Empowering Children as Ministers

This Praxis day was planned by Gill Ambrose and Ally Barrett (Reverendally), with help from the Praxis East Committee. We are very grateful to all those who contributed.

A theological introduction…

Something of a revolution has been taking place in terms of the place of children in British society – to the extent that there is starting to be a backlash against it, as seen in this recent Guardian article. The truth, though, is that the current relatively high regard in which children are held is redressing an imbalance that has prevailed for generations – one in which children were neither seen nor heard. One of the key factors in this revolution has been the way that survivors of child abuse have finally started to be listened to, and this has in turn led to a new willingness to listen to what children are saying. This is long overdue.

praxis talkingAt the same time, there has been a renewed appreciation of children’s spirituality – the truth that children are capable of rich and transformative encounter with God. Rebecca Nye’s research and publications in this area have been hugely influential.

In church this means that increasingly children are not seen simply as adults-in-waiting but as spiritual beings in their own right.

If we look to the Bible for a paradigm for the place of children in the church, we might first turn to the gospel accounts of the little children being brought to Jesus by their parents, and the attempts that his disciples make to stop them: ‘Let the children come to me’ he says to his disciples.  ‘The kingdom of heaven belongs to them’ and ‘unless you accept the kingdom of heaven as a little child you will never enter it.’ This is a passage newly back in the baptism liturgy, in the new additional texts in accessible language. It gives us some good places to start: it establishes the place of children at the heart of Jesus’ ministry, and attributes to them a particular relationship with the Kingdom of God. It also sees children as role models, with something unique to offer to the wider group of disciples. Of course, the passage also shows how adults – or at least, how established structures and norms – can exclude children and prevent them both from exercising their particular gifts, and from that crucial encounter with the living God in Christ.

If we want to find a classic case of a child with a particular ministry and vocation in the Bible, we will probably most naturally turn to the calling of Samuel in the Temple. We don’t know how old he was, but we do have the story of God calling him by name in the night, and his eventual response. From this, we might gather that Samuel’s call came when he was already ministering in the Temple. One can have a role, a purpose, and out of it a calling and a deeper purpose may come.  We also see that God noticed him – and called him by name. And finally, that he had a mentor who listened, and helped him (after a few misunderstandings) to understand what it meant to have a call from God, and acted as a mentor – at great personal cost.

feeding5000Finally, the scripture reading that we will use in the Eucharist this afternoon is the story of the child who offered the bread and fish, enabling Jesus to feed a crowd of five thousand.   This child has no name, but someone noticed him – perhaps the dicsiples had finally learned that children were not to be shooed away, but welcomed, and taken seriously. If you took this story as a metaphor for the vocational journey, there is a process of discernment, through which the child is enabled to offer what they have for the common good. In this process, the adults have the authority, but the child has the call, and that call leads to others: because the child offers their gift, the disciples are enabled to exercise a ministry of sharing and resourcing, and the whole gathered crowd in turn exercises a ministry of generosity, learning what it means when you honour all that is offered, and find that you have much more than you started with. It also confronts us with the scary reality of what would have happened if the disciples had not learned that children had something to offer, if they had never brought the child to Jesus and allowed him to offer his gift. It confronts us with the question: what are our churches missing out on if we fail to recognise the gifts that children bring?

In all this, though, the key is not to start seeing the ministry of children as a means to an end, but as a way of honouring their identity before God, their worth, for their own sake. Children can be immensely useful, but their worth does not depend on that usefulness. If you have had the experience of following a call from God, you will probably have found that that experience of following that call has been bound up with profound questions about who you are and what your life means. Children have just as profound questions about their identity as adults, and enabling and empowering them to experiment, to serve, to lead, to grow, to have their voices heard, and to become more fully who they have been created to be, in the context of the worshipping and serving community that is the local body of Christ.

Ultimately, the full inclusion of children – of everyone, in fact, in the ministry – the priesthood – of all believers is the way that we as a church most fully express the body of Christ. It is in our diversity – young and old, male and female, introvert and extravert, that we are the image of God on earth. In this scheme, the ministry of children needs to be valued for what it is: children being empowered to offer who they are and what they can do, as children, not as proto-adults.

And we know that doing this enables the church to flourish, and has huge ongoing impact on the way that discipleship and vocation grows well into adulthood.


What do children do

praxis day 1The full results of our informal survey are posted below; these are the headlines:

  • Enabling children to plan and lead worship can celebrate the skills that they already have as well as teaching them new ones.
  • Even ‘boring’ jobs can be fun and community-building when they are done intergenerationally and appreciated as part of what makes the church run smoothly. Getting dirty, clearing things up, maintaining building and grounds (including help create the kind of environment that is welcoming to others and expresses the church’s community as it actually is)
  • Can children be encouraged to learn to lead signing so that aspects of worship can be made more accessible and embodied?
  • Children may be much more tech-savvy than adults.
  • Children can work together in a production line to photocopy, fold and staple orders of service – this is a collaborative act of service.  There might even be a case for paying children to do some of this!
  • If children have a sense of ownership over what happens in church, because they’ve been involved with planning, creating, organising, they are more likely to be invested in it, to invite their friends etc.
  • Teenagers might like to act as assistant churchwardens – children and adults working together can do almost anything. In rural farming communities, there is often a culture of this kind of apprenticeship, as children on farms are often inducted into the workings of the farm from a young age, learning by example.
  • Asking questions: children can ask the most amazing questions, but do we always listen to them as well as we might?  Are we open to being asked hard questions, and to engaging theologically?
  • Music ministry is a huge area of ministry for children, from worship bands to formal choirs, cantors etc.
  • Children often really love being involved around the altar – setting up, clearing up, serving, administering the chalice or distributing the bread.
  • Ministries of hospitality – whether social or liturgical – is hugely powerful. Some churches invite the children to make the bread for the Eucharist. ‘Bringing the water’ can be seen as an empowering way of enabling something to be offered without which the service cannot continue, but which can be provided without the economic means to buy bread or provide wine.
  • Children may have a role in teaching and contributing prophetic insights – doing theology together and theological reflection, often on very difficult pastoral subjects, such as death, grief, and eternal life (often subjects that we try and ‘protect’ children from). This may not be through a named ministry, but is possible if a church has a culture of listening to children and valuing what they say.

We asked you: In what ways are children involved in ministry in your churches?
Here are the results (the numbers represent the number of churches in which children are involved in that ministry, not the number of children involved):

Choir – 12
Music Group instrumentalist – 10
Music group singer – 6
Cantor – 4
Song/hymn selector – 4
Children’s band – 3
Keyboard player/pianist/organist -3
Organiser/librarian/roadie – 2
Page turner – 2
Animateur for congregational singing – 2
Directing singers – 1
Teaching younger children and adults – 1
Singing the confession – 1
Typesetting for choir and congregation – 1

Actor – 13
Flags – 6
Dancer – 5
Mime – 4
Props/equipment – 4
Costumes – 2

Lighting the Advent wreath – 26
Saying a prayer – 19
Intercessions – 13
Pouring baptismal water – 12
Lighting the paschal candle – 8
Additional Eucharistic Prayer questions – 8
Diaconal roles – 3
Co-leading worship – 2
Designing worship – 2

Giving out books, service sheets etc – 19
Clearing up – 19
Preparing the worship space – 13
Greeter – 8
Assisting with post-service refreshments – 1
Helping with food at Messy Church – 1

Giving out invitations – 5
Delivering invitations to events – 3
Baptism visiting – 1

Sound System – 7
Computers – 6
Projection equipment – 5
AV Equipment – 6
Microphones – 6
Producing powerpoints – 1

Setting up the altar / holy table – 8
Acolyte / candle carrier – 6
Crucifer / cross carrier – 5
Boat boy – 4
Clearing away – 4
Distributing the bread / wine – 4
Ringing the sanctus bell – 1

Sunday School helper – 15
Helping with younger children / accompanier – 12
Helper in a talk – 10
Clearing up the learning space – 9
Raising questions, prophetic words and insights – 9
Preparing the learning space – 6
Testimony – 5
Leading  / helping with craft activities – 3
Speaking from experience – 2

Reading Old or New Testament readings – 19
Dramatised reading – 17
Reading the Gospel – 8
Psalm – 3

Taking the collection – 23
Copying and folding service sheets etc – 4
Counting the collection – 3
Assistant Churchwarden – 1

Christmas tree – 15
Easter garden – 14
Crib – 13
Cleaning – 4
Flowers & decorations – 4
Gardening & grounds – 2


Are there things that only children can do?

  • Represent other children – eg the brownie flag, or the Sunday school banner.
  • The random question that an adult would never say, but which takes us off in a different direction – or asking the question that nobody else dares ask.  Involving children in clergy job interviews to do precisely that is a great test of the clergy person’s ability to think on their feet.
  • honesty, and ability to express profound ideas in ordinary language – or through nonverbal means eg action, dance, acts of service.
  • A culture of learning – assuming that there is stuff to learn and that there is growing to be done – this can be a good role model.
  • Helping adults to understand how the children are thinking.
  • Seeing things differently – lateral thinking.  See the wisdom of daniel for some examples!
  • The ability to put theological principles into practice – assuming that this is what the dismissal is for.  Connecting liturgy to life.
  • Enacting their theology – not depending on words as much as adults.
  • Peer group outreach – evangelism through friendship networks.
  • Confidence to do things that an adult might be embarrassed to do.
  • Saying challenging things – voicing natural emotional responses (saying what we’re all thinking!) – articulating injustice and empowering change.

What are the risks and barriers to empowering children in ministry?

  • They might say something ‘wrong’, or ‘unhelpful’, or difficult (eg theologically challenging during a sermon, or just going off at a tangent), so the adults don’t feel in control. This demands a willingness to improvise.  If a child’s comment is unhelpful, is that because the adult leading the talk hasn’t thought imaginatively enough about the reading or the theme?
  • People might ‘tut’ and reject the ministry, causing more hurt. Helping to engage those who find children in worship difficult is key – can those people become involved in children’s work to get to know the children personally? Can they contribute from their own skill set?  Often it’s a change in culture that’s required and that takes time.
  • Health and safety issues.  Doing what we do safely.  This actually matters – children need to have the opportunity to take risks in terms of offering who they are and what they can do – but not to risk falling off something and breaking their arm!
  • Adults can be a barrier. Children can do most things, but adults restrict what they can do. Adults often don’t realise what children are capable of: there’s a glass ceiling. Adults may have memories of being told ‘you can’t do this’ and so repeat this to the next generation. Adults may also fear losing their own positions in the church if the children do it better.
  • Safeguarding: adults may be afraid of doing the wrong thing or ending up alone with a child.  Many of the ministries so far identified, however, are public – they’re not done behind closed doors. Ministry by children is much less likely to raise safeguarding issues that ministry to children.

Andrew Reid – Director of the RSCM

  • Being invited to play the piano for sunday school (because there was nobody else) led to teaching sunday school, and then ‘reboxing’ the whole choir music library – this was an special task with responsibility and real value. Responsibility and worth matter to children as well as to adults.
  • Would we let the children choose the hymns? Produce sermon illustrations?  Play the organ?  Tidy the churchyard?  All of these are about being invited to be part of the community?
  • Clergy having a great sense of ‘vacation’ can empower people, including children, to fill the gaps and take up new ministries.
  • We need to see every child for what they could possibly do: how do we lift children beyond ‘the regimented norm’?
  • All Souls (RC) church in inner city Peterborough serves largely immigrant communities. There were no other church choirs around, and the parish priest was enthusiastic about setting something up. Of twenty-odd children, only two are white British – the choir is truly representative of the community.  The children in that choir are taking on responsibility for leading and helping to train the others, creating a sustainable music ministry. Some of them are cantors. The Choir chants the psalm  – they are responsible for the delivery of the text. This is a real challenge, especially as many of them don’t have English as a first language. A huge learning curve going on.
  • At another church, there was a need to reinvent the church’s pattern of worship and mission, learning to do a few things well. All its outreach among the young and families is done through music, or with music as its starting point.
  • All Saints, Peterborough, has recently changed from having an all male choir to having a mixed choir – what may be able to develop there is a youth programme that involves both music and fellowship, with church teaching taking place in those choir clubs, freeing up the children to actually worship on a Sunday morning.
  • Peterborough Cathedral has long attracted children from outside the ‘churchy’ community in order to sing in the choir – many of those children have remained involved in cathedral life long after they’ve stopped singing.  Choirs can be a hugely missional youth ministry.
  • Being taken seriously, being given responsibility, and being allowed to express themselves. These are the things that make children ‘light up’ and feel fully alive. Being able to do what they see the adults around them do is hugely empowering.
  • Children lift worship for adults – adults can see their own mortality as bound up with the future of the church, and children can help break through that and more readily connect earth and heaven. Children thus minister to adults in ways that adults probably don’t fully understand.

Joanna Barrett – my experience of being a minister

When I was asked to do a talk here, I was delighted to talk about my experiences of being a minister, but I also remember what it was like before, when I was not taken seriously in church.

When I was much younger I think I was seen by the adults as an inconvenient child that just talked in the prayers or ran up to communion. I also remember my little brother getting into trouble because he wanted to be at the front of the church with my mum.

I remember wanting to join in, but it was hard: the order of service was full of words and no pictures, I couldn’t see properly, and people sometimes turned round and glared if I made a noise.  A lot of churches don’t take children seriously, they treat children as just in the way of the people who were “proper Christians”.  This is especially true when a church thinks that understanding everything is the most important thing – if someone has to wait until they’re old enough to understand it all, then they’ll never get the chance to actually experience it.

When I prepared for receiving communion, I finally felt part of something real. That I meant something to God’s family. I was finally starting to feel like I belonged to the Christian community.  Taking communion was something that the adults had always done, and being able to do this myself made me feel like I actually belonged to God and to the church.

I was even more delighted when I was offered the chance to be a server. It felt really special to wear the cotta, and sit on the servers’ chair at the front. I felt important, and I knew that I was contributing something that mattered. The first few times I served with an adult who had done it a lot and knew what to do, but it didn’t take long for me to learn.

Our church also had a small processional cross as well as the large one. The small one was light enough for a child to carry – sometimes we used both crosses. I often was in the offertory procession as well, carrying the bread and wine. This felt like a good job to do once I was receiving communion myself – I think before I was able to take communion, doing the offertory felt like I was bringing something that I then couldn’t share in.

I was also on the rota to read, and to lead the intercessions at our All Age services. I knew that I had a good clear reading voice, and it was only when I was allowed to share this that other people noticed that this was something I could do well.

I also did other kinds of ministry:

One of these was through music. I sang in our church all-age choir called Angel Voices, and the children all had the special job of leading the Gloria – I always looked forward to that part of the service because we got to lead the verses and the rest of the congregation joined in with the chorus.

We used the microphone and took it in turns to lead a verse each. What was good about this was that some of the adults found it hard to get the hang of the verses, and we, the children, were genuinely the best people for the job.

I still sing, but now I sing in St Catharine’s College girls’ choir. It’s a real honour to be able to lead the worship in chapel, and it’s brilliant that St Catz is the first college in Cambridge to take children seriously enough to have a choir for younger girls – there have always been plenty for boys!

Another really good thing that we did in my old church was to help at baptisms. There were too many baptisms to do them all in the main service, so sometimes they took place on a Sunday afternoon. It was important to make sure that there were people from the usual church congregation there to help welcome the new member of God’s family, and to make all their family and friends feel welcome too. My brother and I often helped at these services to do that welcoming.

My brother would set up the PA system – he was better at that than some of the adult vergers, because he’s good with wires – and then he would do practical things in the service like hand over the pot of oils, and light the paschal candle. He also held the service sheet for our mum, the vicar, so that she had her hands free at the font.

My jobs included welcoming everyone to the church, handing out service sheets and hymn sheets, and colouring books and crayons for any other children who came. I could tell that families who didn’t normally come to church were really happy to see that this was a church that welcomes children and takes them seriously, because of the job that I was doing.

My mum would often have to play the piano or the organ for these services, so I would lead the singing. Also, to give her a chance to come back to the middle of the church after a hymn, it was also my job to lead the next prayer, or to do a reading.

Finally, at school I am a chaplaincy rep, which means that I lead my form time assemblies. We use an online resource called ‘Reboo’ to help me plan what to do. Actually I was also on the collective worship team at my primary school in Buckden, too. One of the teachers there would help us to plan the worship in church – we had to think through what would be a good theme, choose music, perhaps write some drama and so on. It was really good to be able to contribute my ideas and see them in action. It shows that children can do theology and help whole congregations to worship God.

I realise that I have done a lot more ministry than most 11 year olds!  Partly it’s because my mum is a priest who really cares about enabling children to be part of everything. I would like more children like me to be able to get these chances.

These experiences changed my faith so much.  When I felt like I was being taken seriously, it meant that I was finally enjoying praying and singing to God. Church wasn’t just a commitment anymore it was a major part of my life. I don’t know if I’ll be a vicar when I grow up, but this isn’t about that, it’s about belonging.

I think children should be given the chance to take part completely in weekly services, to be taken seriously as God’s children, and to have their gifts celebrated – this is not only a good thing for them, but it’s good for the church too. Children should start to help out in the services as soon as they possibly can. Even toddlers can do simple things – they can learn to lead some of the words (like ‘The Lord be with you’) and carry the bread to the altar, and help lead the singing when there is a song that they know well.

Being a minister – whatever you do – is a way of worshipping God, it’s a way of showing that you are a member, and that you want to offer what you have to God. Because why is adults praise more important than children’s?

More stories…

Ally Barrett related the process of becoming an ‘all age church’ – it began with enabling both children and adults to worship more deeply, enabling children to receive communion, and gradually getting more people of all ages involved in the life of the church and its worship. Key to this was having an all age singing group, Angel Voices (see below) to lead the singing at the new All Age Eucharist.  But the real test for how this new culture had become embedded in the life of the church came one Lent.  Every Lent, the church put up lists (of servers, readers, intercessors, coffee rota people etc) so that people could prayerfully consider whether to continue doing their current roles or take on something new.  One year, just after the all age Eucharist had got up and running, without any prompting at all, the children had all started signing up on the lists to join the various rotas. This may seem like a trivial thing, but it demonstrated that those children, perhaps for the first time, had learned to see themselves as full, contributing members of the church.  Their names were known. They mattered. They had something to offer, on an equal footing.
But what about the long term effects of this kind of empowering experience and culture?  Here are some of the stories (from ordinands, ministers, theologians) that were shared:

“My sister & I went to Sunday school from about 5yo. When I was 12/13 I joined the choir & was taken under the wing (so to speak) of the organist, his wife & the other adult choir members. I was given one to one singing lessons, opportunity to sing solos & joined the adults at singing festivals. My sister aged 14 hard a real heart for helping with the little ones (preschool Sunday school) & asked to be a junior leader but was told no, she needed to be 16. She stopped going to church & other than my wedding 22years ago has not been in a church since.”


“I taught Sunday School from the age of 13 – I had a class of three-year-olds, and absolutely loved it., carrying on till 18 when I left home. I then got involved with Girls Brigade in the church I attended as a student. Became a teacher, taught abroad and in this country, and eventually ended up working for Scripture Union as a schools worker. My mother was a teacher, and I grew up with both parents fully involved in church life, and I guess I followed their example as well as God’s calling.”


“I have been involved in church since childhood and was part of the excellent Church choir. When we were preparing for our RSCM medals we were encouraged to think about the spiritual aspect of choral singing. What is your job in the choir we were asked? To lead other people to worship God we replied. The importance of music in worship was affirmed as was our role, as children, in leading all ages in worship. We were valued and included and expected to play a part in the life and worship of the Church. That moment of affirmation and valuing the place of the choir in leading worship played a huge part in both my spirituality and my later calling. Reflecting now it makes me realise that it was hugely important to have our gifts recognised, affirmed and encouraged. Our wonderful choir mistress, our links with the RSCM and our music mad clergy really gave the choir a sense of value and purpose and spiritual worth. We also sensed our singing pleased God.”

“I served behind the altar from being about 11 and had two words in the service. I led the congregation in the confession by saying ‘almighty God’. Through saying those two words most weeks for about 3 years, I got used to hearing my own voice at the front and I think it really helped me feel, years later, that I might have a vocation.”

“I taught in Sunday school age 12 onwards and preached first at 13 I think – Christmas Eve Nativity service. Couldn’t see over the lectern I was so short. Our church always encouraged young people to explore ministries and apprentice ourselves to the people doing them. Loads of us had a go at preaching, leading intercessions and so on. I also co-led a Drama group and helped run an outreach youth group aged 14 and onwards. We just assumed we’d need to step up and take our places in the body. I travelled round speaking at other things and led the school C U and a group of us took over leading what was then the ‘religious assembly’ in my secondary school because the teachers made faith dull through their lack of it. I enjoyed singing in our church choir and went to adult housegroup from mid – teens onward. It sounds like a lot but I wasn’t the only one of us really active in ministry. I think the adults had a lot of faith and patience and really took our nurture seriously.”

“The realisation that children and young people have ministries came to my home church once I was more of a later teenager. I remember being very moved by seeing children praying for adults in the main gathering at New Wine in the early 90’s. Also when the youth group administered communion in a youth led service. I used to enjoy helping serve drinks after the service. Hospitality has always been a deeply rewarding spiritual act for me.
It was being involved in drama productions that made me realise I wasn’t afraid of being up the front. And it wasn’t until after I left my home church, and was known for just being me, rather than my parents’ daughter, that I began to see I might have a ministry of my own. It was another 20 years before ordination!”

“Became a server at 15. Found my place was the other side of the altar.”

Preached at youth-led service at Congregational church where I was at boarding school -age 16. Always been grateful that they nurtured me and gave me opportunity and encouragement.”

“I became a server at 16. I’m not sure what part it played in my vocation tbh – at the time women couldn’t be ordained priest and it didn’t occur to me to think differently.
My brother joined the church choir as a young kid – boys only. Again, it didn’t occur to me to question it. All before I had been conscientised!”


“When I was 4 I realised that I didn’t want to go out of Church to Sunday school because something I couldn’t explain happened in Church and I was drawn to it. I promised my Mum I’d be good if I stayed, and this powerful sense of the presence of God which I was so drawn to is why I’m a priest now.”

“I didn’t become a Christian until the age of 16. When I did I wanted to get involved and wanted to become a server, but the church only had male servers at the time. I did ask and it was taken to the PCC but I wasn’t allowed to go along and present my argument and my request was denied. I think it sparked 2 things in me, the desire to stamp out injustice and be the desire to encourage young people’s voices to be heard which is something I was very passionate about whilst I was a youth worker and then Diocesan Youth Officer. I think it was also instrumental in me challenging the system and I was able to take 2 14 year olds with me to observe General Synod, which had never been done before, to George Carey’s last General Synod, where they were able to be involved in discussion groups and their contribution was much valued and appreciated.

“Through Girls’ Brigade when I got to age 11 I started being a helper in the Explorers section (5-8yr olds) as well as going to the Seniors section. GB had a great young leader training course, so I went through all 4 (I think) levels of that – it was great training. I also helped out in the 3-5s section of the Sunday school on Sundays from when I was 11. As a teen I helped get started a peer bible study group, from age about 14 I helped start a worship group, and we lead music, lead prayers etc in the church. I first preached when I was 17 (I shared a sermon with my Dad – it was a Baptist church, so 45 mins sermons, so I did first half – on Hosea…). As a teen I also had the idea for adopt a granny in the church, to match up kids / young people and the isolated elderly in the church. 25 years later and I’m still in touch with my adopted grandparents (who are actually elderly now… !) At the Easter Holiday bible club,young people, once they were too old to come as children were encouraged to take on various roles as junior team. It was a fantastic church at encouraging and nurturing young people. There are several from my generation who grew up in that church who are now involved in various aspects of church leadership around the world. Also through Scripture Union holidays. I first went as a teen, aged 14. From when I was 16 I became junior team on other holidays and helped – starting as junior team, and learning various aspects, leading small groups, leading worship, kitchen team etc… it was a great way to take steps into leadership. I have to say, the denial of leadership stuff I’m encountering mostly now as a curate, and frustrating writing reflective essays to evidence the formational criteria, but only using evidence from curacy… when what I really want to show is that this is part of a lifelong journey of formation and not a magic wand since I was ordained and started wearing a white collar?!”


“For me, in terms of commitment, from a young age I felt that it was my church (well, all of ours), and that all of us had opportunities to serve each other as part of being church. That’s still something I feel very passionate about; I have more issues articulating the distinctiveness of priestly ministry, as I grew up in a lived experience of the priesthood of all believers. My parents and those in the church encouraged us all to use our gifts and skills in various different ways from young ages – including making posters, reading lessons & prayers, playing musical instruments, singing…. it’s helped me to believe that I should keep using the gifts that God has given me, and keep developing those gifts – whilst also encouraging others, and discerning gifts in those around us – whether they are young or old, likely or unlikely, learning to see Christ in others. I’ve found it stranger in the churches I’ve been in more recently that this seems unusual – more recently in different churches I have had to push to get youth work started, and for young people to be involved in readings & on the intercessions rota… because that was something that the ‘adults’ did….”


“I gave out hymn books as a very small child ( made me feel hugely proud!) helped with and then taught in Sunday school from age 13. Am sure it helped me slide straight into youth house group and a more serious acknowledgement of faith at 15.”


“I was playing at being the Vicar, announcing the hymns and was told there was no point in doing that as i could never be the Vicar because i was a girl. They could not make me go to church after that. It was not fair and so i was not going.”


“In our Sunday school we were always encouraged from when we were 5-6 to take turns at reading lessons in church, and occasionally as a group we lead prayers together, learning how to hold the mic, and to speak slowly so that people could understand us.”


“Sunday School Anniversary recitations where we were celebrated not just seen as performers. Junior and Senior Christian Endeavour, where we learned to read scripture, choose hymns and choruses and ‘give a word’. Girls’Brigade, where we were also encouraged to take part in and plan worship and to become leaders, I ended up as an officer. Youth Club also was involved in running ‘camp meetings’ and weekends, being involved in planning and delivering worship and music, as well as discussion groups and prayer sessions. Now I think about it its not surprising I became a Local Preacher at 25! Although I genuinely was not called to ordained ministry until my mid forties.”

“I remember the vote going through in 92 and knowing somehow in my gut that this was going to affect my life long calling. I even wrote it in my journal! At the time I was 13 and at boarding school. Some friend and I formed a bible study group and met once a week in a music practise room. We continued to pray and study together all through school.” 

“As a child I was a Methodist and my dad was minister. Nothing was out of reach and if I wanted to join in I could. He trained me as a server when I was 8, my best friends dad (the parish priest) allowed my friend and I to perform an Easter play together… I’ve always been given permission and support. So grateful now as looking back it could have been very different but I was blissfully unaware!”

“My family wasn’t Christian but I had very strong experiences of God from tiny. I asked to go to Church but no-one would take me so I joined the Brownies aged 7 so that I could go to Church Parade once a month. We went to St Matthew’s Northampton where we sat opposite Graham Sutherland’s ‘Crucifixion’ (google it!) This had a profound spiritual effect on me as a child! Sometimes we got to take the collection which meant going up to the High Altar which was both scary & very special. At 12 I joined the church choir in another church & sang twice on a Sunday & for weddings – which I loved. I received huge encouragement from church adults for which I am very grateful.”

“I grew up in a church that was hugely supportive of its young people (my dad was the minister). I started leading Junior Church/ Sunday School sessions at the age of 13. By 14/15 I loved preparing the liturgy and leading it (our sessions were full services in their structure; but child-friendly). At around 15 I also started to help with taking photos at church events and updating the website. As part of a teenage Bible Study group, I helped lead some special youth services. We also always got involved in the Women’s World Day of Prayer.  There were trips to youth camps, concerts etc. Too much to list, but all meaning that my social life was quite taken up by church stuff. As I developed as a flautist, I was often asked to play at church functions and was later paid to play for weddings etc.  The church also trained some of us as babysitters and I found a job as a babysitter during holidays through the church. Church encouraged me in more ways than I can think!! I think my friends and I were all prepared for some kind of ministry in those years…”

“I joined the church choir aged 10. It was a large choir particular for a village and took it’s role in leading the sung worship very seriously. They encouraged me to give things ago, it built my confidence and they were supportive of my faith at a time of severe bullying. But the thing I really remember is my closeness to the altar and my fascination of what went on, I was held spellbound by the words and actions involved in the Eucharistic prayer and that sense of mystery and awe.
I also remember being invited to lead the intercessions and being greatly encouraged to do so by a Lay Reader who spent time explaining to me what I was actually doing when leading them. I remember feeling blessed and encouraged and that my faith, as young as I was, was important.”


“I sang in the church choir and that is why I am here today. CofE school. Vicar invited 4 or 5 ofus after assembly to come and join choir. I was 9. This was in the days of only BCP so I sang pointed psalms with the best of them. Only ever attended full church services. No Sunday school existed.”


“I read the bible in church from when I was about seven and my mum used to make me practice from the top of the stairs while she was in the kitchen to make sure I spoke clearly and slowly – great training. I was also responsible for cutting the sliced bread into cubes for communion (URD) which has had a lasting impact on me as I like a bread roll to break!!”


“I don’t know if its a ministry role, but I grew in the church on Tristan da Cunha and as soon as we were old enough it was the young girls job to clean the church every Saturday, we had a great time doing it singing hymns as we went, also a great opportunity to explore al the “forbidden” places, we were also responsible for the Easter garden and spent many happy hours scouring the island for the right type of moss and rocks. No adults allowed to interfere in the creation and there was something quite special about creating our own version of the death and resurrection.”


“I started helping out in the Sunday School when I was 15. I knew three chords on the guitar so I could play some simple songs. The Sunday school was run by two elderly spinsters who wouldn’t let anyone help, but I wasn’t a threat! Taught me about taking responsibility and grew a passion form children’s work that developed into youth work and now full time ministry!”


“I first got involved in leadership through our large suburban church youth group, …learned about three chords on the guitar… but my friend learned another three so we could lead the worship together! But it took a long time to get to vicaring, via teaching, outdoor instructor, carer, trainer in the NHS… Never thought of it as an option when younger, and no role models until mum died and her service taken by a wonderful woman.”


“Started taking collection (very young), then reading, then – as part of youth group – preaching. (Family methodist church). Took Sunday school as a teen in my parents methodist church (with an arrogant teenage mission heart as I thought they weren’t as “sound” as my free evangelical church & youth group I’d started attending!) However I learnt the importance of serving as well as getting ‘fed’ myself. Also my Mum taught me the importance of pastoral care for elderly, as she took me visiting with her.”


“I grew up in an Anglo-catholic church where female people were only allowed in the sanctuary to clean it and were also expected to make tea. I had a real calling to be a server and asked when I was 16 yrs old if I could serve: the reply which I have sadly never forgotten was ‘if you serve then the boys won’t want to and then they won’t come’. It is hard to express the rejection I felt. Fortunately as a student in a different church, which also didn’t have female servers, at age 18 yrs I asked again and this time they said ‘yes’.”


“I sang in the church choir. Was made head chorister, which mainly meant sorting out music but by the time I was 16 I was leading the odd choir practice. Also did drama, prayers and reading and helped with holiday clubs. Definitely had a big impact on me.”


 “I got put on a PCC sub-committee when I was 15 or 16! Not sure if that was creativity or desperation on behalf of the vicar, there were no other teens in the small village church! But looking back it gave me an early sense of responsibility and even authority in the life of the church.”

“We (sister, brother and I) were in the choir – age 8 or so – and we got paid 25p for weddings – a very good reason to be in the choir! Later my Mum began to run the Sunday school, and so from the age of about 13 or 14 I taught in Sunday school – I did the under 5’s using the scripture union book and leaflets that were around back then. I did that for a while then at some stage moved to doing the 11+ til I went off to university. I also played the guitar so often played as we sang in SS. …I was always part of church and usually doing something because that was the way we’d been brought up!”

“My childhood memories are of genuine hospitality and welcome joining in the Christmas Day procession at Derby Cathedral where my Dad was the bell-ringing master. Special times and how I wish every could feel when they walk in to one of our churches…welcomed, loved and wanted.”


“I played the guitar for Sunday School and youth group and college CU and guitar and keyboard at churches and various other Christian activities ever since! Doing that also led me to start writing songs for young people, with songs that are suitable for All Age Worship being a particular love.”


“From the age of 15 I taught in Sunday School and I also went round the circuit helping a local preacher lead worship – encouraging lively worship in smal rural parishes. My vocation didn’t really come to the forefront till my 30s.”

“I was 6 when I first stood at the front and ‘spoke” – it was Sunday School, held Sunday afternoons at the back of the Anglican church my grandmother attended. We were asked one week if anyone would tell the story the following week of the large picture the teacher was holding up. I volunteered, I’m not sure why – and the following week, stood at the front and told the story of Jesus in the temple when aged 12, to the entire Sunday School. I remember it well. I was 14 when I had my own first Sunday School class to teach… My own calling to ordination was some 25 years after that. Never too late to be what you were meant to be, as George Eliot wrote!”
“I only started going to church a lot when I was about 12, but I remember being asked to be a server, having a real job to do, very clearly. I’m sure that’s part of why I stayed involved, why I’m here now. The most important thing was being part an amazing youth fellowship where, as a 13 year old, I was in the company of 20 year olds, and felt that I was taken seriously. Yes, to be taken seriously as a human being in my own right, not jut as an appendage to my parents…’
‘I don’t remember having an experience of ministry as a young child, but later, age 14 or so, I do remember being asked to do things… what felt significant then was a sense of agency. I think maybe that without that I might not be here [at theological college] now. I also find that at my College Chapel attachment the students who have grown up in church but without any experience of being given this sense of agency before, are the least likely to embrace and feel comfortable with being asked to take on ministry roles. It’s like they’re thinking, ‘That’s not my job’.” 
“I was asked to help lead a school lunchtime club when I was eight. I remember being asked to lead. It was soon after I’d come to faith. I didn’t have to wait to be the senior person or the oldest. I was encouraged to try things and take risks, trusting the process. Without that I couldn’t do what I do now [as a children’s work adviser]. However young they are, if there’s something they can do, we need to empower them to do it.”
Ally also asked some children who currently engage in ministry for their reflections:
A: I think we’re really settled in St X’s church now, because we’re acolytes and servers. 
B: Yes. Once you’re on the rota for something you’re really part of it, when you’re name’s printed out on the rota. They’d have to reprint the whole rota to take you out, and that would cost money.
“Some Churches treat kids just as little kids, but I feel like we’re actually part of the church.
I feel we’re needed.”

And from the afternoon workshops…

Afternoon baptism services

Ally Barrett described the ministry of children from the church congregation at afternoon baptism services. They undertook many roles, from setting up the PA system to reading to leading prayers.  There has been a policy of matching a ‘church family’ with a family bringing a child for baptism, so that the family feels they know someone.

This involvement proclaims the message that this is a church where children take responsibility and have a serious place. The image of Jesus teaching with a child on his knee is physically embodied by the child holding the Gospel Book. This is a powerful symbol. We may hear Scripture differently when it is read by a child

Children pick up dissonances more readily than adults – for example the incorporation of baptism is denied when children are excluded from the Eucharist. So what message are we giving out if children are asked to bring forward the offertory and then don’t get to share in it?

School worship

Alexandra Clarke is Chaplain to St Bede’s School in Cambridge. She described the way in which students are responsible for tutor group worship and the way in which they are supported to exercise this ministry. Chaplaincy representatives are elected by each year group. Some of those elected are extremely liturgically literate, but not all are. They are supported in their planning by resource called Reboo, which provides an overall structure a resources to clothe the structure. Overall themes for each week are agreed across the whole school. Where things are made or written and displayed, these remain in the reflection area of the form room for the rest of the day, so pupils maybe studying, for example, physics, in the presence of prayers and reflections. While not all chaplaincy reps start with a great deal of knowledge and skill, stepping into the role empowers them. One participant reflected that this is the model and principle on which Fresh Expressions of Church work, also.

The child as supporter and mentor of others

Rachel Nichols reflected on the ministry of a boy of primary school age who is a committed supporter of others. The boy is not an alpha male type of person, you would not generally single him out as a leader.  He is a not a plaster saint, just a normal wriggly boy, unselfconsciously real. His very real faith is integrated into his own interests, particularly birds and Lego and he is part of a church group of mixed age, ability and interests.

But it is clear that other children regard this boy as a trustworthy source and they check things out with him: ‘Let’s ask J.’ He is thoughtful and reflective and he will speak with integrity, which others respect. They go to him because he does not give adult prescribed answers.

He works through friendship and consideration, writing a beautiful poem for another boy who was being baptised. When the baptism too place, he said, ‘I will hold the chair for you, so you can reach.’

How do we make space for these moments of grace? How do we notice? How do we empower children to welcome and look out for those who are new, and who are younger?


praxis day 2Chris Bylett described the development of a choir, Angel Voices, and the way in contributes to worship once a month. Choice of music is important so that it can be learnt quickly and sung confidently. Learnable songs are the key and three are sung during the service by the Angel Voices choir: one song before the service, one within the service and also a send-out song. Using songs with refrains empowers early readers.  And recycling is common: new words to old tunes, and new tunes to old words! This also speeds up the learning process. So a lot is learnt in a short time. The experience of singing and leading worship in this way gives the children the confidence to take on other ministries.


Here is a small selection of further reading and online resources that you may find helpful. Please do use the comments facility at the bottom of this post to suggest further items for inclusion.

Children and the Eucharist:
‘Baptism, Eucharist, Ministry’ (aka the ‘Lima Report’), Faith and Order Paper 111 of the World Council of Churches (1982)
The Body of Christ, Given for You – blog article by Margaret Houston

Young Vocations
Call Waiting – the Church of England’s young vocations agenda

Children and Young people in church (generally)
Going for Growth facebook page

Children’s Spirituality
Spiritual Child Network – ideas, resources, training…
Children’s Spirituality: What it is and why it matters, by Rebecca Nye (
The Spirit of the Child, by Rebecca Nye and David Hay

The Committee of Praxis (East) would like to say thank you so much to everyone who took part in this event, either on the day through speaking or leading a workshop, or through sharing their stories in advance. Please do keep the discussion going by leaving a comment below.  


2 thoughts on “Empowering Children as Ministers

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