Respect the Dignity of Every Human: Loving Your Neighbor

With Martin Luther King, JR. Day approaching, it is an opportunity for the church to offer a lesson or event based on our Baptismal Vows and the Commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Children will have learned in school about MLK’s “I have a Dream” speech. (Have some copies on hand, just in case).  Jesus’ “dream” of all people being treated with dignity showed through in his Parable of the Good Samaritan, his talks of the lowly as named by society, and his meeting the Samaritan woman at the well.

An event or lesson would include the telling of the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the woman at the Well. It would include opportunities to interact with people the children/families would not normally socialize with or feel comfortable doing so. This is a great time to expand people’s comfort zone. Some ideas include: invite someone from the homeless shelter, a family who is being helped by the food bank, people of different cultures, someone living in a nursing home, and someone who benefits from your parish outreach program.

Have the guests prepare with: what would you like us to know about you?  What is a typical day like for you?  Since we vow to respect the dignity of every human being, what are ways you feel disrespected and how can we interact with you that helps you to feel respected?

Have some activities.  If from a different culture, maybe a craft or activity from that culture.

If from an outreach program, have information about the program, a list of ways to get involved and a small project to get the children involved in the outreach program.

This can make adults feel uncomfortable, but that is why we avoid the outcast. This is a chance to learn empathy, compassion, and how to treat others with respect and dignity.

Here are some children’s books on Martin Luther King, Jr: I am Martin Luther King, Jr (Ordinary People Change the World), I have a Dream Book & CD, A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr.

For other people: Courageous People Who Changed the Worl (Little Heroes), First They were Children: Seven People Who Changed the World

Christmas & Epiphany: Bethlehem Village Event

Nothing brings greater understanding to a child (or any person) than participating and living out something they did not fully grasp.  Having a Bethlehem Village, where life is recreated in Bethlehem arond the time Jesus was born, brings the time to life and creates an understanding of what life was like and how very different life was from today’s times.

To create Bethlehem Village, three parts are required.  The first part is the decorations to turn the area into Bethlehem.  The second part is “shops” or stations with educational, interactive and fun activities and crafts. The third is volunteers who take the part of the villagers.

All enter Bethlehem through the Tour Guides Shop.  They sign in at a Guest book and recieve their passport with a listing of all the shops and activities

For decorations, I use bales of hay, lots of fabric for table covers, scenic background, and props.  Each shop is a table covered in a bright fabric with educational materials, props, pictures, and a work area.

The shops and workers are the leather-maker, the metal worker, the carpenter, the baker, Hebrew School, the Synagogue, the shepherd, the potter and the inn-keeper. Each shop has lots of information of what would have been in the shop during Jesus’ time and how things were used by the people.  For activities, here is a listing of what I have done:      Leather- Maker’s Shop- fake leather bookmarks, bracelets, making leather bags (to carry small items).   Metal Worker-gold picture using gold foil and a wood  “pencil” to draw on back. Flip over and have an embossed picture.    Carptenter- wood ornaments, wood objects or blocks of wood to paint, and sandpaper.    Baker- barley to grind, bakery treats (cookies) to eat.  Hebrew School-Hebrew Alphabet, primer, guide, pencils, paper,dreidal with instructions and coloring pages for the children.  Synagogue-Menorah, meditations with objects, list of sins and suggested sacrifieces from the Bible, coins for coin changing.  Sheperds-toy sheep, mazes, puzzles, coloring pages.  Potter-clay for them to shape and take home.  Inn-keeper- small cot with various cleaning items, drinks, and activity to make a “Welcome” door sign.

At each shop, their passport is stamped.

After an hour of Bethlehem Village, the Magi (kings), come searching for Jesus.  We follow them into the Nave where a retelling of the Nativity story is done and the Magi speak about why they search for Jesus.  We sing some songs and say some prayers.   We have an area for parents to take pictures of their child and the Magi.

The volunteers are gathered in advance, given their parts with information about what their shop was like.  They read up on the work and the life, so that when, they come to do Bethlehem Village, they are prepared for any questions the visitors might have.

There are lots of different ways to do a Behtlehem Village.  If you do it before Christmas, the Shepherds could come looking for Jesus (instead of the Magi.)  Petting zoos, large animal cut-outs, or more characters can be added.  For smaller, just choose four shops to have and have it before the usual Christmas Pageant.

Getting the word out to surrounding neighbors and schools, makes the event an ideal “on-ramp” for people who have not regularly attended a church.  This event is fun, educational, and promotes fellowship, as well as, hospitality.

For information on items used in the shops or decorations, please click on the link.  By purchasing items through the links, helps to fund this site.  Thank you.

 

Advent/Christmas Family Movie Event

Watching a Christmas movie, may not feel like an event a church should host, but it can be a gift of slowing down, spending time in community, and giving a faith perspective on a season rushing towards a Christmas overload.

Choose a family movie that is appropriate for all ages.  I have done Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Elf, and other classics.  Some movies are wonderful for adults (It’s a Wonderful Life), but are too slow for the younger crowd.  I try to pick movies that are less than one and a half hours.  Preview the movie and come up with five to seven discussion questions that as a community of faith, what are the ethics, faith, and love-based questions that come up?

Publicize the event!

Have popcorn, snacks, lemonade, water and tea.  Make it an intergenerational event, to encourage fellowship and community.  Have a table of activities for the very young to do if they become bored. One option, that is a lot of fun, is choose an activity or word to call out every time a certain thing happens on screen (it makes it like a movie scavenger hunt.)

After the movie, have the discussion, encouraging all (and all ages) to answer.  It makes for great community building and encourages those who normally would not interact, to get to know each other.

This activity is a great activity for the Sunday before Christmas (as an intergenerational Christian Formation event.)

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Advent: Angels Event – an Intergenerational & Family Event

Angels are, probably, one of the most used creatures in movies, art, theater, books, and other forms of media.  Yet, very rarely, are angels shown as the angels in the Bible.  Most of what people know about angels comes from the arts, not the Bible.

Hosting an Angelic Event during Advent encourages learning, Bible knowlege growth, fun, fellowship, and a way to keep the holiday season faith focused.

Families, congregation member, children and youth gather for stories of angels in the Bible verses the angels depicted in the arts.   This, also, encourages parents to be their children’s main faith teacher, build a time of community, encourage exploration and help families to think of church and faith beyond Sunday mornings.

I set this up as stations to encourage everyone to move about and explore.  One can have as many or as few stations as one would like.  I, also, set up a cookie and lemonade table for when people get hungry, as well as chairs for fellowship.

The stations I have used are:

  • Crafts- 2 Stations set up opposite in the room                                                                                                                          Coffee Filter Angel: need coffee filters, cotton balls, gold pipe cleaners                                                                            Ornament Angel: including a beaded angel (kit) and wood angel ornament (I use permanet markers for them to decorate so they can take it home with them that evening.)
  • Games and Puzzle Stations- Wood Searches, hidden objects, and mazes with angels.  I , also, copy a picture of an angel on cardstock for anyone to make into a puzzle Angel.  This is two stations.Matching Game- I have angels in art copied and let children cut them out to make into a matching game.  Will need scissors to cut the angels out and bags to put their game in to take home.Nativity Rock, paper, scissors (Mary, Joseph, Angel: Mary wins Joseph wins Angel, Angel wins Mary) and a Bingo game featuring angels in the arts and Biblical Stories with angels. (Nativity Bingo and Biblical Bingo are two already made sets you can purchase or make your own.)
  • Learning about Angels: Make Q & A posters (interactive-queston on one sheet taped to posterboard with answer on another piece of paper.  They lift up the question to read the answer.)  Questions include- What are the types of angels mentioned in the Bible?   What are the four roles of Cherubim? How many times are Seraphim mentioned in the Bible?  What forms do the Living Creatures Angels take?  What angels have names in the Bible? How many angels are there (according to the Bible)? Do angels have wings? Are angels easy to spot (see)?   What three people in the Bible does an angel come visit to tell them they will have a baby?  What does Gabriel’s name mean?   Were angels created by God or have they always been there?   Are guardian angels mentioned in the Bible?    The answers have Biblical Scripture text.
  • Angel Reading Station-books, angel dolls, angel statues, Christmas tree angels (Here is a few angel dolls to start off –one blonde and one brunette. For angel statues, here is one neutral hair and one child friendly.                   
  • Angels in the Arts-pictures with information of how angels have been depicted and any information about the artist, the media work, or the angel.   A book with some information and pictures in Angels in the Arts.           
  • Station with name tags and Information sheet for parents on activities to do with child for faith.
  • Small Child station with coloring pages, crayons, and simple crafts to make.
  • Ornament Angels (display of different angels borrowed from different people in the church.)

I schedule a volunteer at each station.  Every year, the ornament can be changes and other stations can be added.

 

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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: 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 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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