The Children’s Ministry Channel

Oh, I wish there was one. However, I’ve found a few programmes over the last few years which have actually been very useful, with information, inspiration, and ideas that are easily related to what we do with children and families in church.

Old People's Homes For 4 Year Olds Series 2

The first is “Babies: Their Wonderful World” – a three-part series in which famous studies in development are re-created and discussed, and a few new experiments are tried, with children up to 12 months. Unfortunately, the full episodes aren’t available at the moment, but a few good clips can be found here, and a fascinating bit about how some aspects of morality may be innate can be found here. (And yes, I asked on Twitter if they re-created the experiment with the blue square/yellow triangle roles reversed, and they confirmed they had, and babies chose the blue square when it was the “good” puppet.) If our sense of good and bad is innate, then that suggests our spirituality may be innate – what researchers like Rebecca Nye and John Westerhoff have suggested. In which case, what we’re doing in church is not filling up an empty vessel, who knows nothing about God, but helping a child understand and express a relationship, and a set of ideas about right and wrong, help and harm, which they possess from birth. This clip can be a good way of starting those conversations with your church groups.

Channel 4 thankfully keeps their programmes available on catch up for longer than the BBC, so you can still watch full episodes of their incredible “Old People’s Home for Four-Year-Olds.” This inter-generational experiment, in which a group of two-to-four-year-olds came into a residential care home, is a model of how mixing the generations helps us all. The parents get more adults who love their child, the elderly residents show benefits in physical and mental health from contact with children, and the children get love, care, and wisdom from older people. The implications for churches are obvious.

There is also a series called “The Secret Life Of Four-Year-Olds,” which now has expanded into series about 5- and 6-year-olds as well. It’s a lot of detail about a very narrow age group, but if this is your speciality area, it’s well worth a watch. You can find all 25 episodes here.

This isn’t a programme, but a useful clip: The Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney gave some children video cameras and they filmed what worship is like for them. An eye-opening “child’s-eye view” of an Anglican service. What do you notice?

And finally, sadly, there is “Exposed: The Church’s Darkest Secret.” It makes for harrowing watching, but it provides a vital glimpse into how church culture helped cover up the crimes of Bishop Peter Ball, and his abuse of young people in his care, and reminds us of how vital our Safeguarding responsibilities are. Watch it if you can, but if you know you can’t, that’s also fine. (Any current or historical Safeguarding issues relating to St Albans Diocese can be reported to our Diocesan Safeguarding team. You will be listened to and taken seriously.)

Are there any useful programmes I’ve forgotten?

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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Faith at Home take-home

Most church leaders would love for children and their carers to talk about church together – about worship, faith, and their experiences. Often, parents are uncertain how to do this, unsure of whether they “have the answers,” hesitant about how to start a conversation with their children about these topics.outnumbered

And it’s difficult, in most churches, to get a group of parents together to start learning about faith at home, and to build the confidence needed for these conversations.

So I’ve put together a simple take-home “cheat sheet” that can help parents start these discussions. It can be used every week in any church – it’s not tied to a particular worship style, and the questions are flexible enough to be used around the year. They are open-ended, and stress that there’s no right or wrong answers. And, crucially, the idea is that children and adults respond to these questions. So the discussion is a mutual one; it’s not children answering questions for the adults, but rather some conversation starters to get children and their parents or carers sharing together about their experiences in worship.

You can download it here: Take Home Sheet for Parents and Carers (Word)

Take Home Sheet for Parents and Carers (PDF)

Book recommendation

I’m going to recommend a book that is not for children, not about children, not about children’s ministry, not about church, doesn’t mention God once, and which may be one of the most relevant books for ministry you can get.

It’s called “That’s Not How We Do It Here!” (sound familiar?). The subtitle is “a story about how organisations rise and fall – and can rise again.”meerkats

It’s an easy read – I read it in an afternoon – because mostly, it’s a story about meerkats. The meerkat colony’s habitat is changing, there are new threats, and the old way of doing things isn’t working. So young meerkat Nadia leaves the group and finds a new colony with some fresh ideas – but their way of doing things has problems too. Can Nadia and her fellow meerkats figure out the “best of both worlds” and help both colonies function well and adapt to change?

Definitely one for your PCC to read and discuss, if possible. I have a copy in the office, so do let me know if you’d like to borrow it and we can post it to you!

 

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.

 

 

You can’t pour from an empty cup

A parenting support group just posted this on Facebook with the comment that it often applies to adults as well.

Where in our ministry with children and parents are we filling up their cups? Where are we – without meaning to – draining them? How do you, as a paid or volunteer minister with children, fill up your own cup? What would your PCC say if you showed them this and asked those questions?

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The Lord is my Shepherd

Psalm 23. One of the first bits of Scripture many of us learned. One of the few Bible passages most people still recognise and find comforting. The theme tune for The Vicar of Dibley.

It’s worth breaking out of the Bible STORY mold occasionally and introducing children to the other parts of the Bible – primarily the poetry and prophecy. This has several benefits – first of all, the rich imagery of these passages can be very meaningful to children, and secondly, it plants the idea, early on, that the Bible is a complex book full of many genres of writing.

Here are a few of my favourite Bible books that can help do this, starting with two retellings of the classic 23rd Psalm.

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FOUND, by Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrations by Jago.

Simple text and beautiful illustrations remind children of God’s enduring love and care. A perfect book to read aloud at bedtime, give as a baptism gift, or have in your church creche/children’s corner. You can also use it as the story in Junior Church for an under-5s group. (We have a copy of this in the Resource Centre if you’d like to borrow it.)

 

psalm23-2PSALM 23, illustrated by Barry Moser.

This one was available in the UK when I bought it for my church, but doesn’t seem to be now. It’s worth keeping an eye out for, however, as it uses the Biblical text and the illustrations have lots of details that can start discussions with children about what the psalm means and how they feel about it.

The imagery – a modern-day child like them, in a T-shirt, and other details – helps ground the psalm’s reassurances in a world familiar to children.

 

PSALMS FOR YOUNG CHILDREN, and IMAGES OF GOD, both by Marie-Helene Delval and illustrated by Arno.

These books have a simple format – a line or two of Scripture on one side of each spread, and a beautiful illustration on the other to bring it to life. The text is accessible even to toddlers, without diminishing the richness of it, and each page has a Biblical reference, so parents and older children can look up the original line and its context. These are also in our Resource Centre.

graphic-bibleFor older children, the LION GRAPHIC BIBLE, by Jeff Anderson and Mike Maddox, is very good at showing how the prophecy and poetry came to be written, and when in the story of God’s people the different parts of it appear. You see the Babylonian exile, and then you read the psalms written at that time, and hear the words of the prophets. It’s a very good introduction to some of the story of how the Bible came to be, and how the poems and prophesies fit into the whole. (Bear in mind I haven’t read all of this book, so there may be glaring problems with it I haven’t caught. But I’ve used parts of it with small groups and it’s all been good so far.) Again, we have a copy of this in the Resource Centre, so do borrow it.

What books have I missed? Add your recommendations in the comments!