11 year old atheists

The following is a reflection by Sam DonahueChildren’s Ministry Adviser for Diocese of London (and co-Editor of the soon-to-be-released ChildrensWork Magazine) reproduced from their latest Children’s Ministry Newsletter with permission (full credit below):

I was reading a book by James Fowler on how faith develops in children and within it he comments on the something they noticed during their research interviews; a group of eleven year olds who had rejected the idea of God. On the face of it this seems an odd stage in life to expect to find this group, odder still when you consider that they came from faith communities, so what was happening to cause this effect?

Fowler’s theory was that at this stage children are beginning to sort stories into those which should be retained as truth and those that are made up and the God ends up sitting on the rejects bench together with the tooth fairy and Father Christmas. They are all dismissed as things that they liked the idea of as children but have rejected now they realise are not true. It’s easy to see what happened to Mr Claus and his fairy friend but why did God suffer the same fate?

For Fowler the explanation is simple; the God the children were taught about doesn’t exist and by eleven they were old enough to work that out. They had been taught about a God who solves all their problems, stops bad things happening, answers all their prayers and arrives at the last minute to save the day if the situation gets really hopeless. To be fair they are right, that God doesn’t exist. Brilliantly Fowler leaves it at this and doesn’t offer any solutions! So I think I will try and think of some as this is all rather depressing right now!

  1. Be real about your experience of being a Christian. It’s not a matter of everything being lovely all the time and we should resist the urge to try and ‘protect children’ from this. Life is messy and things go wrong and we learn that God is there with us through all of this not just the good bits. So don’t be afraid to tell stories, either Bible stories or stories from you own life where things go wrong.
  2. Don’t spin the Bible. I’ve said before that the Bible doesn’t need us to ‘spin it’ so that children only see the highlights package. The stories of the Bible are supposed to be a resource to help and support us through good times and bad. It we only give children the good bits the Bible fails them when they need it most as there is no resource for the bad times.
  3. If it looks like a fairy story it probably is a fairy story. In our efforts to make the Bible more accessible to children we often lose the grit and reality of the stories and make them feel more like fluffy fairy stories and less like things that actually happened. Next time you look at the story of the Exodus why not get a map out and show the children the journey or use some pictures from the Holy Land to illustrate where Jesus was when he was telling his stories. Doing this helps to imbed the stories in the real world and not the fantasy world.
  4. Beware miracles. I’m not sure how I feel about this but there is a school of thought that says that if we major on miracles understand them to be about magic and then they fall into the fairy tale trap. It is suggested that a more healthy emphasis would be on the motivation for the miracle than the miracle it’s self. For example, rather than concentrating on Jesus’ power to heal focus instead on Jesus’ compassion towards the sick.

Credit: Sam Donoghue is the Children’s Ministry Adviser of the Diocese of London. You can read more from him here.

Sign up to receive the Diocese of London Children’s Ministry Newsletter by email.


you are lovely...

Source: Becca Dean

Have you ever felt discouraged? Like life is tough and there’s little support around? Or perhaps you’ve felt that life is just a bit dull and ‘samey’ sometimes, but it starts to get you down. I’m sure we’ve all be there.

But have you ever been encouraged? I mean actively encouraged. Not just that something has gone well or life is good for a while and it feels good, but that someone has taken the time and effort to speak to you or do something for you to lift your spirit. Have you experienced that? Doesn’t it make a difference?!

There’s a guy in the New Testament called Joseph (a good Biblical name if ever I heard one!) but Jesus’ apostles called him Barnabas which means ‘son of encouragement’ (one who encourages others) after he sold some land and gave them the proceeds to support their work/ministry. He also encouraged the Apostle Paul whilst everyone else was still (rightly) suspicious of him, encouraged the Church in Antioch and stood up for the young disciple John Mark when Paul was critical of him. He’s the kind of guy you’d want to count among your friends; he made a huge difference to the people around him.

How much like Barnabas are you? I wonder if your friends consider you a ‘son/daughter of encouragement’… Why not take the opportunity to encourage a friend, colleague or family member and brighten someone’s day?

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.1 Thessalonians 5:11

There’s a small but steady ‘movement’ on Twitter to use Mondays as a specific opportunity to encourage others. It’s called #loveMonday and it works like this. You send an encouraging message (public or private) to three other Twitter users, and invite them to encourage three of their friends/contacts/followers. Don’t forget to include #loveMonday in the message. Simple. Of course, it doesn’t have to just be via Twitter. Feel free to do the same but on Facebook, via email, or even offline (send a postcard, leave a message scrawled on a post-it note, etc.).

Imagine for a minute that I encourage three people, and they each encourage three people, and so on. That’s twelve people encouraged (and we know what Jesus was able to do with just twelve people!). If that continues for another five cycles, that would result in almost three thousand people who have been encouraged (assuming none of the encouragers were then encouraged by the encouragees – are you still with me?!). What a difference that could make!

If you want to join the revolution movement, you know what you have to do: choose three people to encourage, do it and encourage them to do the same.

If that Monday feeling has got to you, you’re feeling a bit grumpy and not in the mood to encourage others (yet!), check out some of the ways that others have been encouraged today and have your faith in humanity restored. Go on – I dare ya!

Hat tips: @martinsaunders, @stevecampion & @beccadean
Image Credit: beccaislearning.com

EasterLive Reflections

On Palm Sunday, at the start of the Easter(LIVE) project, I shared my critical thoughts and fears about approach the 2011 approach was taking, and suggested an alternative project to support. There were some great comments on the post and via Twitter: many in support of my critique, and some from people who wanted to reserve judgement (participants & skeptics alike).

So as both projects have ended, it seems right to reflect on them in light of my original comments & my experience.

Easter(LIVE) 2011

Initially I feared that the Easter(LIVE) updates would swamp my Twitter stream (because at least 10 of the people I follow were participating in the project). This fear was realised. After a particularly frenzied start, the posts in my Twitter stream calmed down a little, to an almost manageable level. My twitter stream wasn’t completely overwhelmed, but was considerably busier than usual, which made catching up a chore and took much longer than usual.

I decided that I would try to follow two users’ Easter(LIVE) updates, and try to ignore the others. It didn’t feel right skipping over the majority of the updates (due to my slight OCD tendencies), but it was necessary, otherwise my productivity would’ve taken a serious dive last week.

Even though I was following just two versions of the story, I found the experience very confusing. One user created a story using a vast array of characters and tweets; the other used one or two characters and far fewer tweets. But I found the two stories following different time lines and the events they were describing not aligning with each other. This detracted from the overall experience. On Good Friday and Easter Sunday the updates (predictably) reached a peak, creating a ridiculous amount of Twitter updates.

During the course of the week I ‘overheard’ discussions on Twitter between two participants who were niggling about their different interpretations of the project (too many characters & updates vs single character and fewer updates).

Of the participants I followed, very few made use of anything other than text updates. The project had encouraged the use of other media too – video, images and sound. I recognise that text updates are easier and require less preparation which probably explains the proportion of text to other media (that’s not to rubbish the amount of time and creativity expended by everyone in creating their stories). I saw a few uses of images, and heard about one user who created a number of videos for the project.

So my fears about the project’s approach in 2011 were entirely founded. But of course that’s based on my own experience – I can’t speak for anyone else. But the team behind the project retweeted a number of messages on Sunday & Monday which expressed how helpful they’d found the project and thanking the team for their work. So it was clearly of value to and appreciated by many.

As I said previously, the number of participants and updates generated is clearly testimony to the fact that the project captured people’s imaginations. I still appreciate the project’s use of Twitter as a vehicle for such an innovative project, and still question the downside it had (for me at least).

I look forward to seeing what they have planned for future projects, but hope they tweak the approach to eliminate the downsides. I also hope they don’t simply keep innovating for the sake of it. If a project works well (as it seemed to last year – one creative telling of the story, great story-tellers, and a more cohesive approach) stick with it, making tweaks along the way.

The Passion Experience

At the end of the original post I suggested that people support the Passion Experience project as an alternative. It was following a similar approach to the EasterLive 2010 project, but encouraging users to sign-up to text updates on their phones (at no charge), or to receive them via email.

I signed up to receive the updates via text, and followed the instructions they sent back. Unfortunately, despite the process reporting that everything was OK, I didn’t receive any updates via text. I received them in my Twitter & Facebook streams, and by email. But not via text message. I had been relying on the text messages to break into my busyness during Holy Week and Easter preparations, providing a constructive disturbance and a chance to remember & reflect. The lack of updates detracted for the overall experience for me personally. However, I had encouraged others to sign-up (and 23 did via our Church affiliate link) and they successfully received text updates and found it really valuable.

So I received the updates via other means, and loved the content and found it really helpful (if not timely).  It provided a manageable number of updates from one source, resulting in a more cohesive way that the Easter(LIVE) project.

On reflection, I think more people would’ve signed up if they realised they could follow in the Facebook stream (this didn’t appear to be made clear), rather than the slightly more complex text/Twitter sign-up process.


Both were innovative projects, attempting to use a new method for retelling and old story, and are to be commended. Both had weaknesses, but in spite of these, they were hugely valued by those who followed them. Each to their own ;o)


  • Did you participate in Easter(LIVE)? What has the feedback been like from your followers?
  • Did you follow any Easter(LIVE) stories or the Passion Experience? What was the experience like for you?
  • If you could make one suggestion for an improvement to future projects, what would it be?

Ten Commandments Rewritten

Just seen this version of the 10 Commandments, rewritten for kids:

  1. Put God First: God is number one, everything else comes second.
  2. Nothing else is more important than God
  3. Don’t say ‘God’ when you don’t mean it
  4. Have a restful day – chillaxing every week
  5. Respect. Treat adults how you would like to be treated.
  6. Don’t hurt anybody
  7. Stick together/look after your friends
  8. Don’t take from anyone without permission
  9. Always tell the truth. Don’t lie
  10. Don’t want something others have got.

There’s another version posted there too.

Bookmarks for November 18th to November 19th

These are the links I’ve bookmarked recently on Delicious [November 18th to November 19th]:

Bring the Christmas Story Alive

Introducing the Natwivity (Twitter Nativity)

This Christmas, parents and grandparents will attend their childrens’ schools to watch their miniature shepherds, angels and inn keepers perform the Nativity story. This traditional retelling remains a huge part of Christmas in the UK and, for many, will be the only time they hear the Christmas message.

But many others – particularly those in their teens, 20s and 30s who are yet to have children – won’t have this opportunity. This is the internet generation, and although they are unlikely to cross the threshold of a school, they do spend a considerable amount of their time online.

The Natwivity (the Twitter Nativity) takes advantage of social media’s unparalleled capacity to engage people as they go about their everyday life to re-tell the Christmas story in a fresh, personal way. Available on Twitter and Facebook, people will be able to pick up the ‘tweets’ online in their homes, in the high street using their phones and at work.

The Natwivity will give this famous story an immediate, real-life feel, transforming them from people 2,000 years ago to friends of the user, who are going through the drama now. Followers will be able to read Mary’s angst as she tries to come to terms with the birth of her child, and hear from the stunned shepherds after their encounter with an angel.

Each 140-character entry will be a thought or comment from Mary, Joseph, collective wisemen and shepherds, with further entries from Herod, an Inn Keeper (and his wife) and friends of Mary and Joseph.

The project aims to…

  • Reinforce the story of Christmas
  • Allow the 21st century audience to engage with the story in a new way
  • Create a space for Christians during a cluttered time of the year to remember the story
  • Create a way for Christians to engage their friends with the story in a thought-provoking, yet fun way

What Now?

Letter to the Editor

The following is a letter I’ve written to the Editor of the MK Citizen in response to a recent article regarding concerns at Oakhill Secure Training Centre:

I read with interest your article last week regarding ‘possible abuse’ at Oakhill STC. I am an occasional visitor to Oakhill and have always found it to be an incredibly positive and supportive environment with excellent relationships between trainees and officers.

Your article seems to suggest that an ‘outstanding’ rating from Ofsted and an increase in physical restraint incidents must be mutually exclusive. I’d like to suggest that perhaps they are complementary.

We must remember that the staff at Oakhill are acutely aware of the reason the trainees are there and what they are capable of. I’m sure that physical restraint is absolutely the last resort. I wonder how many cases of physical harm (to staff & inmates) have been avoided by these physical restraint incidents.

I do not condone physical abuse of trainees and as an allegation has been made it should of course be investigated, but we must not allow the allegation to detract from the outstanding work being done by the Centre as a whole.

Rev. Ricky Rew

Bookmarks for November 17th to November 18th

These are the links I’ve bookmarked recently on Delicious [November 17th to November 18th]: