The ghettoization of Christmas trees (and youth ministry)
I grew up with what can only be described as an eclectic Christmas tree: Gold ornaments from my grandparents hung alongside Hallmark ornaments as well as homemade ornaments. One of my mom’s all-time favorite ornaments is an angel I made when I was approximately four years old out of spray-painted noodles, yarn, and garland. She’s now lost an eye and not surprisingly, is starting to decay. Yet, my mom faithfully hangs it on her tree every year because it means something to her… And to me.
Not surprisingly, my own Christmas tree also holds an eclectic mix of ornaments. Those same gold ornaments hang alongside other beautiful ones, which now hang alongside a collection of ornaments my four-year old daughter, Hope, has proudly made and hung. Every single ornament on our tree means something to us… Most have a story or a trip they remind us of.
I love our tree and no one looks forward to decorating it more than me…
To say Hope is into decorating our tree is an underestimate. Every day, she begs to unbox and hang our ornaments.
She’s super involved in the process, handles the ornaments with care, and hangs them with precision (although I’ll admit, I’ve had to restrain myself from rearranging some of the ones she’s hung in order to make our tree look a bit more balanced.)
As I’ve stared at our tree the past few days, I’ve been thankful for it… And for the diversity of ornaments found on it.
This has been especially true as I’ve noticed a trend of Facebook posts featuring children with their own trees. Most of the children's Christmas trees I see contain a child’s homemade ornaments, relegated to their own tree in order to preserve some sense of theme or décor on their family’s main tree.
This trend represents what I call the ghettoization of children’s Christmas trees.
At first, this trend seems harmless until you realize
• How much it isolates a child from their family
• How much it strips the child of the dignity and value that comes when their ornaments are allowed to hang on their family’s tree
• How much it prevents the child from integrating themselves into their family’s tree decoration traditions.
I recognized this trend because it’s one I see in churches.
The only difference is that in churches, we don’t just ghettoize children’s Christmas trees. We ghettoize children’s and youth ministries.
This occurs when we separate children’s and youth ministries from the rest of the church. We do so in the name of age-appropriate faith formation. Often, it, too seems harmless until you realize
• How much it segregates our congregations and prevents intergenerational relationships from forming
• How much it strips our children and teens of their dignity and value and says “You have gifts you can contribute to the things for people YOUR age… Not to anything that might also involve adults.”
• How much it prevents children and youth from integrating themselves into their congregation’s traditions and stories.
Such practices stunt the faith formation of our children and youth… And dare I say the adults who miss the opportunity to learn from them.
When that happens, everyone loses.
So this Christmas, may we embrace diversity.
May we let the messiness of childhood ornaments hang on our trees front and center, right next to the ornaments passed down from one generation to the next.
May we also do the same in our churches.
May we let the messiness of children and teens explode into our sanctuaries so that together, we can worship the God who values us all.