They’re asking partly because this sort of falls under my remit as Children’s Mission Enabler – these services are a ministry to families, and often, other children are involved either at the time of the loss or later. Providing a meaningful place to honour and remember the life of their child can create a deep pastoral relationship with a family for years to come. But they’re also asking because they know I’m a bereaved parent myself – my son Isaac died at birth in 2015. So I’ve seen these services from both sides – as a parent, and as a leader. And here is what I’ve learned:
Connect with your local SANDS group. You can find your nearest group here. Not only can they help you plan an appropriate service, they can help publicise your service to families. You may also want to contact local hospital chaplains – many hospitals do annual memorial services and might have some tips, or service sheets from past years you can use.
The service itself should probably be about half an hour long, at most. People may want to stay afterwards and talk – and this may actually be longer than the service itself. Plan for this time and provide lots of refreshments.
Generally, regardless of what else is done in terms of music, readings, remarks, etc., the two things that these types of services consistently include are: a time to read off the names of the babies being remembered (usually before or while people can light candles), and something to take home as a memorial (the Baby Loss Awareness Week pins are good). Have a list people can add their baby’s name to as they enter, so they don’t have to send anything in advance.
The delegate pack from an event we did on baby and child funerals is attached to the bottom of this post – this can provide ideas for readings and music.
You may have children in attendance – siblings or cousins, both before and after the loss. It’s worth considering that this is potentially an All-Age event. Remember in your welcome to include parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins – “whoever you are, you are grieving a baby you loved today, and we welcome you.”
Some families may have made the awful decision to terminate a pregnancy after a diagnosis, or because of risk to the mother’s health or life. Others may have had to decide to turn off life support. They may be struggling with feelings of guilt, and worried the church might condemn them. Some may be dealing with a loss from decades ago when stillbirth wasn’t considered a “real” loss.
And finally – this will probably be emotionally draining for you as a leader. Plan your diary for the hours after the event accordingly. Whatever is restorative to you, make sure you include some of that. And don’t expect to be able to go straight from a baby loss service to leading a wedding rehearsal, or Messy Church, or a funeral visit, or whatever … take care of yourself.
If you want a more detailed conversation about any of these issues, do get in touch. And please remember, if you are leading one of these services, how much it means to the families simply to have their baby remembered and named. Thank you so much for doing it.
Often, a visual focus can help children engage in worship, or can illustrate an idea or a story. Below are some pictures that might be useful for your groups – all were taken by me, so you’re free to save and use them however you’d like. All I ask is that you credit me (Margaret Pritchard Houston) and if you use them at an event you’re charging admission for, to get in touch and ask about fees (email me). But you can use them without payment for worship, Messy Church, Junior Church, etc.
I’ve included some suggested topics, but feel free to use them for other ideas as well!
To download an image, click on it to view it full size, then right-click and choose “save image as …”
Here are a few from my “journey” folder.
These could be used for All Souls or for other events looking at death and resurrection.
Here are some on “light”:
Some photos of the natural world that could be used for any number of things:
And a few random bits and bobs – ashes, home, water, sheep, etc:
Hope these are useful – and I’d love to hear about the creative ways you use them.
We now have a Light Box, which is available for you to borrow!
It comes with 85 letters, numbers, and symbols. This means you sometimes need to get creative if you need more of a particular letter than they have available.
You can use it in worship …
You can use it as part of a prayer station …
You can use it an an event or service if you want people to connect online with a hashtag …
Or you could use it to publicise something coming up …
You could also simply have it out for children to play with and make their own messages. You could take photos of every message/prayer/etc children make, and put these together as a collage for display or a slideshow to gather these prayers at the end of a session.
This could work for All-Age worship, Junior Church, holiday club, confirmation class, youth group, and more. It’s a way of encouraging the congregation to take a more active role in the prayers of the community, and it also means one less thing to organise/write ahead of time.
We’re going to try it at our Harvest Festival.
Set up a table near the entrance of your space, with paper for each type of prayer, Post-its, and pens/markers. I also added a little object for some of them, to make it interesting and more visual.
People and animals we love who have died
People who are ill or need help
Our church / our community / Christians around the world
THANK YOU FOR …
You might also want to add a note that young children can draw their prayers and tell an adult what to write for them.
Then, during the service, simply read off what people have written for each section. Start with “we pray for …” and then read the heading, and then each Post-it note. Finish each section with your standard closing, e.g. “Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.”
You might want to play background music during this, to make it more sensory – either live or recorded. Here are some good tracks if you want to use recorded music (copyright may apply for use in worship – do check):
Some of you might remember this post from March, showing J, the son of one of our Diocese’s curates. J spends a lot of time hanging out at church with his dad, and has started “playing church” at home, including processions.
J has now had a birthday, and some parishioners have made him vestments. His dad has given me permission to share these photos. Unfortunately, there isn’t a replicable pattern available for these vestments – however, I imagine if you have a keen sewer or two in your church, they could probably figure something out, using Nativity costume patterns for the alb and making a chasuble pattern from scratch (it’s basically a circle).
What strikes me about these pictures is how well they illustrate the concept of enculturation, which you may have heard me talk about if you’ve come to some of our training events.
Enculturation is “the gradual acquisition of the characteristics and norms of a culture or group by a person, another culture, etc.” It’s not education – the passing on of knowledge, facts, etc. It’s not entertainment – “the kids loved it!” It’s a process of being alongside someone as they acquire a particular way of life. It’s what makes us feel part of a group.
It’s how we start to feel like a “real member” of something – whether it’s a fandom, a supporter of a particular football team, a resident of a new place we’ve moved to. We learn “how we do things here, and why.” And John Westerhoff argued at the Household of Faith conference in 2013 that it’s how we make Christians. We show them, through received ways of being and doing, what it means to live out our baptismal promises.
Enculturation comes from a shared set of values, a shared authority, a shared tradition, and a shared story. Christian values – feeding the poor, caring for God’s creation, praying for each other, sharing in the Apostle’s teaching and fellowship, etc. Christian authority – for Anglicans, it’s the three-legged stool of Scripture, tradition, and reason, with the words and actions of Jesus being our paramount authority. Shared traditions – our worship, our ways of celebrating and remembering and drawing close to God (note how J stands at the altar, arms in a toddler version of orans position). And our shared story – that Biblical journey from “once upon a time” to happily ever after, that is full of exile and loss, return and redemption, that tells us of a loving and faithful God who would die to save us and all creation. Being a part of all this is what forms the basis of a Christian life.
Where in your church are opportunities for children to become enculturated? For them to learn by doing, alongside people of all ages, what it means to be a Christian?
And if there aren’t any, where’s a place where that can start?
One of the best books I’ve read in the last few years has been Starting Rite: Spiritual nurture for babies and their parents, by Jenny Paddison. Jenny has also come down to do some introductory training for the Diocese at two of our events. Starting Rite is a 5-week course based around play and conversation, introducing parents to concepts of Christianity and encouraging them to engage with and bond with their babies.
It can also be used as a baptism preparation/follow-up course.
Here’s what the publisher has to say:
“When Anglican priest Jenny Paddison became a mother, there were numerous activities for new parents and their babies on offer: baby yoga, baby massage, baby swimming – but nothing from the church.
In response, she created this five session programme that connects with the immense sense of wonder and joy that new parents experience and provides spiritual nurture from the outset, recognising the innate capacity for spirituality with which we are born.
Starting Rite is designed specifically for babies up to a year old and their parents. It provides a complete practical companion to offering the programme locally, including story scripts, simple songs, ideas for multi-sensory play, as well as lists of equipment needed and how to create a welcoming atmosphere. It explores Christian themes though activities like peek-a-boo, blowing bubbles and splashing in water.
Starting Rite enables local churches to offer a welcome to all new parents, and can also be used as a baptism preparation course.”
Starting Rite is excellent for reaching out to unchurched people. It’s a great place to start if you have few or no children and want to make your first steps in children’s ministry. Or it can be a fabulous way to refresh and expand on existing baptism or toddler group ministry.
Feedback from Jenny’s sessions was very positive, but a lot of people said, “it’s a lot of work to put the resources together to run the course – and a lot of money.”
So, very slowly, but surely, I’ve started putting the resources together. By the end of this year, I hope to have a set of 5 boxes, plus the book, available to be borrowed all together by churches who want to run this course. We’ll then get Jenny down to do some proper training on the course and address any questions or concerns you might have. So WATCH THIS SPACE, and if you’re not subscribed to Children’s Ministry News, contact email@example.com to be sure you hear about the training when it’s scheduled.
A few months ago, I put together all the random natterings I do in my live training events on “the dreaded ‘shhhhhh'” and it’s been my most popular post ever. You can read it here.
One of the other things I get asked about a lot is COMMUNICATION, and so I reckoned I’d put together all the random natterings I do in live events about that topic as well.
For much of this, I have to thank the Revd Dr Sandra Millar, of the Life Events team, for the basic training she’s given in follow-up and invitation, based on her research and her marketing background. You can find the Life Events stuff here.
I also have to thank Becky Guynn, the Families’ and Children’s Minister at Christ Church in Bedford, who did some stuff on marketing at one of our Getting Started events.
Okay. So, how do I get people to come to church?
You invite them.
And then you invite them again.
I know that sounds simple, and fundamentally, it is. Think about where you’re initially making contact with people, then make sure you gather their contact information (with their consent), and then let them know about what’s going on, that they might be interested in.
Those are the basics.
Here’s an example of how it could work in practice:
When a family comes to you for baptism, you have a box for them to tick on the baptism application, saying it’s okay to contact them about events at your church. Once that application is received and hopefully the box is ticked, you add them to an email mailing list (for example, in Mailchimp).
You also have little sheets of paper at things like Harvest Festival and your Crib Service, which people are handed when they come in, and say something like, “welcome to our Harvest Festival! We’re so glad you’re here. We’d love to invite you to other events – if this is okay, please fill in your details below.”
A sidesperson is on duty to gather in these slips as people leave the church at the end of the service, and pass them on to be added to the mailing list.
When you have an event coming up – e.g. a Mothering Sunday service – you send out email reminders to everyone who’s allowed you to have their details. You may send out one big mailing, or you may change it slightly for different audiences. Send out a reminder maybe a month in advance, another a week in advance, another with 48 hours to go. Having templates or standardised wording can make this as easy as possible. (nb: for privacy reasons, if you’re using regular email and not a programme like Mailchimp, put your own email address in the ‘To’ field and have every other email address in the BCC field, so nobody can see who else the email is going to.)
Okay, so print media is dead and it’s all email now, is it?
Nope! You can also print out leaflets for your events, and, especially if you have a lot of foot traffic past your church, use your noticeboard. Dr. Millar says it takes seven different contacts for someone to take one action. Just think – you don’t book cinema tickets the second you first see an advert on the side of a bus, do you? You note the poster and think, “ooh, that looks good.” Then you see a preview, and go, “oh, yes, I must remember to go to that!” Then you see another poster. Then your friend mentions they’d like to see it, and you think, “yes, I keep meaning to see that!” And finally, eventually, you buy tickets.
If you have connections in the community, with schools or businesses, ask if you can leave leaflets out in their premises. Many chain coffee shops, and some supermarkets, also have Community Notice Boards where people are allowed to put up flyers. You can also, if you have the volunteers, individually leaflet every house in the parish, but this may be reserved for once or twice a year only.
Announce your event at services – and if you have multiple congregations, don’t assume they won’t be interested in each other’s events. If your Sunday morning congregation is doing an All-Age Mothering Sunday Service, your Messy Church families might like to come, and vice versa. Mention your church’s pancake party at your Baby and Toddler Group. Cross-pollinate your events.
Are there any places in the parish that might specifically be interested in this particular event? One church I’m working with is planning their first ever pet blessing service – if you have a veterinary surgery or a pet shop in your parish, get in touch with them and see if they can take leaflets or promote it for you.
A note about leaflets, from Becky Guynn – every leaflet should have your church’s logo on it, and contact information. Ideally, they should all be in the same colour scheme, and roughly the same layout. This will create a recognisable “brand” for people in your community – “oh yes, that church with the red and orange lettering, and the logo with a boat on it – I’ve seen their stuff around.” Our memories are very visual – make it easy for people to remember you and connect you with things they’ve seen before! See below for how I’ve put this into practice with some of our events:
There are also success stories of using paper invitations to invite baptism families back to events. The Church Print Hub has some ready-made ones you can buy and add your own details onto. If you have large numbers of baptisms, a small group could work on writing the invitations so it’s not the vicar doing it all – possibly the PCC could spend 15 minutes of a meeting doing this.
What happens after the event itself?
There’s stuff you can do even at the event itself. Not just gathering in new contact details, but taking the time to mention what you’re doing next, and invite people.
So if you have families who have come to a Harvest Festival, include the date of your Remembrance Sunday service, or your Crib Service, or whatever is your next big thing, in the materials on the day itself, and mention it during the service. You can also pitch your Toddler Group, your Messy Church, or your wonderful Sunday morning services.
After the event, you begin again – add the new contacts to your mailing list, print off new leaflets for your next thing, and start getting the word out.
That sounds like a lot of work.
It may take some time to make sure it all gets set up – to create a basic leaflet template, set up a mailing list, brief the sidespeople on gathering in contact details, figure out how to use Mailchimp. But once the system is in place, it’s simply doing the same thing over and over again for each event. It becomes much more routine.
If you want a short video tutorial on how to use Mailchimp, you can find it here.
Do I have to know all about Facebook and Twitter now in order to get people to come to church?
Social media is useful, but not essential. However, here are a few ways you can use it that might be helpful:
If your local area has its own Facebook group, where people get together routinely to complain about potholes, ask about car boot sales, get recommendations for plumbers, and publicise their Pilates studio, why not join it? Don’t just use it to post adverts for your church and run – engage in conversations about other topics, and when your church is doing something, post about it there. You might get some sarcasm in the comments section, but people have endured worse.
If your church has a Facebook page, use it to promote your events, but recognise it will mostly be seen by people who already “like” it. You can make the most of this by setting up Facebook Events from your page, inviting everyone who likes your page, and encouraging them to invite others. You’re most likely to be reaching parents, not young people themselves, on Facebook.
Twitter is useful primarily for conversations and connections, rather than to flog a specific event. If you engage with it regularly, and reliably, and get to know people, and build a following, you may find you start getting an audience for when you do post information about events – but this is a long-term strategy, not a quick win.
What about our website?
For most people under 40 – so this includes a lot of parents – they will Google you before they contact you. This means your website is your new front door.
Make sure the front page – the VERY FRONT PAGE – has:
Where you are and how to find you.
Your service times.
Any upcoming special events – and I don’t mean your Holy Week schedule from 2011.
The contact details for getting in touch with the vicar or parish office.
You get bonus points if you have a photo on your front page that has people in it, and not a beautiful panoramic image of an empty building.
And you might want to consider including a “first time in church?” page, easily accessible from the main page. Ally Barrett’s blog has some tips on how to make a good one.
Your weekly newsletter, and the 10,000-word essay on the history of the church building, can be a few clicks away. They’re not what first-timers need.
Okay, I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed. This seems like a lot to do. What do I do first?
Establish a system for INVITATION, COLLECTING DETAILS, and SIGNPOSTING, which you can then repeat ad nauseum every single time. This checklist might help.
So you have a family-friendly event coming up! Hurrah! Have you:
BEFORE THE EVENT:
Made a leaflet, with the church’s logo, and basically the same layout and colour scheme as all your other ones, and contact details?
Sent an initial “hey, we’re doing this thing!” email to everyone on your mailing list?
Distributed the leaflet around your community, to every business/organisation/school you have a connection with?
Put it up in coffee shops, supermarkets, your noticeboard? If people hire your church hall, will they see it when they come in and out?
Sent a second, follow-up, “hey, we’re doing this thing!” email?
Sent paper invitations if appropriate?
Announced the event in all your services and groups?
Prepared “we’d love to contact you” sheets for people who come to the event to give you their details?
Figured out what your next family-friendly event is, after this one?
Sent a final “we’re doing this thing, really soon!” email?
AT THE EVENT:
Briefed the sidespeople, so they know to pass out and collect back in the “we’d love to contact you” sheets?
Announced the next event after this one?
AFTER THE EVENT:
Added any new contact details you gathered from the event to your mailing list?
Started the process again for your next event?
This is simply a question of building habits. Once you get used to it, it will become routine, and people will get more used to hearing from you, which means you’ll be higher in their minds! Good luck, and be persistent!
I’ve just bought some new books for the Diocesan Resource Centre – they’ll be officially catalogued soon, but you can borrow them informally immediately if you want.
Diddy Disciples is a wonderful resource to help you worship with babies and toddlers. You can use it on Sunday mornings in the creche, or in toddler group, or anywhere else you meet with this age group. It’s very user-friendly for the adults, and physically engaging for the kids. You can find out more (and see sample videos and materials) on their website.
The Story of King Jesus, by Ben Irwin is a beautiful re-telling of THE WHOLE BIBLE, from Genesis to Revelation, in child-friendly language. Full of awe and wonder, this book is especially good for situations where you might only have one or two sessions with a particular group – school visits (“this is what the Christian story is”), holiday clubs, etc – though of course it’s great for Junior Church, Messy Church, etc. as well.
Outdoor Church, by Sally Welch is a terrific and accessible resource for helping churches connect with God’s creation.
It’s ideal for rural churches, but her introduction includes ideas for how to make it work even in churches with very limited outdoor space (or none at all – suggestions are included on how to bring the outdoors in).
Each season has five sessions included, focusing on Bible stories and parables. There is an emphasis on COLLECTING, CREATING, FEASTING, and CELEBRATING, which allows room for people with different spiritual styles and gifts to participate.
If you would like to borrow any of these books, get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org . And I’d love to hear your recommendations – what should we add to our Resource Centre to help your ministry?
The Diocese now has a LABYRINTH, which is available for churches, schools, and other groups to borrow for use in their own programmes.
If you’re thinking, “what is a labyrinth?,” this short article can tell you a bit about their history and how they can be used for prayer.
Here is ours – in situ in a meeting room at Diocesan Office. It will look even prettier in your church, your churchyard, your school hall …
How can I borrow it?
Simply contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know when you’d like it. If it’s available, you can come and collect it.
I don’t have an enormous vehicle and seven weight-lifters to help me transport it – what do I do?
That’s okay! The labyrinth is made of plastic-backed canvas, so it’s very lightweight and it rolls up easily. It can fit in the passenger seat or boot of most cars, even small ones, and I can personally testify that a small woman who doesn’t work out very much can comfortably carry it under her arm for a ten-minute walk.
How do we use it?
There are no right or wrong ways to use a labyrinth. The simplest way is to walk through the path, slowly, pausing whenever you feel like it, and then walk back out.
You can also provide meditations or prayer activities at certain points along the path.
You can encourage people to walk the labyrinth barefoot.
You can line the path with electric tealights and dim the room the labyrinth is in.
You can play music, have incense burning, or have other sensory elements added.
You can use it as part of a story, as a response to a story, or as prayer.
You can just have it available when your church is open, or deliberately use it as part of a service or activity.
It’s up to you!
The only ground rules I would recommend you make clear to children are those you would do with any physical activity – giving other people space, not pushing or shoving, and a reminder that a labyrinth is a quiet and peaceful time, not a race.
Is there a leaflet to go with it?
Here’s the text that goes with it in its current space in the cathedral. You are free to use or adapt this as you like:
Our lives are like a long trip.
Sometimes the path is wide and easy, sometimes it’s narrow and hard.
Sometimes we feel far away from where we’re going, but actually we might be nearby. Sometimes we feel near to where we want to be, but we’re actually far.
People of all ages can walk this labyrinth.
You might want to think about all the places your feet have travelled through your life, and pray for the people in those places.
There are a few mistakes in this labyrinth. Maybe they remind you of times when things have gone wrong, and you’ve had to try to fix them.
Maybe they remind you that our lives, and ourselves, aren’t perfect, and that’s okay.
A labyrinth is a place to spend time walking with God. Take your time. Pause. Breathe. Pray.
I’d like to make my own, since I don’t live in your Diocese or I want to use it without having to play far ahead. How can I do it?
Here’s the tutorial I used. The total cost was about £50.00 – two dust sheets, duct tape to hold them together (I didn’t spend time sewing, like in the tutorial), paint, string. I had to adapt it slightly because I used two dust sheets and that meant the circle had to be an oval instead.
The Revd Dr Sandra Millar’s new Life Events book has just come out, and you can order it here.
Here is what the publisher has to say:
Baptism, weddings and funerals bring the Church of England into close contact with hundreds of thousands of people every year.
The ministry offered by local churches at these key times of life has been the subject of a widespread study with the aim of fostering best practice and deepening theological and biblical understanding of the occasional offices.
Here, Sandra Millar, who led this study and has presented its findings to over half of all dioceses so far, shares its contents and offers many practical suggestions – often from local parish practice- for enriching the quality and depth of pastoral support offered at these highly significant moments.
Grounded in rigorous research, this volume includes the research findings, biblical reflection, practical ideas and questions for reflection.
Every church in the Diocese should have received the PCC Discussion Booklet that goes with this book – if you would like more copies, you can get them here.
Since this blog focuses on children’s ministry, you might think the baptisms part is the only relevant bit – but children are guests and participants at weddings and funerals as well, and it’s worth thinking how to include them and make those events meaningful for them. You can find lots of ideas in the individual sections of the Church Support Hub website, and also on my Pinterest boards: