Where have all the children gone?

Sue Price, Acting Principal of the Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology in Cambridge, reflects on the witness children receive – and give – by being present at a celebration of the Eucharist.

My heart rejoiced the other Sunday, as I was sitting in a pew, appropriately socially distanced from anyone else, wearing my mask, feeling alone, when I heard a baby cry from somewhere behind me. At last, a normal, everyday sound full of hope and life. I have so missed the sight and sound of children at Mass, the ‘wrigglies’ as one priest called them. I have missed the running up and down the aisle, the busy colouring in, the dropped crayons, rice cakes and spilt water. I have missed seeing them as the body of Christ processing up the aisle to receive the Body of Christ, or a blessing, with their smiles and nods of recognition. I have missed seeing the tiny babies fast asleep in the arms of a parent and the squirming toddlers held captive by grandparents. I have missed witnessing the cuddles, laughter, chatter and shushing that goes on within the usual family Mass. I miss the youngest altar server who needs a physical prod from big sister to remember what to do next and the older altar servers looking after the younger ones. I miss them, for they are life, and they are the future.

This article is a wondering, with no clear conclusions. It identifies real concerns about the future for our churches when the children are not there as a result of lockdown. We got used to online streaming and then the slow opening up, followed by a second lockdown. We religiously wear our masks, cope with not singing, and try to work out what it means to be a parish community in this very different way. It also reflects on the impact of online streaming on children and the potential long-term effects this may have on them and their sense of being part of the parish.

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