“But I’m Not Good With Kids”

Most of us will agree it’s really important that our churches reach out to children and families. But what if the thought of holding a baby terrifies you (“what if I just … drop it??”) or if, given a choice between leading a Junior Church session and sitting through every one of these Top 100 Bad Movies without a bathroom break, you’d be reaching for the DVD remote every time?crying-baby

The good news is, you don’t have to be good with kids to support children’s ministry in your church.  All ministry is supported by a lot of background work that makes the face-to-face stuff happen. Here’s a Top Ten list to get us started – feel free to add your own in the comments!

  1. Maintain an up-to-date email list of baptism families, and send them information of any activities your church is doing that are friendly for under-5s (Mailchimp can be useful for this – it’s a user-friendly way to send mass mailings, and the free version has everything you need).
  2. Keep an eye out while in charity shops for any toys or puzzles featuring Bible stories, in good condition, and bring them in for your children’s corner (if you have one) or your Junior Church.
  3. Make a knitted Nativity set (Parkinson’s UK has a pattern for £10) or knitted teddies for baptism families, or child-sized vestments for “playing church,” or …
  4. Be responsible for keeping track of volunteers, organising your Junior Church volunteer rota, and reminding them when it’s their week.
  5. Cook for Messy Church, or organise cooking teams for Messy Church.
  6. Help set up and tidy up Junior Church, Messy Church, etc – anyone willing to wield a broom, stack chairs, wash dishes, hoover up sequins …
  7. Distribute leaflets around town for your crib services, Messy Church, All-Age Services, holiday clubs, etc.
  8. Set up a standing order of £10 a month for art supplies, games, etc.
  9. Graphic design skills? Make leaflets and posters for your events.
  10. Be an ally to parents of young children in the service – remind other worshippers that babies and toddlers will sometimes fuss a little and it’s okay, or give an encouraging smile to a parent, or say “you’re doing really well” to a parent wrangling three children under 5, or smile and say “I’m so glad you’re here – it’s great to have the children in church.” Often, parents tell me that this is what made the difference between coming back to church or not!
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Christmas Concentration

Who remembers playing concentration as a kid?

The rules were so simple – you mixed up the cards and set them out, face-down. You took turns turning over two cards; if they matched, you got to keep them. If not, you had to turn them back over. It’s gently competitive, hard to cheat at, can be played over and over without new equipment, and boosts memory and concentration skills.

It’s also a great way to reinforce the imagery of Bible stories.

A few Bible-based “concentration” games exist, like this one from Orchard Toys, or Alphabet Alley’s “Bible ABC” matching game. (Conflict of interest alert – I own Mustard Seed Kids, the source of that second link.)

But why not make your own? With card, an internet connection, a printer, scissors, and some glue, you can make unique concentration games for any Bible story or festival that has a variety of interesting images.

Here’s the set I made for Christmas:

concentration

If you want it to last longer, you should laminate the cards.

As always, when working with images, it’s important to keep a few things in mind. First of all, I’m not an expert on “fair use” of images – obviously, nobody’s making money off this set I made, but if you want to be on the safe side, use Wikimedia Commons for pictures that are free to use, or get a subscription to a clip art or stock photo site.

Secondly, I deliberately used photos for many of these to make the images more vivid – paintings are wonderful (see my previous post for some ideas on using paintings in Junior Church) but photos can help remind us that these were real people! (As can paintings that creatively re-set Bible stories in modern settings … but I’m getting off topic). The image of the shepherd is a modern Palestinian shepherd, and Mary is from the film The Nativity (it’s the same actress from Whale Rider.)

Thirdly, I included a few images they won’t already be familiar with, in the hopes that this game will inspire questioning and learning. The rose is not something we normally associate with Christmas. The blog, “The Jesus Question”, has a wonderful explanation of how rose imagery is used at Christmas by both Catholics and Protestants – with pictures, song lyrics, video clips, and more. The writer there says:

“There does arise one cohesive ‘Christmas Rose’ image: A plant (the Tree of Jesse, …), springing up from Israeli soil. God is the seed, Jesse and others (Abraham, Moses, David, etc.) are the roots, Mary is the stem, and Jesus is the crowning blossom. All the people in the lineage of Christ helped bring him into the world and make up this giant, leafy, flowering plant. And now non-Jews are being graciously grafted in (Romans 11).”

This game could also be included in a children’s corner in church, or as an activity in Messy Church, or as a prayer station in All-Age Worship …

What other festivals could you make concentration games for? What images might you use?

Easy Junior Church/Messy Church idea

Last year, my Junior Church did the Old Testament, in order (with breaks for celebrating major festivals). This year, we’re doing the New Testament. This means that last Sunday we did the Annunciation, and I decided to use one of my favourite lesson ideas – which can work for almost ANY Bible story.

Here’s what you do.

Either during, or after, you tell the story, you show a few very different artistic interpretations of one of the key scenes. Here are the Annunciation pictures I used:

annunciation-1824.jpgLargeannunciation-juan-de-flandes-1519-9eb786e3annunciation-tannerJN958 Canticle of Mary

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Notice there are a lot of differences. I made sure at least one showed Mary with a darker skin tone, and they weren’t all “old masters” in style, and after that, I basically just went with what struck me.

I asked the children:

  1. What do you notice about these pictures? (They noticed Mary had a halo of stars in one, that she looked sad in some and happy in others, and more.)
  2. What do some of them have in common? (They noticed some of them had the dove, which meant we could talk about the dove as an image of the Holy Spirit. They also noticed that Mary was wearing blue in a lot of them, and this meant I could talk about how she’s traditionally shown wearing blue, and that up until recently, blue was a “girl’s colour” because of that. )
  3. What are the differences? (This allowed us to talk about how different artists have different ideas of what the angel might have been like, and what we thought about those different ideas.)
  4. Why do you think the artists chose those colours?

These questions got them examining the art, and the imagery, and the emotions of the scenes, in much more detail than a lecture would have. And it meant that our discussion – which ranged from “are there boy colours and girl colours, really?” to “why do we show the Holy Spirit as a dove?” felt like it belonged to them, rather than being imposed by me. Of course, because I had specifically chosen the images to suggest this kind of noticing, I had created a context in which these discussions could happen, but they picked it up, and ran with it, and made it theirs.

I then asked them to think about how they would show the scene. To think about the questions we’d asked about the artists whose pictures we’d looked at, and ask themselves the same questions – what do I want the angel to look like? What images do I include? What colours? What is Mary’s expression like? I had provided a variety of multimedia materials for them to play with as they did this.

For those who didn’t feel like doing that activity, I provided:

  1. Lindisfarne Scriptorium colouring images of the words of the Magnificat
  2. A toy and book corner, with a toy church, puzzles, Bible storybooks, a prayer station, etc. (We have this up every week, so it’s effortless)

Here are some of the results:

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B represented the angel as a pillar of light and sequins – this reflects the imagery used in the Tanner annunciation above, and also the pillar of fire in Exodus. We have a stamp set that includes a bird, so she used that for the Holy Spirit.
annunciation2
S is using the Baker Ross scratch art sheets to copy the seated, awe-struck, nervous Mary from the Tanner annunciation. Copying is a legitimate stage of art – here she has clearly focused intensely on Mary’s body language and her facial expression, entering into the scene and training her eye in observational drawing.
annunciation3
In storytelling, we talked about how often God’s messengers tell people “do not be afraid” – and that this suggests that meeting an angel is a scary thing! One child incorporated these words into their work (like one of the Annunciations above included the words of the Magnificat). Mary’s body language is surprised and perhaps afraid, and the child has also included imagery of stars and doves from the art we looked at.
annunciation4
A very detailed angel took up most of the page here. Mary didn’t even get a look-in! Again, artists make very different choices in how they show a scene, and that’s perfectly fine.

Benefits of looking at different pictures of the same Bible story:

  1. It makes us think. When we look at one image, we tend to go, “oh, okay, that’s what it looked like, I’ll copy that,” and we don’t think, “maybe it looked different. Maybe Mary was scared. Maybe she was excited. Maybe she was both. Maybe the angel looked like a person with wings. Maybe it looked like a pillar of light. Maybe the room was dark.” It breaks our tendency to accept a pre-digested “default” version of the story.
  2. It shows us Christianity through time, and around the world. This is an opportunity to show artists of ethnicities outside Western European, artists who are women, portrayals of the Bible story set in different times and places, and much more.
  3. It gives us permission to experiment. If there’s no “one right way” to show the story, then that gives you freedom to try, and explore, and discover new things about the story and about God. And isn’t that the point?

For more on using diverse art in your Junior Church, Messy Church, and more, try these resources:

The Christ We Share

John August Swanson (Artist)

Jesus Mafa (the main website appears to be down, but many of the images are here)

New Shared Resource!

We’ve had a few people ask for a centralised resource bank where we can all share lesson plans, worship ideas, story scripts, and so on, that have worked for us.

I’ve created a Google account using the Children’s Mission Enabler email address – you can all log in with it, contribute your own documents, download other people’s, etc. All the resources are FREE, but by contributing your own, you certify that a) this is your work, and b) you’re okay with other churches and groups using it for free.

To log in, go to Google.co.uk, and make sure you’re signed out of any other Google accounts you have. Then log in using:

Email address: cme@stalbans.anglican.org

Password: matthew185 (for Matthew 18:5 “whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”)

So far, I only have three folders – I expect there will be more later on:

drive

To add your own, double-click on the folder you want to save it in, then either drag and drop files, or use the blue “NEW” button at the top:

drive2

To download a resource, double-click on it. This will open it up in the browser. Then click on the download arrow in the top right. You can also print it directly from the browser using the printer icon next to the download arrow.

drive3

I hope this is useful! Do let me know how you get on – you can reach me on the email listed above.

Harvest Prayer Stations

We had our Harvest Festival at my church last Sunday, and we added a few prayer stations. Some were inspired by Mina Munns’s work on Flame Creative Kids .

This is a congregation that doesn’t get up and move around. So we’ve learned that if we want people to engage with prayer stations, we need to find places where they’re already naturally walking past them in worship. We had:

  1. An All-Age Prayer Station at the entrance to the church. This created a visual focus as people came into the church – something to signal a) a shift from outside towards sacred space, and b) the theme of the service. The rug is one we use in our Under-5s Sunday School and our toddler groups; it’s from Hope Education.

harvest1a

harvest1

2. An Under-5s sensory prayer table in our Pray and Play area. There are touch-and-feel books about Creation, a tub full of plastic toy animals, and some bread and fruit to try. (There was a bin discretely present, as well, as toddlers don’t eat neatly.) We used a low table, so they could reach.

harvest3

3. An All-Age (in practice, it was mostly 5-to-15s who used it) prayer space near the candle stand. People walk past the candle stand on the way back from communion, and often pause to light a candle. We’ve found people will sometimes engage with another prayer station in this space, at that time. It’s also near where the children sit together for the Liturgy of the Word in our All-Age services, so they used it a lot during that time, when “sitting still for talking” became too much and they needed something to do with their hands to help them engage.

harvest4

The tree outlines and the leaf stamps are from Baker Ross.

Toddler Group Inspiration – Small Saints

small-saintsA few weeks ago, I visited Ruth Harley’s  “Small Saints” toddler group in High Wycombe, along with one of our Diocese’s Children’s Workers. The group happens at the same time as a cafe in the church, so there were people of different generations using the church in different ways.

I managed to capture a bit of the storytelling – they were doing Jonah and the whale. Here are a few tips I noticed from how Ruth told the story.

  1. The children are involved – they’re touching the cloth and moving it. Under-5s are very physical.
  2. She keeps it short. The video is 90 seconds, and I’d only missed about a minute of the story. Toddler attention spans are not long.
  3. She asks questions. “What do you think happened next?”
  4. She lets the story be a story. She finishes by saying “that’s our story for today” – she doesn’t turn it into a moral. Children’s imaginations are sparked by stories – immediately repeating a moral can ruin the story’s power for them. (Wondering together about the story in an open-ended way is different, but difficult with a group primarily of 2-and-3-year-olds.)

Click here for the video.

Another brilliant thing Ruth did was have several of the songs in singing time be Christian songs that were sung to familiar nursery rhyme tunes. This made it much easier for the mums and dads to join in (and repeat the songs at home) since they already knew the music. Here are two.

To the tune of “London Bridge is Falling Down”

God is with us when we sing, when we sing, when we sing,

God is with us when we sing, God is with us.

(repeat with “jump, stamp, clap, etc” – doing all the actions as you sing them. If you need to calm the children down, you can finish with “sleep.”)

To the tune of “Row Row Row Your Boat”

Worship God today, worship with a clap!

Joyfully, joyfully, joyfully, joyfully, worship with a clap!

(again, do the movements as you sing them – repeat with whatever movements you like, including suggestions from the children.)

Slides from Leading Your Church into Growth and BELIEF Bedford

Recently I had the privilege of doing a workshop on Starting Children’s Ministry at the Diocese’s “Leading Your Church Into Growth” conference, and also a lecture on “From Childhood to Maturity” in BELIEF Bedford’s “stages of life/faith” series.

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The slides for both these talks are below.

The LYCiG slide makes reference to a few “rules” when it talks about communication with families. Since I don’t explain those on the slides themselves, here’s a short summary:

The First Date rule: you can find more about that here. Basically, the idea is that after a first contact, like a first date, SOMEONE has to make the call to see if you want to see each other again. With the church/family relationship, that might as well be you! The family might be nervous about approaching the church, or just might keep forgetting to get around to it. Send them an invitation to something – make it as easy as possible for them to come back.

The Debenhams rule: I stole this one from Sandra Millar’s Baptism Matters talk – when you go to a shop and buy something, if you give them their email address, they will keep you on their mailing list until YOU ask to be taken off. They will never say, “oh well, Jane Smith hasn’t been back to Debenhams for two years, guess she’s not interested, let’s take her off our list.” The church, however, often does just this – and when many families say they come to church for Christenings but then won’t come back regularly until their children hit school age, this is really self-defeating.

The nightclub lesson: Another one from Sandra Millar. We who are used to going to church, and feel comfortable there, need to remember how scary it is for people who aren’t familiar with the culture and what happens there. You might feel unsure of yourself going into a betting shop or a hot new nightclub (or maybe not – I don’t judge), so remember those feelings of uncertainty and think how you can help people feel comfortable and like they know what to do when they come to church.

The catch and release rule: This is about the importance of getting contacts at every event where you have families. Your crib service, your Harvest festival, your Messy Church – get the details of families and then add them to mailing lists, inviting them back for whatever events are family-friendly. Invite your Messy Church families to your crib service, invite your Christening families to Messy Church – if someone finds you from one part of your church, grab their contact details and then invite them to everything.

Here are the slides:

LYCiG (Leading Your Church Into Growth)

Belief Talk – from childhood to maturity

The Immigrant’s Creed

Someone sent me this “Immigrant’s Apostles Creed,” by the Revd. Jose Luis Casal.

I couldn’t resist, and wrote my own Nicene Creed version.

Bear in mind that this isn’t an authorised text of the creed – if you’re using it in worship, it should be used to supplement one of the authorised texts (some of which can be sung).

exodus - Copy

I believe in God, the Father, the Almighty,

maker of a heaven and earth without borders or nations,

who led his people from slavery to freedom

through exile and exodus,

the God of homelands lost and found,

the God of Temple and desert, of manna and sacrifice.

 

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

who was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,

and was made human, joining us as strangers and exiles on the earth,

teaching us to desire now a better country, that is, a heavenly one,

who was born under occupation and fled from his country’s genocide,

who suffered under the imperial power of Pontius Pilate,

was crucified by the state, dead, and buried.

On the third day he rose again, opening for us the door to new life,

destroying the power of death that denied us our birth-right as citizens of God’s Kingdom.

 

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

who speaks all languages, lives in all countries, and reunites all races,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son, unity in diversity, three in one.

 

I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church,

a communion of saints across countries and centuries,

united by the citizenship of baptism,

made equal by our need for repentance and our assurance of God’s mercy.

I look for the coming of the Kingdom of God,

where our passport is love,

our bodies are resurrected and healed,

the image of God in all of us is honoured,

and all nations and tribes and people will be reconciled in the place

where there is no mourning or sadness, no exile or despair,

and we will be no longer strangers or guests

but lambs gathered safely home in the arms of the Good Shepherd.

AMEN.

Harvest Skit

Those of you responsible for sorting out All-Age Harvest services may have felt your heart sink when you saw this year’s readings – bits from Deuteronomy and 2 Corinthians that have little to no context, and no narrative, and some similarly difficult bits from the Gospels – teachings and sayings rather than stories.

paul

I’ve written a short skit to put the Epistle reading into some context and provide a visual focus. You probably wouldn’t need more than 10 minutes’ rehearsal to make everyone feel confident doing this, and the three participants could be all different ages.

You’ll need a table and a chair, and a piece of paper to be the letter.

WRITING A DIFFICULT LETTER

A skit for Harvest Festival, Year A, based on 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

PAUL is sitting at a desk.

Narrator: Today we join Paul, about 20 years after Jesus has died and risen again. Paul is writing a letter to one of the many churches he has helped to start.

(enter Titus)

Titus: Hello, Paul.

Paul: Ah, Titus – just the person I wanted to see.

Titus: I’m off to Corinth soon – you said you had a letter for the church there that you wanted me to bring?

Paul: Yes. They’ve promised a large gift to help the poorer churches, and all the saints there, and I need you to collect it. I’ve told them you’re coming, and that you hope to collect this gift.

Titus: That’s a difficult letter to get right.

Paul: Yes, nobody likes to be asked for money. They have promised, but I want to make sure they think of it as a gift and not as money I’m demanding from them.

Titus: Why does that matter? As long as the people who need the money get it, isn’t that the point?

Paul: It’s about relationships, though. Sharing what we have with one another is one way of showing our love. God cares about that, and he also cares about what’s in our hearts as well as our actions.

Titus: That’s true. Have you prayed about what to say?

Paul: I have. Can I read this, and ask what you think? Remember, the people in Corinth are very wealthy – they could give a lot, if they wanted – so I’m writing especially for them.

(Paul picks up the letter)

Narrator: A reading from the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians, Chapter 9.

Paul: The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under orders, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written,

“He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;

his righteousness endures forever.”

God, who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.

You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the giving of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

Narrator: For the wisdom that guides us …

All: We praise you, O Lord.

 

For some more Harvest resources, check out Flame Creative Kids.