This time in the church was known as Ordinary Time, but the Season between Epiphany and Lent is anything but ordinary. In most places, Winter is setting in, sports and activities have slowed, and people are spending the majority of their time indoors. This is a great time to give families short activities they can do indoors as a family, especially after all the activities of the Christmas Season coming to an end, there is a void of ritual, celebration, and family time that can be missed.
The Season After Epiphany is a great time to spend some time on the Parables of Jesus. Most people are not familiar with them or understand that they were stories used by Jesus to teach. Many people thought they were events that actually happened in the Bible or just did not know them.
There are several activities that can be offered to families as a way to talk about and have fun with the Parables. I start by choosing one or two parables, depending on the amount of time we have before Lent starts. One for every four weeks after Epiphany is a good gage of how many to introduce.
Some ideas to give families the tools they need for a parable include: Parable Kits, Parable Discussion Pages, Parable Dive, and Parable Devotions. Ways to expand and help families to practice what they are discussing at home include: Family Service Sunday, Godly Play Story and Meal, Lego Parable Night and a Parable Play.
Starting with the basics, no matter what tool/activities you choose, is important. A brief overview of “What is a Parable?”, where it is found in the Bible (including what was happening that Jesus told the parable), and a copy of the scripture is a must no matter which options you introduce.
When thinking of the activity/tool you choose, ask yourself, why this is important, what you want the families to walk away with, and how you can tie it to something going on in their lives or in their church lives.
When explaining what a parable is, keep it simple and use words the children in the family will understand. I love the picture of parables as gifts to us. I love the idea that a parable can mean different things to the person hearing it, depending on where they are in life. I love the way Jesus taught by not stating an answer, but sharing a story to think about and dig deeper into. I love that the parable lessons are true throughout time.
Parable Kits: these include ways to “handle” the parable. It can be making the figures and the parts of the parable (printing something on cardstock for them to color and cut out or cutting printed items out of felt and placing on small blocks of wood or carboard.) The Parable would be introduced and then the family would be encouraged to make the parable. Another option, is to have significant pieces of the parable in a small bag and pull out the pieces when it is read out loud. Once this activity is completed, a sheet with talking points, discussion questions, and three activities to do to encourage exploring the lesson of the parable.
An example of the Parable of the Lost Sheep kit might include sheep to make, a shepherd to draw and craft sticks to make a sheep pen. The Parable would be included. An explanation that Jesus was asked why he ate with tax-collectors and sinners; why he kept company with those who the religious community at the time said should be avoided. The explanation of what a parable is would be on the outside of the kit. Discussion questions might say, “Who are the sheep? Who is the shepherd? I wonder why Jesus choose the image of a shepherd and sheep to tell this story? I wonder what those hearing the story were thinking? In Jesus’ time, there were people named who were the lost sheep. Who are the lost sheep around us? Where/when have we felt lost? Who are the shepherds who find us when we feel lost? I wonder if the shepherd had a hard time deciding to leave the 99 sheep? I wonder how the 99 sheep felt when the shepherd left them to find the lost one? I wonder how the lost sheep felt? I wonder how the lost one felt when he saw the shepherd? How about when the lost sheep was returned to the other 99?” Some of these questions could be split over different times when the Parable Kit is brought out. Activity ideas would be a sheet of paper with ways to help those we consider “lost”, an outreach activity, another book to read that has the same theme, and a game to play that follows the theme.
Parable Discussion Pages: Include the same things as the Parable Kits, but without objects to make. This is a more realistic activity for families with teens or children too young to participate in the Parable Kit. For families with young children, pages that the young child can color for themselves is fun for them.
Parable Dive: Starting with either the Parable Kit or Parable Discussion Pages, the Parable Dive includes focused activities at church for the Parable. Each week in Christian Formation, a part of the parable can be taken home with the focus on the different aspects of the parts of the Parable. To do a Parable Dive for the Parable of the Lost Sheep, each week for the next three weeks, a part is discussed and sent home. Week one: the shepherd is discussed. People to give pictures to place on a bulleting board about who are our shepherds or where we see our shepherd. Children can be asked to draw their shepherd or write thank you notes to their shepherd. Week two: the sheep are discussed. People are encouraged to draw, write, describe their “flock”. A take home sheet includes identifying the different “flocks” we belong to. Week three: the lost sheep is discussed. A stuffed sheep or small sheep can be hidden in various places for people to find throughout the week. A small cutout sheep can be sent home and every time we identify someone who is lost, we place a small cross or star on the sheep. Week four: the celebration is discussed or the sheep pen or another part of the parable. “You are seen and loved” stickers or cards can go home to be given out (for the celebration) and include a celebration and encouraging pictures of the celebration. Places we feel safe and at home (the sheep pen) can be discussed. Pictures and drawing of those places can be displayed. Who is in them? Encourage family pictures in front of these places to be displayed on the bulletin board.
Parable Devotions: Send out a weekly devotion based on the parable for families. Include discussion questions and a prayer. These devotions can be written by the clergy, the Sunday School teachers, Vestry members, or anyone who can give the time to write a one page or less devotion.