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Towards a Theology of Childhood response by Simon Paylor


Simon Paylor's response to Roger Haydon Mitchell's article April 2021

This particular area of exploration resonated deeply with me, for a few different reasons.  Part of how it situates with me is connected to my current place of work in Norfolk County Council's Children's Services, both in terms of my remit with regards to transforming Children and Young People's Mental Health Services for Norfolk & Waveney, and in the overall focus of 'transformation' in the directorate when it comes to prevention, early intervention and social care.  However, there are so many other notes of harmony and resonance in relation to the 'future' and 'becoming', and personal experience.  Suffice to say, this feels very timely in terms of a 'now moment', and very applicable to my context.

At this point, I think I'd just like to share some questions and thoughts that were provoked for me.  Perhaps others might help to bounce ideas and explore these questions?

  • I've heard some extrapolations of what it means to be 'like a child', or receive 'the kingdom' as such.  How much of this reflects a focus on adults having lost something, or having to un-learn things?  Or, how much of this is about acknowledging the actual capacity and wisdom of children, rather than a potentially patronising or demeaning view of this capacity, e.g. 'aren't children sweet, reminding us to be vulnerable and embrace wonder'?  Of course, the reminder of vulnerability and embracing wonder is a valuable gift, but children can potentially be 'othered' too.  At the same time, there is an inherent vulnerability and lack of experience in children.  I liked Roger's phrase of 'mutual mentoring'.
  • Following on from this, instead of a 'Sunday School' where the explicit aim is to indoctrinate, ie literally teach doctrine, isn't there an implication for configuring a way for them to teach us?  What would that kind of honouring or space making look like?  What does it mean to truly 'receive' children?  I think Roger certainly starts articulating this, but it has prompted further thought for me.
  • What does it mean to not hinder children?  There is an impetus or energy implied in the use of that phrase - perhaps an agenda, or force that could be hindered, but shouldn't be.  A corollary with placing them 'in the midst'.  It's often occurred to me that schools, for example, will often inculcate children with essentially counterpolitical values, e.. collaboration and kindness.  To what degree is this beaten out, or eventually viewed as 'childish' upon contact with the so-called 'real world', or obviously hypocritical adults?    
  • Really interesting to be reminded that one of the seven kenarchic priorities is that children flourish (with a particular use of that word this time).  Arising from some of the work I've been supporting, senior leaders in Norfolk & Waveney are about to adopt a vision for the region's children and young people which is entitled 'FLOURISH', an acronym that attempts to articulate (and outline measurable outcomes) when it comes to overall wellbeing:  Family & Friends, Learning, Opportunity, Understood, Resilient, Independent, Safe & Secure, Healthy.  There are many people with good hearts  in the circles I'm mixing in, including senior leaders, many of whom are genuinely rooting for a better way of being (in the midst of typical pressures, problems and politics).  The regional and local authority sphere does feel like there is a different kind of space and opportunity to apply some of these things, and I am particular keen to hear about the Love Learning developments in Morecambe Bay. 
  • A jarring use of the word 'despise' in Jesus' words.  Do we personally or culturally despise children?  In some ways, children are a socio-cultural and personal priority - a natural grace or sacrament for any would be parent, drawing us into emptying ourselves, orientating ourselves to another more truly than we do for anyone else?  Other socio-cultural elements often work against it, including the atomisation of individual families, wider sovereignty values etc.   It did make me think that many despise their own inner child, much of which is then projected outwards - the ongoing transference of trauma.  The framing of Adverse Childhood Experiences is well known in health and social care, and having trauma informed workforce and practice is the order of the day - landing and applying this in practice is certainly a challenge.
  • 'Security' is an interesting one, since arguably a healthy stance towards life involves exploration, openness, but also an awareness, acceptance and celebration of embodiment - which includes death, decay, limitations, vulnerability, fragility?  Arguably the lack of 'firm arms' in personal experience leads to seeking the firm arms and certainties of 'strong leaders'.   With my own children I aspire to ensure they are confident in themselves, knowing they are loved and known - I have a personal journey of 'trust' or faith, with a sense of purpose and often a clear sense of provision, but I'm very mindful that life can be fragile, and it often demands that we're as cunning as serpents (as well as innocent as doves so we don't get cynical).  For little ones growing up, individuating, maturing, they need security and a sense of security.  But, increasingly into the future, they will surely need a sense of the power structures they grow up in, and incredible wisdom in how to discern and navigate what are likely to be very insecure times.
  •   I like the sense that it's not so much about the boundaries themselves, as much as how you utilise or wield them.  My reflection was that boundaries are akin to rules of life, or ways of life - healthy practices which do include, but also exclude that which isn't healthy or helpful.  
  • I also like the idea of 'training for civic engagement' - to some degree, young commissioners or youth parliament etc does this kind of thing, but what about the kind of conscientization that Freire speaks of that would go way beyond doctrine to applied counterpolitical Jesus actions?
  • I resonate also with Roger's rendering of three outpourings or seasons, the flow of which I interpreted as a progressive ramping up of focus on individuals -> church -> 'the world'.  
  • Finally, the overarching question - how is that we nurture and receive this from our child brothers and sisters?  How is that we mutually mentor, and follow them into a future that they will be (and will need to be) more equipped for than we are?








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