Home church-ing

by Ann Fontaine

Undoubtedly you have heard of home schooling or as it is also called “unschooling.” Whether you have opinions for it, against it or mixed you can read all about how this movement has spread to all areas of the US among both evangelical fundamentalists who want to keep their children away for those who might teach something counter to their beliefs to parents who feel public school is not offering enough choice or providing enough challenge and variety to their children.

What I have noticed lately is a movement to what I call “home churching.” Parents who want their children to have faith and moral guidance and meaning for life, are teaching their children at home rather than sending them to Sunday school or taking them to church services.

Often a day is set apart without television or internet and time is made for family discussions or experiences of spiritual growth. Family meetings and open discussion of questions about life and meaning are held over a meal that is prepared together. Bible stories may be told. Children may work with art materials or other tactile objects.

I think the reasons for this movement are similar to reasons for home schooling. There is the desire to offer something to children that is not available elsewhere or seems deficient or is not nearby. Another factor may be that Sunday is the only day families are not committed to getting up and getting the kids off to school and parents off to work. Of course for home school-ers and parents who work from home there are other reasons that are similar to reasons for home schooling.

From an “unchurch” family:

We didn’t really know we were doing it until you commented on our practice. We tried going to various churches, but the Episcopal ones were too dusty and the UCC/Unitarian ones were too squishy. Our “unchurching” sort of just evolved organically. The no screens (no TV or computers for children and adults) thing came first. Then we started saying grace. So we always say grace at dinner, even when they are restaurants or at friends’ houses. We say dear lord and amen and even though I don’t particularly believe in the deity. There’s something nice and traditional about it, and it really works for the kids. What we usually say is something for which we are grateful or for something that we hope; typical prayer stuff. We also have a family meeting on Sunday. We sing a song, talk about various issues, like what we want to learn about that week, upcoming trips, and any family stuff like problems we had during the week. I guess the main thing is that we didn’t really say the church is not for us, let’s do something different. It was more just a natural outgrowth of our spirituality and experiences. Although church really doesn’t work for us, I’m not sure we think of ourselves as doing something alternative to it.

Since talking with this family I began notice organizations that offer materials to support parents and children who are “home churching.” Religious groups who support home schooling also provide materials about teaching the faith at home. Some churches offer handouts as take home materials. Many families develop their own way of sharing their spirituality with their children.

Candle Press offers resources for families. Godly Play can be adapted for use in homes. Sharon Pearson at Build Faith shares resources for sharing faith at home. She also gives ideas for creating a prayer space at home.

As with home schooling or unschooling – home churching or unchurching has many approaches. The one common element is a desire for a more holistic experience of faith – not one just relegated to an hour or less on Sunday morning.

The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Interim Vicar, St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church, on the Oregon coast, keeps what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

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