Miss F (3) has not yet worked out that ice-cream van chimes mean ‘yay, ice-cream!’ Instead, she says in a confused yet optimistic voice, ‘church?!’
This isn’t a long leap in logic because our church has a set of bells that are rung each Sunday morning to welcome our community to worship. I’m grateful because this reaction has thus far saved me a fortune in 99 flakes but what I love the most is that Miss F has associated that sound with a place where she’d like to be.
Like many churches in the UK, our church has less than a handful of children– on some Sundays my girls are the only under 25s in attendance. But despite this situation, Miss F can’t wait for Sunday to come around so she can bound up to the bell ringers and watch them in action.
Why is this? Why would she want to be somewhere that on the face of it isn’t all that exciting for a toddler? It’s because she has friends at church. Friends she asks about during the week. Friends she notices when they are absent. Friends who greet her with a smile and occasionally a little treat of stickers or a toy.
Outside of the home, church is the most important place where children learn about the beauty that is the Gospel. We can put together the most Pinterest-worthy of craft and deliver the most engaging of kid’s talks but the reality is that it is the interaction our children have with fellow congregation members that shapes their understanding of God’s love. When those interactions are positive, church becomes the place where a child wants to be.
It is in this light that I have a message to those special people who my daughter calls ‘friends’:
Thank you for being my child’s friend.
With your welcome you are teaching her more about Jesus than I could ever teach her in a Bible study.
When you forgive her for nattering through the sermon you are modelling what it means to be a church family.
Your love makes her smile whenever church is mentioned.
You are the reason she is excited by ice-cream van chimes.
One day soon Miss F will work out that ice-cream van chimes mean ice-cream but I hope that, with the support of her church friends, her positive association of church continues beyond that. I hope that church will always be a place where she’d like to be.