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Getting Ready for the Fall: Blessing the Backpacks

As children and youth get ready for the return to school, Blessing the Backpacks (or school bags) is a way for the church to acknowledge something big is happening in their lives and the family is making a shift.
Recognizing the flow of families’ lives allows the church to be seen as a relevant place in their lives and as a resource beyond the box that takes place within the parish’s walls. By this action, we encourage faith to be seen as part of our lives at school.

On the Sunday before the start of school, at the principal service (or family service), we call all the children to the front. A few words are said acknowledging the change in the flow of their lives and then we ask them to raise their backpacks. We remind them that God is with them wherever they go and that we are a family and they are with us even at school. A prayer for courage, wisdom, and faith is said over the backpacks and completed with a blessing. A gift is then handed out for the children to place on their backpacks.

I give out luggage tags with the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and a picture on one side and then a Bible verse or prayer on the other. The luggage tags are sealed so they will last the whole year. I use an inexpensive Luggage Tag Maker that I got from Amazon and the tags with the cord also come from Amazon.

To decide what goes on it, we ask the youth for ideas and choose one of their designs. We will use the luggage tag throughout the year in our Newcomers’ Welcome Bags.

We spread the word about the Blessing of Backpacks in our community and invite anyone to come. We encourage our children and youth to bring their friends. We usually have a very large group.

We follow up the service with some hospitality and encourage all to stay after the service and join us.

Click on any of the highlighted items to see what I used. Any items purchased through this link helps to fund this site.

LEGO® My Bible: Intergenerational Fun & Learning

LEGO®S are loved by everyone in every age bracket. For the last year, we have used them in several capacities to encourage Bible reading, attendance in Sunday School, an evening gathering, and a Sunday morning event after church services in the Summer.

At each event, I choose a story from the Bible for each group. If I have six tables set up, then I choose six different stories. I place two to three different translated Bibles, blank sheets of paper, pencils, pens, an instruction sheet, and a list of questions.

The question sheet includes who is this story about, where did the story take place, what happened before the story, what didn’t you like, what did you like,and how can you show this story to others?

The instructions start with a prayer, asking them to pray together, them tell them to read the story and discuss the questions. Upon finishing the discussion, they draw what they are going to build to show the story. I have a cart full of LEGO® sorted by color, along with a box of people. After they have built their story, they are instructed to write a one page paraphrase of their story and a prayer.

For Sunday School classes, I use Building Faith Brick by Brick. When we started to have our Spring slump, this energized our older elementary grades. The children and youth could not wait to come and finish their group projects. We displayed all finished products in a prayer walk opened to our whole parish.

For Inergeneratinal Events, I encourage seating at tables of various ages. Young and old work together to create a Bible piece. It encourages people to get to each other in a fun way.

For a bridge between family and Sunday morning, I encourage families to take a story home and bring their pieces and stories back the following Sunday.

For inspiration, purchase the Brick Bible or for use with younger children to help share what is happening in the parish. For additional fun, take pictures of the created pieces and make your own Bible.

For teens, who enjoy sets, there is a Last Supper kit, but I like the idea of them creating their own pieces.

One of the hardest and most expensive pieces are the people. I have included a link for buying a large set at an inexpensive price – people set.

Click on any of the highlighted items to see what I used.  Any items purchased through this link helps to fund this site.

Summer Excitement

Summers are a lazy and relaxed time.  School is out for children and their regular activities are on hold.  For most parishes, their regular programming is on hiatus.  This gives volunteers a needed rest and allows for a renewing for the coming program year.

Unfortunately, for most parishes, this means a slowing down in attendance.  It does not have to be.  Adding some summer programs can add excitement and have children waking up on Sunday morning begging to go to church.  Last year, I added some special Sundays that really created a buzz.  This year I repeated two and switched one, to keep the excitement level up.

One of the programs was simple and so much fun.  We used the feast day of St. Paul, to have a Superhero Sunday.  We encouraged everyone to dress as a superhero.  It was so cute to see even the babies dressed in costume.  The adults, also, got into the theme.  During Children’s Chapel, I told the story of St. Paul and talked about having the super powers of faith, hope, and love.  I discussed how we can have those super powers, too.  Each child received a Super Hero Certificate.  After the service, we played Super Hero games and had snacks.  We used Silly String to play Spiderman tag.  I made a hero obstacle course.  We played Kryptonite keep away, too.  Everyone loved it and the children were excited to wear their costumes to church.  Some children even made up their own super hero and costume.

Another program was a water event.  We encouraged people to dress in Hawaiian clothing.  During Children’s Chapel, I told water stories from the Bible (Noah, Jonah, Moses, Jesus Baptism, Jesus Calms the Storm, and Woman at the Well).  After the service, we played water games (children got drenched), so people were encouraged to bring swimsuits and towels.  I used a water limbo game to be the animals (had to make a sound no one else made to get into ark).  I used a slip-and-slide to slide through the Red Sea from Exodus.  We used water balloons for the Baptism and storm stories and ended with a water relay race for the woman at the well.  We had popsicles for snack.

The final program was an intergenerational event after the service.  I will discuss it in another blog.

Summer is a chance to experiment, welcome newcomers, and have fun, while sharing God’s love.  The liturgical season is green, green for growing.  We can continue to grow in our faith, even when we are taking a rest.

Click on any of the highlighted items to see what I used.  Any items purchased through this link helps to fund this site.

Church on The Go Bags

 

The most asked about bridge between the Sunday morning “box” and home is the Church on the Go bags.  Families of all sizes, with all different age groups, have taken, used, and loved these kits.

Based on the belief that we are the church wherever we are, Church on the Go kits build a bridge between families traveling or vacationing to their home parish.  These kits include everything needed for the family to build an altar, worship together and have fun.  Activities included are not just for Sunday worship. Included are suggestions for decorating the altar, family activities, children activities, and different types of prayer. Some activities can be done solo, like a finger labyrinth and coloring pages, while others encourage group and family time.

I put the bags together and have them in a designated spot (we use a back table) every Sunday for vacationing families.  Anyone can pick up a bag, before they go on vacation, for use while away.  I replenish the bags as needed through the summer.

By using a photo of our altar (5” x 7”), the altar the family builds reminds them that, even though they are not physically with us, they are a part of our family.  Other items included in altar bag (1 gallon bag) are tea candles, green altar cloth (Season after Pentecost) and instructions for making an altar.

The larger, Church on the Go bag, contains the altar bag, two Morning Prayer services (from the BCP), with all the choices removed (so the Venite, one psalm only, one canticle after each reading, one suffrages, and two prayers chosen.)  It also contains themes to decorate the altar and a list of readings that follow that theme (printed out so a Bible is not needed).  There are easily sing-able hymns included, too.

In addition to the Sunday worship service, the kit contains a trifold of Graces for Meals, Finger Labyrinth, coloring sheets, children bulletins with puzzles and mazes, ideas for talking and sharing points, stickers, crayons, and coloring pencils.

Instructions included are:

Church on the Go

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

Instructions for Altar & Service

 

  1. Look over Service & choose a theme.
  2. Put together your altar
    1. Green cloth for the Season after Pentecost
    2. Candles on each side.
    3. Put up your picture of St. Paul’s altar (for the cross & to celebrate with us!)
    4. Decorate your altar by placing objects from theme suggestion.
    5. Take a picture of your altar (with family members & send to us).
  3. Pick one person to be officiant for service (they get their own book) & someone to do the readings (that person picks two readings from the theme.)
  4. Do the service following the instructions in the Service Pamphlet.
  5. Two hymns are included on sheet if you would like to use them.

 Other ideas to keep each year fresh is to change out the hymns, children’s bulletins and color pages.  For bags geared towards family with youth (older children) include mazes, decoders, car games, family trivia (have some fun and base the trivia questions on your clergy and known activities) and other resources to keep families engaged at any age.

Ask the families to share their experience or use of the bags.  We asked the families to post their altars on social media and tag the parish.

Click on any of the highlighted items to see what I used.  Any items purchased through this link helps to fund this site:

Green Altar cloths

Tea Candles (2 per kit)

Bags

Jesus Doll and Home Kit

One of the ways to bridge the Sunday Morning “box” to the home is with a Jesus Doll.  After adding a home kit, it has been a wonderful tool to tie our parish and faith to a family’s home life.  Children have loved their turn with the doll and kit.  Parents love having a format to discuss Jesus and faith.

The family gets the Jesus Doll and Home kit on Sunday morning and return it the following Sunday.  I send an email during the week to let the coming family know their turn with the doll and kit will start the coming Sunday.  I, also, send an email to the family who has the doll, asking them to send pictures and reminding them to bring it with them on Sunday.

The photographs returned are full of smiles as the child(ren) take Jesus on their different adventures.  Jesus has visited preschool classes, parks, parties, and zoos while with the children.  Jesus, also, joins the family at dinner and bedtime.

Parents receive a letter in the kit:

    This is your week with St. Paul’s Jesus Doll and bag.  Enclosed in the bag, you will find a folder with an activity sheet for each child in your family as soon as Jesus comes home and then an activity sheet when Jesus is ready to come back to church.  Please, return the sheets with the doll and book in the bag.  They will be used to make a display and a book.

       The bag, also, contains the book If Jesus Came to My House.  Please read this with your child and use it throughout your time with the Jesus doll as a time to talk about Jesus in our homes and in our lives.

       Please email a photo of your child(ren) with the Jesus Doll and one photo of Jesus doing an activity with your family.  These with the words will be put into a Shutterfly book that will travel with the doll in the future.  Copies will be available for purchase if you would like your own.    

       Included in this folder is a Parent Insights Page.  Please write anything you would like to share about this experience for your family. 

      Please, return the doll and the bag with all the contents the next time you come to the church.  The doll and bag with new sheets will be passed on to the next family.

     Any discussion questions you have with your children that you would like to pass on, please let Lauren know and those will be compiled to travel with the doll.

Enjoy your visit with Jesus at your home and I hope you find ways to include Jesus in all your activities even beyond the doll’s visit.

 

Additionally, each kit contains

  • Two Activity Sheets for each child: one sheet asks the child to write or draw what they would like to do with Jesus during the coming week and the other is what their favorite time was with Jesus (write or draw) for child to return and then are displayed.
  • Insight Page for parents to return
  • Book: If Jesus Came to My House
  • Jesus Doll
  • Photo book from previous year

I only send out the Jesus Doll and Home Kit one season a year, to keep it fresh.  Lent or Easter are excellent liturgical seasons for getting families to think about faith at home.  Summer is great when looking for something to tie families to their parish while so many are traveling and most program year offerings are on hiatus.

Click on any of the highlighted items to see what I used.  Any items purchased through this link helps to fund this site.

Bridging the Sunday Morning “Box” and Weekday Home

Churches and families are in a place that is unique to this time.  Parents have never gone attended or had little church encounters prior to having children.  Parents’ knowledge base of tradition, Bible Stories, and faith/spiritual practices make it hard to be their children’s main teacher, because they are in the learning process themselves.  Some parents have ideas from church encounters or encounters with Christians that have left them with a “bad” taste.  Family’s time restrictions and obligations can make it hard for a family to attend learning and worshipping beyond Sunday morning.

I have developed a few home kits to make a bridge between church and family life with the goal of helping the family to move faith, worship, and formation out of the Sunday morning box.

At the parish I serve, we provide these kits as a gift to our families and then watch as evangelism, formation, and spiritual growth happen.  Families have been bringing in new families to share in our experience.  Parents are getting more involved and children are excited.  Most importantly, God is becoming a part of their home vocabulary in a fun way.

Any parish can put together their own kits.  For the Summer, I have put together:

(Click on the kit to learn more).

I will cover more in future blogs about other ways to bridge Sunday mornings and home.