Churchyard Prayer Trail for All Saints/All Souls/Remembrance

Many people have used churchyards more during the pandemic, as a way of getting outside, getting exercise, or finding a place of peace.

These prayer stations are designed to encourage people who may not attend church, or pray much, to use your churchyard for spiritual reflection, and become familiar with the season of All Saints, All Souls, and Remembrance. They can be used be people of all ages.

There is a sign for the entrance to your churchyard and then there are four stations:

  1. All Hallows Eve – confronting our fears
  2. All Saints – remembering those whose lives inspire us in faith
  3. All Souls – remembering our own beloved dead
  4. Remembrance – honouring the sacrifice of those in war, and praying for peace

These can be put anywhere around your churchyard that is appropriate. However, one suggested way is:

  1. All Hallows Eve – by graves that have imagery (angels, skulls, cherubs, etc) to explore
  2. All Saints – by something with a saint’s name on it (your church’s sign, or a statue, if you have one)
  3. All Souls – a memorial bench
  4. Remembrance – a commonwealth war grave, or your war memorial (if outdoors)

What do I need?

The stations can primarily stand on their own without resources. However, you will need to laminate the pages so they’re waterproof, and, if possible, provide the following and ensure they’re checked and topped up regularly as needed:

  1. A basket of stones, to go by the sign at the entrance
  2. Rosemary and myrrh for the fourth station (these can be in waterproof plastic containers – you may want to provide hand sanitizer here as well)
  3. There is a space on the third prayer station for you to add a sticker with contact details for someone to talk to about bereavement

Download the stations here:

Crib Service on Zoom

This was both a wonderfully joyful and creative, and heartbreaking thing to write. If you’re thinking of using it, you may feel the same.

If you want to skip straight to the downloads, which really contain all you need, go right to the end of this post.

If you want to ease yourself in with some information (most of which is repeated in the downloads), so you have some idea of what’s going on before you wade in, read on:

The service is designed to last about half an hour. There is an opening section with a brief prayer, and some text from John 1, followed by the Christmas story in three parts (Annunciation, Nativity, Shepherds), and then closing prayers which everyone participates in.

There are also Christmas carols. Notes are included on singing – you’ve probably done singing over Zoom already yourself. I’ve found the best way is to find a version of the hymn on YouTube, and have everyone mute themselves and sing along. With the voices on YouTube, you don’t feel like you’re the only one singing, as you would with an instrumental backing track. I’ve included links to YouTube videos of each hymn, but if you have a choir, you may wish to have them do recordings – just remember to add lyrics to the video so people can easily sing along.

Anyone who wants to is encouraged to draw along with the service and share their drawings (or Play-doh sculptures, or whatever) on the church’s social media page. You may want to have a specific album for them to share to – you can put the link to that in the chat.

Children are also encouraged to come to the service dressed as a character from the Nativity story – they will join in the prayers at the end based on what they’re dressed as – eg all the Maries read one bit, all the shepherds read another. If you have non-readers, you may want to do “repeat after me” with the prayers.

The stories are told using PowerPoint presentations – these are available to download in this post along with the order of service. In two of the PowerPoints, there’s something to discuss at the end, so people can join in and share their thoughts with each other.

Families can also be encouraged to create a “Prayer Space” by their computer – with a nativity set, or decorations, or anything they like. Everyone will need a candle (or an LED candle, or string of lights, or something like that). If you know a family doesn’t have one, and can’t access one, do find a way to provide one for them.

Here is everything you need for the service:

Here are the three stories you’ll need:

And here are the closing prayers that everyone joins in on:

War memorials

With Remembrance Day coming up, one activity children can do at home is to design a war memorial. They can use whatever materials they have at home – items from the recycling bin, play-doh, Lego – whatever you have. These can then be photographed and sent into church and collected in a Facebook album.

Encourage them to think about the following questions:

  1. How would you want people to feel as they look at your memorial?
  2. What shape do you want your memorial to be? Do you want there to be words? Pictures?
  3. Who do you think might visit this memorial? Soldiers who have been in wars? Families of people who have died? People who are praying for peace?
  4. Could there be an interactive element to your memorial? A place for people to leave names, or prayers, or draw or write something? Will your memorial have moving parts to it?
  5. Where is God in all this?

A few memorials for inspiration:

Does your church have a war memorial? Can you visit it?

The “Animals in War” memorial in Hyde Park, London

The Vietnam War memorial in Washington DC (includes a video about the design)

7 Unusual War Memorials (includes the street plaques in St Albans)

Another list from the same blog, of 9 more unusual memorials.

Faith at Home for Advent 2020

Last year, the “Faith at Home for Advent” resource, in association with Red Letter Christians, was extremely popular. This year, I’ve updated it so that the dates are accurate, added two activities in the final week (because Christmas is a Friday this year, not a Wednesday, so Advent is two days longer), added some prayers for coronavirus times, and changed a few things that referred to meeting up with other people.

Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30″

The weekly themes, and most of the activities, are the same as last year. Many children love tradition and repetition, so this may not be a problem, even if you used the resource last year.

The four themes for the four weeks are:

Longing/expectation

Voices from the margins

Jesus as other

God with us

You can download the resource here:

Pentecost Scavenger Hunt

Here’s a Pentecost scavenger hunt I put together for a half-term club when I was a children’s worker. We did it in the church, but you could easily do it at home as well, after online church on Pentecost, or as part of a family service.pentecost-people-1024x612

Here are the rules I set:

  1. You can be as creative as you like in deciding how the objects fit these clues. But each object can only be used for ONE clue.
  2. If you find something that can’t be moved, you can take us to it for judging time or take a picture of it and use that.
  3. One point for each item you find.

Pentecost Scavenger Hunt

CAN YOU FIND:

A flame

Something that can be used to make fire

Something in a different language

A picture of water

Something that reminds you of wind

Something that helps tell the story of Jesus to people who haven’t heard it

A dove

Something that brings light into darkness

Something that could help someone who is afraid feel brave again

Something that shows Jesus’ friends

Something with lots of colours

A lock or key

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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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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All Saints and All Souls All-Age Retrospective

allsaints10Yesterday was the All-Age service for All Saints and All Souls at my church, St. George’s. Here’s some of what we did – feel free to take any or all of these ideas, change them, adapt them, mix them up, and make them better, for your services next year.

As people arrived, they were greeted by this display. The printed images and information about saints is available in a file at the end of this post, so you can download it and use it. It features a mix of Catholic and Protestant, male and female, different ethnicities, different time period, different countries of origin, and different gifts – from martyrs to mystics to artists to reformers of the church and society.

The cardboard figures were made by children in Junior Church over the last few weeks, as we learned about All Saints and All Souls in preparation for the service. They represent either specific saints or people our children love who have died. This created an opportunity for some great conversations in Junior Church about loss, and memory, and bereavement.allsaints2

Also available was this table, with the Jesus doll, an icon of the harrowing of hell, and books about bereavement for children. A paper was available for people of any age to write names they would like included in the Litany of the Saints in the section for our beloved dead.

Children and teenagers joined the procession – the teenagers were too cool to carry shakers with them, but a few kids and I had bells and rattles, which we shook as we sang “When the Saints Go Marching In.” If you use shakers in All-Age Worship, make sure you have a bag or basket to collect them afterwards – or be sure you’re okay with random bell/rattle noises happening throughout!

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After the welcome, confession, and collect, the first reading was Revelation 21:1-6. This was read by a child. I didn’t get any photos of this bit, since I was at the front doing the feltboard. You can see it here off to the side – for the reading, it was front and centre, and the pieces were added to represent the prophecy visually as it was read. This is the Beulah Land feltboard storytelling set – we have a copy in the Diocesan Office for you to borrow, so feel free to get in touch if you’re interested. Children also love playing with it afterwards. You can learn more about Beulah Land here. (Be aware that Mustard Seed Kids is owned and operated by me.)

We then went straight into our gradual hymn, which is from the American Appalachian music tradition – “Palms of Victory.” You can download the song at the link – the sheet music is available in the All Saints section of my book, “There Is A Season: celebrating the church year with children,” which is available in the Diocesan Resource Centre.

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Our Gospel was read by one of our teenagers. There is, as far as I or our ministry team are aware, nothing that says children and laypeople can’t read the Gospel during a Eucharist.

I may have been imagining it, but I think the other members of our youth group paid more attention than usual, because one of their own was doing this part.

The sermon was delivered by our Reader, who helped us think about the great variety of imperfect humans who have followed Jesus before us, and how sainthood isn’t about being a perfect, holier-than-thou, joyless, person, but about our very real journeys through life.

We then sang our Creed.

The Liturgy of the Word is VERY talky – anything that can break it up a bit with something to touch, or do, or sing, can provide a break for those whose spiritual style isn’t primarily word-based, or who are young and have limited attention spans. We use this sung creed from Worship Workshop, which is set to a very familiar hymn tune. (You may need to log in to see it, but registration is free.) Worship Workshop provides backing tracks, teaching tracks, and sheet music, so it’s very user-friendly.

For our prayers, we did a Litany of the Saints. (First, we prayed for the sick, as they’re not included in the Litany and we don’t want to leave them out.) Again, the litany is available at the bottom of this post. You might want to move it up a third if you have high voices leading it.

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During the Litany, people were invited to come up and light a candle – we’d moved the candle stand to be in front of the altar. It’s always helpful for things like this to have one person des

ignated to get things started – once one person has got up and done something, more people are likely to follow.

The banners of St. George and of Mary were made years ago, by children who are now pre-teens or teens. They hang regularly from the balcony in church.

Then we celebrated the Eucharist – the presence of these candles lit during the Litany of the Saints meant they created a metaphorical light of the saints’ presence as we celebrated the Eucharist together. It was a reminder that we are surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses every time we come together to worship God.

There were a few prayers stations set up for people to use as they returned from communion:

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We closed with six verses of “For All The Saints.”

There wasn’t a huge crowd of children present – we’re going through one of the troughs in our regular cycle of peaks and troughs in terms of numbers. However, the purpose of All-Age Worship isn’t to be children’s worship. I have been reliably and regularly astonished by how often things I plan to be “child-friendly” that take worship, liturgy, and faith seriously end up being moving for adults. Especially after last week’s article in the Church Times that seemed to think All-Age Worship means nothing but action songs, it’s important to remember this. All-Age Worship isn’t about dumbing down – it’s about opening up. And it’s for everyone.

Litany of the Saints 2018

Saint Bios

Free Crib Service plan!

I know, it’s October, but you’re probably already planning Christmas.

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If you have a crib service that’s mostly attended by children who haven’t experienced Advent, here’s a fairly simple plan that allows you to include a bit of waiting, a bit of expectation, and a bit of context for the coming of the Saviour.

The outline is a shortened version of the Christmas liturgy in my book, There is a Season – we have a copy in the Diocesan Resource Centre if you’d like to borrow it and see the full version. The Adam and Eve story is adapted from the Beulah Land feltboard story – we also have a Beulah Land set available for you to borrow. Many of the other readings are adapted from Miracle Maker: a life of Jesus, retold and remembered, by Mary Joslin.

The service should last approximately half an hour.

YOU WILL NEED:

Your church’s crib scene

A bunch of stuffed animals – placed in the pews ahead of the service

Candles for the congregation

Any visual elements you’d like to add to the first story.

A few readers, ideally a mix of children and adults (there are five readings – some people can do more than one reading if you don’t have five readers)

A few helpers to greet people as they enter, light candles, and turn off church lights (again, these can be children and/or adults)

Either some way of accompanying the carols OR a few very strong singers to lead them a cappella

SERVICE PLAN:

The service leaders welcome the congregation.

LEADER: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  In him was life, and the life was the light of the world. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

READER ONE: 

In the beginning, God made the world.

He made a man and a woman,

And put them in a beautiful garden.

They had everything they needed.

They were safe.

But the snake said, “did God say you can’t eat any of the fruit in the garden?”

And the woman said,

“we may eat of any of the trees,

But not of the tree in the middle of the garden,

The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

For God has said that if we touch this tree, we will die.”

The snake said, “you will not die.

If you eat from that tree, you’ll be just like God.

You can do whatever you want.

You’ll be just as big and special as God.

Come on. Try it.”

So the man and the woman ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

But it didn’t make then big and special.

It made them ashamed.adam-eve2.jpg

They were ashamed of their thoughts.

They were ashamed of their bodies.

And they couldn’t live in the garden any more.

They had to go out into the world, and work hard, and feel pain, and die.

But God did not forget them.

God began the long work of saving them.

And that’s our story.

CAROL: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

LEADER: Let us pray.

This is just one type of prayer suggestion – feel free to use a different one! This one uses our hands. Parents with babies can be encouraged to touch their baby’s hands.

With our thumb, we make a thumbs-up sign and say thank you to God for all the good things in the world, and the good things about ourselves.

(If you like, you can invite people to share with each other or with the whole congregation)

With our pointer finger, we point around the room and pray for everybody here.

With our big tall strong middle finger, we pray for people who are big and strong and powerful. We pray they make the right decisions.

With our ring finger, we pray for our families, especially anybody who isn’t here, or who has died, that we miss very much at Christmas time.

With our tiny little pinky finger, we pray for everyone who is small, or powerless. We pray that the God who came into the world as a tiny powerless baby will keep them safe and be with them.

And now we make a big circle on our palm as we pray for the whole entire world.

AMEN.

Loving God, as we hear the story of how God sent Jesus to save us, let us pray that our hearts, like those of the prophets, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and wise men, may be open to receiving Jesus into our world and our lives. AMEN.

READER TWO:

The reader asks everyone to check their pews for a stuffed animal. What animals do you have? Do these animals get along or do they fight? Which are predators? Which are prey?

Explain that we’re about to hear a story of what it’s like in God’s Kingdom, where predators and prey get along. Ask everyone to listen VERY CAREFULLY for the words “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb.” When they hear these words, bring up your animals and place them around the empty crib scene!  

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There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. With righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb …

(Pause for the chaos of everyone bringing their animals up. Comment, if you like, on how beautiful the scene of all the animals living in peace is. But that crib is still empty! We’re still waiting for the person who brings this peace! Then continue the reading. Repeat “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb” if needed.)

and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

If necessary, re-arrange the stuffed animals to make room for the figures.

Carol: Away in a Manger, 2 or 3 verses

READER THREE:

God sent the angel Gabriel to a town named Nazareth. The angel had a message for a girl promised in marriage to a man named Joseph. The girl’s name was Mary. The angel came to her and said, “peace be with you! The Lord has greatly blessed you!”

Mary was deeply troubled, and wondered what the words meant. The angel noticed the fear and wonder in her eyes and spoke again.

“Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel said. “God has chosen you. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be the Son of the Most High God.”

Mary was perplexed. “How can I have a baby?” she asked. “I’m not even a wife yet, so how can I become a mother?”

The angel’s answer was simple. “God’s power will make it happen.”

Mary thought for a moment.  She had been brought up to live by God’s laws. Now she was older, that was what she herself wanted to do. If this message was truly from God, then she knew what her answer would be.

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“I am the Lord’s servant,” said Mary. “May it happen to me as you have said.”

And the angel left her.

Invite people from the congregation to add the figures of Mary and the angel to the crib scene.

If you want to extend the service, you can add wondering questions, or prayer stations, or a reflection here.

Carol: Once In Royal David’s City 

READER FOUR:

Mary was heavily pregnant now, and so tired. Then the pains of labour were upon her – it seemed certain that the baby was going to be born while she was far away from home, here, in Bethlehem. “Oh, Joseph,” she cried. “We have travelled so far and need a place to stay, but all the rooms for travellers are full. What shall we do?”

Joseph was not dismayed. Months earlier, in a dream, the angel told him to take care of Mary and her baby. He must now do what he thought best – and trust God that all would be well.

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“Dear Mary,” he said, “here is a stable where we can shelter. There is clean straw, enough room to lie down, and the cold night breezes cannot chill us.”

There, among the animals, Jesus was born. The son of God. Not in a palace or a safe hospital, but in a stable.  Mary wrapped her baby in swaddling clothes. Joseph piled straw into an ancient stone manger, to make it into a cradle. There, Mary laid her baby.

Invite people from the congregation forward to add the figures of Joseph and the animals to the crib scene. Then invite a very young child (with carer) to place the figure of baby Jesus. 

Carol: Silent Night.

During this carol, light the congregation’s candles and turn off the lights in the church.

When “Silent Night” is finished:

LEADER: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light! Those who dwelt in the land of deep darkness, upon them has light shined!

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Almighty God, the Prince of Peace!

The lights in the church are turned back on and candles are extinguished.

Carol: O Come, All Ye Faithful.

READER FIVE:

This poem is called “The Shepherds’ Carol.”  It imagines what the shepherds might have said to Mary when they arrived at the stable.

We stood on the hills, Lady,

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Our day’s work done,

Watching the frosted meadows

That winter had won.

 

The evening was calm, Lady,

The air so still,

Silence more lovely than music,

Folded the hill.

 

There was a star, Lady,

Shone in the night,

Larger than Venus it was,

And bright, so bright.

 

Oh, a voice from the sky, Lady,

It seemed to us then

Telling of God being born

In the world of men.

 

And so we have come, Lady,

Our day’s work done,

Our love, our hopes, ourselves,

We give to your son.

 

People are invited forward to add the shepherds to the crib scene.

Carol: While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night

PRAYERS:

LEADER: Let us pray to Jesus our Saviour.

Jesus, whose mother was Mary,

Bless our families. Jesus, Saviour,

All: Hear our prayer.

LEADER: Christ, born in a stable,

give courage to all who are homeless. Jesus, Saviour,

All: Hear our prayer.

LEADER: Christ, worshipped by the shepherds,

give peace on earth. Jesus, Saviour,

All: Hear our prayer.

LEADER: Christ, whose light filled a lowly manger,

give the glory of your resurrection to all who rest in you.

Jesus, Saviour,

All: Hear our prayer.

 

All: Jesus, Saviour, child of Mary,

you know us and love us, you share our lives

and hear our prayer. Glory to you for ever. Amen

 

LEADER:

May the joy of the angels,

the eagerness of the shepherds,

the perseverance of the wise men,

the obedience of Joseph and Mary,

and the peace of the Christ-child

be yours this Christmas;

and the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

Be among you and remain with you always.

All: Amen.

 

LEADER: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

All: In the name of Christ, Amen.

 

Carol: Hark the Herald Angels Sing

 

For some tips of how to make the most of the contact you have at this service with families you only see at Christmas, check out “First Dates By The Manger.”

All-Age Talk for a pet blessing service

I was honoured to be asked to speak at St. Martin’s in Shenley for their pet blessing service last Sunday. That’s me in the back row, holding the angry-looking orange cat.

pet blessing

The service was warm and welcoming, and friendly for all ages – we heard the Creation story (with pictures), sang hymns both modern and traditional, and had time to reflect and pray for, and with, each other.

I also learned a fabulous way to add movements to the grace, which I’ll be stealing for my own ministry. It goes as follows:

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (arms out in front of you)

and the love of God (arms crossed over your chest)

and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit (hold hands with someone close to you)

be with us all evermore, AMEN. (lift up your joined hands)

Here’s the talk I gave – you’ll need some Play-doh (enough for everyone to have some), but that’s it. Feel free to borrow this for animal/Creationtide services. Thanks go to Sarah Green, the Children and Families Worker at Homewood Road URC, for the idea – the bulk of the credit goes to her.

All-Age Talk on Creation and Pets

Clarify there are no right or wrong answers to wondering questions, and that it’s okay to wonder quietly and not say anything out loud.

 I wonder what your favourite part of the story was.

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

I wonder why God made the world.

I wonder what it feels like to make something.

 

Somehow ensure everyone has Play-Doh – with large groups, you may want to pass this out ahead of time.

 

The Bible says we are made in God’s image – that means we’re like God. We can make things, like God. We can love, like God. We can make choices, like God. Our creativity – whether with Play-Doh or paint or problem-solving at work or home or school, or anything else – is God-given. It’s special and important.

Now I would like you to choose somebody near you to take care of your Play-Doh sculpture for you until the end of this talk.

Did you choose somebody you know? Someone you trust? How does it feel to give something you’ve made to someone else to look after?

(take responses)

When God made the world, after allllll that time, he gave it to us to look after. The plants, the air, the water, and these precious animals we’ve brought today to be blessed – they are gifts from God, a sign of his trust.

What does it mean to take care of something?

Now I’d like you to look very very closely at the thing you’re taking care of, which was made by someone else. Can you see fingerprints in it, from where they’ve touched it?

The fingerprints of the one who made something are all over it.

Every one of us is made by God. Individually, uniquely. God’s fingerprints are all over us. And so, because we are like God, we leave fingerprints on the things we touch, and, like God, we have a choice. We can choose to use our hands, to leave our marks on the world – by feeding the animals we love, by watering plants, picking up litter that is hurting God’s beautiful earth, putting things in the recycling instead of the rubbish, by touching animals gently and in ways that are loving – or we can choose to leave fingerprints on the world that are harmful – hurting animals and each other, destroying God’s beautiful creation. We have that choice.

When we bless these animals later, we’re putting our fingerprints on them in place of God, because God’s body isn’t here right now, so it’s OUR job to take care of them FOR God. So I ask you, when you bring your animal to be blessed, or as you sit and watch the animals, think of how the love and care between people and animals is part of the job God has given us, and a way of being like God.

And when you leave this place, during the week to come, I invite you to pause. And look closely. At the falling leaves. At the whiskers on your cat’s face. At your child’s fingers as they sleep. At the arms and hands of the adult who takes care of you. Because when we pause, and look closely at the world around us, we can see God’s fingerprints.