Opening for Advent worship – lamentation

I wrote this as part of a longer all-age piece, which never ended up going anywhere. This was intended to be done with 5 teenagers as the readers, and one cantor.

Many churches open worship in Advent with the Advent prose. This takes 3 verses of that and intersperses it with words from the Hebrew scriptures that are a mixture of lamentation and cries for justice.

Doing it online may require recording it ahead of time, as some of the spoken words overlap, and this is difficult to do over Zoom. Each person can record their speaking or singing separately, and then you can mix them together. It can be used for all four Sundays in Advent – even if you’re meeting together in person again after the first – so one bit of work can then pay off for the whole season.

Cantor: Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness

All: drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness

Cantor: Be not wroth very sore, O Lord,

neither remember iniquity for ever:

the holy city is a wilderness:  Sion is a wilderness,  Jerusalem a desolation:

Our holy and our beautiful house where our fathers praised thee.

Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness

All: drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness

Reader 1: How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?

    How long will you hide your face from me?

Prophet 2: Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord?

    Awake, do not cast us off forever!

Why do you hide your face?

    Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?

Cantor: Behold, O Lord, the affliction of thy people,

and send forth Him who is to come;

send forth the Lamb, the ruler of the earth,

from Petra of the desert to the mount of the daughter of Sion:

that He may take away the yoke of our captivity.

Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness

All: drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness

Reader 3: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

And are so far from my cries, and from the words of my distress?

Reader 4: A voice is heard in Ramah –lamentation and bitter weeping.

Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children,

    because they are no more.

Reader 5: On the willows of Babylon, we hung up our harps.

For there our captors asked us for songs,

and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,

    “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?

The following overlap, repeating, rising in speed and urgency:

Reader 1: How long, O Lord, will you forget me forever?

Reader 2: Lord, why do you forget our affliction and oppression?

Reader 3: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Reader 4: Lamentation and bitter weeping –

Reader 5: How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?

When they finish, silence for a moment.

Cantor: Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, my salvation shall not tarry:

why wilt thou waste away in sadness?

why hath sorrow seized thee?

Fear not, for I will save thee: for I am the Lord thy God,

the Holy One of Israel, thy Redeemer.

Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness

All: drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness.

All Hallows Eve on Zoom

You may want to have a party of some sort on All Hallows Eve with your families. You can send sweets to families for the parents and carers to give to their children, have an online pumpkin-carving competition, and more.

Here is a liturgy that you can do on Zoom as part of this. It takes about 20 minutes – 11 minutes of that is a film, a portion of Disney’s Fantasia that explores the journey from a scary night to the dawn of God’s light in the morning. It helps put All Hallows Eve in its context – yes, death and evil are real, and yes, the world can be a scary place. By dressing up as skeletons or ghosts or zombies, children take charge of those fears and, through play, achieve mastery of them. In the morning of All Saints Day, after we have confronted our fear of death through the symbols of All Hallows Eve, we are comforted by the reality that we do not become ghosts or zombies after death, but saints, given new life in God’s Kingdom by the one who has defeated death, and who invites us to follow him into new life with the saints who have come before us.

Once we’re in more normal times again, the liturgy can be easily adapted to be done in person, not over Zoom.

All Hallows Eve liturgy:

Approximately 20 minutes, on Zoom. Appropriate for ages 5 and up.

Leader: The night is far gone

All: the day is near.

Leader: Let us then lay aside the works of darkness

All: and put on the armour of light.

Leader: As the earth turns towards autumn, darkness and cold, and the year dies, we remember that all living things will die, and we face our fear of death. We may dress up as ghosts, or skeletons, or vampires, or zombies, in this dark autumn night. We play with spookiness, as we confront symbols of death and darkness. And we acknowledge that the world can be a scary place, and we need bravery and courage.

But we remember that death does not have the final word. The night of All Hallows Eve passes, and with it, the ghosts and skeletons and vampires and zombies. And the dawn breaks on the day of All Saints Day, when we can remember that after death, we become not ghosts or zombies, but saints. We remember that in the battle with death and darkness, we have on our side Jesus, who has fought death for us and won, and who invites us to follow him through death into new life that lasts forever in God’s Kingdom.

If you have a decorated pumpkin, you can light it now. Otherwise turn off all the lights except one, or turn off all the lights and light a candle.

SING:

On Zoom – participants mute themselves. Leader shares their screen and clicks the “share computer sound” box in the bottom left of the “share screen” popup. Everyone sings along at home.

He, Who Would Valiant Be.

OR

For All The Saints – missing a few verses.

Shorter version, but includes the “when the strife is fierce, the warfare long” verse that’s cut above, which may be pastorally needed this year.

Shorter version, with verses 1, 2, and 8 only.

WATCH:

Fantasia – Night on Bald Mountain / Ave Maria (11 minutes)

Wonder:

I wonder what your favourite part of that film was.

I wonder what the most important part of that film was.

I wonder where you are in that film.

I wonder where God is in that film.

I wonder how that music made you feel.

Turn on the lights again.

Leader: Let us remember the promises made at our baptism, or look forward to promises we may make when we are baptised.

Do you turn away from sin?

All: I do.

Leader: Do you reject evil?

All: I do.

Leader: Do you turn to Christ as Saviour?

All: I do.

Leader: Do you trust in him as Lord?

All: I do.

Leader: With the help of the saints who have run the race of life before us, and who now rejoice in the new life of Christ, let us go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

All: Amen!

A liturgy for admission to communion

This is the liturgy I wrote for admitting children to communion – a church recently asked for one, and that made me realise I’d never put it up on the blog! So here it is – I hope it’s helpful.

We do this right before the Eucharistic Prayer. Children come up at the offertory and stand in a line along the chancel. They stay there throughout the Eucharistic Prayer, so they can see, up close, the elements being prepared, and be a part of it. Then at the invitation to communion, they move down to the altar rail and are the first of the congregation to receive.

We usually gave them a small gift along with their certificate – sometimes it was a book about the communion service (Pray Sing Worship, from SPCK – currently out of stock, sadly), sometimes it was a good children’s Bible, sometimes a cross or icon or a carving or a piece of stained glass to hang. During the preparation classes, we practiced putting down things you were holding so you could use your hands to receive the bread.

The Liturgy:

My dear friends in Christ, today we come together in special joy as we see these children join us as regular sharers in the most holy, sacred, and wonderful mysteries of communion.  A warm welcome therefore to you all, especially if you have come to see N, N, and N, as they reach this stage in their journey of faith.

The priest addresses the children:

In baptism, you were made members of Christ’s family.  You come to us now as members of that family.  Today you will share with us that meal which he commanded his friends to remember on the night before he died, and which he gives to us as a sign of his living presence among us. 

N, N, and N.  Jesus calls you by name, and invites you to his table.  Do you wish to be admitted to Holy Communion, and share regularly in this sacred meal?

The children reply: I do

The priest addresses the congregation:

Will you welcome these children as communicant members of Christ’s family, and support them with your friendship and prayers?

All: With the help of God, we will.

The priest addresses the parents and carers:

Will you help these children to grow in faith and come to confirmation?

Parents and carers: With the help of God, we will.

The priest prays for the children:

Lord Jesus Christ, you said that we should all become as little children.

We pray today for these children as they receive bread and wine for the first time in your name.        Give them such a sense of the mystery of your body and blood that they may know your presence in their hearts and day by day grow to be more like you.    Amen.

The priest gives each child their certificate of admission to Holy Communion, addressing them by name:

In the name of God, I welcome you, N., to the sacrament of Holy Communion.  

May God bless you as you continue with us on your journey of faith. 

The children remain on the chancel for the Eucharistic prayer.

Churchyard Prayer Trail for All Saints/All Souls/Remembrance

Many people have used churchyards more during the pandemic, as a way of getting outside, getting exercise, or finding a place of peace.

These prayer stations are designed to encourage people who may not attend church, or pray much, to use your churchyard for spiritual reflection, and become familiar with the season of All Saints, All Souls, and Remembrance. They can be used be people of all ages.

There is a sign for the entrance to your churchyard and then there are four stations:

  1. All Hallows Eve – confronting our fears
  2. All Saints – remembering those whose lives inspire us in faith
  3. All Souls – remembering our own beloved dead
  4. Remembrance – honouring the sacrifice of those in war, and praying for peace

These can be put anywhere around your churchyard that is appropriate. However, one suggested way is:

  1. All Hallows Eve – by graves that have imagery (angels, skulls, cherubs, etc) to explore
  2. All Saints – by something with a saint’s name on it (your church’s sign, or a statue, if you have one)
  3. All Souls – a memorial bench
  4. Remembrance – a commonwealth war grave, or your war memorial (if outdoors)

What do I need?

The stations can primarily stand on their own without resources. However, you will need to laminate the pages so they’re waterproof, and, if possible, provide the following and ensure they’re checked and topped up regularly as needed:

  1. A basket of stones, to go by the sign at the entrance
  2. Rosemary and myrrh for the fourth station (these can be in waterproof plastic containers – you may want to provide hand sanitizer here as well)
  3. There is a space on the third prayer station for you to add a sticker with contact details for someone to talk to about bereavement

Download the stations here:

Crib Service on Zoom

This was both a wonderfully joyful and creative, and heartbreaking thing to write. If you’re thinking of using it, you may feel the same.

If you want to skip straight to the downloads, which really contain all you need, go right to the end of this post.

If you want to ease yourself in with some information (most of which is repeated in the downloads), so you have some idea of what’s going on before you wade in, read on:

The service is designed to last about half an hour. There is an opening section with a brief prayer, and some text from John 1, followed by the Christmas story in three parts (Annunciation, Nativity, Shepherds), and then closing prayers which everyone participates in.

There are also Christmas carols. Notes are included on singing – you’ve probably done singing over Zoom already yourself. I’ve found the best way is to find a version of the hymn on YouTube, and have everyone mute themselves and sing along. With the voices on YouTube, you don’t feel like you’re the only one singing, as you would with an instrumental backing track. I’ve included links to YouTube videos of each hymn, but if you have a choir, you may wish to have them do recordings – just remember to add lyrics to the video so people can easily sing along.

Anyone who wants to is encouraged to draw along with the service and share their drawings (or Play-doh sculptures, or whatever) on the church’s social media page. You may want to have a specific album for them to share to – you can put the link to that in the chat.

Children are also encouraged to come to the service dressed as a character from the Nativity story – they will join in the prayers at the end based on what they’re dressed as – eg all the Maries read one bit, all the shepherds read another. If you have non-readers, you may want to do “repeat after me” with the prayers.

The stories are told using PowerPoint presentations – these are available to download in this post along with the order of service. In two of the PowerPoints, there’s something to discuss at the end, so people can join in and share their thoughts with each other.

Families can also be encouraged to create a “Prayer Space” by their computer – with a nativity set, or decorations, or anything they like. Everyone will need a candle (or an LED candle, or string of lights, or something like that). If you know a family doesn’t have one, and can’t access one, do find a way to provide one for them.

Here is everything you need for the service:

Here are the three stories you’ll need:

And here are the closing prayers that everyone joins in on:

War memorials

With Remembrance Day coming up, one activity children can do at home is to design a war memorial. They can use whatever materials they have at home – items from the recycling bin, play-doh, Lego – whatever you have. These can then be photographed and sent into church and collected in a Facebook album.

Encourage them to think about the following questions:

  1. How would you want people to feel as they look at your memorial?
  2. What shape do you want your memorial to be? Do you want there to be words? Pictures?
  3. Who do you think might visit this memorial? Soldiers who have been in wars? Families of people who have died? People who are praying for peace?
  4. Could there be an interactive element to your memorial? A place for people to leave names, or prayers, or draw or write something? Will your memorial have moving parts to it?
  5. Where is God in all this?

A few memorials for inspiration:

Does your church have a war memorial? Can you visit it?

The “Animals in War” memorial in Hyde Park, London

The Vietnam War memorial in Washington DC (includes a video about the design)

7 Unusual War Memorials (includes the street plaques in St Albans)

Another list from the same blog, of 9 more unusual memorials.

Online Holiday Club – Stories of Justice

Our online holiday club plan, “Stories of Justice,” can be downloaded below.

There are five days’ worth of plans, including:

  • An opening story and wondering questions. There are two options for videos for each story – one shorter and one longer. Text versions of the stories are also available for families who don’t have internet.
  • Response activities. Families can do as few or as many of these as they like, on their own time. They include something to MAKE, things to TALK about, a physical activity or charitable action to DO, and a PRAYER activity.
  • Plans for a closing Zoom session. While families without internet can still dial in to this session, they would miss out on the visual aspects of this. It’s suggested therefore that families without internet take advantage of recent guidelines that allow two houses to meet up with social distancing, so they can share the Zoom session with another family.

Many of the activities suggest using “whatever you have around the house” for the MAKE activity, eg, the contents of your recycling bin, things you can find in the garden or the park, etc. However, you may also need to make sure families have access to the following materials:

  • Paper and pens
  • Candle and lighter (or LED candle)
  • Play-doh
  • Glue
  • Felt-tips/pastels
  • Plastic eggs that can be opened up (available online, including from Baker Ross)
  • Blu Tak
  • Cups
  • Kitchen roll
  • A large bowl
  • Flour
  • Sand or shredded paper
  • Coins
  • Sellotape
  • May also be helpful if families don’t have them: Lego or Playmobil figures, toilet and kitchen roll tubes, coloured card, shoeboxes, fabric in various colours.

Bags of these materials can be dropped off at the beginning of the week.

Download the plans here: Stories of Justice

The supplementary material – text versions of the stories, and some images used for the Zoom session on Day 4 – can be downloaded here: Stories of Justice – supplementary material

Running a Holiday Club Online – top tips from the Diocese of Bath and Wells

HUGE thanks to my colleagues in the Diocese of Bath & Wells for putting together some practical top tips for running a holiday club online. Here’s what they’ve written:

How To Run a Holiday Club Online

The aim of this guide is to help you think through the why/when/what and how of running a successful church holiday club online. It may be helpful to work through the headings below as a planning group, so that your vision for doing this is clear and shared by those involved. For many of you, you may have anticipated doing your Holiday Club as per normal, but the Covid-19 pandemic has forced you to rethink your plans. Lots of things around the ‘Why’ remain the same, but the ‘How’ will naturally differ significantly.

IMG_20190526_110355Holiday Clubs or Holiday Activity Days, whether done face to face or online can be a great way to connect with children but before you dive in, here are a few questions to think through:

  • Why do you want to run an online holiday club?
  • When will you run it and for how long? Online will need to be thought through carefully.
  • What kinds of things do you want to include in the programme?
  • Who will you need and how will you gather a team?
  • How much will the online holiday club cost to run?
  • How will you tell children and their families about the online holiday club, plus get any necessary resources to them?
  • How could you make sure the whole church feels involved?
  • When the online holiday club is over, what might be the next step?
  • What platform/s might you use to run the online holiday club?

Why do you want to run an online holiday club?

This is a really good place to start, as although we might all agree this is a great fun way of connecting with children and their families, it’s important you agree on some aims in your own context. Reasons for running an online holiday club could include:

  • It creates an opportunity to reach out to local children and their families who are not usually connected with church.
  • Provision of fun activities for children during the long school holidays after a particularly challenging time for families, where they have spent an extended time at home.
  • It provides a low-cost activity for families to be involved with at home.
  • You have few children involved in your church but would love that to change.
  • You have a good link with your local Primary School and this could be a positive thing to offer them, as they break up for the summer after a hugely challenging 4 months.
  • You have a thriving children’s group and church parents, who have continued to engage online throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and who are keen for something extra in school holidays, that they can encourage their friends to join in with.
  • You have engaged with new children and families throughout the pandemic and would like to offer them the opportunity to explore faith further.

Having discussed your primary reasons for running an online holiday club, now turn these into your aims. We suggest 3 or 4 main aims that reflect the missional and practical elements of what you hope to do. They can also include who the club is aimed at (i.e. is it aimed at children from church families who you already know or at those you have yet to connect with, or both).

 When will you run it and for how long?

Children

Photo from Dreamstime stock photography, https://www.dreamstime.com/ .

Many church holiday clubs have traditionally been run over 5 morning or afternoon sessions plus included an all-age Sunday service that the whole family are invited to. However, when doing this online, there are a number of new considerations:

  • How long can we reasonably expect children to sit in front of a screen?
  • Do you have enough people on team to cover the length of time you want to run the club (going online doesn’t mean that less team are needed – more on that below)?
  • Do you have people with the IT experience and skills to put something together?

Think about what will work best for the families you hope to include. It would be worth asking some parents if they’re not already represented in your team. Much will also depend on the team you have available.

Ways to transfer your holiday club online

  1. Signpost your children and families to other organisations who are producing Online Holiday Clubs, free of charge for churches to use and access.

You may look through this guide and conclude that in the current circumstances, you simply don’t have the resources and experience to be able to run a Holiday Club this year. Please don’t be dismayed, these are challenging times. There are, however, experienced organisations who often tour the country leading holiday clubs for churches. With those organisations being unable to do that this year, they are putting together full virtual Holiday clubs for churches to use. These include:

  • Pulse Ministries – Orbiters Online from 20th -24th July: https://www.orbitersonline.co.uk/
  • 4 Front Theatre, All Stars Kids Club, St Peter’s Baptist Church and All Churches Trust are joining together to do a virtual Holiday Club on YouTube from 3rd – 7th August
  1. Move your Holiday Club onto a conferencing platform such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts or other

Many of us knew very little about these platforms a few months ago, but they have now become part of our everyday. Each platform has its pros and cons, so decide which one works for you. We would strongly encourage you to practice with your team well in advance, so that everyone knows what they are doing.

Safeguarding must still continue to be top of your agenda, with consent still needed and correct ratios etc being adhered to:

  • Safeguarding online is the same as for a physical holiday club
  • The recruiting of team, safer recruitment is the same as for a physical club
  • Parents permission still needs to be sought
  • Invites should be sent to parents
  • Records of attendance and concerns should still be logged
  1. Pre-record Holiday Club and Songs and put them on a site such as YouTube or Vimeo

Be very aware of copyright. Scripture Union, for example, allow you to use their videos, but they must not be used and shared on a public YouTube channel (they can be shared on a hidden channel). Similarly, you will need to ensure you have the correct copyright permissions for using any songs or video clips.

  1. Use a combination of the above e.g. conferencing platform, paired with pre-recorded sessions

For this option you may choose to have some pre-recorded sessions that are premiered online, which children watch prior to joining a conferencing platform for small group sessions and conversations.

What does a good Online Holiday Club look like?

  • Safe recruitment
    • All helpers must be DBS checked, including anyone you use in video clips or in hosting breakout rooms. Whether online or for a physical holiday club, all those working with children should have undertaken Basic Safeguarding Training (C1) and those leading children’s activities should have completed Leadership Safeguarding Training (C2). In addition, it may be helpful to lead a short session on good and safe practice with children as part of your team preparation.
  • Safe practice
    • Provide guidelines for team e.g. to dress appropriately on screen, both for pre-recorded and live activity, also they must be in an appropriate room/space in their home for any pre-recorded videos or live sessions.
    • Provide guidelines for parents e.g. children and anyone who maybe seen on screen, must dress appropriately for any video conferencing sessions. They must be in an appropriate room/space in their home, parents should be present or able to hear what is happening on screen throughout.
    • If you use break out rooms or similar, you must always have 2 DBS checked, unrelated adults present in each room.
    • Consent must be sought as per a physical holiday club. If you ask children to send in shout-outs or photos, you must have permission to share on the online platforms
    • Permission is needed for anything other than looking at a video online
    • Ratios of adults to children are still the same online as they would be for a physical holiday club – the recommended staffing ratio for children 4-8 years is 1 adult to 6 children and for children 9-12 years is 1 adult to 8 children. If young people are part of your team, remember to count these in the number of children present if they are under 18.
  • Risk Assessments are still essential for online holiday clubs.
  • The Holiday Club needs to be short/keep each item short – we suggest 30 minutes maximum, possibly with a live video conferencing session via Zoom or similar added on. This will mean it is necessary to miss things out that you may have historically done in your Holiday Clubs.
  • Include variety in what you do, so choose wisely.
  • Think about the essential elements and be sure to include them (Bible, prayer, fun)
  • Plan it carefully and decide who is doing what and share it out, ensuring it plays to people’s gifts
  • Script it and stick to it, to be sure you keep to time.
  • If possible (and with relevant permissions), invite children to send in their contributions and include them.
  • Create a resource pack to go with the online programme – it’s usually best to assume that families have none of the things needed, so make sure you include EVERYTHING they might need in the pack e.g. pens, a pair of scissors, paper. It is also worth noting, that it’s being suggested that if you have concerns about packages entering your home and carrying the virus, it is best to leave them untouched for 72 hours, so the virus can die. With this in mind, make sure you deliver the packs well in advance of the club.
  • Make sure you have the correct licenses for songs, video clips etc, otherwise your videos maybe pulled down from platforms such as YouTube.

What kinds of things do you want to include in the programme?

Putting together a programme for a holiday club can seem like an impossible job, but there are a number of organisations who produce holiday club resources which you can adapt for an online context. Scripture Union and John Hardwick are well known for their ‘ready-to-use’ Bible- based programmes. Resources like these are usually aimed at 5-11 year olds (Primary School age), but as indicated above, you will need to be wise in selecting which parts to include for an online club.

 How much will the holiday club cost to run?

Costs will have to be considered at some stage. It may be that the church has already set aside funds for a project like this. If not, you will need to consider a funding strategy. A decision will also need to be made about whether to charge families for the online club or not, and if so how much and how will you collect that money?

 How will you tell children and their families about the holiday club?

Advertising the online holiday club will need to be thought about carefully and will be different for every context.

Note about registration: As with a physical Holiday Club, no child can be admitted to a holiday club without a consent form signed by a parent or adult with parental responsibility. Asking parents to pre-register for the club helps make sure this isn’t an issue on the day and also identifies numbers.

How could you make sure the whole church feels involved?

As your team prepares for the club make sure you give regular updates to the wider church family, so they’re aware of what’s going on. Suggest ways they could be involved such as:

  • Having enough invites so that church members can invite neighbours who have children.
  • Inviting individuals to support the club with a financial gift.
  • Involving church members in preparing the resource packs
  • Sending out a ‘Prayer Email’ so that all church members can pray specifically for the club.

When the holiday club is over what might be the next step?

As you plan the event it is worth thinking through what a follow on to the club might be. In the present pandemic, that maybe through the form of a monthly video being shared with families or a follow up online gathering or a celebration in the church building when government guidance tells us that it is possible to do so.

N.B. Lots of the content in this guide has been taken from Scripture Union’s Online Training event ‘Running a Virtual Holiday Club’.

Safeguarding Note:

For all safeguarding queries and issues in your parish, you must speak with your Parish Safeguarding Officer in the first instance and then the Diocesan Safeguarding Advisers, whose contact information can be found here.

Useful links:

Scripture Union resources https://content.scriptureunion.org.uk/holiday-clubs-0

John Hardwick resources https://www.johnhardwick.org/holiday-clubs

Diocese of York online holiday club resources: https://dioceseofyork.org.uk/schools-and-youth/children-young-people-churches/holiday-club-home-hope-club-2020/

Leavers’ Service

33397533_10157740782383508_9191189486128594944_n (1)The Youth and Children team have worked with the Schools team to create a leavers’ service that can be done virtually, or with some children at school and some at home. It requires no physical contact and no sharing of resources. It’s designed to have different building blocks, appropriate for years 2, 4, 6, and 8, so you can use it for transitions to junior, middle, secondary, or high school.

You can download it here:

Rebuilding Community Pack 5 Leavers Service