“What does it mean to be like a tree? For one young child, it all begins as a tiny seed that is free to grow and reach out to others while standing strong and tall— just like a tree in the natural world.”
From Call Me Tree, by Maya Gonzalez, a beautifully illustrated and inspiring book which purposefully avoids gendered pronouns and imagery. Wow! These words encouraged me to look at our ministry with a new perspective as I begin planning for next year at our church.
Below are a few things we have done over the last few years to develop a more welcoming children’s and youth ministry program. I don’t claim to be an expert, which is why I’d love to hear about positive changes that you have made in your ministry.
Several years ago, we replaced “mother and father” with “parent(s)” on our Sunday school forms, as suggested in the Reconciling Ministries Welcoming Toolkit. This year we will go a step further and remove the “gender” box because I realized that this information is not pertinent to our ministry. When it is necessary to know, the best practice is to leave the space blank – do not ask students or parents to circle M/F.
I am still researching a way to ask about specific physical or learning needs students might have without demanding a full medical history. So far, the best I have come up with is “Does your child have allergies or other needs we should be aware of?” I hope that allows parents to share what they feel we need to know to keep their child safe and provide necessary accommodations.
Last year changing tables were installed in both the men’s and women’s rooms. Perhaps someday we can create family or non-gendered, single restrooms.
We avoid using “boys and girls” and “ladies and gentlemen.” Instead, we use friends, students, children, kids, folks, congregation, etc. While we still say, “Brothers and Sisters in Christ,” I have heard it suggested that “Siblings in Christ” would be better.
Diverse books and art:
As I mentioned, I was inspired by the book Call Me Tree. Although not specifically a book about faith, it does touch on themes of belonging and identity that could be useful teaching tools. We are slowly building a library of children’s books that reflect people and families of all types. We use Desmond Tutu’s Children of God Storybook Bible in our classes because there are multi-cultural images of Jesus. We present the Deep Blue Bible to our 3rd graders because the illustrations include children of color. We incorporate religious art into our lessons as well, making sure that the images and artists represent the beautiful diversity of God’s people.
These are just a few ideas. I’d love to hear more! What other welcoming strategies you use in your church? What book recommendations do you have? Please keep it positive and helpful as those are the only comments I will approve. Let’s create those spaces where our children are “free to grow and reach out to others while standing strong and tall.” Amen.