Re-thinking and re-starting

As we start to (hopefully) emerge from the pandemic, lots of churches are using this opportunity to re-evaluate many aspects of mission and ministry.

I’ve found this to be a helpful tool for meetings, to start conversations about the future. You may find it useful to limit the number of things people can write in each box – 3 or 4, maximum, for example – so that you don’t end up with the answer, “everything,” in some of the boxes, which isn’t helpful.

The next step for discussion after this, of course, is, “of the things we think are valuable and should keep/restart, what is needed to make them happen? In terms of time, talents, and treasure? Do we have those resources? If not, can we reshape some things – less Junior Church and more All-Age Worship, for example, if we have fewer volunteers?”

The matrix is available at the bottom of the post in a Word document, so you can download it and share it with your PCC/ministry team/working group.

What have we stopped during the pandemic, which we should pick up again?



What have we stopped during the pandemic, which should stay stopped?



What have we started doing during the pandemic, which we should keep?



What have we started doing during the pandemic, which we can stop once it’s over?



There is a second matrix that we’ve used in our Toddler Group Leaders’ group as well – the “Value/Effort” matrix. This can help narrow down the “OMG WHAT DO WE DO FIRST???” spiralling, and help decide on actions and next steps. I’m afraid I only have this one as an image file, so it can’t be written on, but you can either re-create it, or encourage people to talk/use the chat function, about each square in turn, and share ideas that way:

Children’s Stations of the Cross

For years, as a Children’s and Families Worker, I did an event on the morning of Good Friday, a brief Stations of the Cross for children and those who care for them. You can find the service leaflet from one year below. It lasts about 30-45 minutes.

We didn’t have permanent stations of the cross in our building, so we used posters. At each station that we used, I set up a candle, seating for about 10 people (usually the adults) and space for children to gather so they could see the picture. The final part of the service took place in our Easter Garden – we had plants, and a doll wrapped in grave cloths, at the final station, which children took in procession to the Easter Garden. I also used a portable CD player for the music (how old-fashioned) – but there are many ways of doing this.

After the service, we had art activities available in the church hall, along with hot cross buns.

We would regularly get a few families I’d never seen before each year, so I started bringing pieces of paper for them to write their name and email address on, with permission to add them to our mailing list.

This service can also be found in my book, “There is a Season: celebrating the church year with children,” along with activities that can help children prepare for it, and help them respond to it.

There are places where it says “we wonder about the picture”

Generally, the wondering questions I’ve used are:

I wonder what you can see in this picture

I wonder how this picture makes you feel

I wonder why the artist chose to use those colours

I wonder what’s happening in this picture

And you may want separate ones for individual stations, eg, “I wonder why Jesus died,” for the station where he’s on the cross, or, “I wonder how Jesus’s mother was feeling,” when he meets his mother, or “I wonder what it feels like when someone you love dies.”

Opening for Advent worship – lamentation

I wrote this as part of a longer all-age piece, which never ended up going anywhere. This was intended to be done with 5 teenagers as the readers, and one cantor.

Many churches open worship in Advent with the Advent prose. This takes 3 verses of that and intersperses it with words from the Hebrew scriptures that are a mixture of lamentation and cries for justice.

Doing it online may require recording it ahead of time, as some of the spoken words overlap, and this is difficult to do over Zoom. Each person can record their speaking or singing separately, and then you can mix them together. It can be used for all four Sundays in Advent – even if you’re meeting together in person again after the first – so one bit of work can then pay off for the whole season.

Cantor: Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness

All: drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness

Cantor: Be not wroth very sore, O Lord,

neither remember iniquity for ever:

the holy city is a wilderness:  Sion is a wilderness,  Jerusalem a desolation:

Our holy and our beautiful house where our fathers praised thee.

Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness

All: drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness

Reader 1: How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?

    How long will you hide your face from me?

Prophet 2: Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord?

    Awake, do not cast us off forever!

Why do you hide your face?

    Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?

Cantor: Behold, O Lord, the affliction of thy people,

and send forth Him who is to come;

send forth the Lamb, the ruler of the earth,

from Petra of the desert to the mount of the daughter of Sion:

that He may take away the yoke of our captivity.

Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness

All: drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness

Reader 3: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

And are so far from my cries, and from the words of my distress?

Reader 4: A voice is heard in Ramah –lamentation and bitter weeping.

Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children,

    because they are no more.

Reader 5: On the willows of Babylon, we hung up our harps.

For there our captors asked us for songs,

and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,

    “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?

The following overlap, repeating, rising in speed and urgency:

Reader 1: How long, O Lord, will you forget me forever?

Reader 2: Lord, why do you forget our affliction and oppression?

Reader 3: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Reader 4: Lamentation and bitter weeping –

Reader 5: How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?

When they finish, silence for a moment.

Cantor: Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, my salvation shall not tarry:

why wilt thou waste away in sadness?

why hath sorrow seized thee?

Fear not, for I will save thee: for I am the Lord thy God,

the Holy One of Israel, thy Redeemer.

Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness

All: drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness.

All Hallows Eve on Zoom

You may want to have a party of some sort on All Hallows Eve with your families. You can send sweets to families for the parents and carers to give to their children, have an online pumpkin-carving competition, and more.

Here is a liturgy that you can do on Zoom as part of this. It takes about 20 minutes – 11 minutes of that is a film, a portion of Disney’s Fantasia that explores the journey from a scary night to the dawn of God’s light in the morning. It helps put All Hallows Eve in its context – yes, death and evil are real, and yes, the world can be a scary place. By dressing up as skeletons or ghosts or zombies, children take charge of those fears and, through play, achieve mastery of them. In the morning of All Saints Day, after we have confronted our fear of death through the symbols of All Hallows Eve, we are comforted by the reality that we do not become ghosts or zombies after death, but saints, given new life in God’s Kingdom by the one who has defeated death, and who invites us to follow him into new life with the saints who have come before us.

Once we’re in more normal times again, the liturgy can be easily adapted to be done in person, not over Zoom.

All Hallows Eve liturgy:

Approximately 20 minutes, on Zoom. Appropriate for ages 5 and up.

Leader: The night is far gone

All: the day is near.

Leader: Let us then lay aside the works of darkness

All: and put on the armour of light.

Leader: As the earth turns towards autumn, darkness and cold, and the year dies, we remember that all living things will die, and we face our fear of death. We may dress up as ghosts, or skeletons, or vampires, or zombies, in this dark autumn night. We play with spookiness, as we confront symbols of death and darkness. And we acknowledge that the world can be a scary place, and we need bravery and courage.

But we remember that death does not have the final word. The night of All Hallows Eve passes, and with it, the ghosts and skeletons and vampires and zombies. And the dawn breaks on the day of All Saints Day, when we can remember that after death, we become not ghosts or zombies, but saints. We remember that in the battle with death and darkness, we have on our side Jesus, who has fought death for us and won, and who invites us to follow him through death into new life that lasts forever in God’s Kingdom.

If you have a decorated pumpkin, you can light it now. Otherwise turn off all the lights except one, or turn off all the lights and light a candle.

SING:

On Zoom – participants mute themselves. Leader shares their screen and clicks the “share computer sound” box in the bottom left of the “share screen” popup. Everyone sings along at home.

He, Who Would Valiant Be.

OR

For All The Saints – missing a few verses.

Shorter version, but includes the “when the strife is fierce, the warfare long” verse that’s cut above, which may be pastorally needed this year.

Shorter version, with verses 1, 2, and 8 only.

WATCH:

Fantasia – Night on Bald Mountain / Ave Maria (11 minutes)

Wonder:

I wonder what your favourite part of that film was.

I wonder what the most important part of that film was.

I wonder where you are in that film.

I wonder where God is in that film.

I wonder how that music made you feel.

Turn on the lights again.

Leader: Let us remember the promises made at our baptism, or look forward to promises we may make when we are baptised.

Do you turn away from sin?

All: I do.

Leader: Do you reject evil?

All: I do.

Leader: Do you turn to Christ as Saviour?

All: I do.

Leader: Do you trust in him as Lord?

All: I do.

Leader: With the help of the saints who have run the race of life before us, and who now rejoice in the new life of Christ, let us go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

All: Amen!

A liturgy for admission to communion

This is the liturgy I wrote for admitting children to communion – a church recently asked for one, and that made me realise I’d never put it up on the blog! So here it is – I hope it’s helpful.

We do this right before the Eucharistic Prayer. Children come up at the offertory and stand in a line along the chancel. They stay there throughout the Eucharistic Prayer, so they can see, up close, the elements being prepared, and be a part of it. Then at the invitation to communion, they move down to the altar rail and are the first of the congregation to receive.

We usually gave them a small gift along with their certificate – sometimes it was a book about the communion service (Pray Sing Worship, from SPCK – currently out of stock, sadly), sometimes it was a good children’s Bible, sometimes a cross or icon or a carving or a piece of stained glass to hang. During the preparation classes, we practiced putting down things you were holding so you could use your hands to receive the bread.

The Liturgy:

My dear friends in Christ, today we come together in special joy as we see these children join us as regular sharers in the most holy, sacred, and wonderful mysteries of communion.  A warm welcome therefore to you all, especially if you have come to see N, N, and N, as they reach this stage in their journey of faith.

The priest addresses the children:

In baptism, you were made members of Christ’s family.  You come to us now as members of that family.  Today you will share with us that meal which he commanded his friends to remember on the night before he died, and which he gives to us as a sign of his living presence among us. 

N, N, and N.  Jesus calls you by name, and invites you to his table.  Do you wish to be admitted to Holy Communion, and share regularly in this sacred meal?

The children reply: I do

The priest addresses the congregation:

Will you welcome these children as communicant members of Christ’s family, and support them with your friendship and prayers?

All: With the help of God, we will.

The priest addresses the parents and carers:

Will you help these children to grow in faith and come to confirmation?

Parents and carers: With the help of God, we will.

The priest prays for the children:

Lord Jesus Christ, you said that we should all become as little children.

We pray today for these children as they receive bread and wine for the first time in your name.        Give them such a sense of the mystery of your body and blood that they may know your presence in their hearts and day by day grow to be more like you.    Amen.

The priest gives each child their certificate of admission to Holy Communion, addressing them by name:

In the name of God, I welcome you, N., to the sacrament of Holy Communion.  

May God bless you as you continue with us on your journey of faith. 

The children remain on the chancel for the Eucharistic prayer.

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:

Online Holiday Club – Stories of Justice

Our online holiday club plan, “Stories of Justice,” can be downloaded below.

There are five days’ worth of plans, including:

  • An opening story and wondering questions. There are two options for videos for each story – one shorter and one longer. Text versions of the stories are also available for families who don’t have internet.
  • Response activities. Families can do as few or as many of these as they like, on their own time. They include something to MAKE, things to TALK about, a physical activity or charitable action to DO, and a PRAYER activity.
  • Plans for a closing Zoom session. While families without internet can still dial in to this session, they would miss out on the visual aspects of this. It’s suggested therefore that families without internet take advantage of recent guidelines that allow two houses to meet up with social distancing, so they can share the Zoom session with another family.

Many of the activities suggest using “whatever you have around the house” for the MAKE activity, eg, the contents of your recycling bin, things you can find in the garden or the park, etc. However, you may also need to make sure families have access to the following materials:

  • Paper and pens
  • Candle and lighter (or LED candle)
  • Play-doh
  • Glue
  • Felt-tips/pastels
  • Plastic eggs that can be opened up (available online, including from Baker Ross)
  • Blu Tak
  • Cups
  • Kitchen roll
  • A large bowl
  • Flour
  • Sand or shredded paper
  • Coins
  • Sellotape
  • May also be helpful if families don’t have them: Lego or Playmobil figures, toilet and kitchen roll tubes, coloured card, shoeboxes, fabric in various colours.

Bags of these materials can be dropped off at the beginning of the week.

Download the plans here: Stories of Justice

The supplementary material – text versions of the stories, and some images used for the Zoom session on Day 4 – can be downloaded here: Stories of Justice – supplementary material