China Aid Association
Threat for Sunday Schools
By Lavinia Ngatoko in Challenge Weekly, New Zealand
Special to ASSIST News Service
TRUTH INCUBATORS: Sunday Schools like this one could be under threat of closure should the Government decide to stick to the letter of the law.
AUCKLAND NZ (ANS) — There is rising concern among the Christian community in New Zealand that some churches could be forced to close their Sunday Schools, because they are not licensed as early childhood education centres.
This follows comments by the new Education Minister Chris Carter in Parliament recently that the Education Act required early education centres with three or more children less than six years of age to be licensed or on premises exempt from licensing.
The Ministry of Education is currently conducting a review of early childhood centres, which should be completed by next year.
If Sunday Schools are seen as early education centres they would then also have to provide additional facilities such as access to cooking and sleeping areas, as well as develop education plans and programmes. This could prove a problem for some of the smaller churches, which would have to find additional funds to put all this in place.
Christine Simpson, a pastor at The Church on the Hill in Meremere said she was outraged at this news because church Sunday Schools operated solely on the goodwill of volunteers.
Mrs Simpson, a teacher who was involved for more than 15 years with caring for pre-schoolers at a Papakura church said it would be unfair to force the smaller and less well-off churches to comply with the regulations.
“As long as all the safety systems are in place, churches should be left alone,” she said.
Bob Sinclair, senior pastor of Taumurunui Baptist Church, which has a small Sunday school group of just over 10 children, believes this is just another way of devaluing what the church does for kids.
Mr Sinclair said in smaller churches there was an extra element of trust. But monitoring of safety measures must also be in place.
Sandra Key, business manager at The Rock in Wellington said while they wanted to wait to see how the review went, they had discussed the implications if they did have to comply with the act.
In the meantime, they were ensuring they had all the appropriate policies in place.
Tony Walter, the manager at Christchurch’s Grace Vineyard Church said the church already had a lot of systems in place to make it a safe environment for their under sixes.
“But we’re not really concerned about this at all because at the moment it is only ‘hearsay,'” he said.
Paul Adams, Deputy Leader of The Family Party said he was worried about the possible impact of requirements of the act on the churches with few resources.
“Families are less likely to attend church if they don’t have child facilities, which is totally contrary to family and community life,” said Mr Adams, a pastor at City Impact on Auckland’s North Shore.
“Sunday Schools have functioned wonderfully in our country and are a fundamental part of church, community and family life. There is absolutely no justification for the Government to set foot in the church and dictate how it carries out its activities.”
National Party’s Associate Education (Early Childhood) spokeswoman, Paula Bennett has called for Chris Carter to give an unequivocal assurance that Sunday schools and gym crÃ¨ches are going to be safe from closure.
“Gym crÃ¨ches and Sunday schools are baby sitting services. They are not, and were never intended to be, licensed early childhood education centres,” she said.
“It is patently ridiculous to expect Sunday schools to provide sleeping spaces, wash areas, and have personal educational portfolios for every child under their supervision. Their church-going parents are only metres away and leave their children under adult supervision for less than two hours.”
Mr Carter said early childhood centre regulations applied not just to Sunday schools but to pools and gyms.
The assertion that Sunday schools should somehow be exempt because parents were usually “just metres away” was “absurd. Parents are often ‘just metres away’ in gyms or swimming pools too, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need to be safe.”
Ten childminding facilities in gyms/fitness centres around the country have been closed down over the past 12 months because they were not licensed.
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