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.

 

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Faith at Home take-home

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

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

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

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

Take Home Sheet for Parents and Carers (PDF)

Employing a Children’s/Families Worker

This is one of the things I get asked about a lot. As a general guide, you can’t beat Paul Godfrey and Nic Sheppard’s book on the subject, which you can find here.  Usually, if you’re in St Albans Diocese, we’ll send you a free copy if you ask.

And for questions about terms ofemployment employment, supervision, pay and benefits, etc., you should always go to an HR professional and not your Diocesan Children’s Ministry Advisor.

But here are a few of the things I’ve learned in advising at least a dozen churches in this process over the years.

(As always, there are exceptions. There are no hard and fast rules.)

Motivations:

Think about why you’re hiring someone now. Is it because you have no children and need to build up from scratch? In this case, you’ll probably need a visionary leader with entrepreneurial skills, who can help get things off the ground, help existing leadership to inspire the congregation, make changes to worship, programmes, etc, to make them more child-and-family-friendly, and probably start entirely new initiatives. Or is it because you have a great team of volunteers and just need someone who can pull it all together, support them, make sure everyone’s singing from the same hymn sheet, and resource and equip the volunteers? In this case, you’re probably looking for a facilitator, an encourager, a manager, and a mentor. Those are two very different people.

Very few people have skills to be a pastor, a visionary leader, a detail-oriented team manager, a mentor, a facilitator, an administrator, a teacher, a liturgist, a specialist in children’s spirituality, a theologian, a preacher, a musician, and a communicator/marketing person who can get your church noticed in the community. Yet when I go into meetings and ask “what are you hoping for from this appointment?” I often get a list of skills that include all of those and more.

Think of the top three skills that you’re looking for, and prioritise those. A children’s worker cannot be all things to all people, and cannot singlehandedly save your church. Especially if yours is a part time appointment.

Which brings me to …

The Tooth-to-Tail Ratio:

This is something I heard from a friend who served in the military – in deploying personnel, the army considers how many “behind the scenes” people you need (the tail) for every one soldier on the front line.

The same is true in terms of how you deploy your time. Children’s ministry – especially in smaller churches without large staff teams – requires a lot of behind the scenes TIME for every one hour of actual contact with children.

Here’s an example: a family whose child was baptised at your church a few months ago walks through the door on Sunday morning. They have three children – the baby, and then a four-year-old and a seven-year-old. The four-year-old goes to your Diddy Disciples Group and the seven-year-old goes to your Junior Church. The baby stays in church with its parents. That’s a total of three hours of contact – one with each child.

What’s it taken to do this?

A welcoming phone conversation at the initial baptism enquiry, sending the baptism form (with a box to tick for permission to be added to the mailing list), preparing and running baptism preparation alongside the vicar, sending multiple follow-up emails reminding them of other things happening in the church, recruiting volunteers to run those Sunday morning groups, training the volunteers so that Junior Church is spiritually nurturing and not just “here’s the moral, here’s a colouring sheet, done,” setting up the Junior Church spaces on Sunday morning, buying resources for Junior Church, planning the session you’re running, working with the congregation as a whole to make sure they won’t stare daggers at the family if the baby makes a tiny bit of noise, developing and maintaining a Pray and Play area for the baby (if you have such a space), and encouraging people to talk to new families after church.

That’s a LOT of work for three hours of in-person contact.

And remember that any community contacts – schools, uniformed organisations, etc – take huge amounts of time to build before you start to see any real results.

So if you’re hiring someone for sixteen hours a week, that’s maybe eight hours of actual programme time – Sunday morning, and one other thing every week. A 16-hour contract is Sunday morning, toddler group, and maybe some special events at Christmas and Easter. So often, I have seen jobs that claim to be 16 or 20 hours a week, which expect the person to run Junior Church (and all its volunteers), Messy Church every month, Toddler Group every week, build relationships with schools and do assemblies and support RE learning, do community events and holiday clubs, plan and lead All-Age services, start teatime Sunday services for families, and more. That’s a full-time job. Allow at least one hour behind the scenes for every one hour actually leading something. Building mailing lists, keeping in touch, planning and publicising events, and building relationships with the community all take time.

As a general rule, full-time posts get more applications. If you can’t afford a full-time worker, be prepared for the fact it may take a while to fill the post.

Boundaries Are Good:

I’ve seen several posts that are advertised as providing housing – sometimes in a parishioner’s spare room.

First of all, if you’re providing housing as part of compensation, speak to an HR professional. This can count as payment in kind, and there are tax implications.

Secondly, while I respect the generosity and hospitality inherent in the offer of accommodation, I would advise against providing it with a parishioner, or in the house of another member of staff. This blurs the boundaries between work and home, and limits the children’s worker’s ability to relax and be off duty.

The relationship with parishioners is a pastoral one – imagine if the vicar stayed in the home of someone they pastored, 24/7. You would need to continually be in “vicar” mode. That boundary between pastoral role and human being is one that needs careful protection, or burnout can happen.

Also, despite best intentions, sometimes living arrangements don’t work out. And it’s easy for a problematic domestic situation to then spill over into how the parishioner and children’s worker treat each other at church/work, as well as at home. The end result of this can be factions, cliques, rumours, blame, etc.

And finally, it’s not healthy for the children’s worker to be so dependent on someone outside official line management and complaints procedures.

Providing housing in the home of a parishioner or fellow member of staff could end up creating problems that require a huge amount of time, sensitivity, and money to sort out.

Speaking of Dual Roles … :

When I became a children’s worker, I lost my priest.

Because I was now worshipping at the church where I served, and the priest there was now my boss.

There are things I would happily tell my priest that I wouldn’t feel comfortable telling my boss. So when they became the same person, it presented a difficulty. I ended up with nowhere to go for spiritual and pastoral support. For years.

Think of what opportunities your children’s worker will have for spiritual and pastoral support that are not provided by their line manager.

And think about what opportunities there will be for retreat and reflection – especially if your children’s worker is leading a Junior Church group almost every Sunday. The same problems that can arise with clergy – always leading, never simply receiving – can affect children’s workers. But they don’t have the official support networks that clergy do (which are often meagre enough, let’s be honest).

In St. Albans Diocese, the SIM (Support In Your Ministry) scheme is available to paid children’s and youth workers as well as to clergy. And Sheldon retreat centre offers its minister’s discount to lay ministers as well as ordained ones. But it’s also worth thinking about who in your area could be on hand to be your children’s worker’s go-to person for pastoral care – it could be someone in your own clergy team who isn’t their supervisor, or it could be a neighbouring priest, or someone else.

Practicalities:

Where to advertise: don’t overlook your local area, especially if you’re a village or rural area. But we will also put your advert on our Diocesan website and social media, and on the Going 4 Growth national church website (especially if it’s full time). If you have a budget to pay for advertising the post, then consider Youth and Childrenswork Magazine and/or The Church Times.

How much to pay: The Living Wage Foundation recommends an hourly rate of at least £9 nationally and £10.55 in London, to meet the actual cost of living. Considering that you are looking for specialist skills and possibly for anti-social hours, I recommend you do better than this if at all possible. Most posts I see are between £20,000 and £27,000 for a full-time role. This is an enormous sacrifice for most churches, and still provides barely enough for someone to really live on. That disconnect is a problem nationally.

How to choose: I recommend including children in the hiring process if at all possible – in drafting the job description and person specification, and in interviewing. You will definitely get a different perspective and a better understanding of their needs.

If you don’t have a clear front-runner, or you have someone towards whom you’re feeling, “well, I guess they’ll do, I suppose,” then don’t appoint. Go through the interview process again. It may feel like you’re failing, but it’s much better to hire the right person after six months than the wrong person immediately.

Book recommendation

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

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

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

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

 

Messy Church – Playfully Serious

For those of you who may not yet have seen the research from Church Army on Messy Church, called “Playfully Serious,” please find it attached below. It’s very useful in helping churches discern what you’re doing Messy Church for, how to do it well, how to make it church instead of just entertainment, and so on.

Messy-Church-Event

CA Messy Church Playfully Serious

Creation/Harvest Story Bag

We now have a Creation/Harvest Story Bag for our Resource Centre – churches can borrow it for Junior Church, Messy Church, assemblies, clubs, All-Age Worship, or anything else. The Resource Centre is open at Holywell Lodge, in St. Albans, from 9-5, Monday to Friday – however, if you can’t get down here, let me know and we’ll send out an APB to the staff to find someone who’s driving your way and can deliver the item.

The story bag contains:

Bible stories and non-fiction books related to the story of Creation and the themes of Harvest Festival

Toys to help explore the six days of creation – a light-up sun for “let there be light,” fish and birds, green growing things, animals, and people!

A toy farm to help connect with Harvest Festival and thank God for the earth and all that sustains us.

You can have the bag available for free play, base your entire programme around using it, or anything in between. The games included can be played according to the rules, or they can simply be used to play and build. It’s designed to be as flexible as possible.

The bag will be available to borrow within the next few days. We also have story bags for Pentecost, Easter, Christmas, Water stories, Shepherds, and more – as well as a great variety of Godly Play stories, books, and other materials.

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Song Sharing Workshop files

Last week, we had our Come and Worship residential conference, looking at children and worship across multiple contexts. As part of this, I chaired an open workshop where we shared child-friendly songs that have worked for us and don’t need a great deal of musical skill or instruments.

Some are specifically written for children, some are simply pieces of music appropriate for worship that are simple to pick up, and don’t require reading skills. Some are ancient, some are modern, some are in between.

These can be used in groups where you don’t have a CD player or a WiFi hookup, where you have no piano (or nobody who can play it) or where you find yourself suddenly with five or ten minutes you need to kill and feel like doing some singing.

come-and-worship.jpg

Here are the links to YouTube. There’s some chat, some teaching of music, some singing … hope it’s useful!

Christ Our Peace

Come Into God’s Presence Singing Alleluia

Emmanuel

Famous Fish (Steve Morgan-Gurr)

Fruits of the Spirit

God Welcomes All

I Am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N

Jesus in the Boat

Lift Up

Litany of the Saints

Round of Three Saint-themed Songs

Tick Tock (Steve Morgan-Gurr)

Vine and Fig Tree

We Believe

I also taught this song – “King of Kings and Lord of Lord,” which you can find more professionally done here, at Worship Workshop. You can download backing tracks, teaching tracks, and full tracks, as well as the sheet music, for this and over 90 other songs of varying styles and degrees of difficulty. You need to register in order to use the site, but registration is free – it’s just needed for copyright reasons.

A few participants also referred to Fr. Simon Rundell’s Nursery Rhyme Mass – there’s also now a nursery rhyme Christingle, and a nursery rhyme Christening (which began its life on this very blog!).

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?

cup

The Lord is my Shepherd

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

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

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

psalm23-1

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

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

 

psalm23-2PSALM 23, illustrated by Barry Moser.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

Inclusive Mothering Sunday Prayer Ideas

Every year, predictably, around the start of Lent, the Facebook groups for All-Age Worship planners light up with requests for Mothering Sunday prayers that go beyond “thank you, God, for my brilliant mum – help me remember to do more chores around the house.”

(Also, I can’t even begin to break down how much is wrong with that as the sum total of Mothering Sunday. Not everyone has a brilliant mum, and surely ‘doing chores around the house’ isn’t innately Mum’s job any more, and also, the amazing, heart-expanding, heart-breaking, world-changing, powerful love of God reflected in the love of mothers is bigger and better Good News than helping around the house. But I digress.)madonna

Below is a shortened version of a set of inclusive Mothering Sunday prayers that a friend sent me a few years ago. If you know who originally wrote these, please let me know so I can credit them.

INCLUSIVE MOTHERING SUNDAY PRAYERS:

Loving God, we thank you for all the people who have mothered us throughout our lives.  For all who have held us and fed us, cared for us and comforted us, challenged and encouraged us.

We pray for new mothers experiencing changes they could not predict. Grant them rest and trust in you.

We pray for girls and women who think about whether to become mothers. Grant them patience and discernment.

We pray for mothers who are raising their children in poverty. Grant them courage and relief.

We pray for mothers who face the demands of single parenthood. Grant them strength, support, and wisdom.

We pray for mothers who are separated from their children. Grant them faith and hope.

We pray for adoptive and foster mothers. Grant them gratitude and insight.

We pray for mothers whose relationships are going through difficult times. Grant them clarity and support.

We pray for women who long to be mothers. Grant them strength, hope, and opportunities to share their love.

We pray for those who have suffered from abusive mothering.  Grant them healing and strength.

We pray for step-mothers, godmothers, and all men and women who have assumed a mother’s role in a child’s life. Grant them joy and the appreciation of others.

We pray for those people present who grieve the loss of a mother, and for mothers who have lost children. Grant them comfort, healing, and the hope of Christ’s resurrection.

Merciful Father,

Accept these prayers, for the sake of your son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

INTERACTIVE PRAYER IDEA:

You will need:

  • Paper hearts with holes punched in them
  • Markers or pens
  • A tree (this one from Hobbycraft works, or you can stick branches in a pot of sand)

 

tree

As the congregation arrives, they are handed a paper heart with a hole punched in it. During prayer time, as music is played, they are encouraged to write the name, or draw a picture, of anybody who has played a mother’s role in their lives, and hang the heart on the tree.

Version for congregations who won’t leave their pews:  These names are placed in the offertory plates, and placed on the tree (out of sight, during the Eucharistic Prayer).

Extension: On a nearby table, have white fabric, and fabric pens, and instructions telling people that this is a place to put the names, or images, of children they have mothered who have died. When this is finished, place it at the base of the tree.

Recently, we added a prayer station on the way back from communion, for people to write or draw names of children we have mothered who have died, or mother figures who have died, on a piece of fabric. This now goes with the tree.

At the end of the service, we bless the tree, and those whose names are on it:

Dear God, we thank you for mothers. We thank you for all those who care for us in quiet, often unrecognised ways; we thank you for all those who care for others in patience and love.

Bless, we pray, the women – living and departed – whose names adorn this tree and this banner.  Bless their legacy of love and care in our lives.

Bless the children who we mothered, and who have gone before us, whose names  are on this banner.  Be with all mothers whose hearts, like Mary’s, are pierced with the sword of their child’s death.

And, we pray, forgive us for those times when we have failed to show a motherly love for others.  Teach us to care as you do, and, we pray, hold all mothers and carers in the light of your presence and guide them to you. Amen.