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Advent: Las Posadas – Journey to Bethlehem

Las Posadas commemorates the entry into Bethlehem by Mary and Joseph. This festival derives from the Central and South American tradition of the same name.  Las Posadas translates to the inns.  We follow Mary and Joseph as they look for a place to stay, singing songs of comfort as they travel.  This is a church-wide, intergenerational event full of fun and fellowship.  It is another way to bring faith into the rush of the holiday season.

I find an expecting couple to play the parts of Mary and Joseph.  They dress in costume. I have a musician lead the singing.  Sometimes, I have a guitarist accompany us as we sing.  A devil is required and normally this is played by one of our teens.  The devil, dressed in red, is fun loving and is chased away by our “boos!”

Traditionally, there are nine inns.  I ask eight ministries to decorate doors of our school classrooms, office doors, and meeting doors.  I encourage the ministries to decorate the doors to represent their ministry.  Some very beautiful doors have been done.  The ministry mans their “inn.”  The ninth inn is the Nave.  It is decorated with tissue paper flowers, candles, hanging fiesta garland, and luminaries.  Luminaries line the hallways of our path.

At the starting location, I have sombreros, maracas, battery operated candles, and programs ready.  The inns are decorated and all are in place. I read the scripture Luke 2: 1-5.  Joseph and Mary discuss the end of the long journey and Mary says that the time has come to deliver her child.  We sing our song and follow Joseph and Mary as they go to the first door.  At each of the first eight doors, Jospeh stops and knocks.  The innkeeper answers.  Jospeh asks if there is room.  The innkeeper apologizes that there is not room and then asks to join their journey.  As we travel (it resembles a parade), we sing the song of comfort.  After each door, the group traveling grows as the people of the inn join us.  Periodically, the devil appears to try to distract us from our journey.  We yell, “Boo!” To send the devil running away.

As we arrive at the ninth door, the Nave, it is answered by one of our clergy, who states, “There is no room in the inn, but they can stay in the stable. It is warm and dry.”  Joseph accepts the kindness of the innkeeper and we all enter the church nave.  There Mary and Joseph sit in chairs at the front and we all sit in the pews.  I tell the story of Las Posadas, we sing more songs, we say a few prayers, and we share a few words of love and peace to the couple and to each other.

We then head to a reception.  We serve a dinner, have a piñata, and do a community service project as an offering of love.  Usually, I have the children decorate placemats for the local nursing home to use for a dinner.

This program works well in schools, as well as church.

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Advent: St. Nicholas Festival

Hosting a St. Nicholas Festival brings smiles, excitement, and joy from children, families, volunteers, and newcomers hoping to find something that takes the materialism out of the holiday. It is a wonderful on-ramp for new children and families looking for a church. It is a gift to give the surrounding community looking for a faith-based celebration of the Christmas spirit.

St. Nicholas feast day is December 6. In some parts of the world, such as The Netherlands, this is the day children receive Christmas gifts.  There are many ways for churches to bring this feast day to life and help replace the “give me a list” Santa Claus with “how can we love others and love God” St. Nicholas.

I plan the festival to have stations, usually 8 to 10.  Families can go to any station they desire as many times as they would like.  After forty-five minutes, we gather all and head to the Nave, where the children leave their shoes in the Loggia.  We have a short worship service (15 minutes), where we hear a knock on the door and St. Nicholas enters.  He shares information with the children, we bring offerings from the stations (will explain when I explain the stations) and we sing lots of songs.  St. Nicholas does do a short homily on giving and loving God.  After we have completed the worship service, the children are invited to come sit in the Bishop’s chair, with St. Nicholas standing beside them, for pictures.  (This takes about 10-15 minutes for all to talk to St. Nicholas and get pictures.) When we return to the Loggia, the children discover one of their shoes is filled with a bag of candy, stickers, bookmarks, pencils, and another small gift.   The children are so excited!  We then move to another room for cookies, hot chocolate or lemonade.  The whole event is about one and a half hour.

For free ideas, visit St.Nicholas Center.

For stations, I have found these the most successful:

  • Making a Bishop’s Miter (hat)- supplies are red paper, glitter crosses, tape, staples, and the pattern found at the St. Nicholas site.
  • Community Service/Outreach-we have collected slippers for a nursing home, diapers for a family homeless shelter, blankets for our police to give it to the homeless, made placemats for a community meal, food for a food pantry, etc.  We bring these in to the worship for an offering.
  • Making Christmas Cards-supplies are cardstock, stamps, stickers, and markers.
  • St. Nicholas Ornament- handprint one or easy face one come in easy kits.
  • Letter to St. Nicholas (Child asks for something for someone else)-supplies are stationary or postcards, pens, pencils, and mailbox.  We bring these in to the worship for St. Nicholas.
  • St. Nicholas Festival Around the World-I researched the festival around the world and laminated each country.  The table is filled with statues, toys, wood-shoes, etc. from around the world.
  • Puzzle and Games-supplies include coloring sheets, word puzzles, hidden object pictures,  match card games, Bingo game using St. Nicholas symbols, pens, pencils, and crayons.
  • St. Nicholas Information-supplies include information sheets, book, statues, other books, prayer cards, icons, and other items that tell about St. Nicholas.  The volunteer working the station is very knowledgeable about St. Nicholas and shares with each person information about the saint.
  • St. Nicholas Craft-Pattern from the St. Nicholas Center.
  • Storytelling-I have the Godly Play story of St. Nicholas going all the time.  There are floor pillows and blankets for people to sit on.

Continue reading “Advent: St. Nicholas Festival”

Advent Take Home Kits

Families love the take home kits that I have made for them.  It started in Lent in a Bag, Church on the Go, Jesus Home Kit, and now Advent Take Home Kits.  The theme this year is: Journey to Bethlehem: Share the Joy.

The kit contains a book with information, education, and lots to do.  There is information on what Advent is, how to make an Advent wreath, how to use an Advent wreath, worship services to practice at home, weekly meditations with readings and discussion, Christmas Eve and Christmas meditations and information about our church services.  Booklet is available for the cost of a donation.  Please email me at [email protected]  

The Kit, itself is in a “take out” box with a sticker showing Mary and Joseph traeling to Bethlehem.  I used take out containers to give it a fun feel (and to make it different from the other season’s kits.

In the box, I included objects to be used for the meditations in the booklet.  On week one, the reading is Isaiah 9: 1-7.  So the object is a jewel for families to pass around, as in a jewel from a king’s crown.  The jewel needs to be big enough for children not to swallow.  I liked these jewels as they look very impressive.

Week two’s reading is Luke 1: 26-55.  The object is a feather for angel’s wings.  I found this feather and liked it because it looked very different from a bird’s feather.

Week three’s reading is Luke 1: 10-25, 57-66.  The object is a baby blanket and picture of old couple with a baby.  For the baby blanket I used material squares.

Week four’s reading is Matthew 1: 18-24, Luke 2: 1-7.  The object is wood for Joseph.  I loved these tree slices for the rawness and the way one can tell it is from a tree.  I loved the way the slices feel too.

Christmas Eve’s reading is Luke 2: 9-20.  I used sheep wool for the shepherd’s story object.  This sheep’s wool will need to be cut into small 2 inch squars, but makes for a wonderful feeling object.

Christmas Day, the meditation moves from the journey to Bethlehem to the journey to Easter.  The object is a cross that the family can decorate.

The Advent kits are designed for families to use to help the preparation of Christmas be about faith, time together, understanding and joy.  They can spend as little as once a week up to three times a week doing things in their kit.  They can include visiting family and friends.  It gives thema chance to share about the exciting things happening at their church.

Our kit, also, includes a Christmas ornament (picture of the church in snow printed on cardstock) and a Christmas card from the staff.

Another item to include would be Advent candles for a wreath (or making them available  for purchase.)  For purple candle set or blue candle set, click on the color to get the link (or click on any of the items to get the link to the items I used.)  Any item purchased through the link, helps to fund this site.

 

Advent: Time for the Church to Expand

Advent is the time of year for churches’ to expand people’s hearts, people’s understanding of Christmas, faith, and religion, and expand their programming.  Advent is a great on-ramp for people, who are looking for a faith or a church, to enter into our congregations.  It is a great time for churches’ to bridge the space between the church building and their homes (and their families.)

Advent starts off with a booklet which contains information, worship materials, discussion topics, and activities to do at home.  I have two booklets for this purpose.  One, Devotions for Children and Families with Children, contains a weekly Advent wreath worship service and six activities that can be done through the week.  Families can choose to do one or more each week depending on their time restraints.  Activities listed include a church activity, a craft activity, a charitable/outreach activity, an ornament activity, a creche activity, and a family-centered (history) activity.  The second booklet is part of an Advent Take Home Kit and is called, Journey to Bethlehem: Share the Joy. It contains information on what Advent is, how to make an Advent wreath, how to use an Advent wreath, worship services to practice at home, weekly meditations with readings and discussion, Christmas Eve and Christmas meditations and information about our church services.  Both are available for the cost of a donation.  Please email me at [email protected]

Advent is a great time to get families and individuals involved in non-Sunday activities.  During Advent, I, typically, schedule the following events:

  • First Sunday in Advent: Home kits go home.
  • Holy Pause in Advent: we offer different types of ways to “pause” including classes on how to do a labyrinth, Centering Prayer, Icon use, Communion Classes, and Prayer Stations.
  • St. Nicholas Festival: fun for all ages and way to share a different perspective on Santa Claus.
  • Las Posadas: Introduce a different culture and very group growing.
  • Saint Thomas Service: for those who have lost a loved one.
  • Angel Event: we learn about angels and do crafts.
  • Lessons & Carols: beautiful music.
  • Family Christmas Movie: we watch with popcorn and lemonade and them discuss.
  • Christmas Pageant: we do as a part of our December 24 Service at 3:00 PM.  Any child who shows up is in it.  Generally, we have about 100.

I will discuss each event more in depth in future blogs, but planning is the key and getting the word out.  Once the word spreads, you will see families that have been away, new faces, and lots of smiling regulars.  The important thing for any event is getting a team of helpers, planning what each event will look like and then do it.  Every year, we build on what we did the year before.  This keeps us from having to start by spending lots of money and effort.  Pick three or four stations at each event or activities and then every year add two.

Fall Event: Fall Festival

Having a Fall Festival is a wonderful opportunity for fellowship and fun. Done thoughtfully, it becomes a tool for community building and a great on-ramp for those looking for a church.  A committee of volunteers can easily put together a fun afternoon or early evening event. I plan two to three hours for the event and include food, games, crafts, stewardship, outreach, and additional activities.

Food: Ideas for easy providing of food include inviting a few food trucks, grill hamburgers and hot dogs with pot luck sides, or have a chili cook-off.

Games: Carnival games are always a hit.  Ideas are Bean Bag Toss, Ring Toss, Duck Fishing, or a mix. Host a Scavenger Hunt with a list of people to get their names (great for interactions). Ideas include a vestry member, someone wearing purple, a clergy person, someone two years of age, etc.   Give out award medals to those who complete the hunt.

Other game ideas include Bingo (with fun prizes), Cornhole, and Four Square.  Everyone loves games using cut pool noodles.

Crafts: A fun Fall event includes a Pumpkin Painting or Carving Contest  Use paints or stickers and have a table to display them  Another idea is to have a “ Create an Ad” Poster Contest  Posterboard, markers, paint, and pencils are all that is needed  Display the finished products in the Parish Hall  theme ideas of “Why I Love My Church” or “My Church is the Place to Be” help inspire ideas.  I, always, have sidewalk chalk on hand to inspire the little artists

Stewardship or Outreach: After deciding on a project, we announce the goal in services and publicity for the festival.  We have collected can goods for the food pantry  For every canned good or $1 given, the person got to through a ball for a Dunking Booth  we had staff take turns in the Dunk Booth

We have set goals for stewardship and when they are achieved, the rector got a whip cream pie in the face.

We set jars out for people to put money into and the staff person with the most money gets water ballooned.

Other Activities:  Children love face painting.  Our youth, usually, volunteer to do it.

A Bounce House is always fun.  I invested in one because renting can cost about $400.  Click here to see the one I bought

 

A Fall Festival encourages community and fellowship.  Our parish looks forward every year to our annual event.

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Fall Event: Hosting a St. Francis Celebration/Festival

October 4 is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, known as the patron saint of animals.  Many communities use the first Sunday in October as a day to honor animals and those who care for them.  In the Episcopal Church, we usually have a blessing of the animals.  At our preschool, we invite the children to bring their stuffed animals and have a blessing.

Seting aside a day for pets is a fun event that can be used as a teaching and formation event.  I always start by telling the story of St. Francis, who was kind and loving to people and animals.  Reading a book with pictures makes this fun.  Three books I recommend for any age are:

 

If blessing live animals, be sure to have leaflets for all to participate.  Having a certificate or St. Francis Pet medal to give out, will remind all who came about this day and your church.

For stuffed animals, I ask the blessing that the animal chase away bad dreams, tears, and bring comfort.  I, also have a small Saint Francis doll on hand to show the children.

A great celebration or festival includes stations for those who wish to participate.  Ideas for stations include:

Invite the Police K-9 and Horse Units for demonstrations and to be part of the blessing.

Also invite the local shelter to bring some animals for adoption.  Ask them to have materials on care of pets for children.  Also, invite a veterinarian to give out treat bags or coupons.

Invite the surrounding neighborhood to bring their pets.  Make sure you request all animals to be on leash or in a cage.

St. Francis Day Celebration or Festival is a wonderful way to show love and care for creation.  It is a chance to honor our devoted animal friends.  It is a great way to introduce new people to our church and to be seen as a church that cares.

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Getting Ready for Fall: Christian Formation Fall Checklist

The Fall is the start of most parishes’ program year. There is so much to do!  Here is a checklist, which can be used by any church to ensure a successful start of the year.

Sunday School Formation

  • Teachers signed up, trained, and scheduled
  • Curriculum chosen, ordered, and given to teachers
  • Signs for each classroom with Name of Class, ages or grades if appropriate
  • Age/grade levels and class assignments posted in several locations
  • Registration forms and pens outside of each class
  • Take Home sheets about each class with discussion questions to continue the conversation
  • Attendance Sheets
  • Name tags
  • Basic supplies in each class: markers, pencils, scissors, stapler, glue, tape, paper, construction paper, Bibles

Children’s Chapel

  • Leaders trained and scheduled
  • Story props
  • Story order and dates
  • Curriculum, if used
  • Sermon/homily options, sites, ideas
  • Music
  • ”Bulletins” for readers
  • Altar supplies: candle, cross, Bible

Youth Group(s)

For All of the Above

  • Calendar with all important dates and starting times
  • Brochure of Family Ministries with descriptions, times and location for everything family
  • Evangelism plan (way to spread the word about church and happenings
  • Goals for year
  • Letter to parents with purpose of each ministry
  • Letter to participants about what they can expect
  • Will a snack be served and if so, what? when? How will it be supplied?

Events

  • Chair and Co-chair for each planned event
  • Description, purpose and goal for each event
  • Notes about event from previous years
  • Schedule of activities for each event
  • Supplis needed list (and budget) for each event
  • Helpers, volunteers, committee for each event
  • Will food be served? Will special furniture or room plan be required?
  • Advertisement or publicity plan for each event

Tools to help

This checklist is a great overview and way to start planning   Depending on the curriculum, activities, crafts, and games, additional supplies will be needed

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Getting Ready for the Fall: Rally Day

Planning for the first day of the Program Year sets the whole tone for a successful year.  Having a form of Rally Day, helps excite interest, promote motivation for families to attend, and create buzz for the year.

Successful “Rally Days” include volunteers, props, registration forms, well displayed possibilities, spreading the word, and excitement.  Having volunteers to give directions, hand out registrations, welcome all back, help the newcomer, and share possibilities is a must.  We have red balloons attached to clip boards and let people know to look for a balloon to get help. On the clip boards, have room assignments, a map, and other important information. Instruct volunteers on what to say when approached and to look for those who seem lost or confused.

Besides the balloons, we have little treats waiting in the rooms for those coming to the first day.  A special snack or small gift is a wonderful way to say, “Welcome, we are so glad you are here.”  I have given away bracelets (inexpensive fun option), candy with scripture, or wooden cross necklaces.  The idea is to make sure the children come away feeling welcomed, loved, and wanting to return.

A registration form with pertinent contact information, allergies, special needs, and permission for pictures to be taken and used is important.  I ask families to fill one form for all the children in their family every year.  This enables me to double check and make sure all the information we have on file is correct.  E-mails tend to change frequently. A letter explaining curriculum, what to expect, and other information should be given as a “Take Home” sheet for each class, Chapel or program.

Displaying all the options for ministry, Christian Formation, volunteer possibilities and ways to get involved is a must even for those members who are heavily involved.   Have fliers for coming dates.  Ideally, have a calendar of what is coming so they cna put it on their calendars.  Have sign up sheets for different areas of ministry, social groups, and ways for them to get more information. Have special displays for new ministries

As Rally Day approaches, build the excitement!  Have a coutdown, give “commercials”, have signs up, and encourage your congregation to invite friends.  On Rally Day, remind everyone, it is not too late.  Tell their friends and invite people to participate in different things happening.  I, also, send all the chidlren who participated in our Vacation Bible School or other Summer Events (usually over 100 children), to come to Rally Day.

To make the day special, have a breakfast or a picnic.  Look for ways to turn this day into a celebration of the coming year.  The start of the Program year is a time to celebrate!

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Getting Ready For Fall: Bible Presentations

Once upon a time, every house was filled with Bibles. Bibles were read together as a family. That was long ago. Many parents feel lost when it comes to the Bible and many children find the language difficult to understand. Bridging the Sunday Morning “Box” with home life, means helping parents navigate this important part of our faith.

Every Fall, at the end of September, I present those entering Second Grade and those new to our church family in other Elementary Grades above Second, a Bible. This is done during the service. Children are invited up to the front of the church. A prayer and a blessing is said over the books and over them.

The Bible we have given out over the last three years is Deep Blue Kids Bible. I did lots of research on this Bible and chose this one because it was easty to read, had lots of additional information for children, and had hints for parents. We use this Bible in our Sunday School Class, as well. This Bible will carry the children until they are ready to start Middle School.

If you are looking for a Bible for those entering First Grade, I recommend My First Message

I always put a sticker in the front of every Bible or book we give out saying it was a gift from the church. That way as the child grows up, it is a reminder that they are a member of a church family, wherever they are.

I, also, have a sheet inside the Bible with encouragements on reading together as a family. I let them know that questions will arise and that is good, because asking questions opens up the world, faith, and spirituality to them. I will always answer any questions!

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Getting Ready for the Fall:Volunteer Training

Want more volunteers? Need volunteers to stay active? There are two, low maintenance ways to guarantee your “yes” answer will be fulfilled. They both are simple and take little time, but prove extremely effective to achieving volunteers that are active and stay active.

The first is training. Having a training workshop will give volunteers confidence, encourage the fearful to volunteer, and strengthen every program. I have one day in August, before the start of our program year and do all the training that day. I do a check-in training update in January. The Fall training workshop is done on a Saturday, so everyone can come. I have lots of food and drink. The first group has bagels and fruit waiting for them. Lunch is delivered for two groups to enjoy. Afternoon snack of cookies and tea are waiting for the last group.

I group the workshops by ministry, dividing the Christian Formation Sunday Morning into age groups (3 years – Kindergarten, then Elementary, Youth.) I, also, do a Children’s Chapel training, Event Leader workshop, and Ministry Leader training. All involved, even returning volunteers, are encouraged to attend. All scheduling and assignments are done in this workshop by those involved. Rooms and supplies are set up. This is an important day and will make the program year run smoothly.

Covered in each workshop group is:
general information about expectations of time, space, and where to find things they might need,
money and budget issues,
developmental expections of the age they are working with, including spiritual and faith,
Curriculum, including a demonstration,
Issues or problems they might encounter
Specifics of their ministry
Roles
The groups, then, begin work on schedules, class space, and forming teams. I am in the general area for this part, but only for questions.

If you would like to get a specific copy of a ministry or development expectations by a certain age, there is a small fee. Send an email to [email protected] and I will let you know what is available and the cost.

The second thing I do for volunteers is use every holiday as a time to express thank you. I give every volunteer a small printed thank you with a small gift, which usually is a piece of candy. At Christmas, I give an ornament and at the end of the program year, a nice thank you gift. As the year progresses, I will share what I do for volunteers by coming holiday.

Do not forget Safe Church Training! This is vital for all ministries.

Trained volunteers are happy volunteers!