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Hallo again to all.

A community not far away from us has in the last year suffered several of its teenage schoolchildren ending their lives by jumping in front of trains. Today on the way to church we passed through that place, and were struck dumb by the sight of police guards stationed at each of its several train crossings. There was no need to stop to ask the police officers why they were there: it was grimly obvious to everyone who has been keeping up with local news.

Not supposed to be the four last thingsIn church we paid close attention to the teenagers who were there. As with every church we've ever attended, teenage children often cut back their church attendance as they grow closer to adulthood: if you look carefully, there seem always to be more younger children than teenagers in a church service. We paid as much attention as we dared to the teenagers who were there, looking at each and asking ourselves whether that child might be so full of demons and despair as to jump in front of a train. Obviously not: whatever it is that brings older children to church, be it a simple belief in God, faith in the future, obedience to their parents, a fervent belief in corporate worship, or merely the joy of a church service, is usually enough to keep them from making foolish and impetuous decisions about their lives.

We really wanted to write this week's AO front page on one of our more usual topics, but we couldn't get these child suicides out of our mind nor could we stop wondering whether church membership has any effect at all on a child's ability to stand up to the forces that might ultimately push him or her to find what we once heard described as a 'permanent solution to a temporary problem'. We don't know a thing about those children who so tragically ended their lives by jumping in front of trains. We don't know their names, or anything about their families, or whether they came from a churchgoing background (let alone whether that possible background might have been somehow Anglican).

Ultimately, it seems to us, suicide is about a lack of hope and belief, an inability to trust that the future will be tolerable. We found ourselves wondering, as we looked into the eyes of the teenagers in church this morning, whether they were there because they had hope, or whether they were there because they didn't. Probably the former, but it did seem rude to ask. Belief in a good future and desire to attend church seem very interwoven, though not in a simple way. The children without hope are likely not in church but on a street corner somewhere doing things that their parents forbid.

In some scholarly corner of our brain we feel an urge to look up UNICEF statistics about child suicides by culture, economic status, and location. To find out whether child suicides are more likely among the poor or the rich, the educated or the uneducated, this continent or that one. But we weren't quite sure what we would do with that information, and we didn't want to turn these several dead local children into statistics, or to compare them with anyone else.

Almost every parish we've ever known has worked to keep its children. Of course, in the endless planning meetings, what everyone meant by 'keep the children' was 'ensure that the children continue to attend church once they are adults'. No one ever thought it meant 'ensure that the children do not jump in front of trains before they have a chance to become adults'. But it's probably the same thing. The very best thing that family and society can give a child is a sense of hope and trust, whether its immediate value to them is keeping them off the train tracks or keeping them in church.

Now, what does any of this have to do with the Anglican world? For us, it's easier to make faith be stronger by worshipping in a church that is mindful of the past, mindful of the lives and witness and faith of the countless generations before. Anglican worship is a carefully crafted balance between ancient and modern, between old tradition and new understanding, between the culture of centuries past and the culture of today. That trite three-legged platform of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason is more important now than ever before. Trains hadn't been invented yet when the Book of Common Prayer was first written, so children of that era who lost their hope would need to throw themselves in front of a bear or a boar or a bandit. We've been told thousands of times that life is good because Jesus said so. We just have to believe it.

See you next week. Full of hope, and trying to pass it on.

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Last updated: 23 August 2009

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