A strange thing happened last year.
To mark the end of our Sunday School year we decided to have a free barbecue after church. This was not a grand occasion with all the necessary trimmings that are part of barbecue etiquette now, this was two half oil drums on which were cooked sausages and burgers and chicken breasts.
In planning we anticipated forty or fifty people; ninety signed up to be present; one hundred and ten people joined us for the lunch. It was a very simple occasion; the children’s activities comprised chiefly of a treasure hunt around the church grounds organized by one of our mums.
The kids were delighted by the occasion – one little boy, who was three at the time, began asking earlier this year if we were going to have the “special day” again.
What was it that made it successful?
Maybe a secure environment? Maybe demonstrating the fact that enjoyment did not depend on money? Maybe a sense of community?
In the UK the Children’s Society have commissioned a report The Good Childhood Inquiry, maybe we haven’t reached the point of needing such a project in Ireland. Maybe the huge popularity of Gaelic sports (the GAA has 800,000 members, a number equivalent to about 20% of the population), along with soccer and rugby, with tens of thousands of kids on the pitches every weekend, makes Ireland a different place from an England.
All the same, it is worth remembering the lessons of why the sporting organizations here are so successful, that they provide children with enjoyment, pride, and perhaps, most importantly, a sense of belonging.
So as we prepare for our barbecue tomorrow – with eighty people definitely attending, plus the extra people who decide to stay on after church tomorrow morning, it will be worth bearing in mind that good childhoods include friendship and fun and the flashiest credit card in the world can never buy those things.
If friendship and fun are necessary elements of a good childhood, mustn’t they also be necessary elements in a strong church? Clergy take note.