Many of us attended our first religious service as young children, holding the hand of a family member. But how young is too young to be asked to sit quietly and become a part of a faith community? This week’s clergy discuss why it’s never too soon to start encouraging faith.
Apostle, New Apostolic Church, Bethpage
One is never too young to learn to worship. Jesus loved children. He said, “Let the little children come to me. Don’t stop them, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people who are like these children” (Matthew 19:14). Another time Jesus called a little child to him and said, “Unless you repent and become like children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven … their angels in heaven always see the face of My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 18:3,10). In the New Apostolic Church, a worship service typically takes the form of a devotional around church holidays or social events, but also memorial days or catastrophes. It has no liturgical form and is therefore very flexible for all ages and other confessions of faith. A worship service offers the youngest children, and their parents or guardians, a casual and even fun way to share a Christian experience. It is social and introduces children to the traditions and rich heritage of Christian community. They begin to have feelings for church holidays and appreciate important events from times past. It is also a gentle and careful way to teach the meaning of memorial days and even socialize catastrophes. Worshipping together with our children helps us demonstrate to them how we feel about God and, at the same time, learn from their childlike perspective. Jesus taught that we should come to him together.
Acarya Abhiramananda Avadhuta
Hindu priest, Ananda Marga, a global spiritual and social service organization
Education leads to liberation. This is the fundamental principle at the base of all Ananda Marga schools all over the world. At Ananda Marga schools, children are doing meditation and are educated to see the Creation as an all-loving interconnected matrix of divine entities, from humans to animals and plants. Now a worship service is not bound to happen in a church or in a temple. Worship of God is a natural inclination of humans at the moment they recognize that God is the Father and their Mother and we are all brothers and sisters in the entire universe.
Spiritual Scriptures illustrate very well the relationship between humans, including children and their Creator. There are laws in the garden of God and there are social norms that are good to instruct to children since an early age. A worship service is an opportunity to come together as a universal family and everyone will benefit at all levels according to age and spiritual development. Any worship service has an invaluable contribution to offer to all, which is to come together in love and to recognize the divinity that lies within us since birth. Even a newborn baby will benefit from a worship service when the atmosphere is congenial for the manifestation of love and divine grace. Ananda Marga offers worship services every day, and at least once a week all the “margi” or members of the Ananda Marga Family are invited to participate, including children of any age.
Rabbi Mendel Teldon
Chabad of Mid-Suffolk, Commack
Psychologists will tell you that a person’s psychological template is formed in infancy, when how we view the world is already being formed in the most basic way. By the age of 5 to 7, how you view the world has already been starting to settle. So the more we create experiences for young children that are part of their daily, weekly and even annual cycle of life, and do it in a positive and beautiful way, the more these experiences will become part of the fabric of their lives and decision-making process. Much like if you want your child to excel at English literature, or dance or tackle football, you don’t wait until they are teens. You want them to be involved and to start giving them the skills and feel for it as soon as you can. A crucial part of Passover, which we are about to celebrate, is the asking of the Four Questions by the young child because the younger you engage children and give them meaning in these experiences, the more long-term the connection is. As we all know, the most powerful teaching is not through lecturing but through involvement and engagement. The simplicity of a child is able to appreciate elements of faith and belief before we take on the complexity of adulthood. By the age of 12 or 13, the child has to be knowledgeable enough to be able to hold their own in Jewish responsibility.