This Sunday is WHITE SUNDAY, a major celebration within our Samoan Cluster. Often in the past this event has taken place on a Sunday when we worship at different times, but this year with all our restrictions we are making it part of our regular service. What is ‘White Sunday’? Firstly it is a Sunday especially for the children. In Samoan it is called ‘Lotu Tamaiti’ which means Children’s Church, Children’s Sunday or Children’s Service. On this day everyone wears white, for the colour white is associated with purity and holiness.
I am told that often children receive new white outfits on this day and also that they sometimes have a special outfit just for lunch or the afternoon service. On this day it’s traditional for the parents to serve the children at lunch.
The actual service is led by the young people as you will see this Sunday at St John’s. In some ways the Service is like a Sunday School Anniversary Service, and a lot of preparation goes into this service. A lot is invested in this day, for it represents and marks the growth of our young people in the Christian faith. It is an opportunity for the young people to give account of the Christian faith, and when we do that publicly we claim that faith as our own.
Some years ago I travelled to Vanuatu with a small group of young people to run a week long mission in the remote region where my parents were missionaries. While it was hard work it was also a great experience and a lot of fun. We spent the mornings engaging with the young people, leading devotions, running bible studies as well as fun activities and games. In the afternoons we ran a program for the primary children, with stories, games and songs. And in the evening we gathered people in the village to project onto a large white sheet with a data projector some films, including ‘Chariots of Fire’ which we showed to the High School Students.
One afternoon while we were teaching the little children I noticed a number of older men gathered outside the classroom listening intently, and afterward they approached me to talk. I had been teaching the old children’s song, “Wide, wide as the ocean, high as the heavens above. . .” and the old men were excited about that because they remembered my mother teaching them the very same song in the 1950’s when she started a kindergarten in the village. That song had remained with them all this time, along with a lot of very happy memories, as did the message the song carried, that God’s love is inexhaustible; it is deeper, wider and more expansive than we will ever know.
What we learn in childhood often stays with us, which is why fostering faith in children is vital. I have always been warmed by the way Jesus engaged with children. He clearly took notice of children at play, speaking about it in one of his parables. He was cross with his disciples for preventing children from coming to him for a blessing, and he took a little child and placed her in the midst of his disciples when they were arguing about who was the greatest, and said, ‘Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me. . .” Jesus also said that unless we become like a child we will not enter the kingdom of God.
What Jesus looks for in us all is an openness and trust, and a willingness to learn and reach out to others. One Sunday in the village in Vanuatu I noticed children being invited to pray for adults who came and knelt on the ground in front of them. When I asked about this the Elders of the church said, ‘We often see in children a stronger faith than in adults.” So children were given this special role. I must admit that I was both humbled and encouraged.