Putting children first

childrenTIM LAM

Children have been pushed to the margins of the church for too long, according to an expert on children’s spirituality.   

Dr Vivienne Mountain is a member of St Leonard’s Uniting Church Brighton and lectures at the University of Divinity on the nurture and spiritual guidance of children. 

“A lot of churches want the kids to be kept quiet and not get in the way of the ‘real people’ doing God work,” Dr Mountain said.

“But children are a part of the church.”

Dr Mountain’s new handbook Building Emotional Health and Wellbeing: A Pastoral Handbook for Ministry with Children and their Families acknowledges and argues for the central place of children in the life of the church.

The booklet covers a number of topics on child wellbeing including child theology, healthy development, trauma and transition, disability inclusion and caring for the carer.

Dr Mountain said the booklet is designed as a resource for children and families ministry leaders, youth leaders, pastors, chaplains and counsellors.

“I’ve written it particularly for those people in the church who are working with children,” she said.

“They’ve been kind of sidelined by the church for too long; they’re not ministers or big theologian people, so often they are there to babysit kids.”

One of Dr Mountain’s motivations for writing the book was the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which exposed the inadequate safety and care for children by religious organisations.

“If you put Jesus’ teaching side-by-side with the Royal Commission, you’d think we’re not following him at all,” she said.

“I think a lot of people have left the church over this.”

book coverDr Mountain was involved in establishing the first graduate certificate in children and families ministry in Australia, which is offered by Pilgrim Theological College and Stirling Theological College.

Her handbook combines theology with psychology so that people involved in children and families ministry can provide well-informed pastoral care for children.

“You see a lot of people who have a heart for children, but my belief is that the heart is not good enough,” she said.

“You need to have informed understanding of the psychology of grief and trauma, transition and all the things that happen to kids. This book is a first step.”

The handbook has also been distributed at a number of children and families ministry conferences around Australia, including Generations in Victoria, Invigor8 in South Australia and Ignite in Queensland.

The book’s distribution has been funded by a number of organisations, including the Centre for Theology and Ministry, the Lutheran Church, the Victorian Children’s Ministry Network, the Christian Playgroup Network, Stirling Theological College and St Leonard’s Uniting Church.

“The Uniting Church has been great. They were the first ones to get on board,” Dr Mountain said.

Synod intergenerational (children and families) coordinator Chris Barnett said

he is excited to be involved in this ecumenical project.

“The vision is to distribute it to as many people as possible involved in children and families ministry as a resource and a gift to thank them for their work,” he said.

“We are also having conversations in regards to funding and distribution with other denominations and organisations.”

The next phase of the project is to publish it as a free e-book along with an interactive website that can host additional resources.

If you wish to receive a free copy of Building Emotional Health and Wellbeing: A Pastoral Handbook for Ministry with Children and their Families, contact Chris Barnett at chris.barnett@ctm.uca.edu.au. 

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