Making the most of your occasional Christmas contacts

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Hey everyone, it’s CRIB SERVICE AND NATIVITY PREP SEASON, otherwise known as Advent, and that means you may have LOTS of families come through your doors who you don’t see much of the rest of the year.

This is an opportunity to get these families onto your mailing list and send them regular updates and invitations about what’s happening at your church.

If you don’t have a mailing list, then start putting one together. Mailchimp is an excellent (and free) platform for easily sending professional-quality mass emails – if you have twenty minutes, you can learn how to use it via this tutorial.

And to save you the hassle of re-inventing the wheel, I’ve developed an insert for you to put in the service sheets of all your events – crib service, nativity, school services, etc. – so any families who want to be invited to future events can let you know.

You can download the insert here:

Follow-up information sheet (note: once the file opens, click on “Enable editing” at the top, and the weird formatting should fix itself.)

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All-Age Nativity

I realise this probably comes too late to be useful for this year. We started work on it late, and then went through multiple drafts for both the short and long versions. But do bookmark it for next year!

In the parish where I still do some work with children, we’ve decided to change our nativity play. For the last eight years, we’ve done “People, Look East,” which is a dramatised lessons and carols service, with a Eucharist, written by Gretchen Wolff Pritchard (who happens to be my mum). You can buy the book or eBook that contains the script here (note that when it says “Church School,” this means “Junior Church” – the book was published in America and that’s what it means there).

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“People, Look East” is designed to include people of all ages among the cast, and that’s how it worked at the church where I grew up. However, when I became Children’s Worker at St. George’s, I had trouble convincing the adults to participate, and we had very few teenagers, so it became something done by the children.

Now those children have all become teenagers. And they see the pageant we’ve done for the last eight years as something they’re starting to grow out of wanting to be involved with. And many of them don’t want to dress up.

So I’ve drafted an adapted dramatised Lessons and Carols service, which was then amended with suggestions by Clare Heard, LLM at St. George’s, and the Revd. Neil Traynor, Associate Vicar. As Lessons and Carols does, it moves from the tragedy of a fallen and broken world, through to the hope of the prophets,  its fulfilment in the coming of Jesus, and finally through to our hope, now, looking for his coming again.

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The idea is that people of all ages can participate in this nativity.

Readers 1, 2, and 3 can be adults, or a mix of teenagers and adults. Reader 1 represents God and God’s messenger – Readers 2 and 3 represent the people. Teenagers and adults can also lead the music.

The prophets should be teenagers – teenagers often have a prophetic voice, calling out injustice, holding the powerful to account, and creating a vision of a better world.

The characters in the nativity should be children and teenagers – they represent new hope and new life. Babies and toddlers can be sheep, with an adult as their shepherd. If at all possible, a real baby should be used for Baby Jesus – they can sit with their carers in the front row, wearing a neutral plain Babygro and wrapped in a neutral blanket, until the needed time.

The numbers are flexible. Just because the script calls for 5 shepherds doesn’t mean you can’t have 2 or 10. Just redistribute/break up lines as needed.

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NOTE: YOU WILL NEED REHEARSALS. We do this on the third Sunday of Advent, so our schedule is as follows:

1st Sunday of Advent: learn the music during Junior Church. Send the readers out one by one to practice their readings with an adult.

2nd Sunday of Advent: practice the music and readers during Junior Church, then put all the movements together in an hour and a half after church.

3rd SATURDAY of Advent: a three-hour rehearsal – teenagers and adults needed for all of it, children for the second half. Include breaks.

3rd Sunday of Advent: final rehearsal an hour before church starts.

The pageant itself, for us, IS THE MAIN SUNDAY SERVICE on the third Sunday of Advent.

There are two versions available for download below. One is a bit longer, but the shorter one is not just an adapted version of the longer one – there are a few elements that are replaced or rewritten, not just cut.

A few notes:

  1. In terms of the poetry included: I’m not a copyright expert, but I believe use in public worship could be said to fall under the educational fair use exception of copyright law – but if you’re worried, do check with an expert before using this material.
  2. The link to an audio version of the communion anthem is here – it’s a rubbish recording of me singing it in my office. Sheet music is also attached below. You could add a second communion anthem if your kids are into singing. If you have a Junior Choir, they could do something stunning here.
  3. The collect is the one for the third Sunday of Advent. If you’re doing this at a different time, change it as needed.
  4. Glitter is used to show God appearing to/choosing people. I tend to use the large sequin type of glitter, as it’s easier to clean up. I tell children after the pageant “any sequins you pick up, you can keep,” and use a mini Hoover for the rest. You can also use Party Poppers.

If you have any questions or find any glaring mistakes, let me know in the comments!

Here are the files to download:

Pageant Longer

Pageant Shorter

Vine and Fig tree (English words)

25 Things Every Children’s Worker Has Done

Inspired by James Ballantyne’s list of 35 Things Every Youth Worker Has Done, I’ve come up with a version for those of us who have the delight of working with the under-11s and their adults. Add your own in the comments!

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  1. Walked down the street to the school/village hall with some random assortment of items in your arms, like a paper dove on a stick, a box full of bubble wrap, three bags of Haribo, and 200 light-up Baby Jesus dolls.
  2. Been vomited on, caught in a poo-explosion, or peed on, by a baby or toddler, while you were in church clothes.
  3. Got really really carried away in the art supply store.
  4. Totally improvised a Junior Church/club/whatever session on the spot, because the group of kids who showed up were completely different from the ones you’d planned for.
  5. Had to find a way to diplomatically explain to the vicar that their 45-minute lecture on 18th-century church history might not have been what the school children were hoping for from their visit.
  6. Planned an All-Age Service that was a total disaster.
  7. Had brilliant parents, but also panicking parents, parents who try to feed their kid the “right answer,” parents who run away from church the second their child makes a peep, parents who play on their phones while their kid has a tantrum, and parents who think their kids’ whole spiritual formation is your job and not theirs.
  8. Tried to explain what you do to people at a party and been met with a sea of blank faces.
  9. Explained to your friends for the thousandth time why Saturday nights aren’t normal weekend nights for you and why you can’t be in the pub at 4 pm on Christmas Eve.
  10. Had to explain that this isn’t just “trying out whether I should get ordained,” but a valid ministry in its own right.
  11. Wondered if you should get ordained.
  12. Cleaned up a room that was an explosion of flour, water, juice, sequins, bits of fabric, glue everywhere, storytelling materials, and six lost jackets, in less than 10 minutes.
  13. Memorised the soundtrack to Frozen, without ever having actually seen it, and/or become an expert in Minecraft strategies without ever having played it.
  14. Had to neatly sidestep the “what does ‘virgin’ mean?” questions at Christmas.
  15. Had your whole view of the world, and God, changed and expanded by something a kid says or does.
  16. Cried because you love your job, and cried because you hate your job, on the same day.
  17. Had to justify to the PCC why there should be a budget for children’s ministry in the first place because no, “bring some crayons from home” isn’t good enough.
  18. Smiled through your rage when a parishioner compliments you on your ministry because you “keep the children quiet.”
  19. Wondered if the disciples spent this much time stacking chairs and setting up tables.
  20. Attended a funeral for a kid’s parent or sibling and raged at the universe.
  21. Had to lead a session, or a service, while your own relationship with God was messy and painful, and you weren’t sure how much of that to include or how.
  22. Realised you’d gone most of a year without actually being present in worship just as a worshipper, and maybe that’s why you’re burned out and angry all the time.
  23. Loaded the kids up with sugar, handed them back to their parents, and felt no remorse.
  24. Felt completely out of your depth.
  25. Felt like there’s nowhere else you want to be.

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New Christmas books!

Just in time for Advent, I’ve bought a bunch of new Christmas books for the resource centre. They should be here within the week, so pop in and check them out if you’re around!

For those churches in our Diocese who are far from St Albans – if any of these look good, email me, and we can send around an APB to Holywell Lodge staff for anyone who will be in your area in the next few days and can bring you what you’d like to borrow.

cover1So without further ado, here’s what we now have …

Lois Rock is basically the rock star of under-5s Bible stories and prayers. This collection helps adults and very young children together explore the wonder and mystery of the Christmas season through prayer. Perfect for a toddler group, a creche, a visit to your local nursery, inspiration for your crib service …

 

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Another Lois Rock one – I first discovered this when my nephew was three and I gave it to him as a Christmas present. What makes it special is that it includes not only the Christmas story itself, but a wonderful collection of folklore and legends surrounding Christmas. The stories come from all around the world, making it a subtle way of teaching diversity and inclusion, and Alex Ayliffe’s wonderful illustrations are simple and colourful, but include interesting details for children to spot.

 

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As Elena Pasquali’s simple yet beautiful text tells the Christmas story, Giuliano Ferri’s illustrations tell a second, unspoken one – that of the peaceable kingdom. Bit by bit, the animals gather together around the manger. Lions and lambs lie down together. Bears and donkeys gather in peace. At the end, the text of Isaiah 11 connects this imagery to the prophesy of God’s Kingdom, where “they shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.”

 

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Another one that combines the Biblical Christmas stories with folklore and legend, this time aimed at older children. Here’s what the publisher says: “This beautifully presented volume of classic Christmas stories from around the world is written for children aged 7+ to enjoy reading alone, or for reading aloud in a classroom setting or with family sitting round a log fire! A mixture of stories from the Christian heritage and more secular tales, these retellings all evoke the true spirit of Christmas around the world. Included are Nativity stories from the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, the stories of Baboushka and Papa Panov, Fir Tree and The Nutcracker. The whole collection sparkles with colourful and detailed artwork from Jane Ray.” (It’s also worth pointing out that Jane Ray’s Mary and Joseph look genuinely Middle Eastern.)

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I’ve been an adult for a while now, but this book still sends a shiver of wonder up my spine whenever I read it. It’s based around the Mexican community in the American Southwest, and the tradition of Las Posadas – when Mary and Joseph go around the town looking for a safe place to stay. Here’s the publisher’s summary: “This year Sister Angie, who is always in charge of the clebration, has to stay home with the flu, and Lupe and Roberto, who are to play Mary and Joseph, get caught in a snowstorm. But a man and a woman no one knows arrive in time to take their place in the procession and then mysteriously disappear at the end before they can be thanked. That night we witness a Christian miracle, for when Sister Angie goes to the cathedral and kneels before the statue of Mary and Joseph, wet footprints from the snow lead up to the statue.”

I’d love to hear your recommendations for the Advent and Christmas books we should add to our library – do leave any thoughts in the comments! And let me know if you’d like to borrow any of these.

 

 

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.

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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.

Worth 1000 words …

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.

Communication 101 – tips for children’s ministry

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.

 

 

antique black call classic
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  1. Where you are and how to find you.
  2. Your service times.
  3. Any upcoming special events – and I don’t mean your Holy Week schedule from 2011.
  4. 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:

  1. Made a leaflet, with the church’s logo, and basically the same layout and colour scheme as all your other ones, and contact details?
  2. Sent an initial “hey, we’re doing this thing!” email to everyone on your mailing list?
  3. Distributed the leaflet around your community, to every business/organisation/school you have a connection with?
  4. 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?
  5. Sent a second, follow-up, “hey, we’re doing this thing!” email?
  6. Sent paper invitations if appropriate?
  7. Announced the event in all your services and groups?
  8. Prepared “we’d love to contact you” sheets for people who come to the event to give you their details?
  9. Figured out what your next family-friendly event is, after this one?
  10. Sent a final “we’re doing this thing, really soon!” email?

AT THE EVENT:

  1. Briefed the sidespeople, so they know to pass out and collect back in the “we’d love to contact you” sheets?
  2. Announced the next event after this one?

AFTER THE EVENT:

  1. Added any new contact details you gathered from the event to your mailing list?
  2. 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!

Mothering Sunday Write-Up

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A reader in our Diocese has shared a wonderful All-Age Mothering Sunday service they did yesterday – please do take a look, and share it if it’s useful to you.

Many of these ideas could also be used at other festivals throughout the year.