I will always remember the first time I took my son into our church. He was around six weeks old and as it was winter by then he was all bundled up in one of those suits where all you see is a little face poking out. I took him out of his pram and held him close to me and watched as he looked upwards and his eyes widened.
Of course at this stage of life he only had that limited vision so perhaps it was something about the light in this great big barn of a church, or the patterns streaming through the stain glass window but it felt like if he could have said ‘Wow!’ then he would have!
Since that time, as is the prerogative of the Vicar’s child, he has spent many hours in church buildings. He’s come with me to churches in vast beautiful building and churches in schools and community centres and has got, I think, something from it all. But I do believe that there is something really special about bringing a young child into an ancient sacred space if you get the chance, for a few reasons
Firstly, I wonder if it so special for children to be in these kinds of spaces because they are simply so little! If you consider how you feel when you walk into a towering cathedral then imaging how that feels to a little toddler looking out at all that space and light. I’ve seen it time and again, something changes when children of all ages walk into such a vast space. It’s similar in a way to what happens when you walk out into an open field or towering woodland. You get a sense of ‘otherness’, of something greater than yourself that is a key part of our spiritual lives. Of course, children, just like us completely get this too and going to these places gives them the chance to experience that kind of wonder.
There is also something special, I think, in bringing children inside places of beauty. Places where some of the greatest craftsmanship of our history can be seen. Places that people have lovingly maintained for hundreds of years, that they have beautified and made into something special. Places where people have come together to celebrate the milestones of life in births, deaths and marriages. Places that have housed the community for generations, in one way or another. I’m sure these things in some way seep out of the wall and children when they go to sacred spaces seem to pick this up. When I baptise babies I always see their little eyes drift off, fixing on a stained glass window or a beautiful wall painting. They absorb the beauty all around them and it’s beautiful to see.
A Child’s Place
It’s also valuable for children to come into sacred spaces to recognises that these spaces are theirs. Without a doubt my favourite way to see a historic building like a church is over run with toddlers. I know, I know, it sets some people on edge – ‘The hard edges! It’s a sacred space!’ But all the more reason for children to be there and to be enjoying it in the way only children can do. The building is wonderful, it is beautiful, but the most sacred thing in that scenario is the children. They are what God made, after all, the building got here by human hands.
Many churches have whole heartedly come around to this so I’d encourage you to take your children into these spaces with confidence and let your children be children there. My son’s favourite activity in a historic church is to run around the choir stall which, one week in church, he announced was in fact a train station full of dinosaurs (Dinosaur Rex Station to be exact). We do ask when we go into new churches if it is ok for him to have a run around the choir stalls and the answer is inevitably yes. The church is his home, his inheritance and I love that.
So how about you? Have you taken your child to any historic or sacred spaces and how has that gone for you? And if you haven’t then perhaps it might be worth a try to add to all those other wonderful things I am quite sure you are doing with the little loves in your life.