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Celebrating St. Francis & Creation: Online Ideas during COVID (Feast Day is October 4)

Who is St. Francis: Francis was born in Assisi, Italy in 1182. He grew up leading a privileged life as the son of a wealthy cloth merchant. Francis loved to learn and sing songs as a boy. His father wanted him to become a businessman and taught him about the French culture. As Francis grew up, he began to see visions from God that changed his life. The first vision was when he was sick with a high fever. At first, he thought that God had called him to fight in the Crusades. However, he had another vision that told him to help the sick. Finally, when praying in a church, Francis heard God tell him to “repair my church, which is falling in ruins.”
Francis gave all his money to the church. His father became very angry with him. Francis then left his father’s home and took a vow of poverty. As Francis lived his life of poverty and preached to people about the life of Jesus Christ, people began to follow him. By 1209, he had around 11 followers. He had one basic rule which was “To follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps”.
Francis was a devoted follower of God. He and his followers were dirty, poor, and smelled bad. However, eventually people understood their vow of poverty and the church blessed the Order. He loved and cared for the sick, especially the lepers.
The Franciscan Order grew as men joined and made vows of poverty. When a woman named Clare of Assisi wanted to take similar vows, Francis helped her start the Order of the Poor Ladies (Order of Saint Clare). He also started another order (later called the Third Order of Saint Francis) that was for men and women who didn’t take vows or leave their jobs, but lived out the principals of the Franciscan Order in their daily lives.
Francis was known for his love of nature and animals. There are many stories about Saint Francis and his preaching to animals. It is said that one day he was talking to some birds when they began to sing together. Then they flew into the sky and formed the sign of a cross.
It was also said that Francis could tame wild animals. One story tells of a vicious wolf in the town of Gubbio that was killing people and sheep. The people of the town were frightened and didn’t know what to do. Francis went to the town to confront the wolf. At first the wolf growled at Francis and prepared to attack him. However, Francis made the sign of the cross and told the wolf not to hurt anyone else. The wolf then became tame and the town was safe.

Why have a festival? The Feast of St. Francis is a great time to honor creation and our animal friends.  The festival can be used to focus on the care and love for creation, animals, and each other.  It, also, helps to build community, fellowship and appreciation of each other and our faith history.

Ways to do it online: It can be totally on line or give it out kits with contents to do the festival. Here are some ideas-  

  1. Pet “Trick” videos– ask people to make a very short video of them and their pet, preferably of the pet doing a trick.  For adults it can be similar to “Stupid Pet Tricks.”  Edit them and combine them into one video.  Show this for the festival or put it up on your website or media.
  2. Story Time: Record reading of and put on Facebook Live or do it as a Zoom:  The Prayer of St. Francis (for all ages.) and Francis: The Poor Man of Assisi (Life of a Saint)by Juliette Levivier.
  3. Coloring pages-https://www.thecatholickid.com/saint-francis-coloring-page/, besides St. Francis, include creation coloring pages and animal coloring pages.
  4.  Children’s Message-video record a short message about care of animals and care of creation.  This goes well with story time.
  5.   Music: All Things Bright and Beautiful is our St. Francis Festival theme.  Record your choir or a soloist singing it .  Put the music in a packet for families.  Or give this video which includes the lyrics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FT_oDqOEGpc
  6. Prayer: The Prayer Attributed to St. Francis is a beautiful prayer of the day.  It can be found in the Book of Common Prayer on page 833.  A link for a copy: https://www.missionstclare.com/english/prayers/62.html. If giving a kit, include a page of prayers for creation.
  7. Crafts: If making kits for all, here is a cute and easy kit to give out: Unfinished wood birdhouses to paint and decorate or Birdseed cookies to put out: Mix together: 3/4 cup flour, 1/2 cup water, 3 Tablespoons corn syrup, 4 cups birdseed. Use cookie cutters and put mixture inside the cutter.  Put on wax paper to dry.  Once dry, remove cookie cutter and hang with yarn or put out on tree limb. Lastly, “Stain glass “ animals-tear up a bunch of pieces of colored tissue paper then laid them down on a sheet of wax paper. Cover it with another layer of wax paper then very quickly whisked a hot iron over the top. Get images of animals from the internet (coloring page ones work best.) Size them the size for the stain glass then print. Place the animal print on top of a piece of construction paper and cut out both layers with an Exacto knife. Cut the wax paper “stained glass” out to size and glued it to the back. 
  8.  Outreach ideas: Make the birdseed cookies or bird houses for gift so others can enjoy the animals. Give each family a list of ways to take care of creation and ask them to do one or two for a week or more.  Do a collection of supplies for an animal shelter.

Follow with an outside Blessing or drive through blessing of animals.

Start of School/Formation During COVID

Usually or normally, we would….  Doesn’t it seem that we start a lot of things that way these days?  We are faced with developing a new normal.  Once our children head back to school in the Fall, we give them a week (or two depending on the calendar) and then we would have our big “Rally Day/Start of Christian Formation/Christian Formation Kick off.”

Where once we would have a big barbecue after the Blessing of Backpacks (see blog for how we are doing this now) filled with games and talking, we are faced with children starting school online and the inability to safely gather large groups of people.  The following week (if not Labor Day), we would have balloons lining the hallways, gifts waiting for each student, and Christian Formation/Sunday School classrooms filled with excited volunteers and children.  How do we bring that excitement when we cannot gather?  After asking myself, “What is the mission behind these events?  What is it that makes them so valuable?”  The answer for our church is community, relationships, connection (or re-connection) and learning about God.

The challenge becomes how can we create the things that made these days special during COVID-19 spread?  To build community, I am introducing a church-wide game.  We are having a Lego-My-Bible LEGO Master Tournament.  Everyone will participate by either building or helping vote (see previous blog on how I am doing this).  To build relationships, I am creating a prayer and pen pal buddy.  Children sign up (so only those who truly want to do this).  I will match them by age/grade.  Children write letters, schedule facetime talks, and think of little gifts they can make for each other.  Most importantly, they pray for each other, which is formation and relationship building.  I will share prayers to help when they cannot find the words.  I, also, have started a letter writing campaign with the goal of writing a letter to each child by hand (that is over 150).  I am hoping to get some volunteers to write encouraging letters in October to all children if we are still in “Shelter-at-Home” status. Connection is a little bit harder.  It is hard to connect to something bigger when we are alone.  I plan to continue weekly formation and chapel on line each week, but am adding other ways that are not as organized.  Lunch with Deacon Lauren on Zoom is my plan.  With a small age appropriate topic, I plan to spend lunch hour once a week with children by age/grade.  The goal is to connect to each other as we “share” a meal together.  Learning about God will continue in partnership form.  I plan to post live-streams that can be watched throughout the week, Children’s worship twice weekly and the Family Bible/Devotions on my “For Families” page.

Translating this for your church, what is the reason/purpose you do the events for school and start of Christian Formation/Sunday School?  What are your goals?  How can you take those things and translate them to online?  If you are having trouble finding alternatives to your goals, please feel free to contact me and I will help think of ideas.

Have a blessed and safe start of the school/program year!

Fall Christian Formation Planning for Children and Families with Young Children During COVID

Like many Directors of Christian Formation and Children’s Ministry Directors, planning for “Sunday School” or regular Christian Formation is challenging. We want to keep our children safe, but we want to give thtem the tools to continue on their faith journey. Many families are feeling overwhelmed by becoming their child’s teacher in addition to all the other roles being home bound now require. Ideally, this is when the church becomes a support system and a place of comfort, as well as, a place to encounter God and learn.

I wanted to compile a list with lots of different offering so families can pick and choose what they want to do, what they can do, and allow for flexibility to change week to week. I have compiled a list of free online resources that can be shared and used by families inaddition to the online worship service at their normal Sunday Worship.

Here is the list with links:

Children’s Chapels

St. Paul’s Children’s Chapel twice a week: Sundays at 11 AM, Wed 9:30 AM on Facebook Live (can view anytime). Sunday is for all children, while Wednesdays is more for preschool age. www.facebook.com/stpaulswinstonsalem

St. Anne’s Children Message: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZeR42POMr68m5R8rwAIGDA?app=desktop

St. Luke’s Children’s Chapel Sundays at 10:00 AM  https://www.facebook.com/StLukesSalisbury/

Nativity Children’s Message on Sundays: https://www.facebook.com/nativityonline

Summer Sundays at Emmanuel: http://www.emmanuel-parish.org/  

St. Mary’s Chapel: http://www.amyschapelchat.org/chapel-chat-videos.html

Free Resources for Online Ideas/Curriculum/Formation Events Continue Family Formation & Devotion activities to do together (Bible Story, meditation, prayer, discussion questions, craft, music video link, outreach activity, activity to do together, in-reach activity (serving our family), games, watching the story video links, and summer Flat Jesus activity.)  Comes out once a week with up to three saved on the site.  Link: http://www.laurensline.com/family-devotions-formation/ 

Ideas for Children’s Ministry Online events (Online Summer Camp, Lego, Kindergarten events, etc.) http://www.laurensline.com/blog/

http://churchschool.info/  (Virtual Sunday School on line resource)

https://lessonplansthatwork.org/ (Episcopal Church includes home and group activities) *(Also in Spanish)

Do Lego Bible Build once a month for all ages.  http://www.laurensline.com/2020/06/22/virtual-lego-ministry-night/

Forward Movement: Faith at Home: www.dofaithathome.org -sends out weekly readings and activities based on weekly lectionary scripture readings. *(Also in Spanish)

Family Faith and Prayer Booklets https://www.thykingdomcome.global/sites/default/files/2019-03/TKC_Home_Pack_V4.pdf    *(Also in Spanish)

www.spokanediocese.org/worship/worshipathome.html (Also in Spanish)

Parent group do the Living Compass Parenting.  Put in groups of 12.  Meet once a week or month. https://www.livingcompass.org/parents (also have teen program)  *(Also in Spanish)

Using Zoom: Meet by grade/age meetings, lunch with Children’s Minister, EYC for 4th & 5th Graders, Parents After Dark, Taco Tuesdays, Reading to Preschoolers, and discussion of use family home curriculum.

Video Formation: Send out videos to watch on Sundays (Instructed Eucharist, Bible Stories, etc.) and then on an Evening have a Zoom discussion.  Lots of materials, just watch before you send out for appropriateness and beliefs.

Blessing Backpacks & Devices in Times of COVID 19

Our church, like many churches, have been doing virtual services instead of our usual worship schedule.  Schools in our area, have decided to begin online classes for all of its students. 

Normally, we would have a Blessing of Backpacks the Sunday before school starts and over 100 children would participate.  This year is going to be very different.  I wanted to still honor the start of the school year, even if it is going to be unusual, with most children remaining at home.

During the Sunday worship Service, live-stream, we will say a prayer and bless the backpack tags we are giving out.  Then we are inviting families to drive by with their backpacks and devices.  We are asking them to hold them out the window of their car as we bless each one (with water for backpacks) and give them a specially made backpack tag for attaching to their backpack or bag. We, also, made bookmarks with our children and youth online schedule for the fall. We handed these out.

We have scheduled an hour for this and are doing it in a covered area.  For those who cannot drive up, we are blessing the tags, so they can attach them to their bag when we can give them their tag.

For the tags, we try to make them as fun and useful as possible.  This year, instead of designing our own, we are purchasing a stained glass picture, putting our church on the back and using the luggage tag laminator to make them. (See previous backpack for tag instructions).

Celebrating Starting Kindergarten Online

One of the most momentous occasions in a young family’s life is the starting of kindergarten for their child. This marks the moment that the child is moving away from a life centered on family to one of school and friends. As a mother, I joined many mother’s whose eyes were filled with tears after the first day drop off. There is no going back to a baby. Kindergarten signifies a permanent shift in the family.

This year is different. Some will not be able to attend schools, because the schools are closed to in-person learning, some parents are too worried to risk sending their child to school, and some will attend, but an air of worry goes with it.

It is important for the church to acknowledge this momentous step in a family’s life and still keep safety in mind. Honoring and acknowledging this step moves the church out of the Sunday morning “box” and into a family’s life and home.

The invitations to a Zoom on-line breakfast are sent out a month ahead of time, so busy families can make plans. I am doing it the week before school is set tp start. With each RSVP, I create a Kindergarten kit. The kit contains the books mentioned below, a growth chart with spiritual, physical, and emotional milestones, a pencil and a backpack tag that says the church loves them. Kits can be picked up, mailed or delivered if it is a small group.

I decorate the room that I am making the Zoom call from. At the appointed time, we all join in for breakfast. I ask the children if they are worried, excited, what they are looking forward to,

Once all are settled, I talk about the importance of this day. I discuss the growth chart and what is expected in the next year including Faith, Interpersonal, Values, Family and Needs of the Age. I talk about the importance of church and a faith life is to the growing child and their family. I, also, give hints of what to do when roadblocks, such as boredom or not wanting to come, hit. The kit contains a Parent Booklet “Getting School Ready!” (Click on the Link to be taken to the site to get a free PDF.). I have on hand a book: Lessons Learned: The Kindergarten Survival Guide for Parents by Jeannie Podest, who is a teacher and parent. One option is to order enough copies for each parent to take home. Lastly, I give each child a book: Kindergarten, Here I Come by DJ Steinberg. Another really good one is On the First Day of Kindergarten by Trish Rabe. (Click on the books to go to Amazon to see and get the books). I remind parents and children that I am there for them. In each book given, I have a label that says “A Gift from St. Paul’s Children’s Ministry.”

Parents are very grateful for the breakfast and the attention. It reminds them that the church cares about them and what is happening in their lives. It, also, serves as an evangelism tool, as the parents will tell other parents at their school what a great thing their church did for them.

We do not have to let worry and fear take away from this beloved moment in a child’s life.

Clicking on and purchasing any of the items through this site, helps to fund this site. Thank you.

Virtual Summer Camp

Families are looking for something to fill their children’s time. This is a great time for church’s to offer them a chance to grow in faith.

If you are like us in North Carolina, most Vacation Bble Schools were canceled. Virtual VBS is still a possiblity, but many of the things that make a VBS fun and different are lost with the online version.

Offering a unique camp experience done on line, can draw families closer to God and with their church.

Creating the Camp

First, pick a popular movie for families. We chose Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but any movie will do.

Second, pick characters in the movie and come up with their moral tie-in. find Bible stories that deal with this tie-in. For Augustus Goop, I chose gluttony and then picked the Bible story of Esau giving away his inheritance (Genesis 25:29-34), Veronica Salt (self-indulgent) and chose Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke), Violet Beauregarde (rude) and chose Zechariah laughing at the angel, and so forth.

Third, find a craft kit, game, activity pages, musical videos, and on-line sources for each day.

Fourth , get youth and adults to film skits.

Fifth-order supplies, register families, and get ready for a week of fun!

Schedule of Camp

The week before, every family picks up their kit.

On the Sunday, families watch the movie together (we made sure it was on Netflix and Amazon Prime). We also included a chocolate bar with a golden ticket saying they have been chosen to join us for camp.

Monday – Friday: We start off each day with an introduction of the day. “Willy Wonka” tells us about the character, the Bible story, and a short lesson and prayer. There are links to videos to watch our youth telling or acting out the Bible story. There is a scheduled Zoom for a group game. Inside the kit is the days craft kit with instructions, links to music video, Bible cartoon of story, other activities. At 11:30 AM, we have a large group Zoom to review the morning, talk aobut the lesson, and play another game.

Outreach activities and snack activities can be included too. I, also, looked for little toys, pencils and other giveaways for each child for the story or lesson of the day.

For Later

We plan an outdoor get together for all the families that participated and will have an Eucharist when we are able to get back together safely.

Virtual Lego Ministry Night

With the COVID-19 keeping us isolated at home, a fun activity to engage our church members is a Lego Bible Night. This can be done over several nights or days.

Choose one Bible story per family involved. Have a print out of the story or a link to the story. Make each one a different story and make sure it is something that families can use to make come alive. Give or send each family their story. Include with the story or link some information/background material (what was happening, the time, a little history, etc.). Give them some discussion questions to think about. Send a prayer families can say before they start their build.

Working together, the family creates a Lego piece that shares the story. They can video tape themselves talking about the piece and retelling the story or hold a zoom meeting and each family shares with the others involved. Make sure to get pictures of the completed works, so they can be shared witht he whole parish.

After the Zoom call when all are shared, close in prayer and thank the families for sharing in this time. Families might enjoy this so much, that they would like a story a week.

Keep all the pictures and create a story book for the children or video link with all the videos.

Celebrating with Families: Fifth Grade Breakfast

One of the most important things a children’s ministry can do is be a part of a family’s everyday life.  Moving outside of Sunday.  This tells the child and the family, that they are important, they matter, and God is a part of their lives beyond church.

Helping families develop rituals will help them find ways to incorporate their faith into the special moments.  Most families love to find ways to celebrate and include their faith, but are unsure what to do.

It is, also, important for the church to acknowledge and celebrate the milestones in a child’s life.  This says, you are a part of our family.  God loves you.  We love you.  We are here for you.

An important milestone in a child’s life that often gets overlooked is a child’s move from Elementary School to Middle School.  Children have mixed feelings about this move.  Along with excitement, there is fear of the unknown, stress of the what ifs, and grief over what is being left behind.  Parents are feeling these mixed feelings too.  Their child is growing and moving into the teenage part of life.  The obstacles and dangers are real.  The expectations parents place on themselves as they try to include so much in their child’s life can cause stress and anxiety.

One of the things I do to celebrate and help is to hold a Fifth Grade Breakfast.  We invite the parents and their fifth grade child.  Our fourth graders serve and act as hosts.  We do this at the end of fifth grade, usually the weekend before school ends.

We start off with prayer and then enjoy a buffet breakfast.  Once everyone has eaten about ¾ of their plate, we start the program.  After thanking the parents for sharing their child with me, I tell the children how much it has meant to me to be a part of their lives.  I remind them of their spiritual journey and there are many steps left.  I remind them how faith can help them and how much they are loved by their church family.

I give the parents a developmental chart which includes what to expect for the next six years including spiritual, physical, emotional, mental, and other aspects growth.  Similar to the developmental sheet parents got when their child was an infant, this helps parents to know what is coming and how to help or step back while their child moves through this last part of childhood.

Our Youth Leaders, then, talk about youth group and youth formation.  Emphasizing the importance of this in their developmental journey.  We offer support of the parents, as well as, the teen.

After questions and answers, we ask each of the parents to say how their child was a blessing to them.  It is very beautiful to hear and the children are very moved.

We end it with a blessing and a promise that I will always be there for them and this church will always be their home.

Because COVID-19 physical distancing, we could not do our fifth grade breakfast.  We mailed each family a developmental chart and mailed a card to each child telling them how much we love them.  If it is possible, we will hold the fifth grade breakfast at the start of the program year before their sixth grade year starts.  If not, the contact is important.

Helping Families Grow in Faith in Summer from Home Part 2

As Summer 2020 promises to be challenging for all of us, here are some more ideas (see Helping Families Keep Church During the Summer) to connect families during our time in physical/social distancing. 

Camps, Vacation Bible Schools, and all the plans that usually make up our Summer, are not going to happen this year except on line.  Here are some activities that involve us getting off line, but still growing in faith.

Bible Story Treasure Hunt:  Each family gets a Bible Story to read and a poster board.  After a family reads their story, they design a picture to show their story.  They place the poster board in a place that can be seen from the road.  Each family participating gets a list of families addresses, stickers, and a list of the stories (one a page) with some questions on it.

The families drive around and find the poster.  They guess which story it is, answer some questions, and then put a sticker on the page to show they completed it.  Publish the names for your families of those who completed the hunt.  Get families to take pictures of their posters.

Bible Story Scavenger Hunt:  Each week, families receive a different Bible story.  After reading it, there is a list of objects that go with the story (David-sheep, musical instrument, rocks, sling shot, very tall person, crown, etc.).  Each child or family, checks off when they spot all of the objects that go with the story.  Put the first names of the children who complete it in the church newsletter.

Church Member Tag:  Place a picture or an object in the front door of a family.  Send them an email or leave a letter that says they are it.  They must complete four challenges before they can “tag” another family to be it.  The challenges: using the object or picture (after it has been cleaned), come up with silly things from Bible Stories to do with it.  Once the challenges are complete, they place the picture or object at a family of their choosing, sending an email or letter to tell them they are it.

Loving our Neighbor: Get a list of older people from your parish and let them know that they are on a list of love.  Families can choose from the list and do a good deed: make a meal, do yard work, weed a garden, get groceries or do a small act.

LEGO Bible Build:  Each week, send out a Bible Story and ask the families to build a LEGO representation of the story.  Have them send in the pictures and create a photo page for each story.

Activities to Help Families Feel Connected During the Summer

Many families travel for long periods of time during the Summer or use Summer as a chance to withdraw from activities to rest.  As we are currently in an unusual Summer, with social distancing facing our Summer, it is more important than ever to find ways for families to practice and grow in faith.  If the activities or kits come from their Church, then it connects them to their church family and reminds them they have a place that cares for them.

Usually, I would do a “Church on the Go” bag filled with activities and ways to worship while away.  But being away from the building is the “normal” for Summer 2020. Beyond live-streaming, here are some ways to help families keep “church”.

*Flat Jesus or bendable Jesus:  Mail out to each family (or have a pick up location) a Jesus to color, or one that is completed and laminated or a toy bendable Jesus (click on link to find this).  With it come these instructions:

               1. Give them three or four parables to read, suggesting one a week.  Give a few “I wonder” or discussion questions with each parable.  They are to take their Jesus and find ways to show the parable.  Give them a place (email, dropbox, etc.) to send these photos then at the end of the Summer, make a parable book to give out (using copy machine, Shutterfly, etc.)

               2.  Give them the “I AM” statements and have them show who Jesus was, doing as above through taking pictures. Have some discussion questions for each “I AM” statement.

               3. Give them some of Jesus miracles or a paraphrase of the Sermon on the Mount. Let the families take photos of the things they are thankful for and where they find God.

*Give them a picture of your altar (5 x 7 at least) along with copies of Morning Prayer and readings.  Before the family does Morning Prayer together, have them create a sacred space including the picture of the altar.  Give them a theme for each week to decorate the space or table (i.e. God’s creation: collect flowers, rocks, pictures of animals or stuffed animals).  Tell them that even though we are not together, we are all the church and our worship is beyond places. 

*Send out a coloring page of a stained-glass window or outside of your church.  Have the families use that as a template to color.  Have it say on the back, “We prayed for you today.  Church Name loves you.”  Have them pray for people and leave it on their doorstep.

*Give them some short lines from Psalms that are about joy and love.  Have them write the lines on a rock, decorate the rock with paint or permanent marker, and leave in places where they go.  Each week, release another psalm with a prayer the family can say over their creation.

*Choose a Bible story for the Summer theme.  For each week for six weeks give them something to do with that story.  For example, the first week would be telling the story with some discussion questions.  The second week would be a craft that goes with the story.  The third week would be a science experiment that goes with the story.  The third week would be an outreach project that goes with the story.  The fourth week would be a game that goes with the story.  The fifth week would be food focused (make something).  The sixth week would be a video of the story or watch a recording of someone talking about the story.