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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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.

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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.

Free Holy Week stuff!

12Tomorrow is our day on Creative Holy Week for All Ages – so for those of you who can’t be there, here are all the resources.

You’ll find:

  1. A script for a walk-through of the whole Passion story. This is great for Messy Church or clubs or other settings where the children probably won’t be in church for Holy Week itself and may not get anything between Palm Sunday and Easter (or not even that). This is in the file labelled “Risen With Christ Resource Pack” and is based on the Prayer Walk in Gretchen Wolff Pritchard’s book Risen With Christ, which you can get here. (It’s worth dealing with the antiquated website and having to order by email or post – it’s a very useful book.)
  2. A summary of how we used the imagery of trees throughout our worship in Lent, Holy Week, and Easter (also in the first file below).
  3. A plan for an all-age Maundy Thursday service. This works for groups up to about 20 – for larger groups, you’ll need to rework it. We have our all-age service at 5:30 and our main Eucharist at 8 – the all-age service tends to attract families and older people who don’t want to be out late, while the Eucharist gets those in between.
  4. The Beulah Land Exodus story script, which is used in the Maundy Thursday service.
  5. The service sheet for my Children’s Stations of the Cross, which provides pretty much everything you need to re-create the service.
  6. Materials which make the transition period of the Great Vigil of Easter much more interactive and dramatic. Many of these are also based on what’s found in Risen With Christ, which in turn was largely inspired by Rick Fabian and Don Schell, who planted the church of St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco (in this setup, the service starts with the kindling of the New Fire and then moves on to the Old Testament readings, instead of vice versa):
    1. The Noble Joseph” – Orthodox Bulgarian chant, used at the end of the Old Testament lessons.
    2. The Litany of the Saints – used for procession to the font before the Exsultet.
    3. The Easter Sermon of St. John Chrysostom – used after the Exsultet, culminating in the first proclamation of the resurrection

Don’t forget to also check out my Lent and Easter Pinterest board – and send me anything you find that you think I should add to it!

 

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maundy-thursday-family-service-plan

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First Dates by the Manger

I set up two of my friends recently – they had a lot in common, they seemed to be looking for what the other one had to offer, and I thought they’d get on.

They agreed to meet up and they went out! There were candles, there was poetry … all the ingredients of a special occasion.

A few weeks later, I asked one of them if there had been a second date.

“No,” she said. “I really liked him!  He gave all the right signals, but then he never called … guess he didn’t want me after all.”

So I went to my other friend and asked why he’d never arranged a second date.

“Well,” he said. “I organised the first one. I reckoned if she was keen, she’d call me, and set up a second date. It’s a shame – I really liked her.”

This story is made up. While I am, in fact, responsible for introducing TWO of the couples in my immediate circle ninebreaker-at-deviantart-madonna-and-childof friends, this particular matchmaking venture didn’t take place. This is, in fact, a fictional version of the elusive courtship relationship your church has with young families.

Your church wants young families. Young families want a friendly and meaningful religious community where they feel welcomed, loved, cared for, and wanted. You meet up for a Crib Service – there are candles and poetry, and it’s a really special event. You smile at each other and say how lovely it was to meet up, and you’d love to do it again.

And then you both sit at home, waiting for the other to make the first move.

Research from the Christenings Project shows that families WANT the church to stay in touch. They want to be invited back to special events and to family-friendly services. But families are busier than ever, they’re nervous about their child’s behaviour in church, and they don’t know what’s happening at your church if you don’t tell them. So you need to make the effort. You need to reach out. You need to woo.

This Christmas Eve, why not hand families who come to your Crib Service a small sheet of paper with a space for them to write down their name, their child(ren)’s name(s), their email address, and whether they’d like to be contacted about future events?  You know they like you – they’ve come to your Crib Service!

Have someone at the back of the church at the end of the service to gather these papers in and hand out something special to take home (a chocolate coin, a cut-out-and-keep Nativity, or something else).  Then add these email addresses to your mailing list and invite them back for Candlemas … Mothering Sunday … Holy Week … toddler group … holiday club … and don’t take them off the list unless they ask you to! Conventional wisdom in the marketing world is that people need to be reminded of something seven times before they’ll take action on it. Keep inviting them back.

After all, that’s what God does, isn’t it? He goes out into the highways and the byways and says “we’re having a feast! Come on in!”  And he keeps asking, and keeps asking, because he loves us so much and he wants us to be together, near him – he calls his people to be his Bride.  Let’s model that persistent courtship in our churches.

(And if anyone wants my services as a real-life matchmaker, do get in touch. I can provide two happy couples as references! One couple was even introduced to each other, by me, in a church. So you never know …)

Thy Kingdom Come

Now that Holy Week is over, it’s time to enjoy the 50 days of Easter and look towards Pentecost, celebrating the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York are inviting Christians around England to join in a week of prayer leading up to the day of Pentecost itself, 15th May.  They’re calling this week “Thy Kingdom Come,” and you can find out more on their website.  The week will culminate with “Beacon Events” around the country, mostly in cathedrals – the nearest one to most of the Diocese will be at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, though for some parts of Bedfordshire, you may be closer to the Coventry one.

pray-and-play14Why not take that week to explore prayer with some of the children in your church, school, toddler group, lunch club … or even at home?  While the website doesn’t specifically include prayer resources for children in churches (!!!) they do include some ideas for children in schools, which could easily be used in church or other settings. Find them here.

You can also find great prayer ideas at Flame Creative Kids.

If you’d like to create a prayer space with your kids as part of this week, check out the Diocese’s Pinterest board of prayer space ideas.

Thy Kingdom Come suggests praying regularly for five friends – this is a great, concrete way of helping children start learning to pray, and they have some ideas here.

Don’t forget to register your church’s prayer activities on the Thy Kingdom Come website!  And do let me know how you get on, so I can share your experiences with others.

 

Holy Week Ideas, Part III: Good Friday

Today, a few questions to guide your thinking:

Who are the children that we might see on Good Friday?

Are these children from the regular congregation, or visitors, or a mixture? How much will they know of the story? What will they know about Jesus apart from his birth at Christmas and his death?

Will they be back for Easter Sunday?

At my last parish, when Good Friday fell the day after school broke up, we had several families come to our Children’s Stations of the Cross.

“See you on Sunday!” I called as they were leaving.

“Oh, no, we’re off on holiday tomorrow – we just came to this before we left,” they replied.

Our service had ended with Jesus dead in the tomb, waiting, suspended, for the last chapter of the story on Sunday morning – and these families were going to miss it.  If your children may not be back for Sunday – incomprehensible as it seems to miss that of all days – maybe it’s worth including, at the end of the service, the reassurance that the story doesn’t end here. Don’t do a full-fledged celebration of Easter, but perhaps allow them to peek behind the curtain and see a preview of what comes next.

And then make sure you celebrate the whole season of Easter, all 50 days, so they can join in the celebration of the resurrection when they come back from wherever they are on Easter morning.

(Note: if you have very emotionally sensitive children, especially young ones, you may also want to include some reassurance of the resurrection at the end – I’ve had children burst into tears when Jesus died, and to leave them in that state for two days feels cruel. The disciples didn’t know how it ended, but we do. Again – don’t celebrate – but promise that this isn’t the end.)

What will happen for them between now and Sunday?

If they are likely to be back on Sunday morning, what will happen for them between now and then? Will Saturday be a day of quiet waiting, or of celebrating? Will any of them be at the Vigil?  How will they mark the transition from death to life – will there be middle-of-the-night mystery, or will they show up on Sunday morning and find the resurrection a fait accompli?  What will those different experiences be like, and does this change how you approach your Good Friday service in any way?

Where are their parents?

Are you providing children’s programmes during an adult service, or are you doing a family service? If the children are away from their parents, what experiences, if any, will they have in common with their parents from today?  Can you and the adult worship leaders work together to provide some links for families to carry on observing the day at home – maybe a take-home activity to do together, or some talking points?

How do they experience the space?

Are they in a church or a programme room? What mood does the space set? Is it relaxed and informal – if so, how do you get the awe and wonder of today’s mystery?  Is it formal and dignified – if so, how do you encourage children to relax enough to fully participate?  Where is the light and darkness in the space? Where is the noise and the silence?

What questions am I likely to get?

It’s impossible to prepare for every question that something as raw and primal as Good Friday might bring up, but you may be called upon to address such questions as “why did God let Jesus die?” “why won’t God raise my nan if he can raise Jesus?” “why are there still cruel things like Syria if Jesus has made it all okay?” and so on.  It might help to spend some time in prayer, considering how to address these issues.

It may also help to think a bit about your own theology of what Good Friday means.

The idea of Jesus dying to satisfy the wrath of a vengeful God has become very ingrained in many churches – so much that many people don’t know there are other theories. But this theology is, for many people, deeply troubling, and doesn’t fit with the characterisation of a faithful God who calls his people time and time again, who keeps his covenants with them.  It might be helpful to consider re-framing the event as Jesus dying not to satisfy God’s bloodlust but to do battle with death itself.  The greatest enemy is death, and this is the Good News – not that God is no longer angry with us, but that death itself no longer holds any power over us.

Holy Week Ideas, Part II: Maundy Thursday

There are many opportunities for child-friendly multi-sensory worship in this service, so I’m just going to do a top ten list! Don’t try to do all of these, but maybe let 1 or 2 spark your imagination:

  1. If you’re in a school, baby and toddler group, or other setting where you have some time, the children can make bread. There are lots of unleavened bread recipes on the internet – even very young children can help add ingredients, stir, and shape the dough. Some unleavened bread recipes bakes in as little as 15 minutes – while it bakes, you can tell the story, do some singing and prayers, and finish by eating the bread you’ve baked.
  2. Start with a bring and share dinner, replicating, to some extent, the Last Supper.  While Passover celebrations in Jesus’s time would have been very different from modern ones (and there’s some debate as to whether the Last Supper was a Passover meal), if you ask people to bring a dish based around lamb, bread, or grape juice, you have a way in to telling the Passover story, connecting it symbolically to the Last Supper, and affirming the central roles played by these foods in both stories.
  3. Why not have the congregation was each other’s feet, instead of having the priest do it all? This gives children a chance to serve as well as be served, reinforces that we all serve one another, and allows them a more hands-on experience with water and with care-giving touch.
  4. If possible, include at least a few children in helping with stripping the altar.
  5. Have prayer stations around the church related to the Maundy Thursday story – plants to touch and smell (the garden of Gethsemane), bread and grape juice (the Eucharist), silver coins, and nails (Judas’s betrayal and the crucifixion).  Write a short reflection or prayer for people to read or use as they go from station to station.
  6. If your Eucharist service will have children present, and they don’t receive communion, what other opportunities will there be for them to engage with the centrality of the Last Supper story to this particular Eucharist? How can you help them feel less left out?  Maybe you can have a bread tasting table as people arrive, with bread from different parts of the world – naan, brioche, matzoh, scones, etc.
  7. If you have a separate children’s event for Maundy Thursday, don’t lose the drama of the adult service, with its transition from light to darkness. This is a really potent way for children to experience Holy Week – light to darkness and back to even greater light. Don’t shy away.
  8. If you have music during the stripping of the altar or processions, make it child-friendly – Taize chants are very good for this, and this one is particularly appropriate for Maundy Thursday or Good Friday.
  9. Display, around the church, a variety of artists’ interpretations of the Last Supper and Jesus’s arrest in Gethsemane. Invite the congregation to walk around and look at them (if your congregation isn’t the “get out and walk around” type, you can provide copies of the images in their service sheets or on screens) and reflect on  the different feelings created by the different images. Provide blank paper and pencils/markers for children to draw their own version of the story during the service.
  10. Send your congregation on a treasure hunt – this works best as a gathering activity or as part of an event that’s not the main Eucharist. Give them a piece of paper labelled in four parts with BREAD, WINE/CUP, WHEAT, GRAPES, and see how many times they can find these images within your church – in pictures, stained glass windows, memorials, carvings, etc.  In many, though not all, churches, there will be lots, which provides a way in for exploring the centrality of the Eucharist. (You can add “LAMB” if you want to include the image of the sacrifice whose blood saves the people – see previous note on the connection with Exodus!)

Holy Week Ideas, Part I: Palm Sunday

palm-sundayProcession:

If you have a live donkey, encourage children to invite friends to come to Palm Sunday.  The donkey can be a real selling point, and allow children who might otherwise be shy a way in to asking friends to church.

If you don’t have a live donkey, spend your children’s time this Sunday making a banner, or donkey puppets, or posters (which you can then laminate and put on sticks to make placards) or something else, for children to carry or use in the procession.

Buy real palms, not just palm crosses.  The fun of waving around big branches adds a real element of participation and excitement to this festival.  And they’re not that expensive.  If you have a large church garden, or parishioners with large gardens, you could ask people to bring in a branch or two from whatever shrubs or small trees they have, or provide branches from the church garden.

 

Storytelling:

The Passion reading is very dramatic, but many churches stick to the traditional way of reading it – a few adults standing in a line at the front.

With an hour’s rehearsal, the adults can dramatise it – act it out, use simple costume pieces – or with a bit more time, you could include children.

Include the congregation as the crowd and the soldiers. The drama of going, in half an hour, from shouting “hosanna!” to shouting “crucify him!” is incredibly powerful, and underlines the culpability of all of us in the death of Jesus. It wasn’t a few specific people in a faraway time who bear the guilt of his death – it’s the sin we all share.

 

Music:

Many churches will be singing “All Glory, Laud, and Honour” – the chorus is easy to learn, and allows children to participate more fully in the procession. Take some time the week before, or a few minutes at the start of your procession, to teach the chorus so children can sing it with the rest of the congregation.

 

Holy-Week-Box-all-contents-inside-300x300Take-home:

Send home materials for the Holy Week Box, a wonderful way of extending children’s exploration of the story at home throughout the week.