Why United Methodists observe Children’s Sabbath
Author's note: The United Methodist Church recognizes Children's Sabbath on the weekend of the second Sunday in October (October 7-9, 2016). The ecumenical date, traditionally the third weekend in October (October 21-23, 2016), normally conflicts with Laity Sunday.
On the second weekend in October, The United Methodist Church recognizes Children’s Sabbath, a time to reflect on God’s gift of children, and ways congregations and individuals can renew their commitment to care for, protect and advocate for all children.
The Children’s Defense Fund has led and organized The National Observance of Children’s Sabbath since 1991. This ecumenical celebration brings together people of all faiths to address the needs of children.
“United Methodists have historically been strong supporters of the Children’s Sabbath,” reports Melanie C. Gordon, Director of Ministry with Children at Discipleship Ministries.
“The focus for Children’s Sabbath is to look deeply at the needs of children, those local and worldwide, and pray for them,” shares the Rev. Leanne Hadley, founder of A Time for Children that coaches United Methodist congregations in developing ministries with children. “The goal is to recognize the needs of children and pray; and during the prayer time, to discern where God might be calling us as the church and as individuals to act.”
Gordon adds, “Children’s Sabbath allows us the opportunity to take a fresh look each year at the needs of children in the neighborhoods where we worship, work, and live; and then discover ways to address or meet those needs as people of God.”
Information and action
“People want to think of childhood as a carefree time of joy and happiness,” Hadley reports, “but the reality for kids today is very different. They have needs. They suffer. They worry. They need their emotions to be noticed and prayed for. That is what the Children’s Sabbath is all about.”
United Methodists and our predecessor bodies have a long history of ministering to the needs of children. John and Charles Wesley’s Holy Club taught the poor children of Oxford. John Wesley founded, led and wrote curriculum for the Kingswood School that grew out of the ministries of the New Room in Bristol, England. United Methodist-related Otterbein University and Albright College are named for Jacob Albright founder of the Evangelical Association and Philip Otterbein of the United Brethren in Christ, predecessor bodies of The United Methodist Church.
“Works of mercy are part of our history as Methodists,” Gordon says, “and continue to be a central part of how we address justice issues in our world. This aligns with the purpose of the Children Sabbath—advocating for the quality care of all children.”
Churches are encouraged to raise awareness of children’s issues and to provide opportunities for congregations and individuals to develop and participate in ministries that benefit the children of their community and congregation.
The National Observance of Children’s Sabbaths® Manual available from the Children’s Defense Fund, shares examples of ways congregations have observed Children’s Sabbath in the past.
Coral Gables (Florida) United Methodist Church hosted an afternoon lunch that featured a speaker from a neighborhood children’s initiative organization. St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church in Metairie, Louisiana, invited a local school principal to be a guest speaker.
Chester (Virginia) United Methodist Church donated loose change. They money was used to support the church’s ministry that provides meals for children in poverty.
Amity United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, began a book drive on Children’s Sabbath that continued through the spring. Elementary-aged children in the community received the donated books to read during the summer.
“The other part of the Children’s Sabbath,” Gordon continues, “is planning a worship service that lifts up the needs of children in our communities, and to honor the lives of children as a gift from God.”
The Children’s Defense Fund provides worship resources for congregations. “The resources and liturgies, while often sad and even somber,” notes Hadley, “are very respectful of children as whole people with needs and rights.”
Children’s Sabbath 2016
The theme selected by the Children’s Defense Fund for 2016, the 25th anniversary of Children’s Sabbath, is, “Children of Promise: Closing Opportunity Gaps.” Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund writes, “Truly each and every one of our children is a child of promise, born with the potential to achieve and become all they are meant to be.” Opportunity gaps like poverty, hunger, and lack of access to a quality education, hinder the development of many.
Hadley invites United Methodists to consider three things this year.
First, “Learn about the gaps that exist in our communities and world.” This sounds straightforward, but can be more difficult than it first appears “because it will require acknowledging things we would rather avoid such as racism, the effects of poverty, mental illness, addiction, and privilege among many of us.”
Next, “Look at the needs of the children in the community and take one action. Can you imagine each United Methodist church doing one thing? We could make a huge impact in the lives of children.”
Finally, “In addition to providing the children food, tutoring, and other resources, we can be prepared and trained in the best ways to pray with children, to listen deeply to them, and to create sacred spaces where they can experience God. Faith is the greatest gift we can offer. Children need the hope and healing only God can give them.”Find out what your congregation is doing to recognize Children’s Sabbath and get involved. If you are not part of a United Methodist church, find the one nearest you using Find-A-Church.
United Methodist Women, the General Board of Global Ministries, the General Board of Church and Society, and Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church all endorse Children’s Sabbath.