A person centred religion
The person centred approach is very much an idea taken from the writings of Carl Rogers which also led to a particular form of counselling work and training – not so much working with the unconscious or with the psycho-dynamics but rather from where the person is actually at and almost coming alongside them and being with them in their difficulties. The idea has been taken up by more mainstream caring agencies including the NHS where for example in mental health a person centred care approach aims to look at what is needed from the users and their families’ point of view.
Considering the concept again I’m wondering about looking at it in terms of religion and spirituality. Of course our personal relationship with God is totally person centred but in religious institutions it sometimes seems the very opposite – it’s rather an institution centred approach. That was certainly my experience when working in child protection for the Church of England where defending the church and those who worked in it could sometimes be seen as more important than the needs of the person who had been abused.
It is sometimes the same in the way the church generally treats its children – not always – but I had an experience the other day which rather depressed me. The approach was not about being alongside the child in a person centred way but the very opposite. It was in a large church where much was being made of children as the most precious people in the congregation – the future of the church and so on but then they were hurried off to their different groups while the adults got on with what was apparently the main business – readings and sermon.
I happened to see what was going on in a group of very young children… Of course it’s only volunteers who are helping here because although the church apparently sees the children as so important nobody really wants to work with them and if none of the parents are up for doing it then really anybody who offers is gladly accepted. No money is invested that I could see with quite a lot of old crayons and toys and this is in a wealthy church. In the group I saw, the person in charge was unable to understand the experience from the point of view of the three young children in front of them. Instead I could see that what mattered was that children knew about certain Bible stories even if they could not understand what was being said, so the various points were hammered on until the children eventually voted with their feet and went off to play with even younger children. The person who had led the group was on a mission and wanted the children to behave in the way that they expected them to behave; they wanted them to hear the story even although it was clear that the words didn’t mean much and why would you understand the words ‘Jericho’, ‘Levite’ and ‘Samaritan’ if you’re four years old. And yet the story that was being told – the Good Samaritan – could have been presented in a way that meant something to children who went to preschool or reception classes… What might stop you going to help someone? How would you feel if you saw another child being hurt? And then there could have been the fun activities of colouring or gluing and sticking but even this part was being directed by the person in charge – whatever you do keep within the lines and don’t make a mess!
But keeping within the lines and not making a mess is not what Jesus did and is not what he asks us to do, but rather to live freely and imaginatively and creatively which is exactly what small children do already until they are inevitably curtailed and controlled.
A person centred religion