Harvest Resource

I know it’s a bit late, and I apologise – but bookmark this for next year if you’ve already had your Harvest Festival.

Especially now, as more of the world is waking up to the climate crisis and our collective failure to care for God’s creation, it can be easy to feel helpless.

So I’ve put together some simple actions we can take – some personal, some pushing for systemic change – that can genuinely make a difference.

I’m going to print multiple copies of these out on orange, yellow, and red paper, then cut them out, punch a hole in each one, and hang them on a tree* by the entrance of the church. During the service, I’ll mention the tree and encourage people to choose a leaf as a commitment and promise to do something that will care for creation. I’ll include some blank leaves for people to add their own ideas.

* The “tree” is a few twigs stuck in a basket of sand.

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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.

 

Out of the Silo

How would you list the activities and ministries your church does?

I suspect, in many churches, the list would go something like this:

  1. Worship (perhaps including professional-quality music groups)
  2. Bible study, education, Alpha or Pilgrim courses, Lent/Advent groups, home groups, etc
  3. Fellowship and relationship-building
  4. Serving the community – things like Foodbanks, lunch clubs for the elderly
  5. Supporting national or international charities/justice efforts
  6. Stewardship and governance decisions
  7. Children’s ministry
  8. Youth ministry

If asked about what Children’s Ministry consisted of, the response might be something like, “we have Junior Church, and our weekly toddler group, and Messy Church once a month.”

Which is brilliant! An active children’s ministry like this takes time, effort, commitment, and a lot of love. And it makes a real difference in the lives of children and their families.IMG_20190624_094632

But where are the children and young people in the rest of the list?

Often, we get so used to “children’s ministry” as a separate category that we forget that we can include children in other things the church is already doing. We can have things specifically aimed at children and families – baby and toddler groups are lifelines to many new parents – but we can also look at the list above and, for every item, not just the children’s ministry one, think, “could we include children in this?”

The Children’s Society Good Childhood report has come out today. You can read it here. In it, children express a growing concern about crime, and environmental issues – deep issues of concern for Christians who care about building peace, and caring for God’s creation. If your church is doing anything on crime, creation care, or poverty, could children be involved?

Statutory agencies and schools are also undergoing a cultural shift in how children are involved in decision-making – and churches have an opportunity to follow this example. Children are especially vulnerable, and can’t vote, but almost every decision made by adults in charge of institutions and governments affects them disproportionately. Can you include children in any decision-making processes in your church – about priorities in spending money, about programmes, worship, or choosing a new vicar, children’s worker, director of music, etc? Can children be present at and included in your annual meeting? What would be needed to make that happen?

Here are a few ideas for how this could work in practice:

  1. Invite children and young people to visit the PCC three or four times and year and talk about what matters to them at church, in their community, and in wider issues of justice.
  2. Have a “children’s table” at the annual meeting, facilitated by someone who knows your church’s children, and who can help them share their thoughts and contribute (and provide pens and paper for them to scribble and draw to keep the fidgets at bay).
  3. Think about how your church’s community service, and wider action on social issues, could include children. The church where I was children’s worker includes older children and teenagers on a local charity’s annual “sleep-out” for homelessness – they are sponsored by their teachers and friends. We also include children and teenagers in our pub quiz for Christian Aid. Could your junior church join in fundraising events? Could they make posters or speak in worship, to encourage other church members to get involved? Could you include children in deciding which charities or causes the church supports?
  4. How do you include children in worship? Are they doing what adults tell them, or do they have a chance to share their own ideas?

Children can be involved in the full, broad life of the church – indeed, they should be, because that’s how they learn that Christian life includes thinking about our common life together, reaching out in love to the community, and advocating for a world that reflects God’s values of justice, equality, and dignity for every human being, and stewardship of the earth he has given us. Including children in activities and decisions outside of children’s ministry also gives your church:

  1. The chance to foster inter-generational community.
  2. A reminder to the older members that children are full disciples and members of the Body of Christ.
  3. The enrichment of the ideas and contributions the children bring.

We are all richer when all our voices are heard.

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)

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.

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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.

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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!).

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.

 

 

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)

 

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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.