The week before last saw a consultation on the future of the Child Theology Movement take place at High Leigh conference centre, Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire. This is a movement Haddon Willmer has been closely involved with from its beginnings in the late 1990s, and I was fortunate to be able to participate in last week’s consultation as a note-taker and administrator.
Child Theology is a young term, with no clearly defined subject matter, so a wide range of topics were discussed: the role of human rights’ declarations in guarding the well-being of children, theology and child activism, children and the Bible. We also heard the personal reflections of Frances Young, a Christian theologian whose work has grappled theologically with her experience of caring for her now 49 year-old son with severe learning difficulties.
Throughout all these discussions, however, there were two recurring themes which helped me to understand what Child Theology might be and who it might be for.
Firstly, it became clear that Child Theology is not a separate branch of theology, specifically for children, or for those who work with children. It is not an end in itself; it is not a particular ideology; and it is not competing with other theologies. Rather, it takes a particular starting point – the child – and asks how she might be a clue or a sign towards God as revealed in Jesus Christ. In Matthew 18, when the disciples were having an argument about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of God, Jesus placed a child in their midst. Child Theology asks what difference this child might make for our own theological arguments today.
Secondly, it emerged for me in the consultation that Child Theology makes this challenge to all of us, because we are all theologians. Theology, the consultation showed me, is not primarily an academic field, but a way of speaking that no Christian can do without. It is, after all, talking to, of and with God. The Child Theology Movement talks serious theology with the child in the midst, but it does so with practical people—Christian practitioners, activists and ministers—as well as with academic theologians. So following the clue of the child placed in the midst by Jesus is an invitation to each one of us.
At the end of the consultation, we meditated on the Lord’s Prayer. One person wrote a prayer that I thought others may also appreciate. It is a way of ‘saying the Lord’s prayer from a different perspective’.
Saying the Lord’s Prayer from a different perspective
Deliver us from the evil – of ever giving up praying this prayer
whatever the pressure of temptation.
Deliver us from losing the ‘our’ to make the Father ‘mine’.
Deliver us from claiming the Kingdom now rather than steadily praying for it to Come.
Deliver us from seeking the Father in heaven as though he has abandoned the earth
where there is stomach hunger for missing daily bread
where there is sinning up to seventy times seven
Deliver us from escaping the Father’s house to seek our misfortune in the far country
Rather let us ever and again find our way back to our Father’s welcome feast with all the household
So let his name, Father, be credible, to all in all things for ever