Have you ever received a message that made your blood boil? Those of you that know me will appreciate that this doesn’t happen to me very often; I’m rather determined at times but rarely lose my temper. But a message I received made me furious, absolutely mad as could be… Livid… I still am, and here’s why …
Some 2,000 years ago, Jesus is recorded as having said “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). This speaks to me of acceptance, of inclusion, of belonging…
Jesus didn’t say “Let the little children come to me… except that one who can sometimes find things harder to follow and so needs extra support, can often struggle with lots of people and noise so needs help to cope, and can occasionally find it all overwhelming and so needs understanding at these times… that one isn’t invited…” Jesus didn’t say that at all, in fact, as he rebuked the disciples, he said “…and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” All of them, no exceptions…
So why, for the love of God, did I receive this message from a friend who shared the experience she and her family had at their church that morning (I’ve anonymised it, but it doesn’t take away any of the impact…)
“Hi Mark, I wanted to share with you what happened to my family today because I want you to know how much your work is so badly needed and I hope as a result of what you are doing that this never happens to anyone else. I always keep my children in the service with me as they don't enjoy Sunday school at all. I take them myself as my husband is ill with depression and has not been to church with us for over two years.
Today one of the workers came over and asked my daughter if she would like to come to Sunday school as they were making cards. (She) said no but (my son) got off his seat and went through with the other kids. As I went to sign him in I was told by the Sunday school leader that he was not welcome in Sunday school and they would not take him. I had to try and explain to him why every other child in the church is welcome but he isn't and try and get him back out the room and into the church service without a meltdown. That was a huge challenge.
I was delighted at (my son) finally wanting to go to Sunday school and while I understand he requires more support than others, I feel that the whole situation was dealt with badly and has put me off going back to church. This is an (denomination mentioned) church who have actively tried to include (my daughter) in things such as welcoming duties and taking up the offering. It sure seems they are happy for (my daughter) to be there but don't want (my son). Sorry for venting but today more than ever I am so grateful for the work you are doing in churches and hope it prevents other parents being told their child is not welcome. Thanks for listening…”
I trust that you are now, like me, furious about how this family was treated, how utterly wrong the Sunday school leader was, and how much damage has been done as a result. Most of our human feelings and emotions come from a place of either ‘fear’ or ‘love’, and I realise that often reactions such as that displayed by the Sunday school leader come from a place of fear; fear of not being able to manage if things unravel, fear of not being able to cope and provide the support and help needed. I understand that fear, I recognise it, I see it often; it is a human fear born out of thinking that it is all on their shoulders, all their fault if it goes wrong… But it doesn’t have to be that way.
First, and most importantly, this isn’t all down to us…The same Jesus Christ who said “Let the little children come to me…” longs to help us, to give us the same love to share that he has for each of us. To give us the skills and ability to cope and give unconditional love to each child in our care, whatever their needs. He said “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Secondly, he puts people around us to help…we don’t go on this journey alone. It is so important to learn from others who are a bit further down the road from us. They may be in the same church (parents/carers, people working in education or healthcare, etc.), they may be in a nearby church (other children’s/youth workers)… we rarely seem to connect with the other churches in our area to see what they are doing… but there may be a wealth of knowledge and support there just waiting to be tapped into.
We can do better than the response that this family received, we must do better… Jesus didn’t just say important things, he did them; he modeled them in his life so that we could follow his example. He included everyone, no one was left out; in fact he actively accepted and included many that the world rejected… and so should we…
As I said to my friend, “ …for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
To find out more about how Mark and his work can help you, contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org @Mark_J_Arnold