by Christy Hallenbeck, M.Div. Middler
Dawn Rundman can't get enough of the Mildreds.
You know, the elderly women in your congregation who brought you cookies each Sunday when you were young and now seek you out during the Passing of the Peace?
"I love the Mildreds!" said Rundman, the self-proclaimed "Ph.D.-wielding former camp counselor." She developed Child Loving Church (CLC), an innovative vision for congregational design that highlights the place of children in congregational life.
The Mildreds, Rundman argues, help children feel valued in congregations. This feeling, she emphasizes, is of utmost importance in not just honoring children, but in encouraging their continued engagement in the church.
Two years ago, as a curriculum developer with Augsburg Fortress and as a vocal advocate for implicit--or unintended--curricula of congregational lessons and spaces, Rundman began developing the concept of CLC.
"Given my early childhood background, I kept thinking that if we let kids, from the time they were babies, know that they were important and valuable and appreciated, maybe they wouldn't be so intent on exiting," she said in reference to the trend of kids leaving the church after confirmation.
"It's easy to duck out when it seems like your existence is only being tolerated," she said.
While Rundman claims a particular passion for working with and for children, she asserts that ministering to children is a call of the whole church.
"I think the goal of a Child Loving Church should be recognizing that you minister to young kids and that children actually minister to others--their family members, their friends and people in your congregation."
Since naming her CLC vision, Rundman has led workshops at the ELCA Youth Ministry Network's annual Extravaganza event and at Luther Seminary's Mid-Winter Convocation. She also created a Facebook group, which now includes more than 200 CLC-connected persons who share ideas and experiences of child- and family-friendly congregational spaces.
Through resources that she offers at workshops and on the CLC Facebook page, congregations can access "space audits" that assess various intended and unintended spatial messages, tips for both simple and significant spatial improvements and connections to other child- and family-friendly congregations.
Many of Rundman's ideas have sprouted from visiting places that successfully invite and engage children and families.
"I love viewing kid-friendly spaces--zoos, children's libraries, children's museums, etc.--to pick up tips and insights," Rundman said.
One such insight lies in spaces' intentional communication of their mission and desire for a positive experience.
"They don't assume you'll notice things on your own," she said of spaces like McDonald's, Aldi and Ikea. "They inform you deliberately and let you know these things are in place for you. They are unlocking what is implicit and making it explicit. As a church we can learn a lot from Ronald (McDonald)."
Through the CLC Facebook Group and various follow-up conversations, Rundman hears ideas and experiences of congregational leaders involved with child- and family-friendly space improvements.
"I've heard from the attendees of my workshops and events that they have been implementing many of the changes we talked about," she said of CLC-related energies and efforts, "but it hasn't always been easy or quick.
"We talked in the course about getting advocates who could support them, vision with them, dream with them and act with them. Like any ministry in a congregation, discerning how the spirit is working through you and others is really important!"
To learn more about CLC, join the Child Loving Church Facebook group or visit www.dawnrundman.com.