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Cara E. Koch

Bachelor of Science Degree, South Dakota State University, 1966
Master of Science Degree, Wheelock College, 1990

Donald B. Rogers, Ph.D.
Reverend Leanne Ciampa Hadley, M.Div.
Elder J acqueline Nowak, MARE, CCE



United Theological Seminary
Dayton, Ohio

Faculty Approval Page
Doctor of Ministry Final Project Dissertation


Cara E. Koch
United Theological Seminary, 2007
Donald B. Rogers, Ph.D.

Reverend Leanne Ciampa Hadley, M.Div.

Elder J acqueline Nowak, MARE, CCE

Date: _________________________


Director, Doctoral Studies

Copyright2007 Cara E. Koch
All rights reserved.

Table of Contents
ABSTRACT...................................................................................................................... vii
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.......................................................................................... viix
LIST OF TABLES...............................................................................................................x
1. MINISTRY FOCUS...............................................................................................3

The Grandpa Program
S SPIRITUALITY ..................................................................................................12
Biblical Foundation
Spiritual Practitioners
Child Development, Psychology, Education and Brain Research
Research on Childrens Spirituality
Biblical Foundation
Theological Foundation
Saint Augustine
Meister Eckhart

J ohn Wesley
Horace Bushnell
Karl Rahner
Toward a Theology of Childhood
Historical Foundation
The History of Children
Ancient Greco-Roman Culture
Ancient J ewish Culture
Early Christianity
Middle Ages
The Reformation
The Enlightenment and Modernity
The Spirituality of Children: Related Disciplines
Maria Montessori
The Nature of Childrens Spirituality
Setting Up the Environment
The Role of the Adult
Montessori Materials
Program Structure
Sophia Cavalletti
The Parable of the Good Shepherd
The Eucharist
Baptism and the Light of Christ

J erome Berrymans Godly Play
Teaching With the Physical Space/Environment
Teaching with Time
Teaching with People
Play and Reality
J ames W. Fowler
Infancy and Undifferentiated Faith
Stage 1: Intuitive-Projective Faith
Stage 2: Mythic-Literal Faith
David Hay and Rebecca Nye
4. METHODOLOGY .....................................................................................................120
5. FIELD EXPERIENCE................................................................................................123
Welcome/Tea Party
Ritual and Prayer
Discovery Boxes
Parent Observations Outside Classroom
Researcher Observations within Classroom
Triangulation with Previous Researchers
6. REFLECTION, SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION.................................................140
Initial Reflections
Parent Observations outside the Classroom
Researchers Observations within the Classroom

Triangulation Using Previous Research
Suggested Changes
A. AUTHORIZATIONS...........................................................................................158
B. PROMOTIONAL MATERIALS.........................................................................161
C. INTERVIEW AND SURVEY FORM.................................................................164
D. PARENT COMMUNICATION MATERIALS..................................................167
E TABLES................................................................................................................172
F. FIGURES..............................................................................................................179
Online Sources







Cara E. Koch
United Theological Seminary, 2007

Donald B. Rogers, Ph.D.
Reverend Leanne Ciampa Hadley, M.Div.
J acqueline Nowak, MARE, CCE

This intergenerational program explored the fostering of spirituality in preschool children
with a team of Grandpas in Sunday school class at First Congregational Church,
Colorado Springs, Colorado, using the principles of Blessing Based Spiritual Nurture.
Spirituality was defined as relational consciousness encompassing four categories:
child/self, child/people, child/world and child/God. Five videotaped sessions documented
evidence of the categories of relational consciousness. The evidence of increased
spirituality was triangulated with pre/post parent input, researcher observations, and
previous research. This project challenged the notion that Christian Education is
dependent upon cognitive development, and therefore should not begin until age twelve.



I would like to acknowledge my husband, Harry Wrede, for his never-ending support; my
brother, Ron Koch, for his moral support and help with editing, and my son, Robert
Belton, and my parents, J im and Lucille Koch, for being my teachers on a spiritual
journey that resulted in this document.


Figures Page
1. Godly Play Classroom................................................................................................180
2. Stephanias Altar as Meadow.....................................................................................181
3. Marios Sheep and People Around the Altar..............................................................182
4. The Sheepfold of the Good Shepherd and the Eucharistic Table...............................183
5. Altar with Candle Below; Church and Sheepfold on Either Side...............................184
6. Children with Grandpa at the Tea Party.....................................................................185
7. Pouring J uice with Grandpa........................................................................................186
8. Worship Around the Altar ..........................................................................................187
9. Sharing Prayer with Grandpa......................................................................................188
10. Receiving the Blessing..............................................................................................189
11. Listening to the Parable............................................................................................190
12. Using Quilts to Define Space for Sitting..................................................................191
13. Choosing a Discovery Box.......................................................................................192
14. Sheep Puppets in the discovery Box.........................................................................193
15. The Electric Circuit Discovery Box..........................................................................194
16. The Dress-up Box.....................................................................................................195
17. Being Present............................................................................................................196
18. Building Relationships..............................................................................................197


Tables Page
1. Godly Play Time Format............................................................................................173
2. Stages of Human Development..................................................................................174
3. Shared Center of Value and Power.............................................................................175
4. Pattern of Worship......................................................................................................176
5. Parents: Relational Consciousness Quotients.............................................................177
6. Researcher: Relational Consciousness Quotients.......................................................178

Blessing Based Spiritual Nurture is an approach for providing pastoral care to
hurting children and teens. Developed by Reverend Leanne Hadley of First Steps
Spirituality Center, Colorado Springs, CO, it provides spiritual support to children and
teens who are experiencing crisis in their lives. The method and tools developed by
Reverend Hadley facilitate healing and provide the recipients of her care with inner
resources with which to meet lifes challenges for the rest of their lives.
The Grandpa Program was conceived as a way of exploring the possibility of
using the same principles of fostering spiritual strength with young children who were
not in crisis, in order that they might be helped to develop the inner resources with which
to face the challenges of life when they arise in the future.
The first chapter of this paper describes the experience and observations of the
author that led to the creation of The Grandpa Program as an act of ministry, together
with an explanation of why the context of Sunday school at the First Congregational
Church was chosen. The scope of the research is defined in the second chapter, through
an overview of literary sources for the foundational under girding of this act of ministry,
including literature from Biblical, historical and theological resources, supplemented by
literature from the fields of child development, education, psychology, psychiatry and
neurology. The third chapter presents information gleaned from the literature that was
outlined in chapter two. The research methodology and design are outlined in the fourth

chapter. The fifth chapter provides a detailed description of the field experience in the
classroom, followed by an analysis of the data gathered. The sixth and final chapter
reflects upon the data and what insights it reveals, summarizes the findings, and draws
conclusions based upon the information discovered. Finally, the author suggests a
direction for further study in the future.


Having experienced a childhood where spirituality was not a focus, followed later
by a time of serious spiritual seeking as an adult, the author is coming to a personal
spiritual understanding that continues to evolve. Following a career in the field of child
development and family relationships and many years spent working with parents and
their children, the author came to recognize the need for a more informed and
comprehensive understanding of children by church leaders while volunteering in Sunday
school. She recognized as well the need for a better understanding of childrens
spirituality by those who work with children in the secular world.
One of the issues that initially drew her attention to the need for a better
understanding of early childhood development by church leaders is the question of how
to present the Bible stories of the Christian tradition to very young children in a way that
does not make them fearful. As she prepared the lesson for Noahs Arkone of the first
stories in the curriculum introduced to three year olds in Sunday schoolshe realized
how uncomfortable she was in telling a story where God punishes people with drowning
for being bad. She chose to change the story, leaving out the punishment part, and
stressed Gods protection of the animals and Noah. The following year a similar level of
discomfort arose as she observed another teacher using a similar curriculum the first
Sunday after hurricane Katrina. The children had been witnessing on television the

drowning of many innocent people. After expressing to the author her concern about
using this story in light of the current happenings, the teacher, a veteran kindergarten
teacher who had taught Sunday school for twenty-five years, introduced the story:
What do you do that is bad? she began.
Get in a fight, was the first answer.
Yes, it is bad to fight, she replied. Some people are just all bad. . . and that
was all that was heard before the author left the room.
What could the children have learned that day? Do they think God might drown
them for fighting with their brother or sister, for example? Or will he drown their parents
for fighting or arguing with each other? Do they believe God drowned the people of
New Orleans because they were bad people? It would not be surprising if some of these
children would not want to come back to Sunday school again.
As a parent and also a long-time professional in the field of child development
and family relationships, the author recognized child rearing to be a daunting spiritual
task, yet this is rarely acknowledged as such in our present day societyat least
Sandy Sasso, a Rabbi and expert on the spirituality of children, recognizes the
challenge of parenting and the spiritual formation of children. As she points out, when
children as young as preschoolers begin to ask existential questions, such as, Where did
we come from? Where do people go when they die? Where does God live? and
Why do people hurt each other? these questions can seem overwhelming to adults who
are still trying to answer these questions for themselves. All children have these types of
questions, andwhether or not they articulate themthey are part of a childs innate

spirituality. Our attempt to answer these unanswerable questions is the essence of our
religion, ethics and morality.

Today, when so often families are not closely connected to the spiritual traditions
that provided guidance to their fore fathers and mothers; when they are exposed to so
many different traditions in our increasingly diverse society, and when new questions of
ethics and morality arise in an ever-changing world; it seems more critical than ever to be
able to foster spiritual strength in our children. If parents and spiritual leaders are to
support our childrens natural spirituality, it behooves us to find meaningful ways of
responding to these questions.
These observations have stirred this authors search to find a better way for
communities of faith to recognize and support the innate spirituality of young children by
utilizing the most formative years of early childhood to introduce children to the spiritual
language and practices of the Christian tradition. The Grandpa Program, utilizing the
principles of Blessing Based Spiritual Nurture, is intended to offer such an alternative.
The context for The Grandpa Program was the First Congregational Church of
Colorado Springs, CO. With a growing membership of approximately 700 members in
2005, the average rate of participation of children and youth had been declining in the
previous two years. Approximately 27% of the families who were members of the church
had children living at home. With 81% of the membership being business or professional
people; a considerable number of the members on the faculty of Colorado College, and

Rabbi Sandy Sasso, Speaking of Faith Newsletter, American Public Media, J une 15, 2006, (accessed

thirty-four members who were ordained clergy, there was a distinct intellectual bent in
the culture of the church. This context seemed an ideal one in which to find support for
an innovative approach for working with young children, and one in which the program
would contribute to the stated goal of the church to increase participation of children and
youth. The founding of this program also provided the author with an opportunity to
pursue her own spiritual growth as she continued her lifelong interest in a holistic
approach to childrens growth and development. She was able to find a renewed personal
sense of purpose and generativity as she facilitated a meaningful contribution by the older
men in the congregation to the next generation of children.
The Act of Ministry for this research project was The Grandpa Program. It was
designed to utilize the principles of Blessing Based Spiritual Nurture in an investigation
of the spiritual nature of three and four year old children in order to determine whether or
not it might be possible to foster spirituality in children of this age. It was also felt that
close observation of children in a spiritual setting will either support or refute the
investigators intuitive notion that children are innately spiritual. The term spirituality
was defined using specified dimensions of spirituality that had been established by
previous researchers.
The most basic belief of this Blessing Based Spiritual Nurture approach is the
premise that all children are born with innate spirituality: they have a natural sense of
God. It is believed by the practitioners of these principles that when this existing spiritual
sense is strengthened and reinforced, it can be a source of profound inner strength, even
in very young children. It is also believed that this spiritual sense can continue to grow
throughout a lifetime, available to be tapped into whenever it is needed.

Blessing Based Spiritual Nurture originated with the work of Reverend Leanne
Hadley, Elder in the United Methodist Church, as she provided spiritual care to children
and teens who were experiencing hurt or pain in their lives. As she listened to those
children and teens who sought her care, and as she reflected on their words and actions,
she identified some basic principles which she found to be helpful in the healing process.
She did not provide therapy, or attempt to fix them. Rather, as she journeyed with and
listened to participants, she focusing on the core goodness in each child or teen, and was
totally present to whatever was being shared.
Through this process Reverend Hadley has identified some key elements that are
central to this type of spiritual nurture. The first of these she called Holy Listening,
described by Rev. Hadley as a simple yet profound method of honoring the spirit of
another through listening without judging, criticizing or evaluating, and allowing God to
be a third party in the conversation. In this process of listening without imposition or
any effort to change the child, a feeling of connection to the wholeness of God occurs, on
the part of both the listener and the child.
Holy Listening is facilitated when it is practiced within Holy Spacethe second
key element of spiritual nurture. Simply put, Holy Space is a space where God is heard.
In order to help children learn to hear God, a calm and peaceful atmosphere with an easy
sense of order is essential. Furniture needs to be appropriate to the size of child, with art
and other materials easily accessible. A general routine for what happens in Holy Space
is important also, as it provides a sense of security and safety within which to allow
feelings to surface. When children achieve such a sensewhen they gain mastery of
their space, they are more easily open to listening to God. Once accustomed to this type

of Holy Space, children and teens eventually learn to create an inner space so they can
hear God wherever they may be.
Recognition of the value of silence is a third element of this approach. It provides
an opportunity for reflection on whatever is being experienced, so the child or teen can
contemplate meaning as they ponder what they have just heard or experienced. This
ability to use silence is the beginning of prayer in young children.
A fourth element in the practice of Blessing Based Spiritual Nurture is the use of
prayer tools and rituals that have been developed in order to facilitate the process of
connecting with God. Prayer beads, prayer shawls, candles, and Holy Listening Stones

are examples of such tools. It is through these tools that children and teens are introduced
to the language and symbols of the J udeo-Christian tradition.
It was the belief of the author that the principles of Blessing Based Spiritual
Nurture which are so effective in healing hurting children and teens, could also be used to
foster the spiritual growth of very young children who are not in a state of crisis, in order
that they might develop a strong spiritual core early in life. So equipped, it is
hypothesized that they should be prepared with inner spiritual strength for dealing with
whatever life has to offer as they face future challenges.
The focus of this research project was to create a Sunday school program for three
and four year olds, utilizing a team of volunteer Grandpas from the congregation, under
the leadership of a facilitator. This program served several purposes:

Holy Listening Stones are a set of 25 stones with different symbols which are offered to children
with directions to choose a symbol that shows how they feel.

1. To provide three and four year olds with a warm, nurturing first church
experience away from their parents. The theological basis is that childrens early
notion of God is based on their first experiences of safety, security and nurturing.
2. To act in the spirit of, It takes a village to raise a child by relieving parents of
preschoolers from having to volunteer in their own childs group. It is difficult for
parents when children of this age may, as they develop their own autonomy, act
out and test their parents. This new behavior causes some parents to dread the
day they have to volunteer. By delaying parental volunteering until this
developmental stage is over, the initial volunteer experience of parents is more
likely to be a positive one.
3. To match the naturally slower pace of some of the older sources of wisdom in
the church community with young children who need someone to slow down and
listen to them. A relaxed, nurturing environment that facilitates the connection
and bonding of the youngest and oldest of our church community provides a
win/win/win situation for children, parents, and elders.
4. To expose elders in our congregation to the natural spirituality of children, so that
it becomes more widely known and recognized within the congregation that
children are spiritual beings who are capable of developing their spirituality at a
very young age.


The Grandpa Program
Within the general focus stated above, the purpose of this ministry was to foster
spiritual growth in both the children and Grandpas through a time of hospitality, prayer
time around an altar, an introduction to Scripture through a presentation of the Good
Shepherd parable, and small group interaction between the children and Grandpas under
the leadership of the researcher. In addition, two new leaders were to be trained, in order
to continue the program after completion of the research.
The format for The Grandpa Program was based upon that of traditional Christian
worship, with four distinct components of fifteen minutes duration each. The Welcome
was a tea party; Ritual and Prayer was conducted around a central altar; Scripture was
presented through a Godly Play presentation of The Parable of the Good Shepherd and a
Response and Closing time consisted of small group interaction between children and
Grandpas as they explored the contents of discovery boxes.
The data for the research was collected by video taping classroom sessions and
audio taping the small group conversations with the Grandpas. In addition, home
interviews with the parents of six children who were designated as research subjects was
conducted prior to the start of the program; a focus group with the Grandpas was
conducted midway in the project, and a follow-up parent questionnaire was completed
following the study.
The Grandpa Program was designed in such a way as to be easily replicable in
other churches as a model for providing a developmentally appropriate spiritual
experience for preschool age children at this most formative period in their young lives.
The use of Grandpas from the congregation helped to expand the relational world of the

children beyond that of their immediate family into the wider community of their church
family. The exposure of Grandpas to the spiritual nature of children provided them with
an opportunity to connect with their own spiritual beginning so as to foster their own
spiritual development as they shared their wisdom with the children. The introduction to
Christian language and ritual as the children experienced prayer and the sharing of each
others prayer created a foundation of meaningful spiritual experience quite different
from cognitive learning about religion. The introduction of Godly Play through the
Parable of the Good Shepherd provided children and parents an introduction to this
unique method of discovering Christianity, including its language, and symbolsone that
creates a rich inner spiritual experience. The author felt that church leaders and
volunteers who find themselves excited by this method of fostering spiritual experience
have the opportunity, if they so choose, to continue this experiential approach through the
use of the Godly Play presentations that have been developed for children up to age


The theoretical foundation of this paper was developed by researching Biblical,
Historical, and Theological literary sources, together with additional research in the areas
of child development, education, psychology, psychiatry and neurology, plus recent
seminal research in the area of childrens spirituality.
The author sought to integrate information from the basic three sources of
foundational work for seminary research with what is known from other disciplines about
children and their development in order to reach a new level of understanding about the
spiritual nature of children. It is the belief of this author that an interdisciplinary approach
to childrens spirituality has the potential to open up interdisciplinary communication in
new ways that will increase the opportunity for theologians to make a timely, meaningful
contribution to the world regarding the moral and ethical challenges facing the global
community today.
It was noted by the researcher that Christian Education, as commonly practiced
today, is founded on educational theory that is based on cognitive learning, and does not
offer much information in the realm of inner, spiritual knowing. J ohn H. Westerhoff III,

in his book,Will Our Children Have Faith
, traces the development of Christian
Education practices during the last century to show how, in following education theory
that concentrated on effective teaching strategies, some of the fundamentals of inner faith
development have been lost. (There are some current exceptions to this general thrust,
such as practitioners who follow the inner-based work of Donald B. Rogers, Ph.D. author
of In Praise of Learning
or Wynn McGreggor, author of The Way of the Child
to name
two leaders in Christian Education who have long recognized the importance of
experiential learning and heart-based knowledge.) The basic assumption of many who
practice Christian Educationan assumption with which this author disagreesis that
children under the age of twelve are not capable of knowing because their cognitive
and rational skills are not yet developed. This assumption grew during the 1960s from
the work of Ronald Goldman, whose books Readiness for Religion
and Religious
Thinking from Childhood to Adolescence
claimed that children almost never have direct
experience of the divine, and who recommended that the Bible not be taught until age
Three important practitioners were identified who worked directly with children
and who have contributed immensely to the understanding of the spiritual nature of

J ohn H. Westerhoff III, Will Our Children Have Faith (New York: Seabury Press, 1976).
Donald B. Rogers, In Praise of Learning (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1980).
Wynn McGregor, The Way of the Child (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2006).
Ronald Goldman, Readiness for Religion (London and New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul and
Seabury, 1965, 1968, 1970).
Ronald Goldman, Religious Thinking from Childhood to Adolescence (London: Routledge &
Kegan Paul, 1964).

children. Dr. Maria Montessori was a physician who began working in Italy with children
in about 1900; Dr. Sophia Cavalletti was a Hebrew Scholar who became interested in
Montessoris work and further developed her own approach as she tested her theories and
methods on several continents with children of all economic classes. An American, Dr.
J erome Berryman, later studied under Cavalletti and developed an ecumenical approach
for introducing children to the language and ritual of Christianity, which he called Godly
Finally, the author drew extensively on her own classroom experience and
background in the field of child development and family relationships as she
conceptualized the classroom environment that would be the setting for this research.
Biblical Foundation

In order to establish the biblical foundation for this work, The Hebrew Testament
was found to document the tremendous value placed on children in the stories told by the
ancient prophets. The birth of children was a treasured sign of Gods blessing to the early
Hebrews and throughout J ewish history.
Reflecting about J esus understanding of children as described in the Gospels, and
noting the positive attitude of J esus toward children as described by J ans-Reudi Weber in
Jesus and the Children
and by J erome Berryman in Godly Play
and How to Lead Godly
Play Lessons,
the author found congruency between the messages of these authors and

J ans-Reudi Weber, Jesus and the Children (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1970).
J erome W. Berryman, Godly Play (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1991).

Mathew Foxs Biblical interpretation entitled Original Blessing.
This led to the
exploration of an alternative viewpointthat of St. Augustines doctrine of original sin.
Resources used include Gerald Bonners St. Augustine of Hippo: Life and Controversies

and Augustine: The Confessions,
as well as Augustines own The Confessions of St.
and Basic Writings of St. Augustine.

The next step was to trace the historical attitude of Christians toward children,
from antiquity up to the present time. Cultural influences from ancient Hebrew and
Greco-Roman cultures were examined using the above-mentioned work of J ans-Reudi
Weber. The Child in Christian Thought, edited by Marcia J . Bunge
is a significant
collection of essays that point to a developing theology of children, tracing the history of

J erome W. Berryman, How to Lead Godly Play Lessons: The Complete Guide to Godly Play
(Denver: Living the Good News, 2002).
Matthew Fox, Original Blessing (Santa Fe: Bear & Company, 1983).
Gerald Bonner, St. Augustine of Hippo: Life and Controversies (Norwalk: The Easton Press,
Gilliam Clark, ed., Augustine: The Confessions (Exeter: B, 2005).
St. Augustine, The Confessions of St. Augustine, trans. Rex Warner (New York and
Scarborough: The New American Library of World Literature, 1963).
Whitney J . Oates, ed., Basic Writings of St. Augustine (New York: Random House, 1948).
Marcia J . Bunge, ed., The Child in Christian Thought (Grand Rapids/Cambridge: William B.
Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001).

how children have been viewed from the time of J esus to the present. The writings of
major theologians including J ohn Crysostom, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin
Luther, J ohn Calvin, J ohn Wesley, J onathan Edwards, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Horace
Bushnell, Karl Barth and Karl Rahner, were scrutinized by the essay authors for their
views about children. Families in the New Testament World, by Carolyn Osiek
David L. Balch, and The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark
reflected new
information based on relatively new archeological findings and provided considerable
insight into the actual lives of families and children during Early Christianity.
Additional research on the history of childhood revealed a fascinating change
over time in the way society sees children. Phillip Aries classic, Centuries of
was understood for years to say that children of medieval times were very
distant from parents and that childhood was not even recognized as a stage different from
adulthood. However, the book is now believed to have been misinterpreted due to an
erroneous translation. Now there is a much more refined understanding of how children
have been viewed at different times in history, based on more diverse research extending
beyond literature to include archeological and other sources of evidence. This change in
perspective was found in such works as O.M. Bakkes When Children Became People,

Carolyn Osiek and David L. Balch, Families in the New Testament World (Louisville, KY:
Westminster J ohn Knox Press, 1997).
Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1997).
Philippe Aries, Centuries of Childhood, trans. Robert Baldick (New York: Alfred A. Knopf,
O.M. Bakke, When Children Became People (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005).

Nicholas Ormes Medieval Children
, Shulamith Shahars Childhood in the Middle
and Steven Ozments When Fathers Ruled: Family Life in Reformation Europe.

An unusual firsthand account by a young mother from the Middle Ages, entitled The
Mothers Legacy to her Unborn Child,
provided poignant insight about religious
attitudes toward parenting during that time. An article by Hugh Cunningham entitled
Histories of Childhood, published in a 1998 issue of The American Historical Review,

provided a summary of historical attitudes toward children in America.

There has been very little written by Christian theologians about children since
the time of Augustine. J ohn Comenius (15901670), who wrote The Labyrinth of the
World and the Paradise of the Heart
is an exception. J ohn Wesley (170391) addressed
the issue of the religious education of children in the eighteenth century,
and Horace
Bushnell wrote the first extensive work on the religious lives of infants and children,

Nicholas Orme, Midieval Children (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001).
Shulamith Shahar, Childhood in the Middle Ages (London and New York: Routledge, 1990).
Steven Ozment, When Father Ruled: Family Life in Reformation Europe (LCambridge and
London: Harvard University Press, 1983).
Elizabeth J oscelin, The Mothers Legacy to her Vnborn Childe, ed. J ean Ledrew Metcalfe
(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000).
Hugh Cunningham, Histories of Childhood, The American Historical Review 103, no. 4
(October 1998).
J ohn Comenius, The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart, trans. Howard
Louthan and Andrea Sterk (New York: Paulist Press, 1997).
Stanley C. Finley, In Nature's Covenant (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press,
1992), (accessed April 3, 2006).

entitled Christian Nurture,
in 1861. Twentieth century theologian Karl Barth included
a section entitled Parents and Children in his Church Dogmatics,
and Catholic
theologian Karl Rahner wrote one essay entitled, Ideas for a Theology of Childhood.
Rahners writing, though not extensive, had a major impact on Catholic religious
education after Vatical II, and his theology is used to ground the work of later research by
Hay and Nye on the spirituality of children.
Spiritual Practitioners

The work of three practitioners who worked directly with childrenbeginning
with Maria Montessori in the early 1900s, and Sophia Cavelletti and J erome Berryman
who are contemporarieswas reviewed in order to discover the wealth of knowledge
uncovered by these researchers through close observations of children of all classes in
many cultures. These practitioners have nurtured children for many years, testing their
theories and methods regarding the spiritual nature of children. Montessoris The
Montessori Method,
Gianna Gobbis Listening to God with Children,
which applies
the Montessori Method to the Catechesis of Children, Cavallettis The Religious Potential

Margaret Bendroth, Horace Bushnell's Christian Nurture, in Children in Christian Thought,
ed. Bunge, Marcia J (Grand Rapids/Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001).
Mary Ann Hinsdale, Infinite Openness to the Infinite, in The Child in Christian Thought, ed.
Bunge, Marcia J (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2001).
Maria Montessori, The Montessori Method (New York: Schocken Books, 1964).
Gianna Gobbi, Listening to God with Children, trans. Rebekah Rojcewicz (Loveland, OH:
Treehaus Communications, Inc., 2002).

of the Child,
and Berrymans Godly Play, Teaching Godly Play,
and The Complete
Guide to Godly Play
were the major resources consulted.
Developmental psychologist J ames W. Fowlers book, Stages of Faith
was also
reviewed, with particular emphasis on the first stages relating to childhood.
Other authors whose descriptions of their direct experience with children provided
insight into the spiritual nature of children, include Catherine Maresca
, Peggy J .
J enkins, Ph.D.,
Barbar Kimes Myers,
Rev. Dr. Suzi Robertson,
Polly Berrien
Vivian Gussin Paley,
Cari J ackson,
and Patricia H. Livingston.

Sofia Cavalletti, The Religious Potential of the Child, trans. Patrica M. Coulter and J ulia M.
Coulter (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publication, 1992).
J erome W. Berryman, Teaching Godly Play: The Sunday Morning Handbook (Nashville:
Abbington Press, 1995).
J erome W. Berryman, The Complete Guide to Godly Play (Denver: Living the Good News,
J ames W. Fowler, Stages of Faith (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1981, 1995).
Catherine Maresca, Double Close (Loveland, OH: Treehaus Communications, Inc, 2005).
Peggy J . J enkins, Nurturing Spirituality in Children (Hilsboro, OR: Beyond Words Publishing,
Inc., 1995).
Barbara Kimes Myers, Young Children and Spirituality (New York and London: Routledge,
Suzi Robertson, Windows into the Spirituality of Children (none listed: Booksurge, 2006).
Polly Berrien Berends, Gently Lead (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc, 1991).
Vivian Gussin Paley, The Kindness of Children (Cambridge and London: Harvard University
Press, 1999).
Cari J ackson, The Courage to Listen (Minneapolis: Augsburg Books, 2003).
Patricia H. Livingston, This Blessed Mess, (Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2000).

Two recent editions of the Sewanee Theological Review
provided an overview
of recent theological reflection on childhood by such authors as J erome Berryman,
Marcia Bunge, Catherine Maresca, J oyce Ann Mercer and others.
Child Development, Psychology, Education and Brain Research
Child Development: Principles and Perspectives by J oan Littlefield Cook and
Greg Cook
was a resource used for a theoretical framework from the field of child
development. Included were sections on cognitive development including Piagets stages
of cognitive development and Vygotskys socio-cultural view of cognitive development.
Other resouces were Touchpoints, by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D.,
and Piagets Theory of
Cognitive and Affective Development, by Barry J . Wadsworth
. Diane Trister Dodges
book, The Creative Curriculum for Preschool
and Thelma Harms Early Childhood
Environment Rating Scale
provided general information for creating an appropriate
classroom environment for preschoolers.

Children and the Kingdom: Theological Reflections on Childhood, and Children and the
Kingdom: Education and Formation, Sewanee Theological Review, vol. 48, nos. 1(Christmas 2004) and
2(Michaelmas 2005).
J oan Littlefield Cook and Greg Cook, Child Development: Principles and Perspectives
(Boston: Pearson Education, Inc, 2005).
T. Berry Brazelton, Touchpoints (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co, 1992).
Barry J. Wadsworth, Piaget's Theory of Cognitive and Affective Development (New York,
Diane Trister Dodge, Laura Colker and Cate Heroman, The Creative Curriculum for Preschool
(Washington, DC: Delmar Thomson Learning, 2002).
Thelma Harms, Richard M. Clifford and Debby Cryer, Early Childhood Environment Rating
Scale (New York: Teachers College Press, 1998).

The work of neuroscientist and child psychiatrist Dr. Bruce Perry
practical insight from recent brain research. His groundbreaking techniques of working
with highly traumatized children and listening to them for guidance as to what they need
for healing mirrors the principles and practices of Blessing Based Spiritual Nurture. Dr.
Stanley Greenspans Infancy and Early Childhood
was useful in understanding the
formation of relationships with infants and young children.
Research on Childrens Spirituality

It is noteworthy that some of the first interest in researching the spiritual nature of
children came from the field of zoology. Following the interest of English zoologist
Alister Hardy, who hypothesized that spiritual awareness has evolved through a process
of natural selection because it has survival value for the individual human, Englishman
Edward Robinson interviewed more than 4,000 adults to inquire about their recollection
of spiritual experiences as children. He reported his findings in The Original Vision.

Robert Cole, an American child psychiatrist, took the next step by interviewing and
collecting art from children all over the world as he endeavored to discover their religious
and spiritual experiences, the way they see the world and how they make meaning.

Bruce D. Perry and Maia Szalavitz, The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog (Cambridge: Basic
Books, 2006).
Stanley I. Greenspan, Infancy and Early Childhood (Madison, CT: Intnational Universities
Press, Inc, 1992).
Edward Robinson, The Original Vision (New York: Seabury Press, 1988).

Anecdotal descriptions of his research comprise his l992 publication, The Spiritual Life of

In the late 1990s British zoologist David Hay joined with Rebecca Nye to write
The Spirit of the Child,
which reported their findings from interviews with thirty-eight
children. Of these, twenty-eight had no religious affiliation, three were from the Church
of England; four were Muslim and two were Roman Catholic. This seminal research
provided the definition of spirituality and defined the dimensions of spirituality used in
analyzing the results of The Grandpa Program.
It is clear from the dearth of information on the subject of childrens spirituality
that this is an area of study in great need of further investigation. The fact that the most
recent work in this area has been conducted by zoologists, rather than theologians, speaks
to the pressing need for much more involvement by theologians and church leaders. It is
apparent that there is an important role for theologians to play in an interdisciplinary
approach as the world presses forward with efforts to reach self understanding and peace
around the globe. The study of children offers a fresh, eye-opening approach that appears
to offer much promise.

Robert Cole, The Spiritual Life of Children (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co, 1990).
David Hay and Rebecca Nye, The Spirit of the Child (London: HarperCollins, 1998).


Biblical Foundation
Blessing Based Spiritual nurture assumes a state of original blessing, rather than
one of original sin. Original blessing refers to Gods gift of creationthe earth, and
everything that exists, including humanity. Although Genesis and the first creation story
existed as far back as the ancient Hebrew tradition and J udaism, there was no doctrine of
original sin until it was developed during the fifth century. This doctrine was based on the
second creation story, from the writing and thinking of a bishop from Africa, St.
Augustine of Hippo, in the fifth century AD. Unfortunately, in spite of early
disagreements about the validity of this doctrine, it became the basis of a fall/redemption
theology that was bound up in an assumption of natural depravity of children that is still
carried over by some Christians to the present day.
There are six foundational pillars which under gird the Grandpa Program of
Blessing Based Spiritual Nurture. They are listed in order below, along with a description
of the biblical foundation for each pillar.
I. Children are a blessing because they are a gift from God.


God created man in his image;
in the divine image he created him;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them, saying to them: Be fertile and multiply, fill the
earth and subdue it. . .
(Genesis 1:27, 28)

Biblical scholars such as Herbert Hagg, former president of the Catholic Bible
Association of Germany and author of Is Original Sin in the Scripture? agrees with
Matthew Fox, author of Original Blessing,
that original sin is not found in the Bible.
Hagg states that:
The doctrine of original sin is not found in any of the writings
of the Old Testament. It is certainly not in chapters one to three of
Genesis. This ought to be recognized today, not only by Old
Testament scholars, but also by dogmatic theologians. . . . The idea
that Adams descendents are automatically sinners because of the
sin of their ancestor, and that they are already sinners when they
enter the world, is foreign to Holy Scripture.

The concept of children as a blessing is inherent in ancient Hebrew and J ewish tradition.
The birth of children was part of Gods covenant with his people, as illustrated in the
stories of Abraham and Sarah and Elkanah and Hannah, where both women who were
beyond normal child bearing age were blessed with children who eventually became the
nation of Israel from whom King David descended. And, eventually, the blessing of the
baby J esus became the ultimate blessing of God to his people.
II. Children are innately spiritual, i.e., they have a natural sense of God.

All references to the Bible are from the New American Bible (NAM) unless otherwise stated.
Matthew Fox, Original Blessing (Santa Fe: Bear and Company, 1983).
Ibid., 47.

After J esus cleansed the temple of the money changers, and was healing people,
the chief priests and scribes became upset when they heard the children shouting their
support for J esus:
But when the chief priests and scribes saw the amazing things
that he did, and heard children crying out in the temple, Hosanna
to the Son of David, they became angry and said to him, Do you
hear what these are saying? J esus said to them, Yes, have you
never read, Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you
have prepared praise for yourself? (Matthew. 21:1516)
J erome Berryman points out in his book about Godly Play that the children were aware
intuitively of things the chief priests and scribes could not fathom. J esus was most likely
referring to Psalm 8:2: Thou whose glory above the heavens is chanted by the mouth of
babes and infants. . .

Another time J esus refers to the knowingness of children is in the following passages:
At that time J esus said, I thank you, Father, Lord of
heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the
wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants, yes,
Father, for such was your gracious will. (Matthew 11:2526)
I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you
have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and
revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for that was your gracious
will. (Luke 10:21)
In the Matthew citation, the quote comes after the disciples from J ohn the Baptist
came to verify who J esus was. The point of the quote is that J esus is as approachable as a

J erome W. Berryman, The Complete Guide to Godly Play (Denver: Living the Good News,
2002), 129.

child, as compared with coming into the presence of a high priest, King Herod, or Caesar.
In other words, it was very easy to relate to J esus.

In Luke, a similar quote follows the return of the 72 disciples whom J esus had
sent off to do their work. As they returned, rejoicing in childlike wonder at their power,
J esus cautioned them to never focus on this power as their own. The implication is that
divinity is revealed to young children by intuition or to childlike (not childish) adults.

III. Every child needs to be heard by others in order to affirm his or her being;
therefore listening to a child is a holy act.
Two scriptures support this pillar.
Whoever receives one of these little ones in my name receives me
(Matthew 18:5)
For when two are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.
(Matthew 18:20)
When we listen to children, knowing that Christ is presentwithin them and within us
we are receiving them in Christs name. J esus always had time to listen to children, as
evidenced by his rebuke to the disciples when they tried to keep the children from
disturbing him:
Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that
the kingdom of God belongs. (Matthew 19:1315)

IV. Children are fully human persons in their own right, not adults in the making,
blank slates, or pieces of clay to be molded.

Ibid., 130.
Ibid., 130.

In contrast with the surrounding pagan culture of the day where children were
viewed as less-than-human property, J esus believed children to have intrinsic worth.
The Scripture passages that emphatically proclaim the value and worth of children are
referred to by J erome Berryman as the millstone texts. Written as quotes from J esus,
they warn of the life and death consequences that will come to anyone who harms
If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little
ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great
millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned
in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling
blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to
the one by whom the stumbling block comes! If your hand or your
foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away, it is better
for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two
feet and to be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you
to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter
life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the
hell of fire. (Matthew 18: 69)
If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little
ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great
millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into
the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better
for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to
hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to
stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have
two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to
stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God
with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell,
where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. (Mark
J esus said to his disciples, Occasions for stumbling are bound to
come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better
for you if a mill stone were hung around your neck and you were
thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to
stumble. (Luke 17:12)
It is clear from these texts that J esus not only recognized an intrinsic spirituality in
children, but also valued them highly.

V. The Blessing of Children Affirms their Self-hood in Relation to God.
It is apparent from observing children being blessed that they have a positive, observable
response to the physical act of being touched and told they are created by God, loved by
God, blessed by God, and that God is always with them. They show a calm, content,
happy joy when this ritual is repeated on a regular basis. This must have been known by
J esus when he told his disciples to Let the Children Come:
Then little children were being brought to him in order that he
might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly
to those who brought them; but J esus said, Let the little children
come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the
kingdom of heaven belongs. And he laid his hands on them and
went on his way. (Matthew 19:1315)
VI. Children are a means of grace, a vehicle through which God makes Gods self
This statement is taken from the writing of theologist Pam Courture, in her book, Seeing
Children, Seeing God: A Practical Theology of Children and Poverty.
It supports J erome
Berrymans notion that the ontological appreciation of a child is deeply important for the
development of adult spirituality of the teacher or other adult, and that this appreciation
in turn supports the childs spirituality.
At that time the disciples came to J esus and asked, Who is the
greatest in the kingdom of Heaven? He called a child, whom he
put among them, and said, Truly I tell you, unless you change and
become like children, you will never enter into the kingdom of
heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in
the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my
name welcomes me. (Mathew 18:15)

Pamela Courture, Seeing Children, Seeing God: A Practical Theology of Children and Poverty
(Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), 13.

What are some characteristics that J esus might be referring to when he uses the phrase,
like children? His reference to humbleness suggests that being open and trusting,
having a sense of wonder and discovery, wanting to please, and being willing to follow
are possible characteristics of children that J esus may have had in mind as he encouraged
adults to be like children in order to enter the kingdom. J ust being in the presence of
children creates an opportunity for adults to do as J esus suggests. It is a way to maintain
or renew a soft heart as one becomes more distant from ones own childhood.
Theological Foundation
The theological center of the entire approach of Blessing Based Spiritual Nurture
is its notion of original blessing, which replaces the doctrine of original sin so familiar to
orthodox Christianity. Some background information on these two concepts follows.
Consistent with the biblical interpretations of Matthew Fox and Herbert Hagg,
J ewish prophet Elie Wiesel says, The concept of original sin is not a J ewish one. Even
though the J ewish people knew Genesis for a thousand years before Christians, they did
not read original sin into it. The concept of original sin is alien to J ewish tradition.

Paul Alan Laughlins analysis of the story of the Fall reveals some interesting
facts about the interpretation of this story. The Fall is actually the later of two creation
stories found in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, the other being the description of
the seven days of Creation. In the Fall, the cunning (Hebrew translation is mentally
acute) serpent tells Eve the truththat she will not drop dead if she eats the fruit of the


tree, even though God has mislead her to believe that it is poisonous. He also tells her she
will gain moral knowledge from eating itwhich is what happens in the story. If anyone
is devious or less than truthful, it is God, not the serpent.
Laughlin suggests that rather than being the all-knowing and all-powerful God of
contemporary Christianity, God is portrayed in this story as a rather inept human of
masculine gender who cannot see the hiding couple and therefore has to first inquire
about their whereabouts, and then about whether they had eaten the fruit. This seems to
be a God of little forethought, if he expected them to choose good when they did not have
the understanding to do so, rather than an omnipotent, omniscient Being.
Nowhere in the story, Laughlin emphasizes, is the word sin mentioned. Nor can
the concept of sin be inferred by the actions of Eve or Adam, because until they ate the
fruit they did not have the ability to know right from wrong. For God to punish them so
inappropriately, for something they could not possibly understand, is like a parent harshly
punishing a toddler for helping himself to candy within his reach in the check-out lane!
What kind of a God would punish a small child with never-ending punishment in this
situation? What kind of a God would punish a serpent for all eternity, for telling the
truth? Righteous, just and loving are definitely not words that come to mind.

Laughlin points out that many Christians assume that the serpent represents Satan,
and that Eve sinned and then caused Adam to sin by their eating of the apple, thereby
condemning all of humanity to punishment by God forever more. How did this
interpretation come to be attached to a story that had been around for so long?

Paul Alan Laughlin, Remedial Christianity (Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 2000), 149154.

The concept of original blessing is related to the earlier creation story found in
Genesis. The original blessing was Creation, when God created the heavens and earth and
everything else. This original blessing occurred at the Beginning, as a gift from God that
includes humanity as part of the gift. Children, then, are perceived to be a blessing when
they are born. This creation-centered tradition began in the 9
century B.C. with the
Yahwist (J ) sources, the psalms, the wisdom books, the prophets, J esus and much of the
New Testament, and St. Irenaeus (c. 130200 A.D.)

The Christian interpretation of the Fall had its beginning in the work of Paul,
within about 80 years of the death of J esus, followed by the work of St. Augustine, who
developed his doctrine of original sin in the 4
century C.E.
It is interesting to note that with the acceptance of this doctrine, Christianity
portrays the most negative image of human nature of any of the major religions of the
world. By contrast, Eastern religions originating in China and India tend to view the
human predicament in terms of ignorance, not sin. The other two God-based religions of
J udaism and Islam perceive sin as an offense to God which can be atoned for through
repentance and reform or through ritualistic acts. However, based on the interpretations
of Paul and St. Augustine, Christianity has viewed sinfulness as a universal human
condition passed on to all of humanity through the sins of Adam and Eve.

Matthew Fox, Original Blessing, 11.
Ibid., 155.

Saint Augustine

Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (354430 CE) developed the doctrine of original sin,
stating, Whence it comes to pass that each man, being derived from a condemned stock,
is first of all born of Adam evil and carnal, and becomes good and spiritual only
afterwards . . . .
. From this he developed the related doctrine of total depravity, which
teaches that humans are born with the inability to choose, on their own, good over evil.
Only God can overcome this inability by providing divine grace as a way of salvation.
Born the son of a Christian woman and a pagan man, he wrote his Confessions, which
includes a description of his personal investigation of his own sinfulness regarding
sexuality and other transgressions. His effort to recall his own nature when he was very
young drew him to observe infants being breastfed. He noticed that even infants can
show jealousy when one is getting fed while another waits, and took this to be a
confirmation of his belief in the depravity of infants.

At the time Augustine developed his doctrine of original sin, it was opposed by a
monk of the time named Pelagius:
Pelagius denied that Adams sin injured his descendants, or
that there was any transmission of his fault in consequence of his
transgression. The primal innocence of our first ancestor is
renewed in each of his descendants and thus any doctrine of
Original Sin is ruled out at the very beginning. Nor is physical
death a penalty and a result of the Fall, but a natural consequence

Whitney J . Oates, ed., Basic Writings of Saint Augustine (New York: Random House, 1948),
Gillian Clark, Augustine: The Confessions (Exeter: Bristol Phoenix Press, 2005), 51.

of human life. Adams death was, however, a personal punishment,
inflicted upon him for having disobeyed Gods command.

In 431 C.E., The Council of Ephesus ratified the condemnation of Pelagius as
heretical, thereby allowing Augustines doctrine to officially prevail.
It was many
centuries before there was a loosening of the grip of this pervasive thinking in
mainstream Christianity. The remainder of this paper identifies some theologians who
reflect that loosening, and who have led the way to an alternative: a blessing based
theology of Christian nurture that is the antithesis of the doctrine of original sin.
Meister Eckhart

A medieval mystic of the fourteenth century (12601328), Meister Eckhart was a
member of a German Dominican monastery. Unusual for a mystic of this time, he was of
noble birth and well educated, having studied and taught in Paris before becoming a
monk. Although he was one of the most famous preachers of his time, his contemporaries
found him very difficult to understand. Part of this seems to be due to the ambiguity of
his description of his process or experience of the divine, which was perhaps not
differentiated enough from his writing about theology to be clearly understood. (This is
essentially the same differentiation that is so relevant to the purpose of this paper: there is
a difference between merely teaching children about religion, versus fostering their

Gerald Bonner, St. Augustine of Hippo: Life and Controversies (Norwalk: The Easton Press,
1995), 319.
B.B. Warfield, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, ed. Philip Schaff (T & T Clark, 1884), (accessed April 2, 2006).

personal experience of God.) For example, when Meister Eckhart was explaining how
one might achieve unity with God he used the following metaphor:
[The Christian can become] more intimate with God than a
drop of water in a vat of wine, for that would still be water and
wine; but here one is changed into the other so that no creature
could ever again detect a difference between them. (Talks 20)
Critics interpreted his description of unity to mean was the same as. Soon after his
death, he was accused by the church of teaching 28 errors, with his imagery of water and
wine being identified as heretical.

Eckhart felt that union with God was important because he believed that people
were created for union with God. He believed that Gods love draws people to him, and
that Gods grace translates Gods love into individual experiencewith grace being a
process rather than something stationary. Eckharts description of his method of
transformationthat of stripping away the distractions of the soul by the physical world,
thought, and emotional reaction, in order to reach the inner self that is then able to unite
with Godwas confusing to many who had trouble understanding his concept of inner
self and outer self.
One can see how later understanding in the field of psychiatry
and the concept of ego might have contributed to a better understanding of Eckhart by
his contemporaries.
Eckharts method of transformation included forgetting the body, will, and
knowledgeas well as space, time and self-consciousnessin order to connect with

Margaret R. Miles, The Word Made Flesh (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005), 193
Ibid., 196197.

God. Once the stripping away or forgetting occurs in the simple stillness at the core of
the soul, a void is created that God is obligated to fill.
Do not imagine that God is like a carpenter who works or not,
just as He pleases, suiting his own convenience. It is not so with
God, for when he finds you ready, he must act. . . God may not
leave you void. That is not Gods nature. He could not bear it.
(Sermon 4)
Once this inner transformation is achieved, Eckhart describes how this transforms
ones experience of the physical world:
I am often asked if it is possible, within time, that a person
should not be hindered either by multiplicity or by matter. Indeed it
is. When this birth really happens no creature in all the world will
stand in your way, and what is more, they will all point you to God
and to this birth. . . . Indeed, what was formerly a hindrance
becomes now a help. Everything stands for God and you see only
God in all the world. (Sermon 4; emphasis added)
Eckhart further describes the result of this total transformation:
One may test the degree to which one has attained to virtue by
observing how often one is inclined to act virtuously rather than
otherwise. When one can do the works of virtue without preparing
. . . and bring to completion some great and righteous matter
without giving I a thought, when the deed of virtue seems to
happen by itself, simply because one loves goodness and for no
other reason, then one is perfectly virtuous and not before. (Talks
21, emphasis added)
When this process is completed, the intellect is again available, free from
irrelevant self-talk, and able to have pure and clear knowledge of divine truth. With
the unity of God and the human soul, any urge to evil is transformed into energy that is
available to do good. Eckhart sees this as the way evil is overcome, rather than through
the repression of evil urges or sin.
If you have faults, then pray to God often to remove them from
you, if that should please God, because you cant get rid of them

yourself. If God does remove them, then thank him; but if he does
not, then bear them for him, not thinking of them as faults or sins,
but rather as great disciplines, and thus you shall exercise your
patience and merit reward; but be satisfied whether God gives you
what you want or not. (Talks 23)
Eckharts notion of the true self being the individual self that relates to God had
a major influence on the Christian West, and led to the concept of individual religious
responsibility and authority that were articulated in the Reformation.

J ohn Comenius (15921670) was a protestant bishop with the Moravian Unity of
the Brethren Church, and is considered to be the Father of Modern Education. Viewed as
a pastoral calling, education was for him a process by which people could be trained to
see beyond the apparent chaos of the world and discover the underlying harmony of
gods universe
His approach did not include a condemning version of original sin
and the vices of the world, but rather an acknowledgement of the duplicity and evil of the
world . . . and the contrast with the world when it focused on Christ at the center.
stressed the loving nurture of children, rather than beating them into submission, and he
approached learning by appealing to the natural interests of children while
acknowledging the value of play. In his manual written for parents, he states that Infants
are given us as a mirror in which we may behold humility, gentleness, benign goodness,

Ibid., 193198.
J ohn Comenius, The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart, trans. Howard
Louthan and Andrea Sterk (New York: Paulist Press, 1997), 26.

harmony, and other Christian virtues. The Lord himself declares, Except ye be
converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Since God thus wills that children be our preceptors, we owe them the most diligent

J ohn Wesley

J ohn Wesley, the 18
century Anglican clergyman and Christian theologian, is
recognized as the founder of the Methodism. A summary of Wesleys attitude toward
children has been done recently by Stephen Finley:
Wesley believed that man was by his very nature a mere
atheist. Children were, foremost, afflicted by natural atheism,
an atheism chiefly inherent in their innate capacity to enjoy and to
love nature. Thus, the wise parent was impelled to break their
will because such will would lead them to two damning desires:
the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes. Children
desired first to enjoy earthly happiness, to experience what
gratified the outward senses, such as taste or touch. More inimical
to their spiritual well-being was the complementary desire of the
eyes: the propensity to seek happiness in what gratifies the
internal sense, the imagination, either by things grand, or new, or
beautiful. Both desires for Wesley were only incriminating
evidence of a childs inclination to fatal error, that is, to be a lover
of the creature, instead of the Creator. Parents could only deepen
and harden such error by ascribing the works of creation to
nature, or by praising the beauty of man or woman or the natural
world. Hence children were to be brought up in extreme austerity
of diet and dress and were to be taught repeatedly how they were
fallen spirits. Such instruction would help them to realize that
they were more ignorant, more foolish, and more wicked, than
they could possibly conceive. From this method of education they
would emerge with firmly held conviction that their natural

Ibid., 62.

propensities were akin on the one hand to the devil and on the
other to the beasts of the field.

J ohn Wesleys attitude toward children reflects that of his mother, which is
illustrated by a quote from a letter she wrote to him: In order to form the minds of
children, the first thing to be done is to conquer their will.
In a sermon he gave
entitled On Obedience to Parents he states:
Why did not you break their will from infancy? At least, do it
now; better late than never. It should have been done before they
were two years old: It may be done at eight or ten, though with far
more difficulty. However, do it now; and accept that difficulty as
the just reward for your past neglect.

During Wesleys time, a theological debate about the nature of humanity, together
with questions about the appropriate way to rear children, was beginning to develop. Are
children really depraved and by nature evil? Or are they totally innocent and naturally
pure? The Puritan outlook reflected the former view, stressing original sin and strict
childrearing practices. Prominent Swiss philosopher of the day, J ean-J acques Rousseau,
was a proponent of the latter view, which followed a more lenient parenting style.
Recent essayist Richard Heitzenrater, states in J ohn Wesley and Children that
there are some signs of Wesleys ambivalence pertaining to these matters. For example,
at times he clearly seems to view children as evil in nature:

Stephen C. Finley, In Nature's Covenant: Figures of Landscape in Ruskin (University Park:
Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992), (accessed
April 3, 2006).
Charles Wallace J r, ed., Susanna Wesley: The Complete Writings (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1997), 370.
Richard P. Heitzenrater, John Wesley and Children. In Children in Christian Thought, ed.
Marcia J . Bunge (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2001), 285.

Why do infants suffer? What sin have they to be cured
thereby? If you say, It is to heal the sin of their parents, who
sympathize and suffer with them; in a thousand instances this has
no place; the parents are not the better, nor anyway likely to be the
better, for all the sufferings of their children. Their sufferings,
therefore, yea, and those of all mankind, which are entailed upon
them by the sin of Adam, are not the result of mere mercy, but of
justice also. In other words, they have in them the nature of
punishments, even on us and on our children. Therefore, children
themselves are not innocent before God. They suffer; therefore,
they deserve to suffer.

Yet, in his diary he referred to children who were surprisingly fair and had an
inexpressible air of innocence in their countenance after observing women and children

Although Wesley himself was not a parent, the intellectual and spiritual welfare
of children was a top priority for him. He worked hard to establish educational programs
with the primary goal of enabling everyoneadults and childrento know and love

Horace Bushnell

The first book on the religious nature of infants and young children was Christian
Nurture, written in 1861 by Horace Bushnell. Arguing against the extremely sinful
nature of children, he saw childhood faith as a gradual process, with each child having
the seeds of faith within his or her heart at birth.
Margaret Bendroth points out

Ibid., 294.
Margaret Bendroth, Horace Bushnell's Christian Nurture, in Children in Christian Thought,
ed. Marcia J . Bunge), 350.

Bushnells recognition of the strong role parental nurture plays in the spiritual formation
of a child. He stated that parents should:
Rather seek to teach a feeling than a doctrine; to bathe the child
in their own feeling of love to God, and dependence on him, and
contrition for wrong before him. . . ; to make what is good, happy
and attractive, what is wrong, odious and hateful; then as
understanding advances, to give it food suited to its capacity,
opening upon it, gradually the more difficult views of Christian
doctrine and experience.

According to Bendroth, Bushnell recognized that a child experiences the effects
of sin as he or she lives in their own family and in the world, but in no way saw
sinfulness to be a condition of birth. He does not say that children are never sinful, but
rather that they are innocent until they choose to commit a sinful act. Also, because
children enter a sinful world, responsibility for sin is shared more broadly within family
and society, and is not the sole responsibility of each child, individually. He also felt that
salvation is an intergenerational process, learned and transmitted through the
interpersonal relationships within the family.
By the end of his career, Bushnells
writing reflects the highest regard for children. They take in all most precious thoughts
of God more easily. The very highest and most spiritual things are a great deal closer to
them than to us. In his later writing Bushnell stated that if given the choice again, he
would have chosen to preach to children first, and adults second.

Ibid., 353.
Ibid., 361362.

The attitude toward children by middle class Americans during Bushnells time
was gradually shifting, and this newly evolving perception of children was reflected in
Bushnells thinking. Through the end of the previous century the literature about children
had generally agreed that children were evil. They had an innocent faade behind which
lurked all kinds of wicked desires. It was the job of responsible parents to curtail this
wickedness through the use of punishmentharsh if necessaryby breaking their will.
But this view was gradually transformed into seeing children as probably good, rather
than certainly evil.
Innocence and purity came to be associated with childhood, and
some began to view children as more intuitively religious than people at any other stage
of life.
Bushnells view of children and the role of the family are sorely challenged by the
realities we face in the 21
century. The moral congruence of home, neighborhood,
church and school
that existed in his day has shifted with the growing ethnic and
cultural diversity we experience as the world grows smaller due to modern technology.
Children are now exposed to a vast array of values through the media, and parents have
no where near the amount of moral control over their childrens lives that existed during
Bushnells time. However, the positive effect of stability and moral congruency
proclaimed by Bushnell is an important awareness to keep in mind as we re-examine the
needs of children and families in the modern world.

Ibid., 357.
Ibid., 364.

Karl Rahner

Karl Rahner (19041984), probably the major Catholic theologian of the
twentieth century, wrote comparatively little about children, although his theological
anthropology has had enormous, if often unacknowledged, influence on Catholic
Religious Education.
He did, however, write one essay entitled, Ideas for a Theology
of Children. Hinsdale calls attention to the fact that some aspects of Rahners work
recognize the innate spirituality in children and support the emerging new vision of
childrens religious education.
Todd David Whitmores essay, Children: An Undeveloped Theme in Catholic
Teaching, identifies two dominant themes that are prevalent today in societys definition
of children. The first theme is represented by the discussion of childrens rights in
recognition of what Whitmore refers to as the silent emergencies of disease,
malnutrition, AIDS, poverty, etc., and the loud emergencies of war, genocide and the
escalating culture of violence. The second dominant theme is the market logic of
unrestrained capitalism which sees children as commodities, consumers, and an
economic burden.

Hinsdales list of Rahners contributions to the emerging image of childhood
includes the following:
1. Rahners view of childhood is two-fold: First, he defines the child as infinite
openness to infinite. Second, in Hinsdales words:

Mary Ann Hinsdale, Infinite Openness to the Infinite, in The Child in Christian Thought, 406.
Ibid., 407408.

He understands childhood as an abiding quality of human
existence that, when entered into and embraced, makes us
receptive to J esus vision of the realm of God. Already as a child, a
human being is a subject who enjoys an immediate relationship
with God that is actual and not merely potential. As Rahner sees it,
childhood is the beginning of human transcendentality, and thus
constitutes both the quality that enables us to love and to be
responsible, and the state of spiritual maturity that characterizes
our participation in the interior life of God and makes possible the
experience of genuine human community.

2. Children have intrinsic value in their own right. Childhood is not simply a stage
one passes through on the way to becoming an adult. This, of course, refutes the
capitalistic view of children as commodities, consumers and an economic burden.
3. Childhood is a basic condition or existential that remains throughout ones
life. Rahner sees the stewardship of children to mean that children are to be nurtured
throughout their whole lives. He uses the term excessive natalism in reference to the
official Catholic teaching that focuses solely on the incipient stages of human life.
4. Researchers in the emerging field of childrens spirituality are forging a new
application of his insights. Cultivating childrens natural sense of wonder about basic
human experiences is essential if we are to foster the innate spirituality of children so that
it is not lost as they continue their journey into adulthood. This aspect of Rahners
theology is helpful in re-envisioning childrens religious education as a new way of
seeing in a world that is becoming increasingly devoid of the mystery that is inherent in
learning to know God.

Ibid., 443.
Ibid., 443444.

Toward a Theology of Childhood

At the present time there seems to be a broad concern about how to rear children,
about their nature (inherently bad or totally innocent), about the rights of children and the
responsibility of adults for them, as well as deep concern regarding the increased
commercialization of children. Theologians are beginning to respond to this concern.
Currently there are several relatively new organizations that focus on children and the
theology of childhood:
The international Child Theology Movement, evolving out of a 2000 international
conference of Christians involved with children at risk, has begun to explore ways to look
at theology with the child in the midst. According to information put out by their
London office, Child Theology:
Serves Gods Word in the gospel by attending to the child as a
sign of the Kingdom of God.
Serves theological enquiry by contributing new chapters on the
child as a theological topic and developing the whole of theology
in the light of the child.
Serves churches by exploring the grounding of their work with
and for children and reminding them of the whole Gospel.
Serves children by exploring the theological ground for the
rights of the child, the importance of all educational initiatives and
caring ministries to children, and the transcending wholeness of the
child in the mystery of God.

According to an organization founder,
Child Theology is seeking to re-examine the heart of theology,
church and mission, with a view to establishing how different it all
looks with a child continuously standing in the midst. This is a new

Child Theology Movement, (accessed J une 8, 2006).

endeavor: to check out the major works of theology in any
tradition by looking for the word child or childhood in the index or
contents and you will find that children are marginalized to the
point of erasure and invisibility.

He goes on to say that the church needs to re-examine itself to see what it would
look like with children as the central focus, rather than being relegated to the margins.
Children need to be recognized as active participants with value and worthnot empty
vessels which we simply fill with knowledge and experience.
The Center for the Theology of Childhood was begun in 1997 in Houston, Texas,
with the vision of creating a positive, long-term approach to religion in the world by
teaching the Christian religion to children in a way that deeply centers them and at the
same time keeps them open to others and the future in creative ways. This is done
through a method developed by the organizations founder, J erome Berryman, called
Godly Play. The organization is involved with churches, schools, hospitals, families and
other faith communities, and works with adults as well as children.

The Center for Theology and Children is a Washington, DC based formation
educational organization whose teachings are based on the work of Drs. Maria
Montessori and Sophia Cavalletti. Affiliated with the National Association of the
Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, they train and certify teachers in this thoroughly
researched and developed approach to working with children ages three through twelve.

Child Theology,
(accessed April 5, 2006).
Center For The Theology Of Childhood, (accessed J une 8, 2006).
Center For Children And Theology, (accessed June 8, 2006).

The thrust of the efforts of those whose thought is evolving toward a theology of
childhood, is to acquire new insight regarding the world-wide concerns related to the
rearing of children, the rights of children, the responsibility of all adults to protect those
rights, and the effect on society of the increased commercialization of children. These
theologians are looking at the nature of children themselves in pursuit of this insight.
Historical Foundation
There has been no well developed method within the Christian church to know
and understand the nature of children or why we should care about and for them.
Systematic theologians and Christian ethicists have had little to say about children, or
about the responsibility of parents, the state, and church to nurture and care for them.

Because of the lack of a well documented history of children, and a less than clear
understanding of how children have been viewed and treated throughout history within
the church, contemporary theology needs further development in this area in order to
sustain faith formation in Christian children today, and to adequately advocate for
children in todays world. It is of interest to note that the topic of children is beginning to
show up in a growing number of academic disciplines such as philosophy (dealing with
the moral development of children), and the history of children from ancient times
forward. There are also some recent studies that are beginning to address Christian views
of children, and that demonstrate theological reflection about children. Such recent
publications as When Children Became People, by O.M. Bakke, The Child in

Bunge, The Child in Christian Thought, 34.

ChristianThought edited by Marcia J . Bunge, Medieval Children by Nicholas Orme, Let
the Children Come, by Bonnie J . Miller-McLemore, and Childhood in the Middle Ages
by Shulamith Shahar are examples, and are the sources of much of the information in this
A major challenge facing historians in uncovering the experience of children
throughout history is that of distinguishing between a social history of children, or how
they were actually treated, and the cultural history of childhood, which is how the culture
of the time believed children should be treated. Writers and researchers have relied
heavily upon the art and literature of the day, which of course actually record adult
attitudes, rather than the reality experienced by the child. It is this writers contention that
the women (usually) who provided direct care of young children under the age of
sevenmothers, wet nurses, nannies, cradle rockerswere not, for the most part, literate
until the eighteenth century or so, and were also so preoccupied with the task at hand that
they had little time to record, or possibly even contemplate, their activity. Therefore it
may be likely that there is discrepancy between what actually happened in the day-to-day
upbringing of children, and the perception of children by the wider society about the
nature of children and how they should be treatedparticularly before the advent of
printing during the sixteenth century, and the gradual spread of literacy thereafter.
The History of Children
Ancient Greco-Roman Culture

During the ancient Greco-Roman period, there is evidence of two very different
attitudes toward children. Personal letters from that time, as well as funerary inscriptions,

document that parents loved their children and took pleasure and pride in them. The
highly developed arts of the Hellenistic period reflect an interest in and knowledge of
children. Children also served the purpose of the state as a means for distributing and
passing on land and property, as well as being a resource for the maintenance of a strong

This positive view of children is accompanied by another, much more negative
view, for which there is evidence as well. Children were considered incomplete and
therefore not quite human. They were deficient in ability to think and reason, unable to
speak sensibly, and were quarrelsome. Because of the high value Romans placed on the
ability to reason, children were seen has having low value, except for their potential to
become learned adults.

The words used to designate children in both the Greek and Latin languages
(nepioi and in-fantes) mean not speaking. Since lack of language meant lacking the
ability to reason, and reason was the highest value in the culture, children had little value.
Plato frequently grouped children together with women, slaves and animals. Aristotle
emphasized the physical similarity between women and children in that neither produced
semen. He said the relationship of adults to children was like that of humans to animals.
Children were associated with stupidity: pueritia amentia.

J udith M. Gundry-Volf, The Least and the Greatest, in The Child in Christian Thought, ed.
Marcia J . Bunge (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2001), 31.
O.M. Bakke, When Children Became People (Minneapolis: Fortress Press), 17.

It is estimated that approximately 50% of Greco-Roman children died before the
age of ten years, with the lack of sanitation being a major factor.
There is some
speculation by researchers that this may have caused a lack of emotional attachment by
parents to their children, at least while they were young, though others are not convinced
that there was such a lack of attachment.
The low status of children in Greco-Roman society is further evidenced by their
lack of legal status and the brutal way in which fathers, who had absolute power over
them, exercised this legal authority. Children were considered literally disposable, at the
total discretion of their fathers. Fathers had the responsibility of determining within the
first eight to nine days of life whether or not to rear a child. If a father made the decision
not to rear the childsimply because he did not want to, or because the child was weak
or deformedthe child was cast out. This meant it could be left outside, exposed to
the elements, until it died. Being sold into slavery or prostitution were other means of
casting out. Sometimes professional beggars collected exposed children to mutilate them
in order to use them for begging.
One well-known literary figure from a Greek play
written by Sophocles in the fifth century BC is an example of this practice. Oedipus was
left exposed in the mountainous wilds near his home to die after being maimed by
pinning his feet together with a peg. Due to the kind-heartedness of a shepherd who saved
him and gave him away, however, Oedipus survived. Although the frequency of exposing

Ibid., 23.
Ibid., 110.

children is not clear, it was practiced at every level of society in the Greco-Roman world,
and some scholars are convinced it continued until the late fourth century.

The attitude toward rearing children in this society was that they were raw
material that could be molded into whatever form the culture demanded. In Sparta the
educational goal was for children to learn how to function in a newly developed
technique of war that consisted of large numbers of highly disciplined soldiers operating
as a well-coordinated war machine. Both boys and girls were educated solely for this life-
long role. Beating, even to death, was a common practice, in order to toughen them for

In Athens, which was the home of the first democracy in the world, the culture
was one dominated by a wealthy leisure class who were patrons of the arts, including
literature, theater, philosophy, sculpture and architecture. Male children of free citizens
were molded in body and mind, and also were taught a vocation. The goal of education
was to train the child in . . . goodness, which makes a man eagerly desirous of becoming
a perfect citizen, understanding how both to rule and to be ruled righteously . . . while
rearing a child with the goal of only making money or other accomplishment without
reason or justice, would be considered vulgar and unworthy of education.

There is evidence that the actual practice did not always conform to the ideal, however.
One author, writing at the end of the 1
century A.D., complained of the laziness and

Gundry-Volf, The Least and the Greatest, 33.
Weber, Jesus and the Children, 8889.
Bakke, When Children Became People, 110.

carelessness of parents who turned their children over to incompetent slaves to do the
day-to-day child rearing, causing the children to grow up in an atmosphere of laxity and
pertness in which they come gradually to lose all sense of shame, and all respect both for
themselves and for other people . . . .

Ancient Jewish Culture
In contrast to the Greco-Roman cultures, children from the Hebrew culture were
highly valued as a precious gift from God because they had a fundamental role in the
society. As evidenced in the tradition of Hebrews from the time of Abraham, assurance
by God that there would be children to carry on the People of the Promise made
children and their worth part of the essence of the culture as families followed the
directive from the Torah to go forth and multiply. Education in the J ewish culture was
based on religion as the core of their lives, and parents were the teachers. Children were
with their parents day and night, working and worshiping in community. From a very
early age children were taught to memorize the Torah, and J ewish educational theories
were theocentric. Children learned the way of the Lord as if through osmosis as they
lived, prayed and worked with their parents. An abundance of children was seen as a
source of joy and evidence of abundant blessing, as well as the hope of life after death.
J ewish culture also reflected something of a contrasting view of children,
however. Rabbinic literature repeatedly uses the phrase, deaf, dumb, weak-minded,
under age in reference to children. They were seen as ignorant, capricious, and in need


of strict discipline as reflected in numerous passages from the Apocrypha.
exposure of infants was not unknown in J ewish society (the Talmud addresses the issue
of who foundlings could marry), the rabbinic tradition was that parents have a moral
responsibility to look after their children. The issue was not directly addressed in J ewish
Law, however, probably because the reason for exposure, when it happened, was the
poverty of the parents. The first early Christian writings (about 2
Century) oppose the
killing of infants, and describe those who do as corrupters of Gods creation.

Early Christianity
The information we have about children during this period of history comes
largely from writings by the educated elite, about their image of children and how they
believe they should be treated. It needs to be recognized that this may or may not reflect
how children were actually treated by those who were with the children on a day-to-day
basisthe women, slaves, nurses, and household help whose viewpoint has not been
Within the context of the early Christian community, situated as it was within
other more established cultures, the attitude that J esus had expressed toward children
must have seemed very radical indeed. Rather than denigrating children as possessions
who were less than human, J esus had held children up as a model for adults to follow in

Gundry-Volf, The Least and the Greatest, 35.
Bakke, When Children Became People, 112, 114115.

order to better know God, and said that it was a matter of life and death if one were to
cause a child to stumble!
J esus attitude toward children was consistent with his other teachings regarding
those who were considered lowly by the dominant cultures: the poor, women, and
slaves. This perception is reflected in the Beatitudes where he says, Blessed are the
meek for they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:310)
One of the main attractions of first century converts to Christianity was likely the
equality that was practiced within the early church as it began by gathering in the homes
of Followers of the Way. There must have been a very powerful appeal, indeed, to the
poor, to women, and to slaves, because of the hope it offered for a better way of life.
Families who lived in the households where early Christians gathered were not solely
blood relatives from a nuclear family. Rather, the term family in those days included
extended kin, slaves, freed persons, hired workers, tenants, and crafts or trades people.
Family was defined more by a relationship of dependence and subordination than blood

During the earliest days of Christianity when Christians met in house churches,
everyone, including women, slaves and children were viewed as relating to God on an
individual basis. Because children were present for the religious service, and because
religion was part of every day activities, children learned their faith through observing
and participating with the adults in all they did.

Bonnie J . Miller-McLemore, Let the Children Come (San Francisco: J ossey-Bass, 2003), 8485.

As Christianity spread and included Gentiles throughout the Roman world, the
culture of equality inside the newly forming church soon began to meld with that of the
dominant culture. Although the head of a Roman household was always the patriarch,
there was a time during the early church that Christian women were heads of households,
ran businesses and were independently wealthy. The head of a Christian house church
was the head of the household, so if a woman was the head of household she was also the
head of that house church. Therefore, some women had leadership roles equal to men at
the beginning of Christianity.
However, it was not long before the domination system of the wider culture began
to find its way into the church. The household codes described in Ephesians 5:226:9 and
Colossians 3:184:1, established family relationships in accordance with similar codes of
Greco-Roman and J ewish society. These codes set up a family hierarchy, with wives
subordinate to husbands, slaves subordinate to masters, and children subordinate to
Bonnie J . Miller-McLemore points out in her book, Let the Children Come, that
although these codes have been criticized as a compromise of J esus radical teaching of
equality, they have seldom been analyzed with regard to children specifically. She states,
that when Christian household codes are compared with the similar Aristotelian codes of
the dominant society, it appears that J esus affirmation regarding the worth of children
had at least some influence on the household codes. Ephesians and Colossians both
address the subordinates directly, while Aristotelian codes only address the patriarch,
telling him how to control the relationships of those who are subordinate. But the

household codes address subordinates directly as well. This seemingly subtle change is
actually quite significant in that it recognizes that children do have agency.
There is also a more egalitarian view of children in that both parents and children
are accountable to God as well as to each other. Although children are directed to obey
their parents as in the dominant culture, parents are instructed not to exasperate their
children and to not embitter their children that they become discouraged.

The concept of children held by the early Christians seemed to follow more
closely that of their J ewish roots than the Greco-Roman culture, in that children were
held to have value. They were believed to be created in the image of God, had a soul, and
were capable of receiving the divine gift of salvation. Because of the concern about
salvation, much thought was given to concern about the suffering of children and their
afterlife as the church developed. This does not necessarily mean that there was a lot of
difference in the actual treatment of children, however.

During the first century, Pope Clement believed children to be good, observing
that by nature they are simple, loyal, obedient, and indifferent to status. Later early
church popes referred, in addition, to childrens freedom from sexual desire. There is
evidence of widespread baptism of infants during the first two centuries of Christianity,
though there was debate about the necessity of such baptism due to the innocent nature of
infants. Tertullian clearly presupposes that infants have not sinned, but that does not
mean that he did not believe in original sin. Rather, it is likely that he believed that

Ibid., 86.
Bakke, When Children Became People, 109.

infants, though they did not commit sin themselves, still (by virtue of their humanity)
inherit the original sin of Adam.

After Christianity became the religion of state under Constantine during the fourth
century, Christian children attended pagan schools where they studied Greek literature,
which reflected a quite different moral viewpoint from that of Christianity. The
Christians did set up a program of religious instruction for adults, however, and parents
were responsible for teaching religion to their children. Parents also taught the younger
children to read and write at home using the Bible. It is not known why alternative
Christian schools for children were not developed during this period. However, it is
speculated that there may have been Christian teachers teaching in pagan schools, which
would have softened the influence of pagan literature on morals. Also, slaves
accompanied Christian children to school, so social control was maintained from home.

Early Christian leaders advocated physical punishment as a method of assuring
obedience. St. Augustine felt strongly that it was a fathers responsibility to teach his
children to show respect for Christian ideals, and that if obedience was not forthcoming,
beating was appropriate. He describes his own beating in school as torture, but also
referred to this type of control as an expression of love. He also expressed the idea that
younger children, before they are capable of reason, should not be treated so harshly as
older children.

Ibid., 5962.
Ibid., 214.
Ibid., 174, 201.

In the fourth century, St. Augustines notion of original sin began to color
attitudes toward children. With the acceptance of St. Augustines doctrine of original sin
and the resulting theological doctrine of the total depravity of children, the purpose of
baptism became that of cleansing and purifying infants for their entry into the church
The richest material to be found in early Christianity on the topic of children
comes from St. J ohn Chrysostom, born c. 347 in Antioch. His educational treatise Di
Inani Gloria instructs parents in cities on how to rear their children. He noted that
children are free from passion, indifferent to status, and do not hold grudgesa view
similar to that of Pope Clement. His assumption seems to have been that children were
without sin, but he did believe in infant baptism.

When the Roman Empire fell to barbarian invaders in 476, the church entered a
new era called the Medieval Period or Middle Ages, lasting until approximately 1500.
Middle Ages
Until recently, this era has been viewed by scholars as a time when childhood was
barely recognized. But this view began to transform when Frenchman Philippe Aries
wrote his landmark historiography of children, Lenfant et la view famililiale sous
lancien regim in 1960, establishing the idea that childhood indeed had a history, and
that over time and in different cultures, both ideas about childhood and the experience of

Bakke, When Children Became People, 85.

being a child had changed.
This book was a very broad analysis of the history of
children, with the author trying to cover in one book the way in which children were
perceived in the culture of the day, the way children were treated by adults, and the
experience of being a child. He also used a very wide range of evidence pertaining mostly
to the upper and middle classes, and with less thorough investigation than has been done
by subsequent researchers who more narrowly confined the type evidence they examined.
For a period of time, Aries work was the definitive word on the subject.
However, in the English translation of his work entitled Centuries of Childhood is the
statement, in medieval society the idea of childhood did not exist. Unfortunately, the
word idea was used as a translation of the French word sentiment, which actually has a
very different connotation, and resulted in his work being interpreted as a slur on the
Middle Ages. This resulted in a body of literature refuting this claim and showing that
there was indeed a concept of childhood in the Middle Ages that reflected attitudes that
were more enlightened and progressive . . . than in later centuries.

Based on the artistic depiction of children beginning in the twelfth century as
miniature adults, Aries took portraits and figures of the period to be a reflection of the
fact that adults did not really recognize children, or see them for who they were. He
also quotes a poem that refers to the worth attributed to children in the 13

Thus the child six summers old

Hugh Cunningham, Histories of Childhood, The American Historical Review 103, no. 4
(October 1998) 1197.
Philippe Aries, Centuries of Childhood, trans. Robert Baldick (New York: Alfred A. Knopf,
1962), 22.

Is not worth much when all is told.
But one must take every care
To see that he is fed good fare,
For he who does not start life well
Will finish badly, one can tell. . . .

Aries did identify five different ages of life
that were apparently acknowledged,
by studying the artwork of the 14
Age Depicted in Art
1. Children playing with a hobbyhorse, a doll, a windmill, or
birds on leashes.
2. School age Boys learning to read or carrying a book and pen-
tray; girls learning to spin

3. Love, Court Feasting, boys and girls walking together; a court
of love, May time wedding festivities, hunting

4. War and Chivalry A man bearing arms
5. Sedentary Men of law, science or learning; bearded scholar

Recent scholars take issue with Aries assessment as they interpret it. Nicholas
Orme specifically refutes the claims of Aries and other earlier writers that medieval
society did not have any idea of childhood as a separate stage of development, stating that
Medieval people, especially (but not only) after the 12
century, had concepts of what
childhood was, and when it began and ended.
Ormes research is based on the study

Ibid., 2324.
Nicholas Orme, Medieval Children (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001), 5.

of medieval schools, schoolbooks, the history of royal and noble children, and childrens
games and folklore of the period, as well as the archaeological findings of childrens toys
that were manufactured and purchased for them at least by 1300. Another researcher of
the time found evidence that during the Middle Ages there was a conception of childhood
that included educational theories and norms formulated by theologians, secular and
ecclesiastical legislators, jurists, the authors of medical and didactic works, and
preachers. This researcher also noted that in some ways the educational theories of the
Middle Ages were more similar to the ideas of today than were those that evolved during
the 18
century. The dominant view of medieval authors, according to this researcher,
seems to be that infants and children until age 7 should be nurtured with gentleness and
not disciplined with the rigidity that was advocated from the very youngest years during
the eighteenth century.

Mothers of nobility reared their sons until approximately the age of seven. At that
age, many who were trained for knighthood went to the castle of the feudal lord to
initially become pages of the castle court. Until age twelve their academic and religious
training was entrusted either to a monk, a chaplain or a clerk. Before the 12
knights were not taught to read and had almost no academic study. The military training
began when they were 12 years old, usually carried out by a tutor under the supervision
of the feudal lord. At age 15 they became squires to the knights until their own
knighthood began around age 17 to 19.

Shulamith Shahar, Childhood in the Middle Ages (New York: Routledge, 1990), 3.
Ibid., 210.

Girls of high nobility were often sent to the household of their future husbands
sometimes as early as age fourto be reared until marriage at age 12 to 14, although by
the end of the Middle Ages, the average marriage age for girls was about 17. Other girls
could be sent to a convent, sometimes founded by an ancestor, to be raised until marriage.
Or, if a girl were reared at home, she could be tutored at home or sent to a private school
in town. Daughters of minor nobility were sometimes instructed by the priest of a church
near their home. The education of girls was primarily to train them to be wives, teach
them appropriate behavior, and to learn pastime skills such as weaving and embroidery.
After the 12
century, when boys who were not knights-to-be began to receive more
education as administrators for kings and feudal lords, the educational gap between the
sexes widened.

Peasant children during the Middle Ages seldom received any education, although
a few were taught by the village priest at a school run by a monastic house, or at a secular
school, and became clerks or monks. Most children were involved with adults from an
early age, helping adults with their work. At the age of 7, children began running errands,
bringing food to the field laborers, and tending domestic animals. Their responsibilities
gradually increased, and in some regions they were considered adults with full
responsibilities, anywhere from 13 to 20 or 21 years of age.

Most children during the medieval period were not of noble birth. They lived at
home, with their religious upbringing being shared between the church, godparents and

Ibid., 220224.
Ibid., 242253.

parents. Since at least the early 11
century church leaders emphasized the duty of fathers
and mothers, as well as clergy, to teach their children basic Christian prayers. The
existence of primers (lay prayer books) at the end of the 13
century indicates that at
least parents who were literate likely fulfilled this responsibility. By the 15
there were popular handbooks giving advice to parents about rearing children and
teaching them religious practices, though the variation in literacy level no doubt affected
the ability of parents to educate their children. The practice of saying grace at family
meals was one copied by lay nobility from at least the 14
century, and by the 15

century it had become more widespread.

The basic prayers taught to children were The Paternoster (Lords Prayer), the
Apostles Creed, and, added by the 13
century, the Ave Maria.
Children were not
necessarily required to attend services, but were sometimes present in medieval worship.
The service was not, however, what could be termed child friendly by modern
standards. In addition, some churches housed elementary schools in their building.

However, sometimes parents left their children home unattended while they went to
church. There are records of tragedies, such as that of an infant being left by the fire
(apparently swaddled in her cradle), and chickens entering the house, causing sparks to
fly onto the child, and burning it to death.

Ibid., 204207.
Nicholas Orme, Midieval Children (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 200.
Ibid., 235.
Ibid., 211.

By the late medieval period, marriage and the family were in crisis. Anti-marriage
sentiments prevailed as bias against sex and marriage permeated canon law. Accepted as
a cure for fornication and an aid to social stability, the social institution of marriage came
to be recognized as an inferior statean attitude that originated with the teachings of St.
Augustine and St. J erome. The image of women as temptresses had been promoted by
canonists as well. Although earlier Roman law had been based on the assumption of male
aggression with women as victims, church fathers stressed women as sexual predators.

A broad spectrum of scholastic, theological, medical, ethical and legal texts of the time
assumed the inferiority of women, and marriage was considered an institution best
avoided by discerning men. The result was that about 40% of the women were single.

Although accepted theories about the nature of women did not all originate within the
church, these ideas gained religious sanction as celibacy was promoted to be the superior
Augustines notion of original sin, it seems, had a far-reaching impact on
Christian marriage, families and children.

The Reformation

After the Reformation began under Martin Luthers catalytic leadership, the status
of marriage and family improved. Parenting was a shared responsibility between mothers
and fathers, being seen as too much responsibility for only one parent. Mothers had more

Steven Ozeman, When Fathers Ruled: Family Life in Reformation Europe (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1983), 1011.
Ibid., 1.
Ibid., 911.

responsibility during a childs earlier years, with fathers responsibility increasing after
the child reached the age of 6 or 7 years. Martin Luther, who himself married a former
nun and had six children of his own, is quoted as saying, There is no power on earth that
is nobler or greater than that of parents.
Children were viewed as the subjects and
rulers of the future, and it was widely recognized that the hand that rocked the cradle
ruled the world. Therefore, children must be shaped at home so they could shape the

During the 16
and 17
centuries, religious reform developed gradually, with the
moral aspect of religion gaining importance over the eschatological focus of earlier times.
Parents were increasingly seen as stewards of their childrenin both body and soul. The
care expended on children inspired in parents new feelings and a new emotional

A new genre of literature made its appearance during this period, in the form of a
mothers advice book leaving written instructions, usually spiritual in nature, to her
children. One such book has recently been found, written in the authors own hand.
Entitled The Mothers Legacy,
it reflects a young mothers concern for her childs
happiness and spiritual well being. She warns her unborn child about the importance of
being obedient and the dangers of being too proud, cautioning her to establish a close

Ibid., 132.
Ibid., 136.
Aries, Centuries of Childhood, 412.
Elizabeth J oscelin, The Mother's Legacy to her Vnborn Childe, ed. J ean Ledrew Metcalfe
(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000).

relationship with God and avoid sin and vice. This book, reflecting her sense that her
greatest responsibility as a mother was for the spiritual upbringing of her child, is
underscored with poignancy due to the fact that the author died of a fever nine days after
the birth of her daughter. At a time when the mortality rate of infants is estimated at 30
, there was a serious religious purpose for this genre of writing. It is interesting to
note that this direct documentation by a mothera source type we do not have for much
earlier periodsreflects such care and nurturing of a child. One cannot help but wonder
if such an attitude also existed in ancient times, on the part of at least some direct
caregivers, in spite of the evidence of an opposite attitude by the literate elite who did the
Aries interprets his research as a demonstration that by the 17
century a new
attitude was being held by mothers and nannies or other women who cared for children
directly: children were becoming a source of enjoyment to their caretakers.
He also
found criticism for spoiling children: I cannot abide that passion for caressing newborn
children, who have neither mental activities nor recognizable bodily shape by which to
make themselves loveable, and I have never willingly suffered them to be fed in my
Ozment also noted this sentiment, stating that the worst thing a parent could
do during this period of time was over-indulge a child.

Ozment, When Fathers Ruled, 1.
Aries, Centuries of Childhood, 129.
Ibid., 132.
Ozment, When Fathers Ruled, 133.

During the time period before the 18
century, the seriousness which childrens
spiritual welfare was accorded was related to the doctrine of original sin, and the related
vices of pride, self-centeredness and willfulness. The responsibility of parents was to
suppress and control what was viewed as childrens natural depravity. Advice put out by
the church to parents advised that parents overcome their childs will by breaking it and
beating it down. This included intense physical and psychological methods of doing

The Enlightenment and Modernity
As the 17
century dawned, however, the image of children was beginning to
change. Children were described by J ohn Locke as being a blank slate upon which
anything could be printed. J ean-J acques Rousseau believed that children are loveable and
loving by nature, rather than innately sinful. By the mid-eighteenth century the over-all
image of children was that they were either morally neutral, or even innocent.
This change marks a watershed moment in historya time when a major shift in
understanding moral agency and accountability occurred. Childrens portraits of this
period clearly illustrate the change. Earlier, the children of nobility had been portrayed in
adult clothing, with adult-looking bodies and regal posture. By mid 18
century, children
were depicted with heavenly innocence and purity, as well as with more realistic, child-
proportioned bodies. The image of children had transformed from that of imperfect
children in a fallen world to perfectible children in an imperfect world. Children were

Miller-McLemore, Let the Children Come, 13.

less to blame for problems and faulty parenting became a new area of focus. Child
rearing problems became increasingly attributed to emotional needs and there was less
focus on sin. With this change in the image of children, however, they were also deprived
of agency.

In her book, Children in The House: the Material Culture of Early Childhood,
16001900, Karen Calvert documents the nuances of changing attitudes toward children
based on her research studying portraits of children, furniture and clothing. She identifies
dates for specific shifts, with children seen as the inchoate adult: 1600 to 1750; the
natural child: 1750 to 1830 and the innocent child: 1830 to 1900. The change in the
second half of the eighteenth century to advising parents to allow their children to
develop at their own pace was particularly significant.

As sin became less of a focus in childrearing, theologians began to be replaced by
psychologists, pediatricians, educators and sociologists as resources for childrearing
advice. By the second half of the 20
century, parents questions to these secular sources
were centered on the scientific understanding of why children behave as they do. With
the image of children being one of total innocence, the sense of children as spiritual and
moral beings declined, as did the emphasis on living religion day to day. By the last part
of the 20
century, many families no longer fulfilled the role of teaching the language of
Christianity to their children or passing on religious practices such as daily Bible reading,
discussion of faith and religious values, and family prayer.

Ibid., 1415.
Cunningham, Histories of Childhood, 1200.

As families have pursued answers from the child experts of the day, they have
become obsessed with guilt about their responsibility to be perfect and to create perfect
children. All too often parents handle this guilt by obsessing further about giving their
children the very best of everything. In the process of focusing on their own children,
they oftentimes have forgotten about the children of others. Children, their
accomplishments, and their material possessions have become symbols with which
parents compete for status. It is common for every child to have a television and
computer in his or her own room, and for families to own two, three or more cars. The
overall result is a pervasive sense of disconnection in society today, with a loss of
relationship between parents and children, and little or no sense of relationship with God
as hurried, harried families rush, rush, rush in pursuit of happiness.
New possibilities of historical research about childhood are opening up as interest
in examining material evidence of culture increases. For example, the manufacture of
toys and the impact of commercialism on gender formation is the subject of Miriam
Formanek-Brunnes 1993 book, Made to Play House: Dolls and the Commercialization
of American Girlhood, 18301930. Bringing us to the present, Gary Cross1997 book
Stuff: Toys and the Changing World of American Childhood describes how toys have
been liberated from adult concerns about instilling proper values and began to appeal
directly to the childs imaginationand to the child as consumer. He points out further
change in toys that now rob children of the use of their imagination . . . rooted in the real

Cunningham, Histories of Childhood, 12001201.

In his essay, Histories of Childhood, Hugh Cunningham points out that more in-
depth knowledge of the Enlightenment period is needed because it is the point of
transition to a world expecting adult lives to be shaped by childhood experience and, at
the same time, looking to childhood as the repository of values held in high esteem.

The research methods conducted by Philippe Aries and his followers focused
mainly on the privileged classes, but a different research method, that of family strategy,
is beginning to become more prevalent as a way to reconstruct the experiences of less
than privileged children. This type of research utilizes documentation from institutions
such as foundling hospitals and orphanages as a way to understand what caused people to
abandon their children, as well as the varied frequency with which this occurred.
Information is needed to understand the effect on families when children go from being
an economic asset in an agrarian culture to an economic burden in an industrialized
society. The extent of abandonment, and whether it increases or decreases in relation to
the frequency of illegitimacy is useful in understanding the value, both emotional and
economic, that is placed on children. One significant study entitled Pricing the Priceless
Child: The Changing Social Value of Children (1985) catalogs the change in valuation of
children as they became an economic burden as well as emotionally priceless.

As Cunningham so aptly states:
The most striking fact about childhood in the world today is the
gulf in life experience separating the children of the wealthy from
the children of the poor. The most obvious manifestation is the
division between children who are an expense to their parents

Ibid., 1207.
Ibid., 12021203.

throughout childhood and beyond, and those who, through work of
some kind, contribute to their family economies. This is primarily
a global geographical division, with child labor in the developing
world a rising cause for concern. But it is a division that also exists
within the developed world; research is revealing levels both of
child poverty and of child labor once thought to be things of the

It is the belief of this author that a further understanding of the history of
childhoodincluding the image of children, the way they have been treated by adults,
and the experience of being a childwill be significant in the development of a theology
of childhood that is needed in order to grapple with the issue of maintaining values that
sustain life as the future unfolds. The need for such a theology is reflected in the
continued confusion on the part of parents and others regarding the nature of children.
For example, the temper tantrum of a two-year-old may be attributed by some to her
black heart on one hand, while in the opposite extreme others may attribute similar
behavior in a five-year-old to her being an indigo child.

Theologians have a critical role to play in helping parents and society as a whole
to know and understand that children are fully human beings who need lots of love and
nurture, and who also have agency and can be held accountable for age-appropriate
choice and responsibility. Our children need appropriate stewardship on the part of
parents, with the support of society as a whole, so that core values are transmitted to
ongoing generations. These values that are transmitted must reflect respect for all

Ibid., 1208.
An indigo child is defined as a child who has ten specific attributes that include a feeling of
entitlement, trouble dealing with authority, refusal to function within systems, seem antisocial and readily
express needs. Those using this label for children attribute the behavior to the super-evolved spiritual
nature of the child. Others would identify this set of behaviors to be the result of extreme over-indulgence
by guilt-ridden parents.

humanity, living creatures, the earthly environment, and the entire cosmosall of which
comprise our original blessing of creation.

The Spirituality of Children: Related Disciplines

In order to establish a foundation of how spiritual formation occurs in young
children, this paper begins by reviewing the work of three practitionersMaria
Montessori, Sophia Cavalletti, and J erome Berrymanwho cumulatively have spent
many, many years working directly with children from a variety of cultures around the
world. They have learnedthrough trial and error, by listening closely to what children
have to say, and by observing their behaviorthat children have an innate spiritual
nature with which they are born. Their work has shown how this human quality can be
nurtured in a way that supports a deep, on-going connection with God and Creation. They
have also noted how this quality can be diminished through a lack of such nurture.
The first two practitioners began their work in Italy and eventually worked on five
different continents and a variety of cultures as they tested their theories and methods.
Working from what had been established by the first two practitioners, the third
practitioner worked in the United States to further develop theory and methodology that
utilizes, and sometimes challenges, current theories in the field of developmental
psychology and psychoanalysis.
Also included in this review are the first two stages of faith as defined by J ames
W. Fowler, who studied faith development over the entire lifespan and authored States of
Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning.

The review concludes with a description of seminal research conducted in Britain
by researchers using qualitative methods of research to establish a deeper understanding
of the nature of spirituality. These researchers have been able to establish what they term
dimensions of spirituality which create a foundation for future research in this
fascinating area.
Maria Montessori
Maria Montessori (18701952), trained as a physician, developed the Montessori
Method of education in Italy when she was successful in working with low income
children who were considered to be uneducable. Her Childrens House, the first school
she opened in 1907, served the slum tenements of Rome. The school was funded in an
effort to keep unruly young children, who were unsupervised during the day while their
parents worked, in a school-like setting in order to prevent vandalism by the children.
In five years she was able not only to prevent vandalism, but to empower the
children, ages three through seven years to excel. The children learned good manners,
cleanliness, and developed an understanding of good nutritionbut they also learned
about nature, arithmetic, reading, and writing.

The new pedagogy developed by Montessori through close observation of the
children, was based on what she termed sensitive periods of development. This
corresponds to what neurobiologists today refer to as critical periods or windows of

Maria Montessori, The Montessori Method (New York: Schocken Books, 1964), Introduction

opportunity for learning which, if bypassed, can only be made up for partially and with
much greater effort. For example, the learning window for language development is birth
to ten years. If a foreign language is taught after age 10, it is much more difficult to learn
and it is unlikely that it will be spoken like a native.

Montessori recognized children as competent beings. She demonstrated that when
children are provided the right learning environment rich with learning materials, in a
peaceful atmosphere that invites contemplation, they can become inner-directed, highly
motivated learners. Her pedagogy included a strong spiritual component that was
fundamental to her work. She felt that the art of the educator consists precisely in
discerning when the child of a particular age or stage of development is or is not
following an inner impulse toward truth and what is good.
In the words of Gianna
Gobbi, who studied Montessori for years and frequently heard her speak, Montessori
was convinced that there exists within the child an internal discipline which guides him
or her toward order and independence. . . . If we get in the way of the child, intervening
and imposing our will and judgments and doing for the child what the child needs to do
for himself or herself, then the child cannot achieve true independence.

Her emphasis on freedom and choice did not mean, however, free license. She
valued order and discipline out of respect for the needs of the group as a whole, and out
of respect for the order and discipline which are called for from within the child.

Sharon Begley, Your Child's Brain, Newsweek, February 19, 1996, 5657.
Gianna Gobbi, Listening to God With Children, trans. Rebekah Rocjewicz (Loveland: Treehaus
Communications, Inc, 2002), 94.
Ibid., 97.

Montessori found that when children were free to choose their activity spontaneously,
following their own inner voice, they easily became so absorbed in their work that
discipline itself came spontaneously in a natural way, and did not need to be imposed by
outer controls. An observer would find the children working quite independently, with
little attention being paid to the presence of the adults. She found that the sort of
concentration which developed from this kind of inner discipline naturally led to
contemplation and prayer. She saw this kind of concentration as the goal toward which
the child strives in order to encounter God.

Montessori stressed that:
. . . as educators we are not the ones who give rise to the
process of development of the human being. Life itself does this
according to its universal laws, even if these laws are not yet fully
understood. This reality should compel adults to want to know the
child and to find the best possible way of assisting the childs self-
education . . . What the adult world has yet to fully confront is that
the true personality of the child is still buried under prejudices that
keep adults from seeing the child clearly. Adults must place
themselves in right relationship with the child, in a spirit of
humility and respect, in order to learn the childs true nature and
the universal laws that guide and determine development.

The Nature of Childrens Spirituality
Gobbi quotes Montessoris own articulation of her first discoveries in working
with children : Even before culture and doctrine are taught, there is a vital relationship
between the soul of the child and God.

Ibid., 101102.
Ibid., 6667.

Montessori found a major characteristic of childrens spiritual nature to be what
she called essentiality. Children are born with an open, peaceful relationship with God.
Adults, over time, have developed superstructures in their inner life which hamper the
ability to see clearly the vital nucleus of things. The biggest challenge for adults is to
bypass the superfluous elements of ourselves as we work to foster and maintain in
children the essentiality with which they are born.

Montessori recognized two branches of education that address two different kinds
of knowing. The first deals with the nature of the child in relationship to the physical
reality of the exterior world; the second addresses the childs nature in relationship to the
reality of the supernatural life. She recognized that children are capable of seeing the
transcendent within the perceivable, and felt that the traditional concept of education (as
being something that the adult gives to the child) lacks this understanding.

Using the knowledge she gained regarding sensitive periods, she created an
environment rich with learning potential through exploring, touching, tasting, and using
all of the physical senses. She found that order is important so that a child may have a
reference point among persons and things in order to form a sense of security, i.e., a
sense of self and ones own place in his or her environment.
She noted that a
disruption of this needed order could provoke intense emotional reactions (temper
tantrums). She termed the process of learning to interact harmoniously with others

Ibid., 4748.
Ibid, 6870.
Ibid., 84.

normalization, and saw that the more a childs deep needs are met the less intervention
will be needed by adults in order to achieve normalization.
She also found that the self
mastery gained in such an environment is important for gaining confidence, facilitating
concentration, and developing a capacity for prayer.

Setting Up the Environment
In a Montessori learning space the environment speaks without words, inviting
children to a choice of activities.
Materials are easily accessible to the children with a
specific storage place for each item, and furniture is child-sized in order to foster
independence as children learn self-mastery as well as mastery of the environment. There
is only one of each object so children can learn to wait, consider options, and share.
There is an air of solemnity in order to promote listening, contemplation and prayer. A
prayer corner with an altar is always available, and the rhythm of the church calendar is
marked by a changing of the liturgical colors.
The Role of the Adult
In Montessoris view, the first task of the adult is to carefully prepare the
environment because the environment and materials are indirect instruments of

Ibid., 85.
Ibid., 24.
Ibid., 410.

This is important because a carefully prepared environment enables the
adult to refrain from unnecessary interventions and to keep out of the way so the Holy
Spirit can fully operate.
The next task of the adult is to proclaim the Good News. This is done by
bringing the environment and materials to life and by guiding children in their use of
the environment. The careful arrangement of the room and materials transmits care and
respect for order, and promotes autonomy and an authentic personal response in each
An important awareness for adults working with children, according to
Montessori, is that of knowing the importance of silence. She noticed that when children
achieved the self control necessary to maintain silence, they experienced great joy in
hearing something new and special in the silence. She observed, It is in silence and
when movements are ordered that the inner sensitivity that is called religious sense or
spiritual sense can be developed. She recognized the importance of children
experiencing silence as a prelude to becoming prayerful.

Montessori Materials
The materials Montessori developed help children concretize the religious
realities of the Biblical parable or the liturgy.
For example, the materials for teaching

Ibid., 410.
Ibid., 124125.
Ibid., 1116; 1929.

the parable of the Good Shepherd include wooden figures of the characters in the story:
the Shepherd, the sheep, and the wolf, along with a wooden sheepfold and a piece of
green felt for the grass and blue felt for the water. The adult makes the proclamation (tells
the story) using the figures and the words of Scripture. These materials are later available
as an activity of choice, for children to engage their sense of touch as well as their mind,
as they contemplate the story on their own and perhaps retell the story to another child.
This allows the adult to assume the servant role while assuring autonomy of the child,
and offers the opportunity for interior dialogue between the child and True Teacher.
Art materials, too, are available as an activity of choice, for children to create their own
stories and synthesize what they are internalizing about the parable.
Montessori valued the use of materials that were handmade by the adults who
worked with the children. She saw this as an essential way for the adult to enter more
deeply into the theme and to slow down and pace themselves to the rhythm of the child.
She felt it a way for adults to integrate hand, mind and heart in a way that is attentive to
the Holy Spirit.
One of the Montessori principles is the use of materials to contribute to the
childs control of error. For example, glass objects are used instead of plastic, because
they will break if they are not handled carefully. Light-colored furniture is used so that
children can readily see spills and stains, which they need to clean up themselves.

Program Structure

Children in a Montessori program are grouped developmentally into three age
groups: 36 years; 69 years and 912 years. Two hour sessions are generally held on

Saturday or weekday afternoons so children can attend Mass with family on Sunday.
Start time should be different from the start time of regular school so children do not have
to adjust to both at the same time.
Ideally, children are oriented with 45 children coming at one time for the first
three or four weeks, and then merging into one group of 810 children. Sessions
gradually increase from forty-five minutes to an hour, to two to two and a half hours. The
welcoming session includes demonstrations of how to do such things as move a chair, sit,
and walk quietly, etc., so children know just what is expected. Children seem to enjoy
doing what is expected when they know what that is. The routine follows the general
format of:
1. Gathering/Settling
2. Presentation of Proclamation
3. Work Time
4. Gathering for Song and Prayer
An example of using this format is the introduction of the Mass, which first
includes lessons of nomenclature and movement. For three year olds, each article to be
placed on the altar is named, with a brief explanation, and then carefully placed on the
altar. The candles are then lit and the adult makes the solemn proclamation: Christ has
died, but He is risen.
Following a few moments of silence, there is verbal reflection and then some
songs. The presentation ends with the adult renaming each article and placing it in the
sacristy cabinet. Children then are free to choose their work. Available activities may

include such choices as working with the figures from different parable stories that have
been previously presented, various art materials, or watering and caring for the plants.

The Montessori Method aims at removing obstacles in both the environment and
the adult guiding the child, in order to assure proper respect for the child and the work of
the child. Therefore, Montessori believes, the child develops as nature intends. When this
happens we get to see how the human being is formed in the image of God according
to Gods desire. Work becomes an instrument of normalization or wholeness, both within
the individual children and in their relationship with the group. In the process, work
becomes joyful.

Montessoris message to teachers on the eve of her death included the following
Children come to us as a rain of souls, as a richness and a
promise which can always be fulfilled but which needs the help of
our efforts for its fulfillment.
Do not consider the child a weakling: the child is the builder
of the human personality. That this personality be Christian or not
depends on the environment around him and on those who guide
his religious formation.
Do not think that because the child cannot understand in the
same way that we adults understand that it is useless to allow him
to participate in our religious practices. The staunchest and deepest
faith is generally found among the unsophisticated people whose
women take their children to church while they are still breastfed:

Ibid., 3762.
Ibid., 116.

the childs unconscious absorbs divine powers while the conscious
reasoning of adults is only human.

Sophia Cavalletti
Sophia Cavalletti, a well-respected, published Hebrew scholar and Roman
Catholic, was born in Italy in 1917. Today, at the age of 90, she continues to work with
children in her native city of Rome. Inspired by Maria Montessoris principles of
education, as well as her own delight when she discovered the joyful response of the
seven year old son of a friend as she began reading scripture with him, she originated the
Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for children from birth through age 12. This responsive
joy that she has found in children wherever she goes continues to inspire her work in
religious formation, even after 52 years.

In his introduction to Cavallettis account of her many years of research, entitled
The Religious Potential of the Child, Mark Searle of the University of Notre Dame,
comments that, There is something of a crisis in preaching and religious education today
because of the way scholarly study of scripture has largely abandoned the task of
expounding the scriptures as word of God and has become locked into a historical model
of biblical studies restructuring J ewish and Christian origins and the world of antiquity. It
is, therefore, as refreshing as it is rare to find someone trained as a biblical scholar

Catechesis Of The Good Shepherd Center For Training, Montessori: The Church's Best Kept
Secret, (accessed J une 3, 2006).
Catherine Maresca, A Curriculum for Young Children, Sewanee Theological Review 48, no.
4 (Michaelmas 2005): 457.

returning the Bible to the church as the living word of God and thus to be set alongside
liturgy and life experience as a place of encounter with God.

Soon after beginning to work with children in 1954, Cavalletti was joined by
Gianna Gobbi, who was a student of Montessori as well as a trainer of teachers in the
Montessori Method. Together they developed their method of working with young
children as they worked on five continentsincluding Europe, Africa, South America,
North America and Australia, observing and recording their efforts to identify the
spiritual and religious capacities of the children.
Cavalletti approaches her work in response to the silent request she recognizes in
children: Help me to come closer to God by myself.
She has identified three
characteristics of children which have guided her discoveries in how to reach them. These
characteristics are also the gifts children bring to the Christian community, and are what
Cavalletti believes J esus was referring to when he said to his disciples, Truly I tell you,
unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of
The characteristics (gifts) are essentiality, wonder, and enjoyment.

Sofia Cavalletti, The Religious Potential of the Child (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications,
1992), 4.
Ibid., 62.
Matt. 18.3, quoted in Catherine Maresca, Children and Theology, Swannee Theological
Review 48, no. 1 (Christmas 2004), 14.
Catherine Maresca, Children and Theology, Swanee Theological Review 48, no. 1 (Christmas
2004): 14.

Catherin Maresca summarizes these characteristics in Swanee Theological

First, essentiality. Cavalletti writes, As long as we are able to
stay on a plane of essentiality, the children will listen to us,
enchanted, happy and never tiring; as soon as we leave this level,
their attention will abandon us.
The essential themes to which
she refers are the greatest of our faith, including the love of God,
the death and resurrection of J esus, the kingdom of God among us,
and the incarnation. The childrens response to these themes can
help the community to focus on them as the heart of our faith, a
nucleus that unites rather than divides.
Second, wonder. When children hear the kerygma
(proclamation) of the gospel in a way that they can continue to
contemplate it, they naturally respond in wonder. Rather than
saying, I already know that, and constantly seeking new things,
the children naturally return to the simple, concrete materials that
enable them to revisit the kerygma again and again until its content
begins to become a part of their inmost selves. Thus three-year-
olds may return again and again to the figures of the sheep and the
good shepherd, the mustard seeds that are smaller than ground
pepper, or the water and light of baptism. They need no novelty for
enchantment and contentment. Their wonder finds meaning again
and again.
Third, enjoyment. The child does not stand before God in fear
of judgment. The child does not worry about a vocation or attempt
to capture God in theological papers. Nurtured by the kerygma
without and wonder within, the childs relationship with God is
characterized by a joy that puts the child in peace, that makes him
serene and calm. In the last 18 years I have witnessed this joy
countless times, often in the form of spontaneous song in which
Alleluia is a frequent word. . . .

Ibid., 14.
Cavalletti, The Religious Potential of the Child, 51.
Ibid., 41.

Using her own sensitivity to the sensitivities of children, Cavalletti, found that
children demonstrate a particular responsiveness to specific themes. Those for children
from three to six years of age are the following:

1) The Parable of the Good Shepherd (who protects his sheep and calls them by
2) The Eucharist (the gift of love and the human response to that gift)
3) Baptism and the gift of the light of the world

The Parable of the Good Shepherd

Cavalletti observed that the experience of love is a most vital exigence for
children, and that religious experience coincides with this. The Good Shepherd parable
expresses this vital exigence in a language children can understand. The gift of the Good
Shepherds love, she says, . . . not only fills the deepest of our vital needs but realizes the
fundamental law of life. . . . The Good Shepherd gives his life for his sheep, and he
came so that they may have life, and have it abundantly; the parable announces to us a
plentitude of love that coincides with a plentitude of life. The gift of love about which the
parable speaks is not an abstraction, nor is it a gift of things. The Good Shepherd gives
himself to his sheep: he gives his concern, his presence, his guidance, consummating this
dedication in death, a death that, however, brought him to the resurrection.
She further points out that,

Ibid., 24.

. . . at every level of reality, life appears to unfold through
successive deaths, which lead to fuller forms of life. It is a law
we see being carried out around us, within nature and ourselves, in
which life develops through the death of the child and adolescent
we once were so as to reach even more complete levels. . . . The
secret of reality seems to be in this continuous passage from a
less to a more, from a death to a resurrection. The Christian
mystery seems to us the symbolic and historical expression of a
law that regulates the growth of the entire universe.

Cavalletti felt that the joy and peacefulness expressed by children when they are
exposed to the Christian message through this parable is because it corresponds with the
vital exigencies of the human person and with reality itself. The Good Shepherd parable
is, of course, grasped more deeply over time, but the essential elements are there and the
childs response to it is an affirmation of its truth.
It is Cavallettis belief that the parable of the Good Shepherd results in affective
ratification, a psychological term that refers to emotional integration.
In other words,
this writers interpretation of her statement is that the child experiences and becomes one
with the love of God through the experience of this parable when presented in the manner
developed by Cavalletti.
Regarding the work of other theorists, Cavalletti notes that in relationship to Erik
Eriksons theory, the Good Shepherd fulfills the need for affiliation, i.e., the need to be
loved in a profound way. Basic trust that creates harmony between us and the world is
achieved only through gratification of this need.
She also notes that Piagets theory of

Ibid., 2627.
Ibid., 75.

cognitive development pretty much overlooks the affective or emotional component of
learning/knowing, limiting the definition of knowledge to cognitive ability. This has lead
to the erroneous conclusion by some that religious education for children under the age of
seven is not appropriate because they do not have the cognitive ability to understand what
is being taught.

Of significance is Cavalletis observation that although young children most often
identify their mothers as the person they know who is most like the Good Shepherd, she
has found children who identify a wide range of others as well, leading her to conclude
that a child will always find a loved person in whom he or she sees the reflection of the
Good Shepherds love. She has also found that children who have experienced the least
affection in their lives are those who are the happiest and most responsive to the parable.
Therefore, she believes, it is not necessary for a child to graft on to an experience of
human love in order to have a direct relationship with God.

The Eucharist

Cavalletti introduces Mass to the children after they have been exposed to the
parable of the Good Shepherd long enough to have discovered that the sheep represent
people. (They should not be told this, she says, because it robs them of the opportunity to
discover it themselves, thus more fully integrating this knowledge into themselves.)

Ibid., 6973.

Keeping in mind the essentiality of children, Cavalletti recognized that the essential
element of the Mass to which the children were most responsive was the Eucharist.
The link between the Good Shepherd parable and the Eucharist is established
through use of the materials: Beside the sheepfold is placed a circular green base the
color of the pasture, and on another circular base is placed a miniature altar with the
figure of the Good Shepherd on top. The words spoken are about the Good Shepherd
calling his sheep by name to come close around his altar; then the sheep go to that
sheepfold, called the church, where Mass is celebrated. Small models of the chalice and
paten are placed on the altar here, and the figure of the Good Shepherd is removed. In
Cavallettis words, the spellbound silencewhich is prayer without wordsthat
accompanies the childrens contemplation of the sheep around the altar often becomes an
explicit prayer of thanksgiving.
It is necessary to prolong the first phase until the children have internalized the
image of the sheep around the altar. Next, each sheep is replaced with small wooden
figures of people. As the integration of the Good Shepherd story and the Eucharist takes
place over time, it is reflected in the art of the children. For example, five year old
Stafania illustrated the altar as a meadow (Figure 2, page 181) and 6 year old Maurizios
painting shows sheep and people together around an altar (Figure 3, page 182).
When the Eucharist is presented as a sacrament of the gift, with the emphasis
on the joy of being the recipient of gods gift, it utilizes childrens natural delight and joy
in being the recipient of something given them. The term gift is used with the youngest
children, with the idea that the term sacrifice, which includes pain and suffering, is
saved for later when children are older and are focused on moral learning. Reflective

questions such as A gift from where? and Who gives the gift? facilitate
contemplation and pondering.
When introducing young children to the Eucharist, it is important not to have the
giving of his life be solely about death. Christs whole life is a gift to the father and to
mankind, and the children are more sensitive to the other aspects of that gift such as
being close, being fed, and feeling loved.
The means of presenting the sacrament of the gift is two gestures. The first
gesture conveys, through arms spread, palms down, the invitation to the Holy Spirit to
transform the bread and wine. The second gesture, at the conclusion of the Eucharistic
prayer, is the raising of the consecrated bread and wine to offer them to the Father with
the prayer, Through Him, with Him, in Him. Together these two complementary
gestures represent the gift from above and the human response offered back. This is the
essence of the theology of the covenant.

The emphasis on physical gestures is important because body language is easily
understood by young children who are just beginning to verbalize. Movement gets their
attention, and when they are introduced to the meaning of the gestures in this way, it
enables them to relate more easily to what is happening during actual Mass.

Ibid., 8384.

Baptism and the Light of Christ
The third basic component of the Catechism of the Good Shepherd is the baptism,
which is connected to the Good Shepherd parable with the image of light. Children are
very responsive to lightit is psychologically gratifying and reassuring; therefore it is
readily associated with the Good Shepherd.
Baptism is introduced through three presentations. The first presentation begins
with a narration using the image of light.

There was a long time of waiting for the light to be kindled.
When J esus was born, the light began to illumine the world. (At
this point we light the paschal candle before the childrens amazed
faces.) However, the darkness overwhelmed the light for a
moment. J esus knew this could happen; in fact, he had said, The
Good Shepherd gives his life for his sheep. (Now we extinguish
the candle.) But the victory of the darkness over the light was only
momentary; for the light was relit, never to go out again. (We
relight the paschal candle and begin to meditate with the children
on this new light that illumines the world.) This is a very special
light, so strong, so powerful, that never again will it be
overpowered; and even more, it is a far-reaching light. The risen
Christ did not want to keep this new light for Himself alone. He
gives it as a gift to all those who come close to Him. From that day
when the light was relit in the world, how many have received it
into their hearts! How much more brightly it shines! And then
one day this light came to me too, and to you. (At this moment the
children are called by name one at a time to come to the paschal
candle to light their own little candles.)
The meditation continues further on the subject of the gift of light:
How beautiful it is to have our own candle shining so brightly,
and to know that on the day of our baptism a very special light was
enkindled in our hearts. What a precious gift! Could we have
lighted our little candles if the paschal candle had not first

Ibid., 100.

overpowered the darkness? Could we have this light in our hearts
if Christ had not first given it to us?
Next, the baptismal gown is shown in this first presentation about baptism. The whiteness
of the gown is pointed out, and the children are told how the gown covered them
completely to show, even on the outside, the light we had received in our hearts and
that, now, inside we are totally different.
The second presentation of baptism is to show children the book of Gods Word and
the water:
The light also came to us through this book and this is the way
we became sheep who have the light in our hearts. The light came
to us especially through that Word which makes us know God. The
Gospel is the book where the secrets of God are kept, those secrets
that He wants everyone to know. There is one secret you have
already begun to know: that the Lord J esus is our Good Shepherd,
and He knows all his sheep by their names. He guides them, gives
them food and drink, and washes them. And Gods light also came
to us through the water. Water always cleans and makes life
possible. But this water is given to us in the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. It takes all the darkness
away from us and we are born into the Kingdom of God of
infinite light. (At this point the catechist pours the water; the
children hear the gentle sound of water while the catechist says the
words: I baptize you. . . . Then the children, each in their turn,
pour the water and say the sacramental words.

The third presentation of baptism shows the gestures of the baptismal rite, which
are the imposition or extension of the hands and the sign of the cross. As the imposition
of the hands is done, the catechist refers to this as the same gesture that was done when
the Eucharist was introduced. Next, for the presentation of the cross, which is new to the

Ibid, 100101.

children, it is first presented in a solemn manner, with an explanation that this is the sign
of the Good Shepherds victory over the power of darkness. Then the sign of the cross on
the forehead with the thumb is done, with word to explain that the sign is not just on our
skin, but also in our hearts. Finally, the catechist signs the cross over the group, saying
that the gesture is so great that the cross covers us all.
The internalizing of their experience is evidenced in the art of the children
pictured in Figure 4 (page 183). The child depicts both the Good Shepherd and his sheep
together with the altar and the people in the same picture, suggesting that there is as
association of the two sets of symbols in the mind of the artist. Figure 5 (page 184)
suggests perhaps even further integration with a detailed picture of the altar and the
elements of the Eucharist in the center, with the church and the sheepfold on their side.
The process of using scripture for faith formation that Cavalletti has developed
can be summarized in three basic steps: First, scripture is proclaimed in a ritual setting:
The children gather quietly in a circle around the Bible, and a candle. Next, the catechist
presents the content of the scripture in her own words, followed by reflective questions
and responses from the children. The candle is then lit and scripture is read word-for-
word in a slow, solemn manner. This group session is followed by a time for children to
further contemplate what they have heard, either through art or by physically handling the
materials, i.e., the wood figures or liturgical symbols of the presentation they have just
experienced. These reflective experiences are the way in which young children are
introduced to contemplation and prayer. According to Cavalletti, this process illustrates
how the word transcends mere instruction. She also points out that this process

provides a way to avoid the excesses of biblical fundamentalism and the aridity of
strictly historical approaches to the text.

J erome Berrymans Godly Play

J erome Berryman is an Episcopal priest who discovered the work of Montessori,
saw the potential in her teaching method for religious education, and went to Italy to
become trained as Montessori teacher at The Center for Advanced Montessori Studies.
Here he met Sofia Cavalletti and discovered that she had already begun to develop the
potential he envisioned. Berryman became a student of Cavalletti as well, eventually
bringing her to his center in Texas to introduce America to her work, and continuing a
lifelong mentor/colleague relationship with her. She has supported his work over the
years as he has developed his own contribution through on-going research with children,
eventually developing an ecumenical (Christian) process for fostering the spiritual
development of children (and adults) called Godly Play that has grown out of the
foundational work of Montessori and Cavalletti.
Although Godly Play is used most frequently in childrens programs in churches,
it is much more than a Sunday school program. It is a method of teaching the language of
Christianity, and is used in pastoral care settings as well. Much of the major research
Berryman has conducted was done in hospital-related pastoral care settings for children.
Dallas Childrens Medical Center has developed Godly Play for pastoral care in

Ibid., 6.

hospitals. It is a fully accredited center for Clinical Pastoral Education and for teaching
the specialty of pediatric pastoral care.

Berrymans work with children demonstrates how, when the language of religion
is linked to the creative process, it helps with ones life pilgrimage.
According to
Berryman, the language of religion gives expression to the big picture existential
questions that frame our view of the world and need for meaning. His work with children
clearly demonstrates that children are aware of existential limits and issues, and that they
have a deep need to express their questions relating to them. The sense of contentment
and happiness that is so evident in children who engage in Godly Play is related to the
satisfaction for their need of such language. The following example illustrates this well:
Dr. Suzi Robertson, parish educator, was responsible for baptisms at her church.
One day a mother phoned to request that her young son, Brandon, be baptized. Brandon
had cancer and was very, very ill. Although time was critical, and the family did not
attend church regularly, Dr. Robertrson negotiated with the parents that Brandon would
attend Sunday school every Sunday for the next few weeks until the scheduled date of the
Brandon was so ill that he had to be carried, but each time he wanted to come
back. Over Christmas break, Brandon had a stroke while visiting out of town, and was

J erome W. Berryman, How to Lead Godly Play Lessons, The Complete Guide to Godly Play,
vol. 1 (Denver: Living the Good News, 2002), 7779.
J erome W. Berryman, Godly Play (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1991), ix.

airlifted to the hospital. On Epiphany his mother phoned Dr. Robertson with the message
that Brandon wanted to see her. He wanted to come back to Sunday school.
That Sunday, with Brandon present, the parable of the Good Shepherd was told.
After the wondering, the teacher asked if anyone had a wondering question of their own.
Brandon raised his hand and said, I have two. If one of the sheep gets lost and the Good
Shepherd cant find him but is really sad, is the Good Shepherd still with him? And if
one of the sheep gets so sick that he dies is the good Shepherd sad and still with him?
Someone in the group answered, The Good Shepherd is with you no matter
Berryman points out that even though Brandon had not been raised in a religious
tradition, and did not even necessarily know that the Good Shepherd is J esus, he met
J esus, though the story, even though he did not know the shepherds name. He learned
that he didnt have to die by himself, whenever it came time for him to die. Also, as
Berryman so importantly notes, if this child had not had the opportunity to join the class
for those few sessions, his baptismto himwould have been nothing but a little water
sprinkled on him.

Teaching With the Physical Space/Environment

The setting for Godly Play utilizes the basic Montessori philosophy of order and
cleanliness that reflects the values of self nurture and stewardship for the environment

that we want the children to learn.
The materials have been developed and expanded
over time. The arrangement of materials on the shelves reflects what is being taughtthe
religious language system. For example, the focal point, which is located directly across
the room from the door way is an altar shelf holding the Holy Family figures centered on
the liturgical cloth appropriate to the season. On the shelf to the immediate right is the
Good Shepherd; on the left is the Lighta large white candle. Below the Good Shepherd
are the Holy Communion materials; below the Light are the materials for the lesson on
The top shelf holds the most sensorial materials and most important images; the
parables of J esus are distinguished by their gold boxes. Materials are more abstract the
lower they are on the shelf. The sacred story materials are on trays which the children can
carry to their work area. One section of these is Old Testament lessons; the other is New
Testament lessons. There are shelves for Easter and Christmas materials, and then there is
an art area with art supplies and a place to store works in progress. The rule of thumb
is that a child may work with any of the materials for which they have heard the
presentation of the lesson at least once.
There are also cleanup materials including a feather duster, brush and dustpan,
sponges and spray bottles, furniture polish, and a watering can for plants. See Figure 1 for
room arrangement diagram (page 184).

Ibid., 8086.

Teaching with Time

Most Sunday school time slots are a forty-five minute hour, so the following
routine works within this time frame. However, much of Berrymans research was
conducted in sessions that were two hours long when he was working on a medical
pastoral care research project, so the basic routine is quite flexible. The longer work time
allows the children to go more deeply into their creative reflections through their art
work. With shorter sessions, it may be necessary to hold childrens art until the next time
they come, in order for them to complete their work. The overall structure of time for a
class has four steps shown in Table 1 on page 173.

Berryman explains that, this structure of classroom time is shaped by the deep
structure of the Holy Eucharist. . . . The reason . . . is that the language of religiona
language system people can learn and choose to use like any other linguistic domain,
such as science, ethics, art, or lawis grounded in a special kind of experience. This
experience is the relationship with God in community. This way of communicating we
call worship has taken the classical shape of the Eucharist for nearly two thousand

The structure allows children to come into a place of imagining such as that
described by Urban T. Holmes where there is a need for pilgrimage outside normal
social structures in order to encounter God in the wilderness and chaos of the anti-
structure in order to grow and transcend. When children step over the threshold into the

Ibid., 8789.
Berryman, Godly Play, 45.

Godly Play classroom, they come to a place where a different language is spoken. It is
anti-structure because it is a kind of wilderness anti-structure as compared to their usual
environment of home, school or child care. It is not chaotic, however. It is a safe place in
which to engage the imagination about the darker, unknown boundaries of life. Children
acquire a strong structure of symbols and rituals to use as tools in their lifes pilgrimage.
This is a place where there is an opportunity for time to be dependent as well as
independent; with always an opportunity to opt out of either according to each childs
need, at any time. This type of oscillation is an important way of supporting individual
growth that allows a child time for autonomous activity as well as an opportunity to
return to structure for renewal. Relationships are carefully nurtured in ways that promote
both learning and the use of language to know God.

Teaching with People

This is not about content or what is taught; rather it is about how learning occurs
as a result of what classroom leaders do, and how they feel. Adults are more powerful
than children, so they can control children through force, threats, guilt, shame, or other
ways. However, this is no way to teach children to communicate with God. We need to
be helpful to one another and work through the whole group in order to know God.
Therefore, an effective teacher of Godly Play must become more of a servant to the group
in order to work through the group of children, enable them to access their creativity, and
through the experience learn to know God.

Ibid., 9093.

The teaching team for a Godly Play classroom consists of two adults; one is the
presenter of the lesson and the other is the door person The door person stops children
before they enter the room to talk them down until they are in a calm state and ready to
join the circle for the lesson. This person remains in a chair by the door while the lesson
is presented, ready to be with any child who needs to come to them until they are ready to
return to the circle. After the lesson, the door person helps children set up their art
materials as they leave the circle.
The presenter is seated on the floor in front of the Holy Family, ready to welcome
children to the circle as they arrive. The presenter and children visit quietly until all the
children are assembled. The presenter then goes to the shelf to get the materials for the
lesson of the day, bringing them to the center of the circle. The story is told using the
materials, with the presenters eyes directed at the materials to focus the attention of the
children on the lesson rather than on the presenter. After the lesson the presenter
facilitates reflection and contemplation by asking I wonder questions. Next, each child,
one at a time, is asked what work they would like to do. They may choose from any of
the lesson materials that they have heard up to the present, or they may choose to use the
art materials. When it is time to finish the work period, the presenter tells them to put
away their things and get ready for the feast.
The feast is eaten in the circle, with napkins for snack items and a beverage cup placed on
the floor before each child. The door person assists chosen helpers to pass around the
food. Prayers are asked for, without pressure. When parents arrive outside the door, each
child is called upon, one at a time, to say good-by to the presenter, then walk to the door
person for a good-by, and then leave with parents.

Play and Reality

In order to understand the interface of play and reality, Berryman refers to the
work of Donald W. Winnicott as a starting point. Working as a psychiatric consultant in
1940, Winnicott found much in common between the playfulness of what he called
good enough mothering and the playfulness required for good therapy or growth in
In studying mothers and their newborn infants, he found that initially, mothers
were fully focused on their babies, generally intuiting their needs for food, changing,
bathing, holding, etc. But as this phase begins to end, the mother starts to focus on her
own needs as well, and her attention becomes less focused on the needs of the baby.
During this period the babys needs are still metjust not with the perfection of the
earlier stage. During this time period, the baby needs good enough mothering. As the
baby senses a need, such as that of being fed, he imagines the satisfaction of his hunger
while the mother is intuiting his need. When the need is satisfied the baby experiences a
sense of omnipotencesort of a magical joining of desire and satisfaction. It is this
sense that gives the child a sense of me, a sense of reality. The illusion begins that there
is an external reality that corresponds to the infants own capacity to create. This is how
the sense of self and other comes about.
Another phenomenon that occurs about this time is the use of transitional objects
such as a security blanket. The child associates the warmth and desirable physical
sensation of the blanket with the warm, secure feelings experienced with the mother, and

Ibid., 9.

is thereby able to use this as a way of accessing the feeling of security in the absence of
his mother.
But what happens if a mother is not available enough to the child, such as in the
case of maternal depression, and the substitution is not able to meet the overwhelming
. . . The child then adjusts to the mothers needs, rather than to
his or her own. When the mother cant respond to the child during
the initial period of illusion and omnipotence, the child does not
feel real and begins to develop a false self that attends to the needs
of the mother and later to the needs of others. The child, and then
the adult can lose touch with inner needs and with the creative or
real self. The link between playing and reality is of fundamental
importance to Winnicott and to Godly Play. Playing takes place in
the intermediate and overlapping area of experience between the
me and the not me. This is a place of spontaneity. It is where
one does not need to be compliant or acquiescent. The significant
moment in such experiencing is when the child or adult at play
surprises himself or herself with a glimpse of the true self.

Godly Play enables both children and adults to be true to self while in the
presence of others who are also being true to self. This is because Godly Play is about
process not product. It is about teaching the art of playing in order to come close to the
Creator, no matter ones age.
Berryman speaks of Holy Communion as an event that invites us into the
overlapping space to play. This liturgy often refers to God in us or how we are in
God as we partake of the bread and wine. No one can force an experience of God on
another during this time, but we can enter the game and play to discover such a

Ibid., 1112.

presence. This is what Godly Play is about: teaching the art of such play, with the use of
religious language.
Berryman has developed three propositions, as he calls them, from his work with
Godly Play:
The first proposition is Hide and Seek. He suggests that our relationship
with God is one of Peekaboo and Hide-and-Seek, which he dignifies with the Latin
Deus Absconditus atque Praesens (God is hidden yet also present.) Says Berryman,
We do not play Hide-and-Seek with people we know are not there. The possibility of a
presence that can be revealed is necessary for the game to go forward. . . . This implies
that theological Hide and Seek continues for a lifetime. In fact, the goal of the game is to
keep the game going, rather than end it by winning or losing.
The second proposition is The Silent Child. This one suggests that the silent child
teachesnot from what he says but from the way he is. Adults can learn from children
how to renew their nonverbal powers of communication. Children are more open to
spirituality than adults, according to Berryman, because adults rely more on their ability
with words. He relates this to J esus saying that to enter the Kingdom we need to become
like a child. Berryman asserts that, the ontological appreciation of a child is deeply
important for the development of adult spirituality, which in turn supports the childs
The third proposition is An Ethic of Blessing. Blessing is a matter of life and
death, says Berryman, pointing out that human children need a long period of nourishing

Berryman, How to Lead Godly Play Lessons, 131132.

relationship for their very survival. As he states, A blessing affirms a person and yet
calls forth the best in him or her.

J ames W. Fowler

Author of Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the
Quest for Meaning, J ames Fowler is currently director of the center for Research on Faith
and Moral Development at Emory University. He defined six developmental stages of
faith covering both childhood and adulthood, building upon the structural development
work of J ean Piaget, a scientist with an extensive theory of cognitive development; Eric
Erikson, certified in the Montessori method, a child psychoanalyst trained under Anna
Freud, and who developed a theory of human development called the Eight Stages of
Man; and Lawrence Kohlberg whose theory regarding stages of moral
development was newly published. Table 2 on page 174 shows how the three
developmental theories from which Fowler worked, correlate with each other.

Fowler added to this developmental framework the structuring power of the
contents of faith to form his six stages of faith. The contents of faith added by Fowler
include three major elements: centers of value, images of power and master stories.
Fowlers Stages of Faith are not added to the chart of the developmentalists in this
paper because, unlike developmental stages, they do not necessarily correlate with age
although developmental changes can help precipitate a change in the structural operations

J ames W. Fowler, Stages of Faith (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1981, 1995), 52.

of faith.
Those stages that pertain to children begin with the undifferentiated faith of
infancy, plus the first stage called Intuitive-Projective faith, and the second stage,
Mythic-Literal faith. However, adults can remain in Stage 2, or in any subsequent stage,
without proceeding further.
Infancy and Undifferentiated Faith
According to Fowler, we all begin the pilgrimage of faith as infants. This stage of
faith coincides with Eriksons developmental stage where Trust versus Mistrust is the
significant issue to be resolved. J ust as physical body changes or changes in the
environment trigger an imbalance that in turn ushers in the next developmental stage, so
too can growth in faith be initiated. This happens during the good enough mothering
period of early infancy described earlier in this paper, as the mothers slower but
sufficient response to her infants needs initiates the formation of a sense of self as
opposed to other. When this occurs, a kind of primal fall into consciousness
happens as our interaction with persons and objects enables us to cognitively construct
what Piaget calls the schema of object permanence. This phenomenon occurs at about 7
or 8 months when an infant forms and retains a mental image of missing objects. Until
that time, an infants experience can be described as out of sight, out of mind.

This fall is traumatic. A new anxiety appears as an infant feels a sense of panic
about whether the person with whom he feels attachment will reappear. The sense of trust

Ibid., 106107.
Ibid., 120.

that evolves as the return of the caregiver is experienced is believed by Fowler to be the
source of the first pre-image of God. This event involves ones initial experience of
mutuality, the first sense of being known, and the first sense of self as dependent upon
an all-powerful other. These are the pre-images that are formed before language as
consciousness emerges.

The appearance of teeth is an example of a physical change that promotes
development by upsetting the established equilibrium, and is also a factor in faith
When the baby vigorously pursues the only activity that
promises relief (from the painful explosion of pain in the gums
from teething), namely biting, the previously available sources of
oral succorfingers and nipplesare likely to be withdrawn.
There is a reason to suppose that primal myths of separation from
paradisial, nurturing gardens due to the biting of forbidden fruit
may have their psychological roots in this separation from the
primary nurturer during this second oral stage . . . this corresponds
with the time when Piaget sees the emergence of the schema of the
permanent object, bringing with it a new awareness of otherness.


In order to have a strong foundation for faith development, it is important that the
outcome of this developmental stage is one of a sense of trustworthiness and reliability
reached through the quality and consistency of care. If a child feels cherished and
included in the parents meaning, he feels an inner sense of trustworthiness and

Ibid., 120121.
Ibid., 55.

reliability which balances the terrors of separation and abandonment which results in the
ego virtue or strength we call hope.

Stage 1: Intuitive-Projective Faith
This stage of faith begins with the emergence of language as it converges with thought,
and typically occurs at about three to seven years of age. In Fowlers words:
Intuitive-Projective faith is the fantasy-filled, imitative phase in
which the child can be powerfully and permanently influenced by
examples, moods, actions and stories of the visible faith of
primally related adults. . . . imagination at this stage is extremely
productive of long-lasting images and feelings (positive and
negative) that later, more stable and self-reflective valuing and
thinking will have to order and sort out. This is the stage of first
self-awareness. The self-aware child is egocentric as regards the
perspective of others. Here we find first awareness of death and
sex, and of the strong taboos by which cultures and families
insulate those powerful areas.

The emergent strength or gift of this stage is that of imagination and the ability to
have intuitive understanding based on subliminal images from first experiences. These
abilities enable the child to begin to integrate their experience or inner knowing and
feelings with the stories they hear, and to begin to apply this toward their understanding
of the Ultimate.

Ibid., 133.

It is at this stage of faith awareness when the approach of Dr. J erome Berryman, with
his use of parables, ritual, and symbols, is so effective in facilitating the formation of
Stage 2: Mythic-Literal Faith
The orderly, linear black/white thinking of a ten year old middle school child is
very different from the preschool child who is integrating fantasy, feeling and facts. The
older child focuses on distinguishing reality and make-believe, investigating and testing
in order to prove what is fact or not fact in the manner of a budding scientist. Children of
this age do not give up imagination and fantasy, but they test out whatever their
imagination produces, in a logical, concrete way. According to Piaget, the first real
logical operations, called concrete or operational thinking, start at age six or seven. The
ability of children this age to verbalize their thoughts and feelings greatly increases their
ability to integrate their experience and feeling in a logical way that they could not do
without verbal skills.

Fowler describes this faith stage in the following way:
Mythic-Literal faith is the stage in which the person begins to
take on for him- or herself the stories, beliefs, and observances that
symbolize belonging to his or her community. Beliefs are
appropriated with literal interpretations, as are morals rules and
attitudes. Symbols are taken as one-dimensional and literal in
meaning. In this stage the rise of concrete operations leads to the
curbing and ordering of the previous stages imaginative
composing of the world. The episodic quality of Intuitive-
Projective faith gives way to a more linear, narrative construction

Ibid., 4151.

of coherence and meaning. Story becomes the major way of giving
unity and value to experience. This is the faith stage of the school
child (though we sometimes find the structures dominant in
adolescents and adults). Marked by increased accuracy in taking
the perspective of other persons, those in Stage 2 compose a world
based on reciprocal fairness and an imminent justice based on
reciprocity. The actors in their cosmic stories are anthropomorphic.
They can be affected deeply and powerfully by symbolic and
dramatic materials and can describe in endlessly detailed narrative
what has occurred. They do not, however, step back from the flow
of stories to formulate reflective, conceptual meanings. For this
stage the meaning is both carried and trapped in the narrative.

The new capacity or strength in this stage is the rise of
narrative and the emergence of story, drama and myth as ways of
finding and giving coherence to experience.

It is the belief of this writer that a clear understanding of Infancy and Stages 1 and
2 are critical in working with children and their faith formation. Piagets area of focus
was cognitive learning which, it is important to note, he did not claim to be the only way
of acquiring knowledge. He also recognized that cognitive development does not occur
separate from emotional development, although his research was structured according to
the scientific method which excludes the subjective in order to focus on the objective. It
is unfortunate that Christian educators have sometimes erroneously assumed that because
children do not have fully developed cognitive skills in early childhood, they are
therefore not capable of religious knowing. For example, Ronald Goldman, writing on
Christian education during the 1960s, concluded that young children cannot understand
such stories as the Good Shepherd parable because they do not understand religious
language or metaphor, and because they have not experienced firsthand the real

Ibid., 149.
Ibid., 149150.

problems of the human condition. He therefore, unfortunately, labeled children who
have not reached Piagets stage of formal operations to be in a pre-religious stage.

In order to further understand Fowlers theory of growth in faith, it is important to
note that he sees faith as a persons way of seeing him or herself in relation to others
against a background of shared meaning and purpose. He says that God values in our
lives are those things that concern us ultimately.

Agreeing with Christian ethicist Richard Niebuhr, Fowler finds that faith is first
formed in our earliest relationships as we are cared for in our infancy. According to
Fowler, it is Niebuhrs belief that we look for something to love that loves us, something
to value that gives us value, and something to honor and respect that has the power to
sustain our being. Fowler points out that both Niebuhr and theologian Paul Tillich say
that faith is a universal human concern . . . whether we are believers or nonbelievers,
agnostics or atheists; we are concerned with how to put our lives together and with what
will make life worth living.

According to Fowler, the initial interaction between an infant and his or her
parents is a covenantal pattern of relationship that forms a rudimentary form of faith. As
the newborn bonds through dependency, attachment and love, nascent images of the

Ronald Goldman, Readiness for Religion (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1965), 33, 4647.
Fowler, Stages of Faith, 4.
Ibid., 4145.

centers of value and power coming from the faith of the parents begin to form. This
relationship is illustrated in the Table 3, page 175.

In Fowlers words:
We value that which seems of transcendent worth in relation to
which our lives have worth . . . in a world of powerful forces that
have an impact on us, enlarging and diminishing us, forming and
sometimes destroying us, we invest loyalty in and seek to align
ourselves with powers that promise to sustain our lives and to
under-gird more being. The centers of value and power that
have God value for us, therefore, are those that confer meaning and
worth on us and promise to sustain us in a dangerous world of
power . . .Our commitments and trusts shape our identities. They
determine (and are determined by) the communities we join. In a
real sense, we become part of that we love and trust.

Faith-identity relational patterns are made up of many different faith-relational
triads as illustrated in the above diagram, and include institutions and groups as well as
other persons. They are based on shared trusts, loyalties, goals, shared meaning, shared
stories and common hope. Our faith and personal identity, or sense of self, are the
integration of these many triads. This view of faith-identity relational patterns is broader
than the more narrow application of faith to religion alone.
It is possible to have as a
center of power such things as money, success, and hard work, for example, and live
ones life accordingly.
Fowler sees imagination to be an integral part of faith formation. He states that
Faith forms a way of seeing our everyday life in relation to holistic images of what we

Ibid., 17.
Ibid., 18.
Ibid., 1819.

may call the ultimate environment.
The Kingdom of God is an example of this in
the J ewish/Christian tradition. He maintains that virtually all of our knowing begins with
images, and that most of what we know is stored in images.

According to Fowlers theory, experiences in infancy and early childhood, before
the emergence of what has been called narratizing consciousness, makes conscious
memory possible. These experiences give powerful form to our knowing of self, others
and our forming of the world. Regardless of whether or not they are consciously
remembered, they are part of our imaginal knowing. This subliminal knowing is
important for later conscious learning as conscious experience resonates with previous
images, linking with and extending them with a feeling component. In other words,
feeling and the information unite in the image. From this, nascent inner images can be
articulated and sharedin the form of stories, poetry or symbols. Fowler goes on to say
that faith, in its forming of images of the ultimate environment, never finds analogues
that fully or with complete accuracy bring out and express its knowing. Therefore, it is
important to distinguish between faith, belief and religion. Belief tries to express what
faith sees as it imagines an ultimate environment. Religion is made up of the forms faith
puts together to express, celebrate and live in relation to the ultimate environment that
has been imagined, and is expressed through story, myth, metaphor, ritual and symbol.

Ibid., 24.
Ibid., 25.
Ibid, 2728.

Fowler calls our attention to the fact that imagination is a powerful force
underlying all knowing, and not simply fantasy or make-believe. He goes on to state that
we do not compose alone; events and moments of disclosure (revelation) occur to us,
striking us as powerful clues for composing truthfully and accurately.

David Hay and Rebecca Nye
In 1996 a national conference on Spiritual and Moral Education was set up in
Britain to address the question of how to best teach spirituality in public schools. Britain
does not have legally mandated separation of church and state, but does have a diverse
population of faith traditions, as well as a relatively high proportion of the population that
is not officially affiliated with any church or other religious organization. There are
political reasons, therefore, for differentiating between teaching spirituality and teaching
religion. The incentive for addressing this question was the increased public concern
about the coherence of society as a whole, allied to an intuition that spirituality has
importance in maintaining what [has been referred to as] the moral commonwealth.

In determining how to proceed with research to address the question, there were
two basic challenges:
1) Lack of clarity and agreement on just what spirituality is.

Ibid., 30.
David Hay and Rebecca Nye, The Spirit of the Child (London: HarperCollins, 1998), v.

2) Little detailed information about the spiritual life of children was available.
Although there is much research on cognitive development of children, there was a lack
of specific data on the spiritual experience of children.

The first order of business, then, was to further define spirituality. Because the
terms religion and spirituality are often blurred, Hay used his previous experience
with discussion groups to differentiate between the two. Hay recalled the numerous times
he had lead brainstorming sessions where he asked the participants to list word
associations with each term. Most people made a clear distinction: Under religion
words listed usually were associated with the public domain, such as church, mosque,
Bible, religious officials, weddings and funerals. Also usually included were words such
as boredom, narrow-minded, and out of date. Spirituality, on the other hand, was found
to be associated with more personal, emotionally warm words such as love, wholeness,
depth, mystery, prayer and meditation.
When asked how they see the relationship between the two, participants often
explained the relationship metaphorically. One frequently used metaphor was that of a
tree, with roots representing spirituality and leaves representing religion.
Using this
fuzzy definition of spirituality, he reviewed what was known about the spiritual life of
children up to that point.
In 1965 zoologist Alister Hardy spoke of the relationship between biology and
religion. He hypothesized that what he termed religious experience has evolved

Ibid., 6, 7.

through the biological process of natural selection because it has survival value for the
individual. In other words, there is strength in being religious (spiritual).
Hay noted Hardys additional perception that the many religions of mankind are
rich, varied cultural responses to a natural spiritual awareness seemed consistent with
the thinking of German romantic theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher from the 18

century. Schleiermacher proposed that religious feeling is a natural phenomenon of
absolute dependenceapparently implying that such a feeling is more like a perception
than simply an emotion. Along these same lines, theologian George Lindbeck found that
religious theory which focuses on the experiential-expressive dimension of religion,
sees different religions of the world as varied expressions of a common core

Up to that time Hay was aware of two studies that had been done which offered
insight into the personal spiritual experiences of individuals. Edward Robinsons book,
The Original Vision, is based on personal interviews with more than 4,000 people who
described their religious experience. This book summarizes, with anecdotal descriptions,
a large number of those religious experiences which occurred during childhood, before
rational, cognitive abilities had developed.
The following is the description of a
religious encounter from one of the interviews:
My first remembered experience of the numinous occurred
when I was barely three. I recall walking down a little cul-de-sac
lane behind our house in Shropshire. The sun was shining, and as I
walked along the dusty lane, I became acutely aware of the things

Ibid., 1013.
Edward Robinson, The Original Vision (New York: The Seabury Press, 1988), back cover.

around me. I noticed a group of dandelions on my left at the base
of the stone wall. Most of them were in full bloom, their golden
heads irradiated by the sun, and suddenly I was overcome by an
extraordinary feeling of wonder and joy. It was as if I was part of
the flowers, and stones, and dusty earth. I could feel the dandelions
pulsating in the sunlight, and experienced a timeless unity with all
life. It is quite impossible to express this in words, or recall its
intensity. All I know now is that I knew something profound and
eternal then. Now I am deeply conscious that my human failings
have taken me far from my childhood understanding of a greater

According to Robinson, What I have called the original vision of childhood is
no mere imaginative fancy but a form of knowledge and one that is essential to the
development of any mature understanding. . . . .And I believe finally that this vision and
the experiences which are associated with it are essentially religious, and that no
understanding, let alone definition, of that word is possible without a sympathetic insight
into all that is here included in the concept of childhood.
Robinsons interviews also document the contribution of this original vision to
later spirituality, as well as the importance of its being nurtured and maintained
throughout life. One example is the following account:
When I was about five, I had the experience on which, in a
sense, my life has been based. It has always remained real and true
for me. Sitting in the garden one day I suddenly became conscious
of a colony of ants in the grass, running rapidly and purposefully
about their business. Pausing to watch them I studied the form of
their activity, wondering how much of their own pattern they were
able to see for themselves. All at once I knew that I was so large
that, to them, I was invisibleexcept, perhaps, as a shadow over
their lives. I was gigantic, hugeable at once to comprehend, at
least to some extent, the work of the whole colony. I had the power
to destroy or scatter it, and I was completely outside the sphere of
their knowledge and understanding.

Ibid., 49.

Turning away from them to my surroundings, I saw there was a
tree not far away, and the sun was shining. There were clouds, and
blue sky that went on forever and ever. And suddenly I was tiny
so little and weak and insignificant that it didnt really matter at all
whether I existed or not . . .I could understand my lack of
understanding . . . .
It was a lovely thing to have happened. All my life, in times of
great pain or distress or failure, I have been able to look back and
remember, quite sure that the present agony was not the whole

Another, researcher, Robert Cole, wrote The Spiritual Life of Children, published
in 1992. It recounts the findings of a large-scale study that involved many in-depth
conversations with children from a wide variety of countries and cultural backgrounds.
The difference between this study and that of Robinsons, it should be noted, is that
Robinsons research deals with adults who are recalling their experiences and
interpreting them with their rational, adult minds after being acculturated to the limits of
rational thought through language and other acculturating factors.
Cole, on the other hand, interviewed children who were conversing about their
current spiritual sense, undiluted by time and less skewed or limited by the ingrained
habit of rational thinking. As he listened actively and carefully to the children describing
their own experiences in their own way, Cole began to think of spiritual awareness as a
universal human attribute. He related this insight to the previously mentioned work of
psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott regarding good enough mothering, and his concept of
transitional space that describes the realm between illusion and reality in infants that is
related to the initial stages of memory, image-making and creativity. Cole sees

Ibid., 5.

transitional space as an important potential source of spirituality that takes respectful
account of both inner and outer worlds, reducing spiritual experience to neither.

It was within the context of this previous research that Hay set out to delve more
deeply into the spiritual experience of children. His stated overall goal was to argue that
childrens spirituality is rooted in a universal human awareness; that it is really there
and not just a culturally constructed illusion.

Intrigued with Alister Hardys theory regarding the survival value of religious
experience, Hay interprets Hardy as saying, . . . there is a form of awareness, different
from the transcending everyday awareness, which is potentially present in all human
beings and which has a positive function in enabling individuals to survive in their
natural environment.

In order to create a framework from which to develop a research methodology,
Hay and Nye began by defining what they term the geography of the spirit.
Recognizing the truth of Karl Rahners statement, It is possible to talk about God
without being spiritual; he expanded this notion with the recognition that it is also
possible to be spiritual without talking about God. This is another way to acknowledge
the difference between knowledge about religion and religious knowledge.

Hay and Nye, The Spirit of the Child, 4647.
Ibid., 4.
Ibid., 10.
Ibid., 57.

As a way to grasp the elusive quality of spirituality, Hay and Nye began by
identifying three different categories of spiritual sensitivity: Awareness-sensing,
Mystery-sensing and Value-sensing.

Awareness-sensing, in this context, refers to being aware
of ones awareness. There are four basic types of awareness-
1. The ability to be in the here and now
2. Tuning, or the ability to feel at one with nature
3. Flow, which is the ability to lose ones self in an
activity while feeling liberated from having to manage
ones self, or being managed by another.
4. Focusing, which is a felt sense that includes bodily
awareness and using the whole body as a sensing device

Mystery-sensing refers to awareness that all aspects of our
lives are not comprehensible. There are two types of mystery-
1. Wonder and awe
2. Imagination

Value-sensing refers to the ability to use feelings as a way
to measure what we value. There are three types of value-sensing:
1. Delight and Despair
2. Ultimate goodness
3. Meaning

The subjects of the research project included 38 children (eighteen
67 year olds and twenty 1011 year olds) from four different
religious traditions:
Church of England 4
Muslim 4
Roman Catholic 2
No affiliation 28
Total 38

Data collection was done through up to three individual interviews with each
child, conducted by experienced child researcher Rebecca Nye. Each interview was

Ibid., 60.

recorded and analyzed by computer according to the categories referred to above as the
geography of the spirit. The sensitivity and skill of the interviewer was, of course, a
key factor in obtaining rich data to analyze.

From the analysis, it became clear to the researchers that the core of childrens
spirituality is what they termed relational consciousness, i.e., the awareness of the child
of being in relationship with something or someone: child-God; child-people; child-
world or child-self. This result was not what had been anticipated, and at first the
researchers felt dismay that, although they had been aware that a sense of the holistic is
central to the nature of spirituality, they had not even included relationship as a sub-
category of spiritual awareness in their initial framework. However, they felt it was a
positive factor that the results did not simply reflect their preconceptions.

Hay and Nye then created a structural framework based on the results of their
seminal research, which outlines the dimensions of relational consciousness. The major
dimensions include:
1) Contexts (the four categories of relationships, which are: others, self, world
and God.)
2) Conditions (the circumstances in which relational context is expressed, such as
religious language or language of the natural sciences, for example.)
3) Processing (charts the changes in childrens spirituality over time.)

Ibid., 85.
Ibid., 142.

4) Strategies (activities pursued in attempt to maintain their sense of the spiritual,
such as mental-physical withdrawal, focusing, concentration, and others.)
5) Consequences (calmness, sense of worth, sense of wonder on one end of the
continuum, to perplexed/frustrated, conflicted, embarrassed, sense of feeling undermined,
on the other.)
Regarding the practical application of their research, Hay states, . . .the most
important way for teachers to help [children stay in touch with their spirituality] must
surely be to become aware of the dimensions of childrens relational consciousness, to be
sensitive to them when they are expressed, and to respond creatively.

Ibid., 141142.


The Grandpa Program was a qualitative research project conducted during the
first six weeks of the fall session of a Sunday school class for three and four year olds.
The program began with seven children and ended with an enrollment of eighteen
children by the final session. The parents of six of the children volunteered to have their
children serve as research subjects for the study, giving authorization for the research that
included video and tape recording of each session.
Triangulation was used to establish the validity of the researchers findings. The
first domain of research data was parent observations outside the classroom, both before
and after the program. The second domain of research was observations by the researcher
within the classroom. Triangulation was accomplished by comparing data from these two
domains with the research of two earlier practitioners to further validate the findings.
The five-session program was designed to follow the traditional structure of
Christian worship. (See Table 4, page176). The researcher drew upon her previous
classroom experience with preschool aged children and utilized knowledge gained from
the experience of two earlier practitioners (Montessori and Cavalleti) previously cited in
this paper, to design an experiential program that would foster spiritual growth in the
children. Portions of the worship component were modeled after the Childrens Chapel

program developed by J acqueline Nowak for the Memorial Presbyterian Preschool in
Xenia, OH.
In order to identify the effects of the program on the spirituality of the children,
home visits were conducted during the two weeks prior to the beginning of the program
to establish a baseline of spirituality in each child. This also provided an opportunity for
the researcher to establish a comfortable relationship with the children and parents before
the first class session in order to ease the transition of the children to an unfamiliar
setting. These audio taped sessions also provided background information that would
familiarize the researcher with the children and families in order to better understand
their classroom responses. The interviews were scheduled by telephone, with the parents
having a choice of meeting either during the daytime or evening, with either or both of
the parents present. Three open-ended questions were used to structure the interviews. A
follow-up questionnaire was mailed to the parents at the end of the program in order to
obtain their over-all impressions and observations regarding any changes in their child as
a result of their participation in the program.
Data collection during the classroom sessions was accomplished by the
videotaping of the sessions by volunteers. In addition, each Grandpa carried an individual
digital audio recorder in his shirt pocket to capture the small group conversations. A
focus group comprised of Grandpas held midway during the program to provide feedback
regarding their experience. Some journaling was done by the researcher during the six
week period.
An analysis of the four parts of the program was done initially in order to first
determine how each part could potentially contribute to each of the four areas of

relational consciousness. The four parts of the program included theWelcome/Hospitality
(the tea party), Ritual/Prayer (altar time), Introduction to Scripture (Godly Play
presentation of the Parable of the Good Shepherd) and Response/Closing (small groups
opening discovery boxes with Grandpas.) A graph was created to summarize how the
principles of Blessing Based Spiritual Nurture are used in each part of the program to
foster each type of relational consciousness. (See Table 4, page 176)
Following the implementation of the five sessions, both the home interviews and
audio recordings of the small group conversations were transcribed to create written
verbatims. The video recordings of the classroom and focus group were viewed and
summarized in typewritten notes. The verbatims and the video summaries were then
coded into the four types of relational consciousness: Child/Self; Child/People,
Child/World and Child/God. Next, the results were tabulated to report any found
evidence of each type of relational consciousness before and after the program, as well as
to document any evidence that demonstrated relational consciousness during actual
classroom participation. The data was then analyzed to determine what, if any, evidence
there was of an increase in relational consciousness or spirituality of the children over the
six-week time period.


A few weeks before the Sunday school program was scheduled to begin, families
of the congregation who had preschoolers were mailed a letter informing them of the
research project and inviting the first six families who responded to have their child
participate as a research subject. The six home visits were then scheduled, with parents
being offered a choice of meeting times, either day or evening.
Four of the interviews were held with the mother and the children of the family
present. Two of the fathers came home momentarily at the end of the interview, but did
not participate. One interview was held in the evening with both parents after the children
were in bed; all other interviews were held during daytime hours. Two of the children
were siblings, so there was a total of five interviews.
As mentioned earlier, spirituality was defined as relational consciousness for
the purposes of this research. The first question posed addressed the Child/People type of
relational consciousness. It was an open-ended question which asked parents to describe
their childs people world, and to identify the people with whom their child had
relationships. This question proved to be a comfortable, non-intrusive one that provided
the researcher with a wealth of information. None of the children had grandparents who
lived in town, and the frequency of visits with their long-distance grandparents varied.

One grandmother was estranged from the family, and one grandfather was deceased.
Three of the mothers were stay-at-home mothers, one mother (of the siblings) worked
outside the home, and one mother ran a part-time business at home. The exposure to
neighborhood friends and others varied somewhat, from the busy household with lots of
people coming and going in the home with the home-based businesses, to the family who
had recently moved to the community and was in the process of meeting new friends and
neighbors. Five of the six children were attending preschool on a regular basis.
The next question, which addressed the Child/God type of relational
consciousness, was, What kind of existential questions have been asked by your child?
(This question was elaborated upon with suggested examples, such as questions about
God, death, why bad things happen, etc.) There was a wide variety of answersall the
way from no existential questions being asked by Linda, who is the youngest child in the
class and the oldest child in her family, to Adam, the oldest child, whose mother spoke
passionately of her own spirituality and who highly valued the spirituality she recognizes
in her son. This mother reported that in their family they talked very openly about
deathparticularly about the death of the grandfatherand that Adam spoke of his
Grandpa as being in our hearts. This child also had had a fish die, and had conducted
funeral rituals for birds and little crabs. She spoke of the way Adam had observed her
grieving openly about her fathers death, and how important she felt it to be for him to
recognize and accept all his feelings, including sadness. Three of the other children had
older siblings and had been participants in conversations around existential questions
asked by the older siblings, but had not initiated such discussions themselves. The mother

of the child who had not participated in any existential discussions, even though she had
older siblings, reported that their family did not participate in God talk.
The third question asked during the home visits provided insight into the parents
perspective about their childs spirituality and its importance: What difference do you
want your childs Sunday school experience to make in his or her life?
The responses to this question varied widely, and reflected varying comfort levels
with the subject. One parent, a very spiritual person whose life was deeply focused on her
own spiritual growth and healing, spoke with great clarity about the importance of her
son staying connected to who he really is and being reminded of his wholeness. She
spoke of wanting him to know the fullness of lifebeing able to face his own pain,
fear and loneliness and not being restricted to only light and joy and positive talk about
goodness. Her response was filled with the ways in which her child is supported in his
spirituality by their day-to-day family life. This parent clearly was not waiting for, nor
was she dependent upon, a Sunday school class to support her childs spirituality
though she was most excited to hear about the Grandpa Program and believed it would
reinforce the spirituality that was fostered at home.
Other responses to this question were more general, such as I just want her to
have a good faith, and be comfortable with her faith . . . I know a lot of people who are
100 or 105 years old, and they say that is what keeps them going. Another family also
spoke of wanting their child to have a strong faith, adding that they also want her to be
able to choose for herself when she is old enough to do so. One parent, whose religious
background varied considerably from that of her husband, said she wanted her daughter
to learn about God and the Bible, while strongly emphasizing the importance of a

totally accepting environment, where her daughters own ideas and questions are
accepted and respected, rather than stamped out. This parent went on to discuss the
fearful religious environment in which she herself had been raised, and which she very
much wanted to avoid for her own children. She spoke of her husbands broad spiritual
journey beyond his Christian upbringing, including his interest in Hinduism and Eastern
religious practices. She emphasized their mutual desire for their daughter to experience
unconditional love and acceptance as she chooses her own way.

Welcome/Tea Party

All the children of the congregation began Sunday morning worship in the
sanctuary with their parents until the childrens message was given, with children coming
to the altar to receive their message from the minister. The Grandpas, wearing red vests
in order to be easily identifiable to children and parents, were scattered throughout the
congregation. At the close of the childrens message, the Grandpas stood up to join the
children and their parents as they all came downstairs to Sunday school.
Parents put name tags on the children outside the door, then signed them in. One
of the leaders-in-training supervised the sign-in table. The facilitator (the researcher)
greeted the children and invited them to choose a seat at one of the tables with a Grandpa
for the tea party. (See Figures 6 and 7, pages 185 and 186)
Much attention to detail was given in order to create a welcoming, comfortable
ambience in the room. Round tables, with child-sized seats for four or five children plus a
Grandpa, were set with gingham table cloths and paper napkins. J uice or hot chocolate
was served in china demitasse sets and a china plate filled with miniature homemade

muffins enticed the children to find a seat. The beverage was poured by the Grandpa from
the large pitcher into a smaller serving pitcher, so each child could then pour his or her
own beverage. The plate of muffins was offered to each child as he or she sat down.
Small baskets holding a damp sponge were placed on each table so children could easily
wipe up any spills.
The purpose of the carefully set table with real cloth table cloths, real china,
and homemade muffins was to create an ambience of care and nurture that is subtly
communicated through the care and effort it obviously takes to prepare such an
environment. The particulars of having the children pour their own beverage and wipe up
their own spills helped them achieve mastery of their environment as they learned to be
self-sufficient in these ways. This was a technique intended to foster the developing sense
of self in the children.
It was felt that the appeal of a tasty muffin and the opportunity to pour their own
beverage were natural motivators for the children to transition to the group and be
comfortable with their parents leaving. Because asking them to wait until everyone was
seated would detract from this easy transition, it was decided that grace would be said
later, as a group, in the middle of the tea party after everyone was settled in. After some
conversation among the children and Grandpas, the facilitator asked for the groups
attention as she introduced to them, line by line, a prayer thanking God and asking help in
remembering to be kind.
Following the prayer, the facilitator went around to each table to explain the
meaning of joys and concerns in the context of prayer. She also reminded the children
to think about what had made them happy, sad, afraid, or worried during the week so they

could talk to God about it later. This generated further discussion as they shared their joys
and concerns with the Grandpas and each other. The reminder to think about what to pray
about was added during the third session of the group.
After a demonstration to show the children how to pick up their napkin and cup
and place them on the shelf when they were through, the children quickly learned the
routine. After several sessions they did not need to be reminded at all when tea time was
over. The facilitator also introduced the term holy space and demonstrated for the
children how to walk quietly into the other part of the room and sit in a circle around the
altar with legs crossed. For the first few times a circle of red yarn was placed in a circle
around the altar to help children know where to sit. Demonstrating exactly what was
expected utilized the childrens natural desire to please and helped to establish the routine
very easily. When children this age fully understand what is expected, they usually
comply willingly, greatly reducing the need for correction. This is important in order to
foster inner-directedness, rather than conditioning children for outward control. The
establishment of routine was an important tool to help children master their environment.
Knowing what to expect next, as well as what was expected of them, seemed to
contribute to their self empowerment.

Ritual and Prayer

The space used for Ritual and Prayer was separated from the room used for the
tea party with a sliding partition that was kept two thirds closed so as to create a cozy
atmosphere for the tea party. It also separated and defined the Holy space in which the
altar was located. The altar was a low, round table covered with a handmade altar cloth of

rich purple decorated in silver and gold. It was placed in the center of the room so the
children could sit on the floor in a circle around it. This arrangement symbolized the
equality of all in the eyes of God. Placed on the altar were a large, old, family Bible, a
candle, a snuffer, a silver cross and a small singing bowl. Four wing-back chairs sat
outside the circle to accommodate some of the older Grandpas who were more
comfortable sitting in a chair than on the floor with the children. (See Figure 8, page 187)
When everyone was seated, the facilitator sounded the singing bowl to get our
ears ready for listening to God. The singing bowl replicated a similar, larger bowl that
was used in this particular church to call the congregation to worship each Sunday. As the
sound faded away to silence, the leader lit the candle in preparation for prayer time. In the
first session it was explained that the candle symbolized the light of God.
In order to introduce the concept of prayer, a short discussion was held the first
day to talk about God. The children were asked if they knew how to find God when they
wanted to talk with him. When they indicated they did not know, the leader asked them to
close their eyes so she could show them. She then led a short guided meditation, asking
them to think about sitting on the lap of someone they loved. When they felt that warm,
safe feeling, she told them, That is God. She then asked them to think about what they
wanted to tell God. Was there any time they have felt happy or sad or angry or scared? If
so, they could tell God. A few moments of silence followed, after which the children
were told they could open their eyes whenever they were ready.
Prayer shawls were introduced during the third session. Each child was given a
shawl that had been hand knitted by the Prayer Shawl Ministry of the church. The shawls

were used during altar time for the remaining sessions, then were given as gifts to the
children on the last day of the program.
The childrens response to this peaceful prayer time was amazing. The group
quieted to complete silence, without being reminded, as they listened to the fading sound
of the singing bowl. Children varied in their initial response to the prayer timesome
kept their eyes closed the whole time, while others looked around. Some kept their eyes
closed for awhile and then opened them. Silence was easily maintained. One boy, who
had frequently been observed being chased around the sanctuary by his mother during
church services, entered the prayer time with rapt attention, and kept his eyes closed
during the whole prayerlonger than any other child in the group. Another child, Beth,
whose father practices meditation regularlybut early in the morning long before Beth is
awake in order to be aware of italways kept her eyes closed the whole time and seemed
to be in deep concentration as she prayed.
During the first few sessions it was found that a couple of pairs of children,
including a couple of sibling pairs, distracted each other. One girl in particular seemed to
frequently distract her brother as a way of avoiding getting quiet. Rather than trying to
directly control her to stop, Grandpas were strategically placed to separate these two, as
well as others when needed, in a more indirect manner of redirecting the energy in the
room. This technique proved to be effective, as this little girl was observed to gradually
become more comfortable with the silence.
Following the meditation and silent prayer, the children were offered the
opportunity to share their prayer with the group if they so chose. A little wooly lamb was
passed around the circle to help the children know when it was their turn to talk. If the

child did not wish to share, the lamb was given a hug and passed to the next person.
Children varied in their desire to share. Some of the more outgoing children shared from
the beginning; others became comfortable sharing after a few sessions; and a few did not
share their prayers. During the first sessions, the shared prayers were all about thanking
God and what made them happy. Grandpas and the facilitator shared their prayers as
well, including concerns as well as joys. Following a reminder by the facilitator to think
about their joys and concerns during the tea party, some children began praying prayers
of concern, also. One girl shared her prayer about missing her Grandmother who had
died, and two children prayed about pets that had died. Another boy spoke to God about a
bad dream.
The final ritual around the altar was the individual blessing of each child and each
Grandpa by the facilitator. Using a roll-on scented blessing balm with sparkles, the
leader took each childs hand (one at a time), made the sign of the cross on their arm with
the blessing balm, looked into the eyes of the child, and said his or her name. This was
followed by the words, God created you, God loves, God blesses you, and God goes
with you where ever you go. The child then had the scent and sparkles on their arm to
remind them of Gods presence for the rest of the day. (See Figure 10, page 189)
This blessing seemed to be the most powerful part of the morning, based on the
responsiveness of the children. It was amazing to feel the stillness and peaceful energy in
the room as the children waited quietly for each person to have their turn. When everyone
had their turn and the candle was blown out, most children continued to sit quietly, then
gradually moved to the story corner for the next activity. When asked in the focus group
what observation or experience touched them the most, most of the Grandpas responded

with comments such as, Watching the [childrens] faces during the Blessing continues to
touch me.


The story corner was the setting for the Godly Play presentation of The Parable of
the Good Shepherd. The area was designated with a mosquito net draped from the ceiling
to form a canopy. The facilitator sat on a pillow on the floor, spreading a cloth underlay
in front of her. She placed the wooden story figures on the underlay, moving them
appropriately as she told the story. Quilts for the children to sit on were placed in a
semicircle, providing a clear definition of where to sit. This system to designate seating
was developed the third week, after the children experienced difficulty being able to see
the figures due to crowding around the underlay. Rather than constantly reminding
children to stay back, (outer control) the children were told only once that they needed
to stay behind the edge of the quilt, and that if they had trouble remembering, a Grandpa
would help them remember by having them sit at the back with the Grandpa. This
provided a quick way of helping children to remember without feeling reprimanded. Only
one child was helped to sit in the back, and this occurred only one time. Otherwise, the
children remembered without being reminded. A few times children caught themselves
and moved back before needing to be helpeddemonstrating the use of their own inner
control. This provided a wonderful example of the effectiveness of using clear
expectations and consistency with this age group. (See Figures 11 and 12, pages 190 and

The Parable of The Good Shepherd was chosen for introducing the children to
Scripture because of research that shows it is the one to which three and four year olds
most readily respond (See page 87), and also because it provides such a wonderful model
for the four categories of relationships. The children were helped to enter the story
through wonder questions that were introduced as the story was told. Questions such as
what would it feel like to be the shepherd . . . the sheep . . . to be lost . . . to be found . . .
to be afraid, were used to promote contemplation. The leader was careful not to identify
the shepherd as J esus, in order that the children couldwhen they were readydiscover
this on their own through pondering and contemplation. The story was repeated for four
sessions in order for the children to internalize the model of relationship provided in the
story. At the end of the final session the children were given a set of wooden figures,
handmade by one of the Grandpas, to take home with an instruction sheet that described
how to use them. (See Appendix D, page 196)

Discovery Boxes

The final activity of the morning was opening the Discovery Boxes. The purpose
of this activity was to utilize the childrens naturally curious nature, as well as the natural
human joy of discovery, as a basis for promoting relationships between the children and
Grandpas. It was also an opportunity to observe any reflection of the worship and
Scripture time during personal interaction with the Grandpas as they explored the
contents of the Discovery Boxes.
The attractively decorated boxes displayed on a low table (See Figure 13 on page
192). Looked like boxes that might be found in a Grandparents house. Some looked like

hat boxes; one was a little red tool box; some looked like old-fashioned cracker tins. The
contents included such things as a collection of rocks and a magnifying glass, a collection
of sea shells with a photo of the beach; stationery, cards and markers for writing to
someone; paper and color sticks with which to draw; finger labyrinths; prayer beads;
dress up jewelry and a mirror; real tools with nails and screws, with soft wood; and an
electric circuit using a battery, flashlight bulbs, light switch and doorbell, together with
wire connectors so the components could be switched around.
If there were five grandpas present, five children were chosen to pick out a box
and take it to a Grandpa. The rest of the children could then choose a group to join. This
resulted in small groups of approximately one to three or four children with each
Grandpa, scattered throughout the room. Each group then opened their box to discover
what was inside and explored the contents. (See Figures 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 on pages
Initially, cards were included in each box with a relevant Bible verse and wonder
questions. For example, the rock box had the (adapted) Bible quote, God is a rock and
everything God does is perfect. (Deuteronomy 32:4) The wonder questions were: Why
did God make each rock different? Why did God make each of us different? The cards
also contained hints of ways the grandpas could respond to the children as they examined
the rocks, such as They can look at the different rocks, tell which ones they like, and the
Grandpa can point out that, You are also perfect and wonderful! However, this did not
work as anticipated. The cards seemed to create pressure to teach, the interaction was
stilted, and the conversation was almost totally dominated by the Grandpas. After
observing and receiving feedback from the Grandpas, the cards were removed and the

children and Grandpas just interacted spontaneously as they explored their boxes. With
this change the interactive dialogue increased, there was much more conversation
initiated by the children, their attention spans increased, and there seemed to be greater
enthusiasm. The Grandpas reported being more comfortable with the change, as well.
The most readily apparent observation of the interaction during the discovery box
activity was how much communication is non-verbal for this age child. A comparison of
the recorded conversation and the video recording of the same interaction revealed this in
a striking way. For example, the video recording of one interchange between Kathy and a
Grandpa who was hard of hearing sounded as if nothing much was happening. They were
using the prayer bead rainbow, with Kathy saying a prayer for each member of her family
as she moved a bead from one side to the other of the rainbow. Each time Kathy said her
sisters name, the Grandpa, who was hard of hearing, said, Huh, what did you say?
This happened repeatedly. However, the video showed that throughout the dialogue their
faces were about an inch apart. Each time he did not hear, Kathy looked straight into the
Grandpas eyes, patiently repeated what she had said, and it didnt seem to matter at all to
her that he did not hear. She knew that he was present with herhis attention was
focused totally on herand she was content. (See Figure 17, page 196) Other times, the
audio recording may have indicated little dialogue, or that the dialogue was mostly the
Grandpa talking, with little response from the children. However, the video showed eye
contact, parallel actions as group members mimicked each others activity, and wordless
interactive play. Relationship was definitely happening, even though much of it was non-
verbal. With each session the amount of interactive dialogue increased, however, with
more verbalization coming from the children each time. (See Figure 18, page 197)

Parent Observations Outside Classroom
The home visit interviews established a base line of spiritual awareness for each
research subject before they participated in the program. Data from the interviews was
analyzed to determine how the four categories of relational consciousness were reflected
in the interviews as parents responded to questions about their children. Only two of the
categoriesChild/People and Child/Godwere specifically addressed in the interview
questions. The other two categoriesChild/World and Child/Selfwere not directly
addressed in the questions, but the questions did generate comments that were applicable
to these categories. The researcher is aware that the spontaneous comments by parents
which were not in response to the questions could be considered an indication of the
relational consciousness of the parent, and not necessarily the child. However, the
researcher assumed that a parent with high relational consciousness would likely be able
to accurately identify high relational consciousness in their child. Therefore, these
comments were considered to be credible data.
Parent comments from the home visit interviews were color coded by relational
consciousness category. The numbers of comments for each child in each category were
then totaled. Each childs total number from all categories established that childs pre-
study relational consciousness quotient.
The post-study questionnaire distributed to the parents was used to compare
parental observations outside the classroom following the program, with the baseline
observations reported during the home visits. This data was also color coded according to
the four categories of relational consciousness in order to identify and count evidence of
change in relational consciousness and to establish a growth quotient for each child. The

baseline and post-study quotients were then totaled to establish an over-all relational
consciousness (parent) quotient for each child at the end of the program. (See Table 5,
page 177).

Researcher Observations within Classroom

The researcher observation data regarding observed behavior during the sessions
was gathered from the video recordings and included primarily the altar time, plus those
tea party conversations that were captured on the video. The actions/words of the
individual children who were research subjects were categorized according to the four
types of relational consciousness. A total of the four categories for each child provides
the researcher observation quotient for that child. (See Table 6 on page 178). Note that
the absences do affect the scores somewhat, with one child absent twice, three children
absent once, and two children never absent.
The transcribed conversations with the Grandpas during Discovery Box time on
the first and last days of the project were reviewed in order to compare the number of
times each of the research subjects made a comment. These comments were then
identified as being a response to a question initiated by a Grandpa or being conversation
initiated by the child. This number is interpreted to reflect the child/people category of
relational consciousness. The results of this analysis show that the amount of
conversation by the children doubled from the first session to the last session, with the
amount of conversation initiated by the children increasing by 50%.
The audio recordings were initially transcribed before the video tapes were
viewed. As previously mentioned, hearing the verbal interaction without being able to

observe the non-verbal communication made it appear that very little was happening. It
sounded as if the Grandpas were dominating the conversation with very little response
from the children. The video, however, revealed a vastly different impression. The
children and Grandpas were deeply engaged with each other, as revealed by their
proximity to one another, the eye contact, and the quiet, calm atmosphere of contentment
that permeated the room.

Triangulation with Previous Researchers

The increase in relational consciousness indicated by the observations of the
parents and researcher is consistent with what would be anticipated based on the earlier
research of Dr. Maria Montessori and Dr. Sophia Cavalletti. An in-depth discussion of
their research, including source references, is found on pages 74 through 94. To
summarize, Montessori (upon whose foundational work Cavaletti based her work) found
that, when children were provided a peaceful atmosphere that invited contemplation, they
became inner-directed and highly motivated to learn. She was convinced that children
have within them an internal discipline that guides them toward order and independence.
Her observation was that even before culture and doctrine were taught, there was a vital
relationship between the soul of the child and God. Based on this notion, she developed
some fundamental techniques that she found would enhance the spiritual lives of
1. An orderly environment with physical furnishings which are conducive to self-
help and self-mastery
2. A consistent, predictable routine

3. Consistent adults with whom to relate
4. A rich learning environment for exploration and use of the senses
5. Opportunities for silent contemplation and integration as a prelude to prayer
6. Use of materials that contribute to childrens control over error (such as china
dishes instead of plastic).
7. The use of natural, hand-made materials made by the adults, which allow the
adults to enter more deeply into the theme and to slow their pace to the rhythm of
the child.
Analysis of the data from the Grandpa Program, which utilized these techniques,
showed that an increase in relational consciousness (spirituality) seemed to occur in all of
the children who were the subjects of the research. This research, then, is consistent with
findings of these earlier researchers.
The findings of The Grandpa Program research are also consistent with what was
found by David Hay and Rebecca Nye in their research with children ages six to eleven
years of age. A more in-depth description of this research, including source references, is
found on pages 113 through 121. In summary, by analyzing conversations designed to
stimulate evidence of spirituality in children of diverse (or no) religious backgrounds in
this age range, they found strong evidence of spirituality in children who were younger
than twelve and who had not yet reached the age of cognitive reasoning. Both the
findings of the Hays/Nye research and the findings of the Grandpa Program provide
ample evidence of the spiritual nature of children before the age of twelve years. One of
the foundational pillars of this program is that children are innately spiritual.


The Grandpa Program, a Sunday school program for three and four year olds,
provided an ideal setting for practicing the principles of Blessing Based Spiritual Nurture.
It created an opportunity for the youngest and eldest of the congregation to practice Holy
Listening within an optimal environment of Holy Space. As each child and Grandpa felt
heard by one another, in a slow-paced environment where everyone had time to express
themselves, it was possible to both listen and be heardby each other and by God.
In an age-appropriate presentation that respected the agency of each child as a unique
spiritual being, the traditional format of Christian worship was used to welcome the
children, call them to worship, let them hear and respond to the Word, and to receive an
informal benediction. The children were introduced to the symbols and rituals of
Christianity as the elements of the altar were introduced, named, and explained. A guided
meditation, followed by silence, provided the stillness necessary for conversation with
God. An individual blessing of each person in the room affirmed their creation and that
they were loved by God, who is always with them. Scripture was introduced through a
Godly Play presentation of The Parable of the Good Shepherd, followed by a reflection
time with small groups of children and a Grandpa exploring discovery boxes.

Initial Reflections

The most noteworthy first observation was the calmness of the children from the
very first day of the program, as they responded to the carefully prepared environment,
the abundance of individual attention from the Grandpas, the clearly defined expectations
in the classroom, and the definite routine that was established from the very beginning.
The marked difference in this behavior, from the busy, active, noisy exuberance typical
of this aged child in a group setting, was repeatedly called to the researchers attention by
parents commenting about the peacefulness of the room at pick-up time. As the
researcher reflected upon why this was desirable, the following positive aspects of this
phenomenon were noted:
1. It is easier to be open to God when one is quiet.
2. It is easier to listen and be responsive to others when one is calm.
3. Pressure on the group facilitator to move faster and louder in order to engage
the children is absent, freeing the facilitator to be more responsive to the children.

A second item of note was the marked responsiveness of every child to the
individual Blessing. The calming effect of the Blessing was noticed by each one of the
Grandpas, as well as by the researcher and facilitators-in-training. The way in which each
child always, without exception, looked forward to their Blessing and waited patiently for
everyone in the room to receive theirs, was amazing.

Parent Observations outside the Classroom

The changes in the relational consciousness of their children as observed by the
parents after only five sessions (only 1/3 of the children attended all five sessions) are
reported in Table 5, page 177.
Adam, the oldest child in the group, had the highest Baseline quotient (16). His
relatively lower gain score (6) the researcher attributed largely to his already high degree
of spirituality. Together, his baseline quotient and gain score gave him the second highest
over-all quotient at the end of the program.
Kylen and Nolan were twins whose parent questionnaires were answered
identically, except for one item, which was a poem written by Nolan:
Thank you for God
Thank you for J esus
Thank you for trees
Thank you for lea-ves (rhymes with J esus)
Although the parent observations were very similar for both children, except for the
report about the poem, the researcher noted considerable difference in the pattern of
relational consciousness each child demonstrated in the classroom, as discussed later on
pages 147148.
Both Kathys baseline and gain quotients may have been affected by what
appeared to be a reluctance of the parents to address spiritual issues at home. Although it
was stated in the interview that this subject was considered by them to be important, both
the home interview and the questionnaire indicated that the parents continued to not

address spiritual issues at home. According to their responses, the parents did not, for
example, participate in God talk, say grace at meals, pray in the presence of the
children, or openly acknowledge God other than attending church. There was an
indication during the home interview that if spiritual issues were to be brought up, it
would be only Kathys mother who would participate. The researcher interpreted this
data to be evidence in support of the notion that parents are the most important influence
in fostering spirituality in young children.
Beths scores indicate that she had the second highest Gain quotient (One other
child shared this second highest quotient). Although Beths parents had very different
religious backgrounds, and differed in their religious practices, they were very respectful
of each others preferences and were in total agreement that they wanted Beth to feel free
to choose her own path. They both wanted to assure that she would not be intimidated in
this regard. It was interesting to note that although one of her parents practiced daily
meditation, it was so early in the morning that Beth was not, to their knowledge, aware of
it. However, Beth consistently prayed with eyes closed during the whole prayer in class,
and she was the only child in the study to initiate prayer on her own at home, using her
prayer shawl, after the program was over.
Linda, the youngest child in the class, had the highest total parent relational
consciousness quotient of all the children in the study, due to her high Gain quotient.
Examples from the parent questionnaire that contributed to her Gain quotient include the
report that Linda initiated the routine of saying grace at homesomething that had not
previously been practiced in her home. Also, on a Monday following her fourth time of
attending the Grandpa Program, Linda looked in the mirror, hugged herself with both

arms, and said with a big smile, I love myself! Her mother reported that she attributed
Lindas expression of self love to the Blessing experience.
All of the parents indicated that they felt the most meaningful part of the program
for their child was being with the Grandpas. Several mentioned that their child seemed
more comfortable with adults, and one indicated that her daughter now gives more hugs
and is more polite. Three children played at home with the prayer shawl they were given,
but only one childBethinitiated prayer at home using the shawl as she prayed by
In summary, the findings of the parent domain suggest that spiritual growth
occurred in all of the subjects. This is consistent with the researchers observations.
However, it is interesting to note that the researchers observations indicate that each
childs growth pattern varied considerablyboth with regard to the types of relational
consciousness in which the growth occurred, and the amount of growth experienced over
the defined time frame of six weeks.

Researchers Observations within the Classroom

The changes observed by the researcher within the classroom are summarized in
Table 6, page 178. The table indicates the date the evidence of relational consciousness
occurred, and which category of relational consciousness it was. Because all of the
children interacted with the Grandpas at teatime and with the Discovery Boxes,
responded to the Blessing, and entered the story during the Parable of the Good Shepherd
each time they were there, each child in the study was observed to grow in relational
consciousness in the areas of Child/People and Child/God. Because these observations

applied to all of the children, they were not included in the Table 5. This table indicates
additional evidence of relational consciousness for individual children beyond the basic
areas in which all the children demonstrated growth. Because absences reduced the
percentage of observable time for the child who was absent, the quotients of those who
were absent may be lower in proportion to the absences.
Adam, who had the highest parent baseline quotient, also had the lowest gain
quotient, perhaps because he already had such a high baseline quotient. Perhaps it was
also affected by the fact that Adam had the highest number of absences in the group (two
absences.) The Child/People category was the only one in which there was no recorded
number for Adam. However, if the video had captured the conversations during tea time
and discovery box time, Adam would have had marks in this area because Adam actually
was highly interactive with both the Grandpas and other children and exhibited higher
than average verbal skills. The researchers interpretation was that Adam had a high
baseline score and that his relational consciousness increased in all the categories during
the six sessions.
The break-down of Kylens relational consciousness quotient as shown on Table
6, page 178, reflects the progress of her spiritual growth. The fact that she received all of
her marks in the last two sessions seems to reflect her initial resistance to silence and
going inward for prayer. The pattern of marks in Table 5 seems to reflect the
effectiveness of the strategies used to gently guide her during the worship period as she
gradually became comfortable with the routine and the contemplative time it provided.
Table 6 shows Kylens growth in three of the four categories. The fourth category was
the People/Child category, and there were no marks for Kylen therethough there likely

would have been if the tea party and discovery box conversations had been captured in
the video. However the number of verbal interactions that were self-initiated during the
Discovery Box part of the program doubled for all the research subjects by the end of the
program, and the child-initiated comments increased by 50%. Because Kylen was, of
course, one of these children, the indication is that she grew in the Child/ People category
also. The researchers interpretation is that Kylen grew in all four categories of relational
consciousness, after overcoming an initial resistance to quiet contemplation and prayer.
Nolans researcher relational consciousness quotient on Table 5 shows a steady, even
growth over the six sessions in all four categories. He was one of the two children who
received a mark for the Child/People category. The evidence represented by this mark
was the occasion when, as one of the children was reporting his prayer, Nolan was the
first person in the room to recognize that the child was talking about his dream rather
than what had actually happened.
Kathys researcher relational consciousness quotient was the least high at the end
of the program, and her marks were in only two of the four categories: Child/People and
Child/Self. Her Child/People marks were received due to her overcoming her pattern of
crying when left by her parents, as well as the clinging behavior with the researcher that
had been typical the previous year. Although during the third session she had a regression
to this crying, clinging behavior, she overcame it and participated without visible distress
the rest of that session and the remaining sessions. The researchers interpretation
regarding the lack of a mark in the Child/God category from the both the parent and
researcher domains, is that this could be related to the indication by her parents that they

do not address spiritual issues at home. However, it is recognized by the researcher that it
would require additional study in order to make that assertion.
Beths researcher observation relational consciousness quotient was the highest in
the group, and all marks came from the first two sessions. Beth was absent for the third
session, and the researcher can find no explanation as to why there were no marks for the
last two sessions. Beths natural inclination to get quiet, close her eyes, and maintain a
contemplative state throughout the prayer time was exceptional, and did not change
during the five sessions. Her marks reflected growth in all categories, except the
Child/People category. As mentioned above, this was due to the fact that the video did
not capture conversation during the tea party and Discovery Box activities. Because the
number of comments made by children during the Discovery Box activities doubled and
child-initiated comments increased by 50%, the researcher interpreted the data as
evidence that Beth grew in all four categories of relational consciousness.
Linda, the youngest child in the program, showed a researcher observation relational
consciousness quotient in only one categorythat of Child/Self. This differs
considerably from the parent observation quotient, however. The researcher believes this
discrepancy points to the difficulty in assessing very young children who are not yet
articulate in group situations. Linda was observed to be remarkably self-sufficient for her
age, showing no adjustment issues at being left in a new situation, and being quite
comfortable as she learned the routine. Her personal style was one of quiet observation as
she took in what was happening around her. Her quietness did not seem to stem from
shyness or feeling overwhelmedshe just seemed busy absorbing everything that was
happening. The extent to which she was internalizing her experience became known only

when she shared at home all she was learning. This is the child whose parents reported
that she initiated the practice of saying grace at the table at home, and expressed that she
loved herself while smiling into the mirror. She also had a favorite Grandpa, about whom
she talked regularly at home. Although the researchers observations showed a relatively
low relational consciousness quotient for Linda, because of the strong indication of
spiritual growth reported by her parents and after considering her age and her personality,
the researchers assessment is that Linda did, indeed, grow in all four areas of relational
To summarize, in both the domain of the parents and the domain of the
researcher, there were strong indications that an increase in spirituality (relational
consciousness) occurred in each of the children who were the subjects of the research.
Data also indicated that there were distinctly different individual patterns of growth, as
well as differences in the amount of growth, in each child.

Triangulation Using Previous Research

The calm and peaceful response the children exhibited in the Grandpa Program is
consistent with the response Maria Montessori found in the children with whom she
worked. (See pages 7483). The Grandpa Program was designed based upon some of her
insights about fostering spiritual growth in children.
First of all, she noticed a relationship between children and God in very young
children even before culture and doctrine are taught. . . . She found that an environment
which encouraged self mastery helped children gain confidence, facilitated concentration,
and helped develop a capacity for prayer. She also noticed the importance of silence,

stating that it is in silence and order that a spiritual sense is developed. Regarding the
childrens behavior in acting harmoniously with others, she noted that less intervention
by adults was necessary when childrens deep needs were met. The ability of the
Grandpas to focus individual attention on each child, and to hear each child with love and
acceptance, was a powerful example of this. Montessori also discovered the importance
of the physical preparation of the environment. The making of handmade materials by the
adults who worked with the children was found to be helpful because it aided adults in
slowing down and pacing themselves to the rhythm of the children. The homemade
muffins, hand knitted prayer shawls, hand sewn altar cloth, and hand crafted figures for
the Parable were ways the Grandpa Program implemented her findings. The Grandpa
Programs use of china that could break if not handled carefully was consistent with
Montessoris finding that the use of breakable objects contributes to childrens control
of error. If they forget to be careful, the objects get broken and children learn through
natural consequences.
Sophia Cavalletis work expanded upon Montessoris work regarding self
mastery, as she identified childrens basic desire for adults to Help me to come closer to
God by myself. She utilized childrens sense of wonder as she developed her method of
presenting the Parable of the Good Shepherd in a way that helped three and four year olds
integrate the story into their personal sense of relationship to others and to the world. The
children in the Grandpa Program exhibited a similar response of finding meaning and
enjoyment through the simple presentation of the Parable, and the wonder questions that
followed. The response of the children in this research project was similar to the results
that Cavalletti observed: they expressed peacefulness and joy.

Finally, Cavalletti found that the gratification of childrens basic need for
affiliation created basic trust in the children with whom she worked. The Grandpa
Program, by providing an abundance of Grandpas who engaged with the children
individually, and who could focus their undivided attention on them in a calm, unhurried
atmosphere, appeared to satisfy this need for affiliation. The researcher saw this basic
trust as an essential component of the faith formation that seemed to take place with the

Suggested Changes

One suggested change for future replications of the Grandpa Program would be to
include some specific training for the Grandpas on Holy Listening and how it differs
from teaching. In addition, a regularly scheduled spiritual support group meeting for
Grandpas, where they could explore and share their spiritual experience, might help them
further deepen their experience with the children. This could perhaps be coordinated
through the Adult Christian Education administration within the church, in order to
maintain a balance of responsibility between the childrens Christian Education and the
adult Christian Education areas of oversight.
There are two suggestions regarding the research aspect of the Program. The first
concerns improving the quality of the audio recording of the Grandpa/child
conversations. This might be accomplished through better quality recording devices
and/or arranging adequate physical space so the conversation groups are further apart in
order to reduce background noise in the recordings. The second suggestion is to train the
video person to focus more closely on the individual research subjects. This would enable

the researcher to follow the total experience of a child through all the activities and
interactions they experience during the program. The random nature of the videotaping
provided a somewhat more limited observation of each research subject.


What is the significance of the learning that took place in this act of ministry?
What learning can be taken from it that might be applied in the future to contribute to the
well being of children and humanity as a whole?
Of major significance, in the view of this author, is the importance of recognizing the two
kinds of knowing. Knowing from the heartinner knowingwas the primary way of
knowing in biblical times, and earlier. This is the kind of knowing that Meister Eckhart
described back in the fourteenth century and is recognized in all the major religions of the
world. However, it is widely recognized that scientific knowledge, with its linear thinking
and cognitive reasoning, has become the primary recognized way of knowing in Western
civilization today. It is this authors belief that both types of learning have value, and that
emphasizing one to the exclusion of the other creates imbalanceboth in individuals and
in society as a whole.
The predominance of scientific knowledge today is reflected in the way Christian
Education has been conducted, particularly in the last century or so. Many Christian
Educators have followed the model of the field of education, as that field has developed
with authoritative knowledge being established through scientific methods. Therefore, the
focus has been on teaching children about God, and about church history. However, in
adopting this model, the importance of knowing God through direct experience seems to

have often been overlookedto the extent that many in the field of Christian Education
have assumed that because children are not thought to have reached cognitive maturity,
they are too young to learn religion. Young children are typically not recognized as
spiritual beings with spiritual knowledge. With this limited perspective, the formative
years of early childhood have frequently been bypassed by church leaders and religious
educators who wait until children are twelve or so years of age before confirmation class
is provided as the first serious effort to address the spiritual life of children. Furthermore,
how much does the content of confirmation classes focus on teaching children about God
and what we believe, compared to the amount of time spent fostering childrens inner
knowing and listening for Gods voice within themselves? And how much easier would
it be to do the latter, if children have already been listening to God all their lives, during
their first twelve years? It is the belief of this author that the inner knowing and inner-
directedness with which children are born can be fostered in order to promote the
spirituality of very young children, thereby helping to establish during the most formative
years the core of morality and the foundation upon which lifelong personal character is
built. To overlook the openness of young children to spirituality at this very early age is,
in this writers opinion, an oversight of major consequence.
It is this writers observation that Sunday school has, all too often in recent years,
become a place where children are merely occupied with crafts and entertained with
stories from the Biblewhich may not be differentiated, in the minds of the children,
from fictional fantasy stories and the escapades of popular action characters. Harried
volunteers frequently rotate the responsibility of overseeing such activities, and may or
may not have the necessary knowledge and skill to foster spirituality in children they see

for only an hour per week for a few weeks at a time. These are the children of todays
society, whose parents are frequently so rushed and overwhelmed with other
responsibilities that many are not able to focus on the awesome, highly focused task of
fostering their childs spirituality. As mainline churches today struggle to understand why
church membership and attendance are declining so rapidly, it would seem that an effort
to better understand the spiritual life of children during the most formative period of their
livesearly childhoodwould be worthwhile.
This research refutes the assumption that young children are too young to have
spiritual understanding, by demonstrating instead that they are spiritual beings who, in
fact, are excellent models for adults to follow and from whom adults have much to learn.
Young children respond authentically from their hearts to one another, to the world they
are discovering, to the self they are discovering, and to God. Who in our midst is a better
teacher of authentic living from the heart, than young children? It would be fascinating
future research to investigate the spiritual growth of the Grandpas in a Grandpa
Programto understand what really happens when they get in touch with themselves and
God through interaction with the children. How would it change a congregation and its
priorities if its oldest and youngest generations are provided the opportunity to relate to
each other in this way?
The principles of Blessing Based Spiritual Nurture which under gird the Grandpa
Program are part of the new Theology of Childhood that is now evolving in response to
such present-day issues as the nature of children (on the spectrum of inherently bad to
totally innocent), the most appropriate way to rear children, the rights of children and the

responsibility of adults for them, as well as the deep concern regarding the increased
commercialization of children.
In order to re-examine the nature of children, this new theology goes back to the
ancient Hebrew culture, and the Greco-Roman culture to trace the roots of the ambivalent
attitudes we have toward children today. From the ancient Hebrew culture comes the
view that children are a divine gift from God and a sign of blessing; from ancient Greco-
Roman culture comes the view that children are less than human possessions to use or
discard. J esus, coming out of the Hebrew/J ewish culture, saw children as a blessing,
recognized their innate knowingness (Matthew 11:2526 and Luke 10:21), protected
them, and used some of his strongest language to urge others to do likewise (Mathew
18:69, Mark 9:4248 and Luke 17:12). It is clear from these texts that J esus recognized
the intrinsic spirituality of children. He also told his disciples that unless they changed
and became like children, they would never enter the kingdom of Heaven (Mathew 18:1
By retracing the integration of the J ewish and Greco-Roman cultures as the
Christian faith evolved, it has been possible for theologians who are developing this new
theology to revisit the interpretation of original depravity that began to dominate
Christian thought in the fourth century. With the writings of St. Augustine, who was the
son of a Greco-Roman pagan father and a Christian mother, we can see the internal life-
long struggle of a man of two cultures as he tried to integrate these two opposing views
of humanity into his own being. His internal judgment of himself as he condemned his
earlier life in the process of choosing Christianity over paganism became the source of
his view of humanity. In his very public struggle for self understanding, his writings

projected his self condemnation onto the infants he observed. This became the basis for
the interpretation of original depravity that has dominated, and still influences, Christian
understanding ever since.
A review of the history of Christian thought reveals that the thread of an opposite
interpretation of the human conditionthat of original blessinghas never been entirely
lost, however. Meister Eckhart in the fourteenth century saw the seed of God in us.
Sixteenth century Comenius, considered to be the Father of Modern Education, saw
infants as a mirror in which to behold the Christian virtues of humility, gentleness, benign
goodness, and harmony, and quoted J esus instructions to his disciplines to become like
little children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. Theologian Horace Bushnell
argued against the extremely sinful nature of children in his nineteenth century book,
Christian Nurture. Friedrich Schleiermacher, the father of modern theology, wrote that
childhood contains a pure revelation of the divine, recognized that children have
potential to sin, and spoke of the negative influence of social structures into which they
are born. He put much emphasis on the nurturing role of parents, rather than punishment,
as a means of influencing children. Karl Barth, recognized as possibly the greatest
Protestant theologian of the twentieth century, considered the notion of hereditary
transmission of sin to be an unfortunate, mistaken doctrine.
The way parents and society have viewed children and their responsibility for
them has reflected the changing underlying beliefs about the inherent nature of children
over the centuries and up to the present. The pendulum has swung from the use of harsh
physical discipline to subdue children into compliance with Christian virtues out fear of
their going to helland parents with them, if they did not succeedto seeing children as

totally innocent creatures, as reflected in the portrayal of cherubs found in seventeenth
century Christian art and their depiction as perfect miniature adults during the eighteen
century. Although this change is often considered to be progress that is beneficial to
children, there is a negative point to consider. With the switch to seeing children as
totally innocent, children may be seen as no longer having agency. Without agency, they
may be seen as attractive possessions, much as they were portrayed as cute little pets
during the Victorian era. Children without agency cannot be seen as spiritual beings who
can make moral decisions and assume personal moral responsibility.
During the twentieth century, when parents began to turn toward psychologists
and other behavioral specialists as a resource for learning to better manage their children,
they became less concerned about religious doctrine and more concerned about being
perfect parents. With the advent of consumerism, being perfect parents has
increasingly become centered on the ability to provide material possessions. This, in turn,
has evolved for many into a sort of competition and one-upsmanship measured by the
achievements and possessions of ones children. In short, children have increasingly
become symbols and possessions, rather than being seen as human beings to be nurtured
and listened to, and who are capable of assuming personal moral responsibility in an age-
appropriate way.
As theologians pursue the development of a theology of childhood, it is the
expectation of this author that a realistic balance will be found between the extremes of
seeing children as either inherently depraved or totally innocent. Children will come to be
seen as full of potential, with an ability to choose. In other words, the agency of children
as spiritual beings will be recognized and respected. Furthermore, this more accurate

view of the true nature of children will help us to better understand ourselves as well.
This theology will need to address, as has not specifically been done in the Christian
church, the rights of children and the responsibility of all adults to them. By looking at
the true nature of children through interacting with them, listening to them, and walking
with them, we can get in touch with the self that we have lost, and in that we can find the
God within ourselves. This has been the experience of this author, as she walked with the
Grandpas and the children of this research project.
This study, which sees spirituality as relational consciousness, may provide
insight into the relational poverty of our modern world, which is highlighted as a major
contributor to the many current social, emotional and physical health problems of our
day. What if the classroom ambience of the Grandpa Program were transferred into the
daily lives of families so family members could experience silence, feel unhurried, and
really be listened to, with unconditional love each day? What if everyone learned as a
child how to be still enough to hear when God speaks? What if everyone knew how to
find the inner peace that the children of this research project exhibited? How much could
that contribute to functional families . . . or to world peace?





I, _______________________________, authorize the taking of pictures and
audio/videotaping of my child ___________________ during Sunday school at First
Congregational Church, Colorado Springs. These pictures and tapes will be used for
research purposes only, using procedures that assure the confidentiality of participants.

_____________________________________________ _______________
Parent Date

_____________________________________________ _______________
Parent Date


I am enrolled at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH, and am conducting a
research project for my doctoral dissertation on childrens spirituality. The context for the
research is the first six weeks of the Grandpa Program at FCC (Sept 17, 14, Oct 8, 15, 22
and 29
.) Therefore I am asking permission for your child, _____________________ to
be one of the children who are subjects of my research.
Purpose: To observe and analyze the response of three and four year olds to the
practice of Blessing Based Spiritual Nurture in the Grandpa Program at FCC. The intent
of BBSN is to foster the innate spirituality of children through the use of personal respect,
holy space, silence, holy listening and the use of prayer tools and spiritual
manipulatives (prayer shawls, holy listening stones, prayer beads, etc.) We will also
introduce Scripture to the children through the presentation of the parable of the Good
Shepherd. Grandpas are holy listeners who participate in hospitality with the children
during a tea party, and who listen to the childrens response following the prayer time,
blessing, and presentation of the parable. Prayer tools or spiritual manipulatives will be
used to facilitate the one-on-one interaction between the children and Grandpas.
Research Process: An initial home visit will be made before the program begins, in
order for us to become acquainted, and to find out where you are in your thinking about
what you may want for your child relating to spiritual growth and his or her journey of
faith. (This does not mean that you are expected to know the answer to this question!)
I request permission to audio tape the home interview. If at any point during the
interview you would like to request that the tape be turned off, your request will be
Classroom activities will be videotaped in order to analyze the response of the children
as expressed through body language and facial expression. In addition, the one-on-one
conversations between the children and Grandpas will be audio taped for analysis, as
Confidentiality of all participants will be protected. Code names or numbers will be
used as data is collected and analyzed.
If, at any time during the research, you decide that you no longer want your child to
participate as a research subject, your decision will be honored. It will not be necessary
for your child to discontinue attending the class in order to discontinue being a research




Phone: 719-635-3549
Sunday School
For three and four year olds
Blessing Based Spiritual
Morning Schedule
11:00 Sign In
Tea Party
11:15 Altar Time
11:30 Story Time
11:45 Holy Listening
12:00 Sign Out
Lesson Topics

Sep 17 The Altar
Sep 24 Prayer
Oct 8 Prayer Shawls
Oct 15 The Good Shepherd
Oct 22 Holy Listening Stones
Oct 29 The Good Shepherd
First Congregational Church
First Congregational
by Cara Koch
Grandpa Paul and Drew
Grandpa Emil and Grandpa Burl having tea
with J ulia, Danielle and Isabelle.
Altar Time
Photos by Frank Koenigsaman



The Grandpa Program
Morning Schedule

11:00 Sign In
Welcome Tea Party
11:15 Altar Time
11:30 Story Time
11:45 Holy Listening


Sep 17 The Altar
Sep 24 Prayer
Oct 8 Prayer Shawls
Oct 15 The Good Shepherd Parable
Oct 22 Holy Listening Stones
Oct 29 The Good Shepherd Parable

Discover the innate spirituality in your child ...
Sunday School for Three and Four Year olds

Cara Koch, Director






GOAL OF RESEARCH: To better understand the spiritual nature of children, and to
study the effects on the children, of the activities we do in the Grandpa Program.

PURPOSE OF INTERVIEW: To learn a little bit about your child in order to have a
baseline of comparison.
1. Talk about _____s people worldfamily, friends, and other relationships.
2. What kinds of existential questions has s/he come up with? (God, death, why bad
things happen, etc. . . . )

3. What difference do you want _____s Sunday school experience to make in his life?


Final Parent Survey
1. Have you noticed any specific response or changes in ___as a result of her experience
in the Grandpa Program? _____

If so, please describe in detail:

2. What has been_____s attitude toward coming to the Grandpa Program?
3. Is this different from the attitude toward attending regular Sunday school?
4. In conversation has _____ referred to any of the Grandpas or other adults involved in
the program? _____ If so, by name?

5. Have you noticed any play at home based on _____s experience in the Grandpa
Program? (Examples: playing tea party, creating an altar, blessing others, telling The
Good Shepherd Parable) Please describe:

6. Has ____ shown any outward interest in prayer since participating in the Grandpa
Has there been any interest in praying with the prayer shawl?
If ____ prays at home, has the nature of the praying changed in any visible way
since participating in the Grandpa Program?___ If so, how?
7. What do you feel was the most meaningful part of the Grandpa Program to your
8. Has ____ asked any existential questions or questions about death since participating
in the Grandpa Program?____ (Such as where did we come from? why are we here?
Where do people (pets) go when they die? Why did God make Grandma die?) If
there have been such questions, what were they specifically?

9. Do you feel the Grandpa Program has met your expectations?
Why or why not?
10. In retrospect are there any changes you would recommend for the Grandpa Program?
11. Any additional comments?




August 21, 2006

Dear Parents,
In September, 2005, the Grandpa Program was introduced to the Childrens Worship Program for three and
four year olds at First Congregational Church, with an overwhelmingly positive response. The Grandpa
program provides three and four year olds with a warm, nurturing first church experience away from their
parents. In this relaxed and nurturing environment that facilitates the connection and bonding between the
youngest and oldest of our church community, the natural spirituality of children can blossom.
As some of you may know, I am enrolled in the doctoral program at United Theological Seminary in
Dayton, OH, studying Blessing Based Spiritual Nurture. In order to further understand the spiritual nature
of children and how it is enhanced by the Grandpa Program, I am going to be studying the childrens
response to what we do in our class. The research will occur during the first six weeks of the program,
between September 17 and October 29.
I am inviting families of children in the preschool Sunday school class to contact me no later than
September 3 if you are interested in participating in this research project. The process will include:
1. A scheduled home visit/interview of approximately 45 minutes in early September to further
explain the program and get to know you and your child.
2. Videotaping the classroom activities in order to study my presentation and the response of the
3. Using voice recorders, record the individual conversations between the children who are the
research subjects and each Grandpa. (A permission form authorizing the confidential use of the
videotapes and voice recordings, for research purposes only, will be used.)

The number of children needed as research subjects in the class is only six, so if you are interested in
having your child be one of the six, please notify me as soon as possible, either by phone at 531-6374 or e-
mail at
Please complete the enclosed authorization to allow pictures and audio/videotaping of the class, as well as
the enclosed registration form. Both of these forms are needed for all children who attend the Grandpa
Program. Please complete the forms and return them by Sunday, September 10. (Extra registration
forms for drop-in children are always available in the classroom, but we are asking children who expect to
attend any time during the year to enroll now.)
i. We are looking forward to an exciting year with the Grandpas, and hope to see
you there!

Cara Koch
The Grandpa Program
First Congregational Church

Encl Brochure
Registration Form
Authorization Form



October 15, 2006

Dear Parents,
Attached is the Grace we have been teaching the children to say at the table during their
tea party with the Grandpas.
We know that preschool aged children love routine and repetitionit t makes them feel
secure to know what is happening next, and they love to be able to tell everyone whats
next during their Sunday school time. Therefore, one of the rituals we are establishing is
the practice of calling attention to God through saying Grace together. This small ritual is
one way to acknowledge God in a visible way that, we believe, facilitates childrens
spirituality. One of the easiest ways to foster spirituality and spiritual practice in children
is through modeling. And, of course, children respond most readily to what is modeled by
their own parents.
Therefore, we are sending home with each child a copy of the Grace they are learning, in
order thatif you wishyou can reinforce this spiritual practice at home. It is one way
to slow down, connect with each other, and build a family bond as you share this ritual
together. If you choose to do this, you may want to listen to see if this creates an opening
for your child to share with you their Sunday school experience as we introduce prayer,
Scripture, and God talk.

Cara and the Grandpas



The Good Shepherd Parable
We have introduced the children to Scripture through a presentation of The Parable of the
Good Shepherd, which is a composite of Psalm 23, Luke 15, and Matthew 18.
The classroom presentation of this parable is designed so children can enter the story,
ponder it, and as they do so make it their own.* It is a Holy story, and as such has value
as a model for the children to hold in their hearts, of how relationships are in the
Kingdom of God.
The gift of the parable figures is given to your child to have at home so this way of being
with God is available whenever he or she chooses. It is a vehicle through which to
experience God.
Please join your child in finding a special place to store the figures in your home
accessible at all times, and in a place that reflects the sacredness of their Holy message.
*This manner of presentation, called Godly Playwas developed by Dr. J erome
Berryman, and is described in his book by the same title. It is available in the FCC



By Cara Koch

I would like to thank First Congregational Church for allowing me the opportunity to
do The Grandpa Program here, as my act of ministry for my doctoral dissertation at
United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH. It was an absolute delight working with the
preschoolers and Grandpas as we created a truly Holy place for all of us to connect with
God together.
This program has been a living example of the way a village can raise a child, as
members of the congregation participated in making this program a reality. The following
is a list of those who participated:
Grandpas: Ray Almond, Paul Carpenter, Wil Green, Emil Hokensen, Charles Kiskiras,
Burl Kreps, Ted Nace, GL Scarlborough, Lee Tatum, and Harry Wrede. Worship
Leader trainees: Denise Ellsworth, Karin Henriksen, Classroom Assistant: Chloe
Ellsworth. Video: Tom Francis and Rose Boden. Prayer Shawls: Marilyn Robbins and
her Prayer Shawl ministers; Gift bag sewers: Margaret Murray and Carol Fields;
Wooden figures: Harry Wrede; labyrinth rug: Theresa Latimer and the Spiritual Life
Committee; Bulletin board: Tom Andreas; Childrens Books: Carol Finch and the
Library Committee; Technical Support: Richard Grebenstein. Loan of rocking chair
and quilts: J ulia Harris. Children and their Parents: The preschoolers at FCC. Context
Associates who function as consultants include: J erry J ordan,, J ackie Franklin, Paul
Carpenter, Lee Tatum, Burl Kreps, Kristen Downs, and Margery Layton. Church history
consultant: Robert Murray.
I am delighted that Denise Ellsworth and Karin Henrikson want to carry on the
program as I move on to complete the research analysis and write it up. I have agreed to
be available to them for consultation services for the remainder of the year, as needed.




Table 1 Godly Play Time Format
1. Coming in
a. Entering the special space
b. Getting ready

4. Going out 2. Hearing the Word
a. Saying good-bye a. Lesson
b. Leaving the special space b. Responding

3. Sharing Holy Communion
a. Preparing the feast
b. Sharing the feast


Table 2 Stages of Human Development
Era and Ages Erikson Piaget Kohlberg
Infancy (01 ) Basic Trust vs
Basic Mistrust (Hope)


Early Childhood (26) Autonomy vs
Shame and Doubt

Preoperational or

Initiative vs Guilt

Preconventional Level
1. Heteronymous
2. Instrumental

Childhood (712) Industry vs
Concrete Operational Conventional Level
1. Mutual Interpersonal


Table 3 Shared Center of Value and Power


S=Self; O=Other; SCVP =Shared Centers of Value and Power


Table 4 Pattern of Worship
Element of Worship Purpose Program Component
Gathering Greet each other
Establish relationship with
each other
child/people, child/self

Tea party
Call to Worship/Worship Come into the Presence of
Establish a relationship with
child/God, child/self
Form circle around altar
Sound singing bowl
Light candle
Silent prayer
Share prayers
Individual blessing
The Word Presentation of Scripture
Listening to/entering Gods
child/God, child/self
Godly Play presentation of
The Parable of the Good
The Response Sharing discovery of and
Response to Gods world.
Child/world, child/people,
Opening discovery boxes
with Grandpas
Exploring contents of boxes
Shared experience in small

Benediction Sending forth
Child/people, child/self
Informal benediction
(saying farewell till next


Table 5 Parents: Relational Consciousness Quotients
Base Gain
Base Gain
Base Gain
Base Gain
Base Gain
Base Gain

6 2 3 4 3 4 3 4 5 4 6 5
GOD 6 2 3 5 3 6 0 0 2 6 1 6
WORLD 2 1 0 2 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 1
SELF 2 1 0 1 0 1 0 1 0 1 0 4











Table 6 Researcher: Relational Consciousness Quotients
People God World Self Total
Sep 17 abs 0
Sep 24 1 1
Oct 8 abs 0
Oct 22 1 1 2
Oct 29 1
Total 4
Sep 17 0
Sep 24 0
Oct 8 0
Oct 22 1 1
Oct 29 1 1 1 3
Total 5
Sep 17 1 1
Sep 24 0
Oct 8 1 1 2
Oct 22 1 1
Oct 29 1 1
Total 5
Sep 17 1 1
Sep 24 abs 0
Oct 8 1 1 2
Oct 22 1 1 2
Oct 29 0
Total 5
Sep 17 2 1 3
Sep 24 1 1 1 3
Oct 8 abs 0
Oct 22 0
Oct 29 0
Total 6
Sep 17 1 1
Sep 24 1 1
Oct 8 1 1
Oct 22 0
Oct 29 0
Total 3




Fig. 1 Godly Play Classroom


Fig. 2 Stephanias Altar as Meadow


Fig. 3 Marios Sheep and People Around the Altar


Fig. 4 The Sheepfold of the Good Shepherd and the Eucharistic Table


Fig. 5 Altar with Candle Below; Church and Sheepfold on Either Side


Fig. 6 Children with Grandpa at the Tea Party


Fig. 7 Pouring J uice with Grandpa


Fig. 8 Worship Around the Altar


Fig. 9 Sharing Prayer with Grandpa


Fig. 10 Receiving the Blessing


Fig. 11 Listening to the Parable


Fig. 12 Using Quilts to Define Space for Sitting


Fig. 13 Choosing a Discovery Box


Fig. 14 Sheep Puppets in the discovery Box


Fig. 15 The Electric Circuit Discovery Box


Fig. 16 The Dress-up Box


Fig. 17 Being Present


Fig. 18 Building Relationships

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