Interview With Tanya Campen, Author of HOLY WORK WITH CHILDREN… Plus a Book Giveaway!

When I first noticed a new title pop up on my radar called

Ever since being introduced to Godly Play, a Montessori-based curriculum method of exploring the mystery of God’s presence in our lives, the whole topic of children’s spirituality is one that I have fallen in love with. It is such a delight, then, to welcome the author of Holy Work with Children, Rev Dr Tanya Marie Eustace Campen to my blog today.

Read on to hear her thoughtful answers to my questions and be sure to enter a giveaway of Holy Work with Children, generously sponsored by Wipf and Stock Publishers. 

Hi Tanya! Welcome! I’m excited you’re here. Let’s get the formal introduction out of the way… what does it say in your bio on the back of Holy Work with Children?

Glenys- thank you SO much for this opportunity. What a fun way to connect to your readers. My bio says:

Rev. Dr. 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 childrenspirituality. Tanya teaches, speaks and writes regularly on issues concerning children, families, and intergenerational ministry.

Tanyas ministry seeks to help all persons discover and live in response to God’s grace and love. When Tanya is not at work, she can be found spending time with her husband Ryan Campen, their son Luke Michael, and their Portuguese Water Dog, Bela Esperança (beautiful hope). 

I love the name of your dog! What is something fun about you that we don’t learn from your bio?

Bela and I are a registered therapy dog team so you might catch her working alongside me in ministry! I also love running, cycling and yoga and I’ve completed three marathons and a Bike MS 150 mile ride.

Wow, Tanya, how fun! Okay, 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?

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! LOL. 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.

I loved learning about your journey, Tanya. Thank you. Can you tell us more about that research project with children?

Happy to. My research project developed out of a deep call to listen to children, and to learn alongside children. In the midst of my studies I began to realize that there are a lot of people who talk about children. While great wisdom and insight can come from these resources and conversations, I quickly realized that in order to develop a deep understanding of how children experience God, I needed to listen to children.

Thus began the my desire to craft a research project where I could sit with and learn alongside children of various ages in community. With the help of faculty and an ethics committee I drafted a 6 week long qualitative research study. My goal was to work with children in two very different communities using a curriculum based on the work of Jerome Berryman, Godly Play.

We would gather each week in each of these locations for an hour a week and would hear a story, wonder together, and then children would be invited into a free choice response time where they could work with materials of their choice (including legos, paint, modeling clay, etc).

I recorded audio and video of these gatherings that I would later analyze and categorize to see what themes and learnings emerged. These are some of the most memorable moments in my ministry. I am grateful for the stories shared, the wonderings pondered, and the wisdom discovered. While these 6 weeks were the literal moments of the research, it is important to note that much work went in to creating this process, building relationships, and getting proper permissions. For an in-depth description of the entire process I encourage readers to check out the appendix, research methodology, in Holy Work with Children.

It sounds like an amazing, fruitful time. What was one surprising thing you learned about children during the process?

I think the biggest surprise was the clarity in the children’s theological process. My experience with children led me to a deep belief that children are theologians, capable of making meaning.

My scholarship revealed developmental research and theories that supported my hypothesis. Sitting with and listening to children revealed the process in which they move through as they do this important work. Engaging, recognizing, claiming, and responding to God’s presence offers a clear pedagogical framework for the child’s meaning making process.  It is in this theological process that we see opportunity for adults to come alongside, shepherd, and guide children as they do the important work of making meaning in response to their experiences with God and as they find way to respond- loving God and neighbor in all they do.

I love that, Tanya! What is one of your favorite moments in working with these children that you will always remember?

There are SO very many, LOL. I think the stories, reflections, and real life experiences are my favorite. From the child’s words: “I think we need to review the rules” on a very chaotic day in an after school program, to the moment I realized I was so deep in telling the story I didn’t notice my hoody string caught on fire from the Christ candle, to the young child who spoke sharing: “God is always there ready to give us a hug.”

Each of these extraordinary moments in the midst of the ordinary are the beautiful tapestry that make up my ministry and fill my heart. There are too many to count and too many to share in one blog. My prayer is that the moments and stories shared in Holy Work with Children will warm the readers’ hearts calling forth memories of conversations and moments with children in their ministry as they claim all that they have learned from and experienced with children too!

I love the idea that all those moments combine into one beautiful tapestry! What would you like readers to take away from Holy Work with Children?

My deepest hope is that readers will be drawn into the children’s stories and that they will hear with an openness all that God is doing in and through the children in my book, and most importantly the children in their lives and ministries.

My prayer is that my book will invite ministry leaders to intentionally consider their own theological view of children and how that view impacts their ministry. I also hope that readers will learn and consider ways to actively listen and wonder with the children in their communities, and that they will expect God to show up in that process.

Finally, I look forward to a day when children are encouraged as full participants in God’s holy dance- I believe that when we dance together, faith will be strengthened, understandings will be deepened, actions will become transformative and in and through this process  God’s work will be done.

Amen, Tanya! Where can folks connect with you?

People can connect with me via:

The Rio Texas Conference or

Facebook.

I am always eager to make connections, to meet new people who share a passion for ministry with children, and to learn more about effective ministry practices. I always encourage people to reach out and connect whether for virtual coffee, a meal, or a phone conversation. I believe we are stronger when we are working together 🙂

Absolutely Tanya! Thank you so much for sharing from your heart today and for your incredible work with children.

And now for the giveaway! If you would like to win a copy of Holy Work with Children, all you need to do is leave a comment right here, on this post. If you share this post on social media, you will earn five extra entries. (Please let me know if you share in the comments.)

**Open to USA entrants only. The winner will be announced on Monday. Good luck!

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