Harvest Resource

I know it’s a bit late, and I apologise – but bookmark this for next year if you’ve already had your Harvest Festival.

Especially now, as more of the world is waking up to the climate crisis and our collective failure to care for God’s creation, it can be easy to feel helpless.

So I’ve put together some simple actions we can take – some personal, some pushing for systemic change – that can genuinely make a difference.

I’m going to print multiple copies of these out on orange, yellow, and red paper, then cut them out, punch a hole in each one, and hang them on a tree* by the entrance of the church. During the service, I’ll mention the tree and encourage people to choose a leaf as a commitment and promise to do something that will care for creation. I’ll include some blank leaves for people to add their own ideas.

* The “tree” is a few twigs stuck in a basket of sand.

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Out of the Silo

How would you list the activities and ministries your church does?

I suspect, in many churches, the list would go something like this:

  1. Worship (perhaps including professional-quality music groups)
  2. Bible study, education, Alpha or Pilgrim courses, Lent/Advent groups, home groups, etc
  3. Fellowship and relationship-building
  4. Serving the community – things like Foodbanks, lunch clubs for the elderly
  5. Supporting national or international charities/justice efforts
  6. Stewardship and governance decisions
  7. Children’s ministry
  8. Youth ministry

If asked about what Children’s Ministry consisted of, the response might be something like, “we have Junior Church, and our weekly toddler group, and Messy Church once a month.”

Which is brilliant! An active children’s ministry like this takes time, effort, commitment, and a lot of love. And it makes a real difference in the lives of children and their families.IMG_20190624_094632

But where are the children and young people in the rest of the list?

Often, we get so used to “children’s ministry” as a separate category that we forget that we can include children in other things the church is already doing. We can have things specifically aimed at children and families – baby and toddler groups are lifelines to many new parents – but we can also look at the list above and, for every item, not just the children’s ministry one, think, “could we include children in this?”

The Children’s Society Good Childhood report has come out today. You can read it here. In it, children express a growing concern about crime, and environmental issues – deep issues of concern for Christians who care about building peace, and caring for God’s creation. If your church is doing anything on crime, creation care, or poverty, could children be involved?

Statutory agencies and schools are also undergoing a cultural shift in how children are involved in decision-making – and churches have an opportunity to follow this example. Children are especially vulnerable, and can’t vote, but almost every decision made by adults in charge of institutions and governments affects them disproportionately. Can you include children in any decision-making processes in your church – about priorities in spending money, about programmes, worship, or choosing a new vicar, children’s worker, director of music, etc? Can children be present at and included in your annual meeting? What would be needed to make that happen?

Here are a few ideas for how this could work in practice:

  1. Invite children and young people to visit the PCC three or four times and year and talk about what matters to them at church, in their community, and in wider issues of justice.
  2. Have a “children’s table” at the annual meeting, facilitated by someone who knows your church’s children, and who can help them share their thoughts and contribute (and provide pens and paper for them to scribble and draw to keep the fidgets at bay).
  3. Think about how your church’s community service, and wider action on social issues, could include children. The church where I was children’s worker includes older children and teenagers on a local charity’s annual “sleep-out” for homelessness – they are sponsored by their teachers and friends. We also include children and teenagers in our pub quiz for Christian Aid. Could your junior church join in fundraising events? Could they make posters or speak in worship, to encourage other church members to get involved? Could you include children in deciding which charities or causes the church supports?
  4. How do you include children in worship? Are they doing what adults tell them, or do they have a chance to share their own ideas?

Children can be involved in the full, broad life of the church – indeed, they should be, because that’s how they learn that Christian life includes thinking about our common life together, reaching out in love to the community, and advocating for a world that reflects God’s values of justice, equality, and dignity for every human being, and stewardship of the earth he has given us. Including children in activities and decisions outside of children’s ministry also gives your church:

  1. The chance to foster inter-generational community.
  2. A reminder to the older members that children are full disciples and members of the Body of Christ.
  3. The enrichment of the ideas and contributions the children bring.

We are all richer when all our voices are heard.

Messy Church – Playfully Serious

For those of you who may not yet have seen the research from Church Army on Messy Church, called “Playfully Serious,” please find it attached below. It’s very useful in helping churches discern what you’re doing Messy Church for, how to do it well, how to make it church instead of just entertainment, and so on.

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CA Messy Church Playfully Serious

Creation/Harvest Story Bag

We now have a Creation/Harvest Story Bag for our Resource Centre – churches can borrow it for Junior Church, Messy Church, assemblies, clubs, All-Age Worship, or anything else. The Resource Centre is open at Holywell Lodge, in St. Albans, from 9-5, Monday to Friday – however, if you can’t get down here, let me know and we’ll send out an APB to the staff to find someone who’s driving your way and can deliver the item.

The story bag contains:

Bible stories and non-fiction books related to the story of Creation and the themes of Harvest Festival

Toys to help explore the six days of creation – a light-up sun for “let there be light,” fish and birds, green growing things, animals, and people!

A toy farm to help connect with Harvest Festival and thank God for the earth and all that sustains us.

You can have the bag available for free play, base your entire programme around using it, or anything in between. The games included can be played according to the rules, or they can simply be used to play and build. It’s designed to be as flexible as possible.

The bag will be available to borrow within the next few days. We also have story bags for Pentecost, Easter, Christmas, Water stories, Shepherds, and more – as well as a great variety of Godly Play stories, books, and other materials.

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Song Sharing Workshop files

Last week, we had our Come and Worship residential conference, looking at children and worship across multiple contexts. As part of this, I chaired an open workshop where we shared child-friendly songs that have worked for us and don’t need a great deal of musical skill or instruments.

Some are specifically written for children, some are simply pieces of music appropriate for worship that are simple to pick up, and don’t require reading skills. Some are ancient, some are modern, some are in between.

These can be used in groups where you don’t have a CD player or a WiFi hookup, where you have no piano (or nobody who can play it) or where you find yourself suddenly with five or ten minutes you need to kill and feel like doing some singing.

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Here are the links to YouTube. There’s some chat, some teaching of music, some singing … hope it’s useful!

Christ Our Peace

Come Into God’s Presence Singing Alleluia

Emmanuel

Famous Fish (Steve Morgan-Gurr)

Fruits of the Spirit

God Welcomes All

I Am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N

Jesus in the Boat

Lift Up

Litany of the Saints

Round of Three Saint-themed Songs

Tick Tock (Steve Morgan-Gurr)

Vine and Fig Tree

We Believe

I also taught this song – “King of Kings and Lord of Lord,” which you can find more professionally done here, at Worship Workshop. You can download backing tracks, teaching tracks, and full tracks, as well as the sheet music, for this and over 90 other songs of varying styles and degrees of difficulty. You need to register in order to use the site, but registration is free – it’s just needed for copyright reasons.

A few participants also referred to Fr. Simon Rundell’s Nursery Rhyme Mass – there’s also now a nursery rhyme Christingle, and a nursery rhyme Christening (which began its life on this very blog!).

Play and Pray inspiration – Psalm 23 again!

This is titled Pray and Play inspiration, as it shows a space for imaginative spiritual play – but since it was part of a Junior Church session, I’ve included response time/wondering ideas as well.

We’re finishing up the Hebrew Scriptures in my own Junior Church group – we started with Creation in September, and I timed the Babylonian exile to go with Lent, and the return home to happen around Easter (though of course they celebrated Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter as part of the main congregation).

The rest of the year will be spent on psalms and prophesies. Last Sunday, we had a mixed session with our under-5s group, since our attendance plummets on Bank Holidays and we merge the groups. I picked Psalm 23 – for many of the reasons listed in my previous post about it. It’s accessible, it’s familiar to some children already, the imagery works with people of all ages, and it has simple language with deep truths. We ended up with a small group ranging in age from 7 to 15.

I set up this play space as one of the options for response time. I did tell the teenagers that if they wanted to regress to childhood and play with it, I wouldn’t tell their friends. It got a bit of use, but not much – I imagine with toddlers, it would have been much more popular.

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I based the three zones off the imagery in the psalm – “green pastures, still waters, the valley of the shadow of death.” These are picked up on in the Godly Play telling of the Good Shepherd parable.

This wonderful shepherd and sheep set can be purchased for around £12, from many places, including Amazon. I added fencing from a model railway set. Plain coloured cotton can be found at Hobbycraft and other places for around £2 to £5 per metre.

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The sand tray is the packaging from a wooden Nativity set I bought a few years ago (note: the link takes you to Mustard Seed Kids, which I own – the set is available elsewhere as well). I just kept the tray it all came in, and filled it up with sand, and a few rocks from the church garden. There were no wolves in the plastic animals set the church owns, so I used cheetahs.

Later, I wanted to make it clearer that the blue fabric was water, so I added some boats. You could also add shells (I have some – you can see a few in the sand tray – I just didn’t think of it) and/or plastic sea creatures, if you have them.

The older kids sometimes have trouble figuring out what to do with response time, and phones come out. So I gave them a few prompts:

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Some of the wondering questions I used:

I wonder what your favourite part of the psalm was.

I wonder what the most important part of the psalm was.

I wonder if you have ever been someplace that felt like the green pastures and the still waters.

I wonder if you have ever been someplace that felt like the valley of the shadow of death. (“EXAMS” was the immediate response. The follow-up here WOULD have been the Godly Play follow-up – “I wonder what got you through” – but we got sidetracked into a discussion about how some things can be symbols of both life AND death, and I forgot it!)

I wonder what it feels like to have a meal prepared for you in the presence of your enemies.

 

 

Inclusive Mothering Sunday Prayer Ideas

Every year, predictably, around the start of Lent, the Facebook groups for All-Age Worship planners light up with requests for Mothering Sunday prayers that go beyond “thank you, God, for my brilliant mum – help me remember to do more chores around the house.”

(Also, I can’t even begin to break down how much is wrong with that as the sum total of Mothering Sunday. Not everyone has a brilliant mum, and surely ‘doing chores around the house’ isn’t innately Mum’s job any more, and also, the amazing, heart-expanding, heart-breaking, world-changing, powerful love of God reflected in the love of mothers is bigger and better Good News than helping around the house. But I digress.)madonna

Below is a shortened version of a set of inclusive Mothering Sunday prayers that a friend sent me a few years ago. If you know who originally wrote these, please let me know so I can credit them.

INCLUSIVE MOTHERING SUNDAY PRAYERS:

Loving God, we thank you for all the people who have mothered us throughout our lives.  For all who have held us and fed us, cared for us and comforted us, challenged and encouraged us.

We pray for new mothers experiencing changes they could not predict. Grant them rest and trust in you.

We pray for girls and women who think about whether to become mothers. Grant them patience and discernment.

We pray for mothers who are raising their children in poverty. Grant them courage and relief.

We pray for mothers who face the demands of single parenthood. Grant them strength, support, and wisdom.

We pray for mothers who are separated from their children. Grant them faith and hope.

We pray for adoptive and foster mothers. Grant them gratitude and insight.

We pray for mothers whose relationships are going through difficult times. Grant them clarity and support.

We pray for women who long to be mothers. Grant them strength, hope, and opportunities to share their love.

We pray for those who have suffered from abusive mothering.  Grant them healing and strength.

We pray for step-mothers, godmothers, and all men and women who have assumed a mother’s role in a child’s life. Grant them joy and the appreciation of others.

We pray for those people present who grieve the loss of a mother, and for mothers who have lost children. Grant them comfort, healing, and the hope of Christ’s resurrection.

Merciful Father,

Accept these prayers, for the sake of your son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

INTERACTIVE PRAYER IDEA:

You will need:

  • Paper hearts with holes punched in them
  • Markers or pens
  • A tree (this one from Hobbycraft works, or you can stick branches in a pot of sand)

 

tree

As the congregation arrives, they are handed a paper heart with a hole punched in it. During prayer time, as music is played, they are encouraged to write the name, or draw a picture, of anybody who has played a mother’s role in their lives, and hang the heart on the tree.

Version for congregations who won’t leave their pews:  These names are placed in the offertory plates, and placed on the tree (out of sight, during the Eucharistic Prayer).

Extension: On a nearby table, have white fabric, and fabric pens, and instructions telling people that this is a place to put the names, or images, of children they have mothered who have died. When this is finished, place it at the base of the tree.

Recently, we added a prayer station on the way back from communion, for people to write or draw names of children we have mothered who have died, or mother figures who have died, on a piece of fabric. This now goes with the tree.

At the end of the service, we bless the tree, and those whose names are on it:

Dear God, we thank you for mothers. We thank you for all those who care for us in quiet, often unrecognised ways; we thank you for all those who care for others in patience and love.

Bless, we pray, the women – living and departed – whose names adorn this tree and this banner.  Bless their legacy of love and care in our lives.

Bless the children who we mothered, and who have gone before us, whose names  are on this banner.  Be with all mothers whose hearts, like Mary’s, are pierced with the sword of their child’s death.

And, we pray, forgive us for those times when we have failed to show a motherly love for others.  Teach us to care as you do, and, we pray, hold all mothers and carers in the light of your presence and guide them to you. Amen.

 

A litany for blessing a children’s space in a church

This can be used for a new Pray and Play area, for a Junior Church room, a Godly Play room, or any space used by children.

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You will need: a bowl of holy water and rosemary branches or other branches

The people gather in the space, ensuring children can see what’s happening.

Leader: a reading from the Gospel according to Matthew.

Little children were being brought to Jesus in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.

This is the word of the Lord.

All: Thanks be to God.

The leader invites the children to enter the space and touch something as she or he says:

Leader: Lord, thank you for this space. Thank you for the children who will use it. Help us to use it to know you, to love you, and to play with the stories of our Christian faith.

All: Amen!

The leader invites the children to hold the hand of one of their adults.

Leader: Lord, thank you for all the people in this church, of every age. Help us to love each other, to welcome each other, and to learn from each other.

All: Amen!

Each child gets a branch, dips it in the holy water, and shakes the branch to bless the space with the water, as the leader says.

Leader: Bless this space, O Lord, which this community has made. May it be a place where the children come to you and find welcome and a home.

The leader then sprinkles holy water over the children, saying:

Through their play, may they come to claim your stories and the worship of your church as their own. May they know you as they are known by you, and love you as they are loved by you.

And finally, the leader and the children together sprinkle holy water over the whole congregation, as the leader says:

And may we all be open to the awe and wonder, the joy and creativity, of play, becoming as little children so we may know you better.

All: Amen.

All-Age Nativity

I realise this probably comes too late to be useful for this year. We started work on it late, and then went through multiple drafts for both the short and long versions. But do bookmark it for next year!

In the parish where I still do some work with children, we’ve decided to change our nativity play. For the last eight years, we’ve done “People, Look East,” which is a dramatised lessons and carols service, with a Eucharist, written by Gretchen Wolff Pritchard (who happens to be my mum). You can buy the book or eBook that contains the script here (note that when it says “Church School,” this means “Junior Church” – the book was published in America and that’s what it means there).

pageant

“People, Look East” is designed to include people of all ages among the cast, and that’s how it worked at the church where I grew up. However, when I became Children’s Worker at St. George’s, I had trouble convincing the adults to participate, and we had very few teenagers, so it became something done by the children.

Now those children have all become teenagers. And they see the pageant we’ve done for the last eight years as something they’re starting to grow out of wanting to be involved with. And many of them don’t want to dress up.

So I’ve drafted an adapted dramatised Lessons and Carols service, which was then amended with suggestions by Clare Heard, LLM at St. George’s, and the Revd. Neil Traynor, Associate Vicar. As Lessons and Carols does, it moves from the tragedy of a fallen and broken world, through to the hope of the prophets,  its fulfilment in the coming of Jesus, and finally through to our hope, now, looking for his coming again.

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The idea is that people of all ages can participate in this nativity.

Readers 1, 2, and 3 can be adults, or a mix of teenagers and adults. Reader 1 represents God and God’s messenger – Readers 2 and 3 represent the people. Teenagers and adults can also lead the music.

The prophets should be teenagers – teenagers often have a prophetic voice, calling out injustice, holding the powerful to account, and creating a vision of a better world.

The characters in the nativity should be children and teenagers – they represent new hope and new life. Babies and toddlers can be sheep, with an adult as their shepherd. If at all possible, a real baby should be used for Baby Jesus – they can sit with their carers in the front row, wearing a neutral plain Babygro and wrapped in a neutral blanket, until the needed time.

The numbers are flexible. Just because the script calls for 5 shepherds doesn’t mean you can’t have 2 or 10. Just redistribute/break up lines as needed.

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NOTE: YOU WILL NEED REHEARSALS. We do this on the third Sunday of Advent, so our schedule is as follows:

1st Sunday of Advent: learn the music during Junior Church. Send the readers out one by one to practice their readings with an adult.

2nd Sunday of Advent: practice the music and readers during Junior Church, then put all the movements together in an hour and a half after church.

3rd SATURDAY of Advent: a three-hour rehearsal – teenagers and adults needed for all of it, children for the second half. Include breaks.

3rd Sunday of Advent: final rehearsal an hour before church starts.

The pageant itself, for us, IS THE MAIN SUNDAY SERVICE on the third Sunday of Advent.

There are two versions available for download below. One is a bit longer, but the shorter one is not just an adapted version of the longer one – there are a few elements that are replaced or rewritten, not just cut.

A few notes:

  1. In terms of the poetry included: I’m not a copyright expert, but I believe use in public worship could be said to fall under the educational fair use exception of copyright law – but if you’re worried, do check with an expert before using this material.
  2. The link to an audio version of the communion anthem is here – it’s a rubbish recording of me singing it in my office. Sheet music is also attached below. You could add a second communion anthem if your kids are into singing. If you have a Junior Choir, they could do something stunning here.
  3. The collect is the one for the third Sunday of Advent. If you’re doing this at a different time, change it as needed.
  4. Glitter is used to show God appearing to/choosing people. I tend to use the large sequin type of glitter, as it’s easier to clean up. I tell children after the pageant “any sequins you pick up, you can keep,” and use a mini Hoover for the rest. You can also use Party Poppers.

If you have any questions or find any glaring mistakes, let me know in the comments!

Here are the files to download:

Pageant Longer

Pageant Shorter

Vine and Fig tree (English words)

25 Things Every Children’s Worker Has Done

Inspired by James Ballantyne’s list of 35 Things Every Youth Worker Has Done, I’ve come up with a version for those of us who have the delight of working with the under-11s and their adults. Add your own in the comments!

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  1. Walked down the street to the school/village hall with some random assortment of items in your arms, like a paper dove on a stick, a box full of bubble wrap, three bags of Haribo, and 200 light-up Baby Jesus dolls.
  2. Been vomited on, caught in a poo-explosion, or peed on, by a baby or toddler, while you were in church clothes.
  3. Got really really carried away in the art supply store.
  4. Totally improvised a Junior Church/club/whatever session on the spot, because the group of kids who showed up were completely different from the ones you’d planned for.
  5. Had to find a way to diplomatically explain to the vicar that their 45-minute lecture on 18th-century church history might not have been what the school children were hoping for from their visit.
  6. Planned an All-Age Service that was a total disaster.
  7. Had brilliant parents, but also panicking parents, parents who try to feed their kid the “right answer,” parents who run away from church the second their child makes a peep, parents who play on their phones while their kid has a tantrum, and parents who think their kids’ whole spiritual formation is your job and not theirs.
  8. Tried to explain what you do to people at a party and been met with a sea of blank faces.
  9. Explained to your friends for the thousandth time why Saturday nights aren’t normal weekend nights for you and why you can’t be in the pub at 4 pm on Christmas Eve.
  10. Had to explain that this isn’t just “trying out whether I should get ordained,” but a valid ministry in its own right.
  11. Wondered if you should get ordained.
  12. Cleaned up a room that was an explosion of flour, water, juice, sequins, bits of fabric, glue everywhere, storytelling materials, and six lost jackets, in less than 10 minutes.
  13. Memorised the soundtrack to Frozen, without ever having actually seen it, and/or become an expert in Minecraft strategies without ever having played it.
  14. Had to neatly sidestep the “what does ‘virgin’ mean?” questions at Christmas.
  15. Had your whole view of the world, and God, changed and expanded by something a kid says or does.
  16. Cried because you love your job, and cried because you hate your job, on the same day.
  17. Had to justify to the PCC why there should be a budget for children’s ministry in the first place because no, “bring some crayons from home” isn’t good enough.
  18. Smiled through your rage when a parishioner compliments you on your ministry because you “keep the children quiet.”
  19. Wondered if the disciples spent this much time stacking chairs and setting up tables.
  20. Attended a funeral for a kid’s parent or sibling and raged at the universe.
  21. Had to lead a session, or a service, while your own relationship with God was messy and painful, and you weren’t sure how much of that to include or how.
  22. Realised you’d gone most of a year without actually being present in worship just as a worshipper, and maybe that’s why you’re burned out and angry all the time.
  23. Loaded the kids up with sugar, handed them back to their parents, and felt no remorse.
  24. Felt completely out of your depth.
  25. Felt like there’s nowhere else you want to be.

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