Mennonites Teaching Contemplative Spirituality to Children

Are the Mennonites who are teaching contemplative spirituality to children leading them astray?

In 2005, at a Mennonite Educators Conference workshop, Dr. Sara Wenger Shenk taught child educators to:

“Teach various kinds of prayer: centering prayer with a chosen word such as “Abba” or “shalom” to repeat while quieting one’s spirit and body to listen to God; meditative prayer prompted by a poem, artwork, musical selection that provides a loose structure within which children can ponder the mysteries of life, their commitments…; using a biblical story for guided meditation, pausing to ask prayerful questions that invite imaginative engagement at various points in the story”

Source: How do we cultivate faithfulness in children?
Mennonite Educators Conference
September 22-24, 2005
Workshop: Practices for Nurturing Children in Faith 
Presenter: Dr. Sara Wenger Shenk

The primary source for ideas in this workshop was a book called Real Kids: Real Faith—Practices for Nurturing Children’s Spiritual Lives by Karen Marie Yust[1]. Since then, the ideas in this book have captured the imagination of other child educators. In 2011, this same book by Yust (among others) was used as a reference source for an article about children and contemplative prayer in The Mennonite. Here is an excerpt…

“there has been an increased recognition that children in our society have an intense yearning for silence and meditation (see Real Kids Real Faith by Karen Marie Yust). There is also a growing understanding that children have the capacity to enter the meditative silence of various spiritual practices and often with greater ease than some adults. The keys to helping children enter these practices are creating space and providing them with the tools and understanding necessary to connect with God in prayer. 

Many prayer practices are being recommended for children, for example: centering prayer, guided meditation, journaling, listening prayer, the examen and mindfulness. Some educators, such as Ivy Beckwith, have explored the benefits for children of adding deep breathing to their prayers in order to develop a rhythm for centering prayer, or using a prayer rope to occupy their hands and minds as they engage in the Jesus prayer (see Formational Children’s Ministry by Ivy Beckwith)”[2]

Source: 2011-09-01 ISSUE:
Children and prayer
Ways to help us see ourselves and our children as whole beings who pray with our bodies.
by Carrie Martens

Carrie Martins is still interested today in helping children learn contemplative spiritual formation. Her website ( promotes many contemplative links. One of these is the First Steps Spirituality Center[3], where children from babies to teens can learn about the labyrinth, or practice breath, sensory, and contemplative prayer with interactive prayer beads, holy listening stones, or by reading a ‘breath prayer book’ called Child of God, Child of Light by founder Rev. Leanne Hadley. Carrie Martins’ favourite author list includes Ivy Beckwith, Marjorie Thompson, Richard Rohr, Adele Calhoun, and Joyce Rupp, some of whose contemplative teachings are considered by many Christians as New Age paganism.

Martins says she loves the Mennonite Church Canada Resource Centre[4] which offers many sources to help teach families and children contemplative prayer. These include the above mentioned child educator contemplatives, Karen Marie Yust[5], Ivy Beckwith[6], and various materials on centering prayer[7] and monastic traditions[8] for children.

As these Mennonites teach such practices to children, what direction are these little ones being influenced to walk in?

Ivy Beckwith, who has explored the benefits of centering prayer and deep breathing for children (as Carrie Martins mentioned in The Mennonite), spoke at the “Children, Youth, and a New Kind of Christianity” conference in May 7-10, 2012 in Washington, D.C. Other speakers included emerging church leaders Brian McLaren, Tony Campolo, Shane Claiborne, Jim Wallis, and over 50 other influential leaders in Christian formation.[9] The Gather Round Sunday school curriculum (, co-published by Brethren Press and MennoMedia, was one of the co-sponsers at this emergent conference. Attendees represented Church of the Brethren, Mennonite Church Canada, and Mennonite Church USA.

This month, Ivy Beckwith will be speaking at Faith Forward (May 19-22) in Nashville, TN.[10] Other speakers[11] include emergent leader Brian McLaren, ‘thin places’ Lilly Lewin, ‘recovering fundamentalist’ Melvin Bray, and ‘the great emergence’ author Phyllis Tickle.

Is this where contemplative spiritual practices and meditation will lead the children? Into the welcoming arms of emergent teachers of ‘the new kind of Christianity’ who want to influence the minds and hearts of the next generation?[12]

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
Matthew 18:6

End Notes:

[4] Top Ten Reasons I LOVE the Mennonite Church Canada Resource Centre
[5] Karen Maire Yust:
[6] Ivy Beckwith:
[7] Journey to the Heart: Centering Prayer for Children by Frank X. Jelenek
This simple, colorful, practical book uses rhyme and illustrations to teach children how to practice prayer of the heart, contemplative prayer, or “centering prayer.” Ideal for parents, teachers, educators – and children ages 3-10.
[8] The Busy Family’s Guide To Spirituality: Practical Lessons for modern Living From the Monastic Tradition by David Robinson (lessons from the rule of St. Benedict and the Benedictine traditions)
[9] Gather Round cosponsors conference on children and youth, June 6, 2012.
Gather ’Round co-sponsors conference on children and youth
[12] Q&A with Brian McLaren


Why centering prayer should not be taught to children



THE LABYRINTH: A WALK BY FAITH? Concerns About the Christian Use of Labyrinths by Marcia Montenegro

2 thoughts on “Mennonites Teaching Contemplative Spirituality to Children

  1. Pingback: McLaren’s New Book – A New Kind of Year Long Church Curriculum | Menno-lite

  2. Pingback: Contemplative Spiritual Formation in Mennonite Sunday School Curriculum | Menno-lite

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