Pentecost Scavenger Hunt

Here’s a Pentecost scavenger hunt I put together for a half-term club when I was a children’s worker. We did it in the church, but you could easily do it at home as well, after online church on Pentecost, or as part of a family service.pentecost-people-1024x612

Here are the rules I set:

  1. You can be as creative as you like in deciding how the objects fit these clues. But each object can only be used for ONE clue.
  2. If you find something that can’t be moved, you can take us to it for judging time or take a picture of it and use that.
  3. One point for each item you find.

Pentecost Scavenger Hunt

CAN YOU FIND:

A flame

Something that can be used to make fire

Something in a different language

A picture of water

Something that reminds you of wind

Something that helps tell the story of Jesus to people who haven’t heard it

A dove

Something that brings light into darkness

Something that could help someone who is afraid feel brave again

Something that shows Jesus’ friends

Something with lots of colours

A lock or key

Remember that you are dust …

Ash Wednesday is next week. I’ve noticed, this year, a bit of concern around Ash Wednesday and Lent that I hadn’t seen before, in relation to children. In several places, people have expressed reservations about using the words “remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return,” with children.

My opinion is that, in the right context, these words are powerful. Ash Wednesday and Lent are times when we confront our mortality, and our fear of death, and we acknowledge the ways in which the world is messed up and broken and hard and scary. At Easter, we hear the good news that God’s love is stronger than sin and death.

If we paper over the real fear of death, and the real existence of sin, we provide a faith that is always happy and nice and kind, and we leave children alone with the fear of death and the existence of sin, with no tools to process these challenging topics, and no sense that the church is a place where we can wrestle with these things.

Here is what I did, for many years, at the end of our pancake party. Most of these children would not be in church on Ash Wednesday, so this was a way of moving from Shrove Tuesday into Ash Wednesday, creating the feast/fast contrast, and introducing the season.

Ideally, you will have a small outdoor space to do this in.

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ASH WEDNESDAY ACTIVITY WITH CHILDREN:

Outside:

Large metal cooking pot from kitchen, possibly elevated on bricks

Dried palm crosses

A tiny bit of oil, if needed, to help them ignite

Fire extinguisher and bucket of water

Long matches

Small bowl and spoon

Inside, in the community space:

Blank paper and pencils/markers

Pictures of “sin” – always communal, and social, eg pollution, violence, poverty. We’re looking at how we as a society fail to create the world God wants, and grieving for it, NOT at personal “failures.”

What I do:

1. Gather everyone by the door. Ask who knows why we have pancakes today. Gather answers from the group. Use the answers to get to the idea that we’re about to start a season called LENT, and that during Lent, we remember all the hard and sad and scary things that Jesus came into the world to save us from.

2. Ask what are some of the hard and sad and scary things in the world – gather responses. If some of them match the pictures, you can hold them up and show the group. (Here we can think in generic terms about things we all do as individuals – like being cruel to each other – and also things we all do as a group, or as humanity – like war, and poverty.)

3. Explain that Lent is 40 days long, because when Jesus was just starting out his work, he spent 40 days in the desert all alone with God.

4. Explain that before we start this sad time, we like to have a really good party! And that in the old days, people used to give up some special treats, like sugar and eggs and meat, so they celebrated right before by eating all these things. And nowadays, we might want to give up a treat, or take on an extra job, to help us get closer to God, and think about what it was like for Jesus in the desert, without special treats. Or we might want to try giving up a bad habit, or something we do that hurts God’s world, or ourselves, or each other.

5. Pass out the blank pieces of paper and pencils. Ask people to think about EITHER something they might give up/take on for Lent, OR something in the world that’s hard or sad or scary, that they want Jesus to help with.

6. Go outside and form a circle around the pot. Have people put their pieces of paper in the pot, along with the palm crosses. As far as possible, clear people away from the direction of the wind.

7. Set everything in the pot on fire. Ask people to think about how we’re burning the parts of ourselves we want to give up, or the hard/sad/scary things in the world. We’re turning them to ash. And we’re remembering that at the end of Lent, we remember Jesus dying to save the world, and that we will someday die too. But we know that Easter comes after that, when Jesus rose with new life to share with all of us.

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8. When enough of the papers/palm crosses have burned that you have sufficient ash, put a few drops of water on it to cool it off (Note: it’s been pointed out to me that apparently it’s dangerous to cool ashes with water, and they’ll burn. I tested it on myself first, and, both on myself and with children, over many years, have never had an issue. I have no idea why mine were fine and others’ reports are different. Perhaps the large volume of paper – the ashes are, at the end of this, more paper than palm – is what made the difference. Regardless, it’s definitely worth testing an approximation of your mixture in advance.). Gather some ash into the small bowl with the spoon, and ash the person next to you. Have people practice the words “remember you are dust, and to dust you will return,” and have people go around the circle, ashing the person next to them. Finish by inviting the children to ash you. Being ashed by a group of children, reminding you that you are dust, is unfailingly an incredibly powerful experience for me.

9. Wash your hands. They will still be filthy, through the end of the next day. It’s seasonally appropriate.

“Once Upon A Time …”

Think about a story or book that meant a lot to you as a child. What made it so special?

I ask this question at some of my workshops, to start a discussion about telling Bible stories in our groups. Often, the answers are very similar from one group to another – some of the most common are:

  • There were characters I identified with.
  • I loved the world it was set in and I wanted to live there.
  • It gave me hope, or inspiration, or got me through a tough time.
  • My grandmother read to me, and being in her lap and having her read me a story is a special reminder of our relationship.
  • The person who told/read me that story clearly loved it, and their passion for that story was contagious.

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All of these things about stories can help us think about how we pass on the stories of the Bible to children in our groups, and how we encourage parents and carers to read Bible stories at home. I have a Pinterest board of good Children’s Bibles or Bible stories – many of them are designed to be read aloud. The ones that work for under-5s can be given as gifts to Christening families if your church has the budget, and parents/carers can be encouraged to read a Bible story at bedtime. That special time with a beloved adult, hearing the stories of God’s people, will be treasured.

It’s also a reminder that the relationships we form, as children’s ministry leaders, are important. If we know, and care for, the children we tell stories to, our storytelling will have more impact, because it will come from a relationship of trust and love.

Ecce Ancilla Domini! (The Annunciation) 1849-50 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828-1882
A very human, relatable Mary in Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Annunciation. The model is his sister, the poet Christina Rossetti.

Another thing I take from this is how important it is that the Bible is full of diverse characters, and we need to include a broad range of them, for children to identify with. If we portray all Bible characters as perfect, obedient, brave, etc., we limit children’s ability to connect with the stories.

Moses was far from obedient to authority – he was a troublemaker for Pharaoh and other oppressors. Joseph went on a journey from arrogance to reconciliation. Ruth showed bravery and faithfulness in a new country not her own. Esther stood up and spoke truth to power, risking her life. Daniel stayed true to his own conscience, no matter what. Peter could never remember to think before speaking. John wasn’t afraid of having strong emotions. James was trying to follow Jesus while also feeling responsible for his little brother. Mary Magdalene wasn’t believed by her own friends when she told them what she’d seen. All of these are traits and experiences that children can relate to – let’s remember that we’re talking about real people in our stories, not idealised cardboard cut-outs!

The power of stories to get us through tough times, or give us hope, is also clearly relevant to our Biblical storytelling. The stories in the Bible are full of loss and pain, exile and despair – they tell the story of people who, in the words of the Beulah Land feltboard storytelling set, “lied and cheated and stole from each other, they fought and hurt and killed each other, and trampled the poor, and spoiled God’s earth, and worshipped gold and silver instead of God.” But the Bible also tells us that God never stops loving us, God never stops trying to save us, and that God has fought death for us, and won, and invites us to share in that new life in a Kingdom where death and suffering and cruelty are no more.

Often, we are afraid of some of these stories – and, in many cases, for good reason. The Bible is also full of what seems to be God-sanctioned genocide, and patriarchy, and the deaths of children as revenge for the sins of their parents. So we shy away from the tough stories, and give our children only the parable of the lost sheep, and the creation, and a sanitised version of the Christmas story without the politics of occupation and oppression. But that means we’re depriving our children of the very heart of the Gospel – that evil and oppression and cruelty are real, but that God’s love is stronger than them, and God will never abandon us. (What we leave out, and how, is a difficult question, and one that deserves more space than I can give it here.)

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Space for awe and wonder – a child’s artwork after learning the hymn “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” This is pretty spooky and intense, with a real sense of MYSTERY, and was the child’s own idea. The adult supplied a variety of craft and art supplies, but left the activity to be child-directed.

And let’s not forget to leave space for awe and wonder. I’ve heard this spoken in many ways in response to my question – and about books from The Famous Five to the Narnia Chronicles. That longing to be in that world, with those people, the way a book fires our imagination and gets us wondering. Creating that space for a child to explore the story for themselves, to make meaning out of it, and to play with it, is very important. This means we don’t need to draw a moral lesson from every story – the story itself can be the gift we give to children. Open questions like “I wonder …” questions can help your group explore what the story means without closing off the power of imagination. And providing response time that isn’t just reading comprehension or creating an identical craft can also encourage children to enter deeply into the world of story, and make it mean something to them.

For expansion on these ideas, I recommend Rebecca Nye’s “Children’s Spirituality: what it is and why it matters,” Gretchen Wolff Pritchard’s “Offering the Gospel to Children,” or Elizabeth F. Caldwell’s “I Wonder … engaging a child’s curiosity about the Bible.”

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!).