Children’s book author and blogger, Glenys Nellist, has recently interviewed Tanya Marie Eustace Campen, author of Pickwick title, “Holy Work with Children: Making Meaning Together,” part of our Horizons in Religious Education series. [Below is a short excerpt from the interview. For the full interview, visit here.]
GN: Can you tell us a little bit about your history in children’s ministry and the passion that led you to write Holy Work with Children?
TC: Sure thing! I began my journey working with children as a music intern at a United Methodist church when I was in college. While leading children in conversation about the music I quickly learned how curious and intuitive they are! I also discovered how my faith was strengthened when I took the time to listen and engage in conversation with them. Many times their questions were my questions too- and we had an opportunity to learn together!
This work quickly revealed a call to ministry with children. I graduated from college, went to seminary, and worked in the area of children’s ministry in various capacities. Fast forward several years, I found myself working in a United Methodist Church as the Pastor to children and families. Introduced to Godly Play and the Way of the child curricula a few years prior I discovered my favorite part of my ministry was sitting with children as we experienced the story, listened and wondered together, and often tried new spiritual practices too.
It was in these moments when once again I became deeply aware of the spiritual insight children bring to a conversation. I felt like they were teaching me so very much and I did not know what to do with it! I also discovered that as I tried to talk to adults about what I was learning and experiencing many could not understand or comprehend the capability of children to engage in theological conversation nor did they recognize the need for coming alongside children in this process. Most adults were still very focused on providing information to children so that they would one day be able to participate in the faith community. It broke my heart and frustrated me to no end!
So I heard the call to go back to school, to study human and faith development, and to learn more about how to faithfully journey with children and encourage adults to do this important work too. I naively thought- surely if I go back and get another degree then I’ll have enough wisdom and insight that people will listen to me! What I know now is that I already had the wisdom and insight- the children and I had discovered that together.
What my PHD did give me (in addition to the education, wisdom of scholars, conversations with colleagues, etc.) was the opportunity to learn how to ethically conduct a research project that could then offer a pathway for sharing the children’s stories, their wisdom, and our learnings with a larger audience. Holy Work with Children is the fruit of this experience and process.
About Holy Work
Children are theologians with the ability to recognize and respond to God’s presence in their lives. Listening to the stories of children helps us to understand how children make meaning out of God’s presence and reveals tools that children use as they claim their faith. With this knowledge, adults can then better promote and encourage children’s spiritual growth. Offering a theology of childhood, Holy Work with Children values the child’s role in the Body of Christ and God’s transformative work. Dr. Campen invites readers to consider: -How does listening to children teach us about God and faith formation? -What wisdom and insight do children offer to all of us by how they seek understanding of God and God’s presence in their lives? -How can we guide and support the children in our communities in this work? Drawing on direct research with children as they think theologically, this book extends both theological and educational research. Holy Work with Children offers practical examples for how congregational leaders, parents, and those who journey with children can encourage and guide them as they make theological meaning and discover ways to respond to God’s grace and love making a difference in their communities and the world.
About Tanya Campen
Tanya Marie Eustace Campen is an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church and holds a doctorate of philosophy in Christian education and congregational studies from Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary. Her research focus is children’s spirituality. Tanya teaches, speaks, and writes regularly on issues concerning children, families, and intergenerational ministry. Tanya’s ministry seeks to help all persons discover and live in response to God’s grace and love.