You know that moment, when you're walking along a street, usually in a busy city centre, and you suddenly realise that there's no polite way of avoiding the charity-sign-up-chatter-upper-out-of-work-actor you've only just noticed is within 'Hey!' distance of you? Well, that happened to me today. Except that the 'Hey!' didn't turn out to belong a direct debit seeker, but to a rather nice young man who introduced himself as a monk. 'Great!' I said, 'what kind of monk?' A Hari Krishna monk, as it turned out. 'Lovely!' I responded, 'I'm a Church of England deacon, and soon I'm going to be made a priest, hopefully. I'm a religious person too.'
We had quite a good chat about....well, about seeking God through prayer and religious discipline, really. 'Yeah, I was brought up as a Christian', the young monk mused. 'but what I really want is to be able to offer the whole of myself to God, to connect.' I smiled and nodded in genuine recognition. 'Yes, that's what I'm about, too,' I replied.
This little encounter reminded me of a conversation I'd had a few years ago with a young mother. We had got on to the subject of God and faith, and she paused, thoughtfully. 'Yeah, I was brought up as a Christian', she pondered, 'but I'm more spiritual now.'
As someone involved in quite a bit of ministry with children, these two people stand out in my mind as sharp reminders of what I'm actually doing. With school assemblies, the after-school children's Christian club, family services, family Communions, class visits to the church and so on, there can be a temptation to succumb to the 'ta-daaaaa!' school of children's ministry thought. Now getting children's attention s a good thing, and I hope I can do it relatively well. But ultimately, what I'm really doing is hoping to introduce them to the infinite God who is made known in Jesus. I'm hoping to give them a sense of this God, a sense of the luminous, the holy, the beyond. Otherwise it's just a load more stories, a load more information, a load more 'ta-daaaaaa!' (and let's face it, there are many others who can do the 'ta-daaaaaaaa!' better than I can.)
If all we have to offer children, as Christians, or rather, if all we are willing to offer children is a 'ta-daaaaaaaaa!', then we mustn't be surprised if, twenty or thirty years down the line, we find those same children saying, 'Yeah, I was brought up a Christian...but I'm more spiritual now.'