Sequin Prayers

jumbo-sequins-av640fThis prayer idea comes from E, who is five.

At church, we have a set of these Baker Ross Jumbo Sequins, which come in all different shapes.

Yesterday, during response time, E was drawing, and started adding sequins to her picture. I knelt down beside her and asked if she’d like to tell me about what she was doing.

She told me the shapes of sequins she was choosing showed the things she was praying for.

For example, an elephant-shaped sequin was a prayer for animals. A heart-shaped sequin was a prayer for love. A snowflake sequin was a prayer for the seasons.

Why not use E’s idea with your group? Get a pack or two of these sequins and use them in one of the following ways. You could do this as a one-off or as a weekly regular form of prayer.

  1. Pass a tray of sequins around the group and ask everyone to choose one or two to represent what’s on their mind today. They can say something out loud about it if they want. When everyone has their sequins, hold them in silence for a little while (or you can play music, or sing). Then have everyone bring their sequins to the front and leave them on the altar/table as a sign of giving their prayers to God.
  2. Have a large piece of paper and some glue sticks and marker pens, as well as a few plates with sequins on them. Gather your group in a circle around the paper and have them choose a few sequins to glue onto the paper to represent their prayers. They can write or draw something by their sequins if they like. Hang the paper up on the wall of your space. You can add to it every week if you’d like, building a glittering shining prayer wall over time.
  3. At the end of your session, pass around a tray of sequins and ask children to choose sequins that represent what’s on their mind. Allow them to take them home and encourage them to hold the sequins and pray each day for the things they represent.

 

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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Adapted Lectio Divina With Kids

I was stuck for ideas with my group on Sunday. It was half-term, so I knew we’d only have a few kids. They could be anywhere from age two to age sixteen. And we’re doing psalms and prophesies, so I couldn’t fall back on the power of a well-told story – I had to find a different way of engaging children with the text.

Here’s what I improvised. We ended up with only two kids – one age six and one age eleven – one of our regulars, and one who comes occasionally when he visits his grandmother, who’s a parishioner.

Lectio Divina is an ancient way of reading and entering into Scripture, in four parts: Read, Meditate, Pray, Contemplate. It is “intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God’s word. It does not treat scripture as texts to be studied, but as the living word.” It was practised originally as part of monastic life.

I used the “Psalms for Young Children” book by Helene Marie Delval, and we sat in a circle around a selection of resources – wooden toys, the Jesus doll, some icons, Play-doh, our shepherd and sheep set, etc. (For an explanation and tutorial for that prayer board, click here.)

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We passed the book around, each of us opening it randomly to a page and reading that page. I said you could pass your turn if you wanted, and if we’d had non-readers, I would have had them choose a page and then pass the book to someone to read it for them.

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Then we took some quiet time to think, or to make something with the stuff in the middle of the circle.

Then we read the passage again.

Then we talked about anything we thought or felt about what we read, or about the pictures in the  book, or about what we’d made.

Here, the Jesus doll was originally holding the heart, touching the arms of the heart with his arms. Then, after the next reading, the people were added.

One of the kids made a series of elaborate Play-Doh structures but he had squashed them up and put them away before I could get a photo of them after the service.

It led to a very thoughtful and relaxed atmosphere. I participated in making stuff during the appropriate time, which I think gave the kids permission to start messing with the materials too. It also meant I was participating alongside them, not giving instructions which they followed – we were doing this together.

Also, having the routine of “read, respond, read, discuss” meant we never had a long chunk of time where we were expected to sit still and listen. This means, paradoxically, it’s easier to create a contemplative atmosphere, since the need to fidget has an outlet permitted by the structure of the session and doesn’t need to find ways to rebel. And by setting the expectation of “open the book at random” rather than “choose a page,” I eliminated the possibility of a child taking ages leafing through the book to pick a page while the rest of us waited and kids got the fidgets.

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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A litany for blessing a children’s space in a church

This can be used for a new Pray and Play area, for a Junior Church room, a Godly Play room, or any space used by children.

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You will need: a bowl of holy water and rosemary branches or other branches

The people gather in the space, ensuring children can see what’s happening.

Leader: a reading from the Gospel according to Matthew.

Little children were being brought to Jesus in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.

This is the word of the Lord.

All: Thanks be to God.

The leader invites the children to enter the space and touch something as she or he says:

Leader: Lord, thank you for this space. Thank you for the children who will use it. Help us to use it to know you, to love you, and to play with the stories of our Christian faith.

All: Amen!

The leader invites the children to hold the hand of one of their adults.

Leader: Lord, thank you for all the people in this church, of every age. Help us to love each other, to welcome each other, and to learn from each other.

All: Amen!

Each child gets a branch, dips it in the holy water, and shakes the branch to bless the space with the water, as the leader says.

Leader: Bless this space, O Lord, which this community has made. May it be a place where the children come to you and find welcome and a home.

The leader then sprinkles holy water over the children, saying:

Through their play, may they come to claim your stories and the worship of your church as their own. May they know you as they are known by you, and love you as they are loved by you.

And finally, the leader and the children together sprinkle holy water over the whole congregation, as the leader says:

And may we all be open to the awe and wonder, the joy and creativity, of play, becoming as little children so we may know you better.

All: Amen.

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.

 

 

What about the boys?

Today being International Men’s Day, it’s a good time to talk about boys.

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Many churches, when I’m working with them on Junior Church, Messy Church, etc., will ask, “what about the boys?” When I ask for more information, they’ll say “they can’t sit still, they charge around, they make noise, they’re loud – how do we engage them in Junior Church or worship?”

Now, I’m firmly of the belief that we shouldn’t structure our children’s ministry around “boy stuff” and “girl stuff.” We should include a range of activities for different interests and levels of activity – some girls will be very fidgety, some boys will happily sit still and read for hours. And of course in any mixed-age group, age will play a huge role – a 9-year-old boy will be much more able to sit, listen, and participate in long discussions than a 6-year-old girl will.

So when we talk about “what about the boys?” in our children’s groups, what we’re really asking is, “what about the fidgety, physical, noisy children?” And they may be mostly boys, but if we phrase it as simply “a boy thing,” then a fidgety, physical girl may get the message that her way of being a girl is “wrong,” and a quiet, calm, boy may get the message that his way of being a boy is “wrong.”

So let’s take that “what about the boys?” question and ask … “what about the fidgety, noisy, physical kids?”

I have a group in my church right now that is about 80% fidgety, noisy, physical kids, and 20% kids who want to talk for ages.

This is a tough combination.

So yesterday, when a Sunday School session had turned into a total disaster, I found a moment during activity time, got down on the floor with some of the more fidgety ones, and we had a chat about what they needed.

When they said “Sunday School is BORING,” I said, “okay, how can we make it less boring for you?”

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Here are some of the things we’re going to try:

  1. A physical opening time. We’re going to start not by sitting for quiet prayer – that will come second (kids do need silence and stillness). But we’re going to start with making the sign of the cross (in the Diddy Disciples way, with words to go with it – “God be in my head, my heart, and all around me, Amen”). We’re then going to stomp out a rhythm to accompany reciting the books of the Bible (I did this with them once, when we were talking about the Bible being a library and having all kinds of different stuff in it, like poems and stories and rules and prophesy, and now a few of them have got obsessed with it and beg for it to be included every week, and I’ve given in). We’ll then have a physical opening to prayer (the “Gathering Song” bit from this Diddy Disciples session – you can speak the words if you’re not a confident singer) and then sit for some time of peaceful stillness.
  2. More games in response time. I tend to have a variety of activities out – kids can choose to do art, or play with spiritually imaginative toys, or play with the storytelling materials. So there are options for getting physical. But they’re not officially organised. These kids said they wanted to do games together. So we’re going to try a few over the next weeks (anyone have a good physical game for the Joseph and his brothers story?)
  3. Fidget toys. This isn’t news – in fact, during the disastrous session yesterday, one of the things I tried was handing out things for them to fidget with. But we had a LONG conversation about what the fidget toys were for, and what kind they could bring in – they wanted to bring in iPads, or things that could fly up to the ceiling of the room. So we set a few rules. YES, you can bring in a fidget toy from home. But it needs to be quiet, it needs to stay in your hand so it doesn’t distract others, and it needs to be something that settles your body so your mind can focus on the story, not something that is going to focus your mind on the toy itself. I passed these guidelines on to the parents after church, so the parents know that yes, I did tell them they could bring toys in, but so that the kids can’t go “Margaret told me I could bring my iPad to Sunday School next week!” This will hopefully also help the more fidgety ones to listen with more patience to the ones who like to talk things out.
  4. Physical engagement with the story. We do a bit of this already, but I need to step it up. So next week, based on a suggestion from the Spiritual Child Network Facebook group, I’m going to hand out Lego and we’re going to build the story as we tell it. Diddy Disciples is also an incredibly physical form of storytelling, and can work with children over the age of 5 as well as under. I’m also going to try having them use their bodies to make tableaux of each scene in the story as we tell it, and, in the spring, try taking them outside and walking around different places in the church garden and porch area, for different parts of the story.

What other suggestions do you have for engaging fidgety, physical, noisy children in storytelling, music, prayer, and response time?

And how do we put these ideas into practice in other contexts, such as All-Age Worship?

 

Remembrance Sunday response ideas

If you’re leading a group on Remembrance Sunday, it can be difficult.

You may have pastoral care responsibility for children whose family members are deployed, or have combat injuries, or who have died in war.

You may find yourself having to explain to young children what war is and address questions like “why are there wars?”

Your own faith may have been formed through Jesus’s call to non-violence, and you may be uncomfortable with some of the military connections of the day.

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Here are some ways in which adult leaders and groups of children can explore what it means to honour the service and sacrifice of those who have served, and pray for a world of peace and justice. Hopefully they’re flexible enough to be used in a variety of settings.

  1. “We Will Remember Them” The children may have already experienced a wreath-laying at a war memorial, or be about to participate in one at the end of this session. Look together at photos of a variety of war memorials, including the one in your own town or village. Wonder together: why do people make these? Why do they put the names on? What are some other ways we remember people who have died? Which one do you like best? Why? How do they make you feel? Then the children, individually or in groups, can design their own war memorial – either on paper or, if you’re feeling ambitious, in 3-d. Here are some pictures to use for inspiration (click the links)
    1. Memorial for animals killed in war.
    2. War memorials around the world (very US-centric but a good variety of styles)
    3. Cwmcarn war memorial
  2. Poppy Prayers. Make “Paper Plate Poppies” (instructions here) and invite children to write prayers for today on them. If you like, you could give them the option of keeping their poppies white (or combining white and red), and explain that red poppies are to remember the dead and white are to pray that wars will end. These would make a wonderful display, or something to be shared with the main congregation – however, if children’s prayers are going to be made public in this way, do make sure you let them know before they write them. You never know when a prayer may be too private for them to want to share.paper-poppy
  3. Light in the darkness. This interactive map shows all the current wars going on in the world (zoom out to see the whole world, bit by bit). You could print a map of the world, give children LED tea lights and invite them to place their candle somewhere on the map that matches a place on the map of wars. When all children have placed their tea lights, turn off the lights in the room and pray for God’s peace to come to those places, and for all whose lives are affected by those wars.
  4. Blessed are the peacemakers. Read the Beatitudes with the children, and think together about what it means to be a peacemaker. What does peace mean? What does peace feel like? How can we make peace in our families, schools, and communities, and here in our church group? Make and decorate paper doves (tutorial here – video) and write on them a promise for one thing they’ll try to do to help make peace where they are. (NB: have your Safeguarding hat on especially for discussions of “making peace at home” and be aware of anything that might suggest a child has witnessed domestic violence or been subject to violence themselves.You can close by singing “Peace is Flowing Like a River” or “Peace, Perfect Peace.”

Do add your own ideas in the comments – and don’t forget to check out the KS1 and KS2 lesson plans, and other resources, at Remembrance 100. There are also resources from Churches Together, which you can find here.