When Episcopalians come together in Columbus, Ohio, for General Convention in June, even the children will have a part to play.
"Very often children are voiceless and it's really important for them to be present so that they are not just paraded out in front of people but can actually have the experience of being a part of the whole body of Christ at General Convention," said Kesha Brennom, national staff officer for Children's Ministries and Christian Education at the Episcopal Church Center.
Building on the success of collaborating with the Diocese of Minnesota for the 2003 convention, the dioceses of Southern Ohio and Ohio, with support from Brennom's office, have planned a developmentally appropriate program for 4- to 12-year-olds focusing on C.S. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia."
"We learned, from our collaboration with the Diocese of Minnesota, that the healthful presence of children in the life of the convention reminded all of us that the church's decision making affects children both today and tomorrow," said Thom Chu, program director for Ministries with Young People at the Episcopal Church Center.
The June 11-21 program, designed to coincide with legislative sessions, will operate 9 a.m. – 6 p.m., at Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square. It's open to all children, including those of bishops, deputies, volunteers, visitors and exhibitors, and will feature table conversation on the appointed scriptures during the daily Eucharist. There will also be outings to various Columbus-area children's institutions, such as the Columbus Zoo, Franklin Park Conservatory, Columbus Art Museum, and the Center of Science and Industry (COSI), and visits to the convention center's Discovery Center.
In addition, a group of 12-year-olds will produce a daily one-page newsletter called the "Narnia Chronicles." The newsletter will "recap the events of their day and foreshadow what they will do the following day," according to Rachel Friend, chair of the children's program at General Convention.
"We're hoping that the 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds will be writing it," she said.
There will also be traditional childcare offered during the early morning committee hearings from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., and although it is not the focus of the children's program, the Diocese of Southern Ohio has identified resources for infant and toddler care.
Focus on children
Finding ways to have children participate in General Convention has been a focus of the Office of Children's Ministries and Christian Education since the 1997 convention when Resolution B005 affirmed the Children's Charter to appreciate children's abilities and readiness to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the church. It was reaffirmed in 2000.
There are at least three resolutions coming before convention which may impact children. The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) is proposing (in Resolution A067) new rites and prayers for life transitions and stages in human development, including during the time of childhood and young adulthood. The commission is also proposing (Resolution A070) to develop liturgical materials for inclusion in the "Enriching our Worship" series for the pastoral issues surrounding the adoption of children.
In another children-related resolution, the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church is proposing Resolution A006 which states that in order to present a clearer and more useful picture of the life and vitality of the Episcopal Church and its congregations, significant information beyond the annual Parochial Report is needed. This information may include:
• Racial/ethnic makeup
• Age structure of congregations
• Gender ratios
• Christian formation initiatives
• Congregational dynamics
• Any other statistic that may change from triennium to triennium.
They minister to us
Emphasizing that "this isn't babysitting" Canon Vicki Zust, staff liaison, Diocese of Southern Ohio, said that the plans for 4- to 12-year-olds is a Christian education program.
"The thrust of the curriculum is helping children identify what they are good at, and how they can make use of that in their lives and in their ministries," she said.
"Their role, like others at General Convention, is to be present and to experience the whole body working together," said Brennom.
She said that wholeness without children is not possible because "they minister to us in ways that are very profound but not often recognized."
Zust said empowering children and youth for ministry is something that is important to the ministry in her diocese. She said that having a children's program attached to convention "says very clearly to the church that the children are a part of the church, too."
"It's saying look, there are other children like you from all over the place so you are not alone," said Brennom. "It also offers them opportunities to experiment with what it feels like to be in Christian community."
What they leave with
"I really what them to have fun," said Brennom. "I hope they will walk away with good memories of being in Christian community, and that they feel part of it but also that they find something special about themselves that they were able to share in the community."
"What I'm hoping they walk away with is a feeling that they are gifted by God and empowered to use those gifts," said Zust.
"I hope that children come away from the General Convention program knowing that they are fully a part of the Episcopal Church," said Chu.
A video resource documenting the 2003 children's program was produced by the Office of Children's Ministries and Christian Education. "Receiving the Child" is available for $15 through the Episcopal Book and Resource Center at http://www.anthology.com/EPISCOPALRESOURCECENTER/wc.dll?main~bo~&vt=38707&idi=20802&ids=180&idd=9&ws=''&idx=1SQ0N1JCO&pn=3.
A study guide is available at http://www.episcopalchurch.org/44385_ENG_HTM.htm.
For more information and to register for the 2006 children's program, visit: http://www.dsoyouth.org/children