartedly at turning out instructed Churchmen and Churchwomen, and that a gap remains to be filled. So I tried to write a paper on different lines. I sent it to St. Christopher's College, Blackheath, asking my friends there to put it into shape. They cut out what seemed to them too academic and added a number of practical details, turning what was little more than ajeu d'esprit into a pamphlet which I hope will prove helpful to some.

Conceivably some readers will think the practical suggestions too Roman Catholic in places to be acceptable to more than a minority of English Churchmen. If any feel like this, I would urge that we ought to be glad of help from all sides, and that the Roman Catholic Church is singularly successful up to a point in dealing with this particular problem. Her children, when they reach adolescence or manhood and womanhood, lapse from religious observances in distressing numbers--she shares this experience with all religious bodies--but so successful has their early training been that they almost always know the way back, if they want to take it.

In dealing with children we all make great use of outward representations and symbolic actions; the purpose of this paper is to urge that the symbolism should be primarily the traditional usages of the Church, especially those connected with the liturgical year.

W. K. L. C.


THE output of religious educational literature nowadays is very large, and for parents and teachers alike a great deal of excellent guidance is available. But there remains a gap to be filled. The writers of this pamphlet have in mind the ordinary child brought up in an ordinary home, where there is neither time nor opportunity for much reading and study, and where the parents' interests are practical rather than intellectual. Such parents, seeing that their children are being educated on modern scientific lines somewhat different from their own earlier education, and knowing that the foundations of Churchmanship are laid at home, are finding the way of approach difficult. We suggest a way which is simple and obvious. The young child learns mainly through his senses; therefore the way of Churchmanship should lead along the way of outward observance--in fact, of obedience to the laws and customs of the Church. The child learns through seeing and doing; he apprehends the spiritual through the "outward and visible," and in pleasurable activity is building up happy associations with his Church life.

The little child who, on his return from his Kindergarten Class, said to his mother, when questioned on the lesson, "Don't ask me what I learnt, ask me what I did," is a finger-post showing our direction in the way of Church worship.

What is the purpose of our religious education? It is twofold. First it is meant to interest and instruct the child now. Each age of man needs to be sanctified, so in consequence each age is an end in itself, as well as a prelude to what lies ahead. "The cult of the passing moment" can be defended on deep philosophical grounds which we need not discuss here. But anyone can see that a church full of happy children, glad to be in their Father's house, is a worthy thing in itself, even if it could be shown us in vision that every single child would lapse in later life. Unfortunately, many will lapse. When we remember the number of men engaged on Sunday in one industry alone, that of transport, we must recognize the impossibility of getting large sections of adults to church on Sunday. But that will not last for ever. The tendency is for workers to retire from industry earlier and to live on their pensions longer. We must therefore take long views and consider what form of religious education will be most likely to help men and women in the years after retirement, which may mean twenty years of vigorous, if restricted, activity.

This brings us to the second purpose. We want a method which will train the children for their adult life as well as appeal to the passing moment of childhood. From the point of view of the Church the period of old age is of surpassing importance. Our work is to prepare souls for heaven, and in old age, as the pleasures of the world pall and the lessons of life are learned, many are receptive once more and ready to accept our help. The difficulty then is the force of habit. How is a man who has hardly ever been inside the church since childhood to form a new habit of worship? But we have one ally, in the revival of early memories. Mr. John Masefield writes of The Winter's Tale: "It is said that an old horse near to death turns towards the pastures where he was foaled. It is true of human beings. Man wanders home to the fields which bred him. A part of the romance of this poem is the turning back of the poet's mind to the Cotswold country, of which he sang so magically, in his first play, sixteen or eighteen years ago" (William Shakespeare, p. 230). Let us, then, bear this in mind in framing our methods. The old man will remember his childhood vividly, intensely, lovingly. It will help to bring him back to religion if those memories are agreeable in themselves, and if they are naturally linked with the present surroundings of his life. Now, of one thing we can be certain: the abstract conceptions of today will then be old-fashioned, the games of the Kindergarten will be childish things for ever put away, but the inspired traditional symbolism of the Christian Year will be going on unchanged.

In suggesting a "Way" by which a child should proceed towards God, the goal of life, the first consideration must be given to the starting-point. This must be sought for in the child's innate, or at any rate first, experiences. Modern writers are in agreement that the distinctiveness of religion consists in the realization of the existence of something other than the ordinary things of life.

Rudolf Otto, in his much read and in some quarters severely criticized book, coins a term to describe this awareness of the supernatural, the awful mysterious other, "mysterium tremendum"; he calls it "numinous consciousness." Baron von Hiigel recognizes the experience as the root element in mysticism, and says that it is awakened in the child by a symbol or picture or attitude of the parent which suggests the invisible Presence. [The Idea of the Holy.]

Professor Pratt says: Part of this racial inheritance is the child's religion. It would be ... impossible to say when he first begins to acquire it ... once started, its growth is natural. . . . Theology has to be taught; religion cannot be. When the mother gives her child his first lesson in theology she finds that he is already in-cipiently religious." [The Religious Consciousness, p. 93.]

Pierre Bovet writes: "The feeling of the sublime when in presence of the grand spectacles of nature, the mystic intuition of the presence of an invisible and beneficent being, the tragic conviction of shortcoming, are already present in the inner lives of little children; and in numbers of these experiences we are compelled to recognize with astonishment that we are dealing with original facts, and that imitation plays no part whatsoever." [The Child's Religion, p. 9.]

The part the parent and teacher have to play is to enrich the experience by knowledge and concrete expression in daily life.

The enrichment of religious experience by the outward observances of His religious life must have played a part in the education of the Child Jesus. There were the solemn ceremonies connected with family religion, the hush of the Sabbath, the Hebrew language used in the synagogue, vaguely familiar and yet different from the Aramaic of common life, the rolls of Scripture so much honoured, the periodical absences of the parents when they went up to the feasts, and the never-to-be-forgotten day when He too went up to Jerusalem and saw the shining Temple and heard the choirs singing, and was at home in His Father's House. Such an education made the supernatural real. Angels had broken through the veil of matter and appeared to Mary and Joseph in vision and dream. It was easy for them to come to Him too and minister to Him.

We turn now to practical details. The first thing is to bring the supernatural into the lives of the children as a personal experience.

Somewhere in the bedroom should be a picture of our Lord, and this should be as good a picture as possible. To the very little child He should be portrayed as a grown-up. Pictures of our Lord as a Friend of little children and loving Helper are better for the purpose than pictures of the Virgin and Child, or of the Child Jesus.

Care should be taken to avoid a picture which has a too pronounced Eastern background and, on the other hand, a type of bearded face that is unnatural. This is very important, as so many adults have formed their impressions of Christ on their early ideas of Him through pictures. A little three-year-old, on being shown a picture of our Lord with the children standing round Him, once said, "I should be very frightened if He came in here"; this demonstrates the need for careful choice. A vase of flowers or candles standing below the picture would help. The child could be held up to look and to say "Good-night, Lord Jesus." A little later, when the Man Jesus is firmly fixed in his mind, he can be introduced to the Child Jesus in His mother's arms; "Jesus was a baby once, like you." But let the Man come first. There is no theological justification for saying that the Child Jesus is the child's Saviour. The first prayers are treated in many excellent pamphlets. [Especially "Children and Life," No. 2, Teaching about Prayer]. It is enough here to mention the importance of the child's seeing his mother praying, and learning to be quiet meanwhile.

But if the father uses the same room and the child never sees him pray, he will get the idea that men don't pray, and the mother's influence will be sadly weakened.

The Christmas the child is old enough to understand its message is a great opportunity. Somewhere in the house, with much ceremony, we can make a crib. The child will eagerly help. Joseph and Mary, the ox and the ass, will take their place in readiness on Christmas Eve. It would probably be better to cut out coloured pictures and paste them on cardboard than to buy them ready-made. Before long the child will be making them for himself. On Christmas morning the Child is in the crib. Jesus is born! And the Shepherds have come. Would it not be better to reserve the presents until later in the day instead of having the wild excitement of stockings in the early morning? After all, Santa Claus is a Victorian importation from Germany and not an indispensable part of an English Christmas. On Epiphany morning the Shepherds have gone and the Wise Men are there. A silver star which the child could help to make from shiny paper could be fixed to the crib. Then perhaps it is best to remove the crib lest it loses its interest.

Why should not Fridays and Lent be observed in the nursery? Few children like meat and they can well do without it on Fridays, and Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent. They will like to be doing what the grown-ups do. Sweets can be reduced to a minimum in Lent, if not dispensed with entirely; if this is done, Sundays should be marked out as feast days by restoring the sweets.

Lent is a time of growth, a "getting ready" time, and it might help to have a pot of daffodils, our "Lent lilies," gradually unfolding their buds and getting ready for Easter.

Mothering Sunday at Mid-Lent, with its "who goes a-mothering finds violets in the lane," can mean quite a lot to the little child, with a present for mother of a bunch of violets and the inevitable simnel cake at Sunday tea-time. When the child is old enough to listen to stories he can be told of the old North-Country holiday and the children coming back from the farms to show their love for their mothers, and the stories of the happy families being fed on the "green grass" in the Gospel for the Sunday, also called Refreshment Sunday. We want happy memories built up of Lent--not just of a time when you "give up things," the negative side, but of a positive time when you strive to grow better and to make other people happy.

If the child is too young to go to church on Palm Sunday, he can be given his mother's palm, which he will put in his prayer-place, or over the picture of our Lord.

On Good Friday there should be a feeling of a happy though quiet day, and a short talk given about "this Friday being a specially good Friday, the day on which the Lord Jesus stretched out His arms from the Cross in love to everyone." It would be best that the idea of pain and suffering should not enter into it at this early stage, particularly with sensitive children. In any case the thought of Easter rather than of Good Friday should be left with them, and the "getting ready" idea kept in view all day.

Easter Eggs* can be prepared, and if the child is encouraged to make one for someone else for Easter Day as well as for himself, it is all to the good. Easter Day should be associated with new clothes, flowers, etc. The thoughts of sadness which arise on Good Friday are thus from the first "swallowed up in victory." And so we go on through the Christian Year, not forgetting the Angels on September 29, and the day assigned to the child's Patron Saint, for it is probable that the child will have at least one Christian name borne by a canonized Saint. [Get primroses and other small flowers and leaves and the brown outside leaves of an onion. Dip in water to make them keep in place, and lay them on the eggs to form a pattern, then wrap in a piece of butter muslin and tie firmly. Boil the eggs in a coloured dye or else in permanganate of potash, which gives a chocolate background. A book of stories should be handy, as the twenty minutes while the eggs are boiling can seem very long.]

As soon as the child is able to appreciate the fact that he has been called after a Saint it would help him to have a picture of the Saint to remind him of this.

In telling the story of his particular Saint and his virtues, courage, gentleness, etc., it would be well also to keep in mind endurance in spite of suffering and hardship. Sooner or later every child is brought into contact with pain and suffering and death, nor should we shield him too long from such knowledge. It is better to have prepared for this contact by stories of the Saints, which will help to make the Communion of Saints a real thing.

In planning how to give first impressions to the child it is important to bear in mind that Church-manship implies a sharing in the fellowship of the group life of the Church, and to remember the responsibility which each member has towards the others, so that the whole of the family may live together in joy and happiness. So far we have thought of the child as an individual, but, important as that is, there is also the need for training in membership--in fact, that corporate sense which should be the very life of the Church.

Now, "sharing" is very important in the life of every family; all must give and take if they are to be really happy, so "sharing" in its wider sense in the Family of God follows on quite naturally from this. With a little child it is better to let him give in kind rather than money, and if possible to let him see the joy his gift can bring. Also it is of more value to help him choose a toy in a shop that he would quite possibly like himself than to give away old toys that are broken or for which he has no more use. It is wiser, too, to wait until the child's circle of interests has widened a bit before letting him make things to send abroad, and then the Christmas cards, calendars or presents that are made should be sent to someone with whom there can be some personal link. The "Nursery Series" of little books and The Big World Picture Book make a fascinating introduction to overseas work. [The "Nursery Series" of little books, price 1s. 6d., and The Big World Picture Book, price 1s., can be obtained from any of the missionary societies.]

Emphasis should be laid on "other children learning to know more about the Lord Jesus and baptized just like you and belonging to the big Family of God," in order to give the right attitude towards "being all members one of another." This is a better way of approach than talking of heathen children who have never heard of our Lord, because membership starts from the centre and radiates outwards.

It must be remembered that as the child grows older "sharing" develops into "giving up" for the sake of others; in fact, amongst the members of the Family of God the spirit of "in honour preferring one another "and of service for others should call forth effort. Finishing work that has been begun in a moment of enthusiasm is very important, so is helping the child to carry out any undertaking he has made, such as, for example, corresponding with children in a Mission School or giving his offering regularly in a Freewill Offering Scheme at his church.

So far we have been thinking of the home; now we come to the church. We can presuppose a church full of interesting things, as this is obviously important for the first impressions.

The first visit should be very short and leave a sense of curiosity unsatisfied. We can return later and show things one by one.

Sonny, aged two and a half, a very ordinary child, on his first visit to church was only interested in the umbrella stands at the end of each pew. The preceding Sunday had been wet and each stand had a little water left in it. Sonny knelt down and examined them carefully. "How kind to the doggies!" he said. It was explained how the umbrellas had dried there, and even a demonstration given him, but Sonny remained quite unconvinced. He knew you put water where thirsty animals can find it, and it was a very hot day. So he only said, with even more emphasis, "But how very kind to the doggies!" On his second visit to church he asked to go and look at the pictures in the windows.

The pictures and stained glass repeat on a larger scale what is familiar in picture books at home. The font will be specially interesting if the child has been baptized in it.

It will probably be better for the first visit or two just to go to the children's corner. We want the child to feel at home in God's House, and sometimes the interior of a large church can be alarming; also a sensitive child can be much distracted by hearing the organ being practised. It might help if he can see his mother kneeling to pray for a very short time, but this should be explained by saying, "I want to say 'Thank you for our beautiful church,'" or, "because we are so happy." The child should only pray if he, too, feels the desire; it is quite enough at first to watch someone else at prayer.

A visit, too, should be paid at the different Festivals, when the church is likely to be decorated. So often at the service itself the church is crowded and a small person cannot see much. There should be an opportunity of looking at everything in detail, and of pointing out that we have lilies and spring flowers for Easter, red and white flowers for Whit-sun, etc.

Church-going for children presents many problems. Just at first it will provide so many interesting things that there is no danger of boredom in a short service.

Two principles should be kept in view. First, the child must always be learning in order to understand, and secondly the element of mystery should be kept well to the fore.

Sunday worship should introduce the child to the way of the church. In order to accustom him gradually to take his part, he can be taken for a short time only--now to the first part of the Eucharist, coming out before the sermon; now to the second part, entering after the sermon. But even the sermon can be made attractive if favourite Scripture picture-books are reserved for this time. A normal restless child will in this way occupy the fifteen minutes of the sermon, though, of course, there will be exceptions.

It cannot be repeated too often that a church which has a morning service lasting an hour, with sufficient life, colour, and movement to interest a child, has solved the problem of a service which appeals to the average adult worshipper. Elaborate music should be confined to central town churches which the parent with young children can avoid, or it can from time to time be made the chief feature of Evensong.

For those parents who are accustomed to taking their children to Mattins on a Sunday morning there has been written a useful little book with attractive drawings in it which teach the different parts of the service and would help the children to take their part in it (A Child's Guide to Morning Prayer, published by C.E.S.S.I. and S.P.C.K., 6d.).

Whatever form the service takes, we must explain it if we want the child gradually to come to take his share. There are many little books to teach him how to follow the Eucharist, and much may be done at home. For example, there is an attractive painting book called A Book about my Church, with the different parts of it in outline to be coloured. It is published by A. and C. Black, Ltd., Soho Square, London, W. i.

More use, too, might be made of games. We might teach the liturgical colours by making a large square divided into four parts, coloured white, red, violet, and green, with small insets of black, and perhaps of rose (for Mid-Lent Sunday and the Third Sunday in Advent). The feasts and fasts can be written out on pieces of cardboard, or, if the child cannot read, symbolical or realistic representations can be pasted or drawn on them. Then, playing against one another, mother and child can gradually move the coloured squares into their places.

Another method of teaching the Church's Year as the child gets older is by helping him to make a chart showing the Church's seasons. It would be better to wait until the child has been going to school a year or so. He will now be learning to read and write, and his powers of observation are being trained and his outlook being enlarged through stories, pictures, and handwork. He has possibly helped at school in the making of a Nature Chart for each month. Now is the time to draw his attention through the use of the eye and through handwork to the Church's seasons by means of a chart or calendar. One such could be made in a circular form on a piece of drawing paper divided into 52 spaces, and the names of the Festivals, etc., put in, all the appropriate colours added, and a symbol for each, such as a growing bulb for Lent, a daffodil for Easter, a crown for Ascension Day, and so on; the chart to be filled in gradually and the symbols to be discussed. Children readily respond to such a chart, and at the end of the year the whole round of fast and festival is set before them. It is also possible to put in the child's Baptism Day or the birthdays of special Saints, with little pictures or stamps added to fit the teaching of the different Sundays.

Another concrete interest is in the diocese and cathedral to which the child belongs. This interest can be fostered by an occasional visit to the cathedral, and in the diocese through New Churches Schemes for newly populated districts. Some dioceses give badges to children who are helping to build a special church. A small cardboard map is obtainable from S.P.C.K., price 1s., which has small pictures of all the cathedrals in England and Wales, and those that have been visited can be coloured in. Naturally, it would be even more interesting to make one's own chart and stick on postcards of the cathedrals in the different Dioceses.

The way of Churchmanship is the road from Baptism to Confirmation, when the child should use and enjoy all the privileges of Churchmanship. It would be a wise thing to see that as soon as the child is old enough he shall be taken to a Confirmation Service and so placed that he shall see what is going on.

The best age for Confirmation depends largely on the stage of maturity the child has reached, and this varies with different children. With some it is most advisable that they should be confirmed while still at home and before going to a public school, and in any case there should be instruction after Confirmation as well as before, if it is at all possible. The end of all this should be to teach the child to desire to go to Holy Communion, which should indeed be the natural outcome of the training of the parents, to whom it is the essential spiritual power in their own lives.

The worship of the Church is the grandest occupation of man upon earth. Those who love it for themselves should deem it their duty and privilege to initiate children into these joys. Too often children are given services which may be wholly intelligible to them at the time, but fail to train them in the way of the Church. Such training can be properly done only if there is the closest co-operation between parents and parish priests, and if both are convinced that it is supremely worth doing.

Project Canterbury