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:
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
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/
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.
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.
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.
Baptism is one of the joyous gatherings of family,
friends and church. Besides being one of
the Episcopal Church’s major Sacrament, it is a major ritual and tradition in
many of our families.
Once a child is old enough to understand what is about to
take place, about three years of age, it is important to include the child in
preparation for Baptism. Once Baptized,
it is important to have a celebration annually of this important milestone in the
child’s life and in the family life. It
is a reminder of the spiritual/faith journey that was started and a good time
to reevaluate where we are on that path.
Child Preparation/Family Preparation:
Start by reading Jesus’ Baptism (Luke1-2; Matthew 1-2:15).
Discuss what other stories in the Bible involving water? (Noah, Exodus, Woman at the Well)
What does Baptism mean to the parents?
Talk about Baptism (The Book of Common Prayer pages 858-859) for parents and older children. For younger, put in simple words what is written in the BCP.
For children 10 and under, I read with them: Today is a Baptism Day by Anna V. Osteneo Moore. Asking at each page, I wonder what this means to you? Add to what is said to help them grasp an understanding of what the Baptism Covenant is.
Review the “what will happen” at the Baptism (the mechanics) to the child.
This is a special day! Discuss ways to celebrate this day and going forward each year.
At home, ask them to look at other family member’s baptisms’ pictures, candles, bulletins, and other memorabilia. I give them a copy of the book to reread a few times before the big day and encourage them to call me or come see me with any questions that may come up.
Celebrating an Anniversary of Baptism- Here are ideas and ways to honor the day in the years to come! The family is encouraged to develop their own tradition to celebrate. Ideas include:
Lighting their Baptismal Candle and each family member saying a blessing about the person and closing it with prayer.
Giving the child a book of age appropriate prayers or Bible with the whole family encircling the child or laying hands on the child while a prayer is said.
Get out pictures from the child’s Baptism, with each person saying how the child has grown in faith or on their life journey. Close the time with the child having a cupcake or some small celebration treat after a prayer is said for the child.
Ask the Godparents over for dinner on each anniversary of the Baptism or some other person who is important in the child’s faith life.
Each person in the family writes a short poem or prayer for the child and then reads them out loud while the Baptismal Candle is lit. Put them in a scrap book that is added to each year.
This church season begins
with Ash Wednesday and ends with the Easter Triduum (Maundy Thursday through
Easter Day) and lasts forty days, plus the Sundays. Lent is an important
time in the church and for our families.
It was has been a time for preparation for Easter, which included
baptism of converts to the faith and reconciliation of those who either left
the church or of sinners who had been publicly excommunicated from the
church. It is a time to get ready to enter into the mystery of
Easter. Lent, historically, is a time of
fasting, penitence, almsgiving (charity work), prayer and study for those being
baptized, reconciled, or those wishing to grow closer to God. Currently,
we are asked to use Lent as a time for personal and collective
transformations. We look truthfully at ourselves and make changes.
We see two major scripture
stories that use the forty days as a time of great change. The children of Israel, were led out of
bondage into freedom, but ended up spending time in the wilderness to prepare
for their promised land. Jesus went into
the wilderness for forty days to prepare for his ministry. As these stories represent, we can use Lent
to break our bonds, make new choices and begin a new direction for hearts and
When most people think of
Lent, they think of giving up a food item for six weeks. I like to give families a new practice and a
time to focus on their relationship with God and each other. Giving them the tools for spiritual practices
and discussions during this time is important.
Some of the offerings I give families are Lent Home Kits, Lent
Challenges, Jesus Doll and Home Kit, Ways to Pray and Give, and
Holy Week will be covered in Another blog.
Lent Home Kits- Lent-in-a-Bag is one of the most
popular of our take home activities. The
bags are handed out on the first Sunday of Lent (one per family). The bag contains six objects and devotions. I place the object in a snack size back and
staple the devotion to the bag. I, also,
put a booklet with all the Bible reading for each devotion. I find that busy families will not take the
time to go and get a Bible, so this guarantees that scripture will be read. Each week, after dinner or before bedtime,
the family gathers together. One object
with devotion is bulled from the Lent-in-a-Bag.
Someone reads the devotion and accompanying scripture. There is a discussion and prayer said. It does not take long, but families are so
excited, especially the children, it is hard to get them to wait a week
Buying items in bulk helps keep the cost down to a little
over $1 a bag.
Each year, I choose a different theme. In 2019, I did “Journey into the Wilderness”
with each scripture and devotion being about someone who from scripture who had
to go to the wilderness or a dark time before they did their work.
For 2020, the theme was “Praying with Jesus”. Each scripture and devotion is about one of
the times Jesus used prayer before a major act or immediately after: Before his
ministry started, the wilderness (the object was a rock), before choosing the
12 apostles (the object was a star), before the Transfiguration (the object was
a battery-operated tea candle), and before he was arrested (the object was a
cross). After he fed the 5000 (the
object was a fish). He taught how to
pray (the object is a scroll with the Lord’s Prayer).
Examples of devotions:
his 12 apostles, Jesus went to pray. He
continued in prayer all night. Read Luke
6:12-16. Why do you think he prayed before
choosing the 12? Why pray all
night? When do you pray? What if before major choices, we prayed, do
you think it would make a difference? We
think of stars as important and even call some people a star. What if we made Jesus our star this Lent. What would that look like? As you pass around the star, name one thing
about Jesus that you admire. Say a
prayer asking Jesus to be your star.
Before Jesus’ transfiguration, Jesus took a few of his
disciples and went up on the mountain to pray.
Read Luke 9: 28-36. Jesus became
filled with light and glowed, as well as, spoke to two prophets from a long
time ago. When we are in darkness, we
use light to help us see. What else do
we use light for? When are times that
you were afraid and a light made you feel better? Turn on the candle. We depend on light. What if we relied on Jesus, like we relied on
light? As you pass the candle, say a
prayer and each name one place in your life that you will include Jesus as the
center (the light.)
After Jesus feeds a large crowd, Jesus sends his
friends on and goes to pray. He had
tried to spend time in prayer before the feeding, but had compassion on the
crowd. Read Matthew 14: 13-23. Just as Jesus fed the crowd food, prayer
feeds our souls. It helps us connect
with God. What are some things that feed
you (helps you feel excited and full of energy?) When you are tired, what feeds you (helps you
to feel better?) What is a way you can
connect to God? Think of a short
sentence that you could use to pray continuously to God (i.e. God be with
me.) Fish need care. Our souls need care. Pass around the fish and say your short
sentence as a prayer. When the last one
has said their prayer, say the Lord’s Prayer together.
Surprisingly, Jesus does not tell his disciples about
prayer; he just does it. One, finally,
asks Jesus to teach them how to pray.
Read Luke 11: 10-8. This is what
we call the Lord’s Prayer. It is the
only prayer Jesus taught us. He starts
by acknowledging God’s will is the most important then asks for the things we
need to survive and moves into asking forgiveness for our sins (trespasses),
but on the condition that we forgive others.
Then we ask for guidance when we are faced with a difficult choice or
situation. When do you pray the Lord’s
Prayer? What is your favorite part? Are there other prayers you could pray that ask
for the same thing? Unroll the
scroll. Where is someplace you could
place the scroll this week to remind all who see it to pray the Lord’s Prayer
or a similar prayer? Say the Lord’s
Prayer together and put the scroll in a place to remind each family member to
say the prayer when they see it.
Before Easter, there was Good Friday, the
crucifixion. Before the crucifixion,
there was the arrest of Jesus. Before
the arrest of Jesus, Jesus goes to pray.
He knows what is to come and requires the strength and connection that
comes with prayer. He, also, asks his
friends to come and pray with him, but they keep falling asleep. Read Mark 14: 32-41. I wonder how things seem, things we are very
afraid to face or do, if we went to prayer for strength and connection? When do you like to pray alone? When do you like praying in a group? When do you like praying in a community? What do you like about each? What do you not like about each? As you pass around the cross, name one
emotion Jesus was probably feeling. When
everyone has had a turn, say a prayer asking God to be with you when you feel
those feelings. Sit in quiet with your
eyes closed, letting God’s presence be with you.
Before starting his ministry, Jesus went into the
wilderness for 40 days. To prepare for
his ministry, Jesus prayed. Read Matthew
While in the wilderness, Jesus was invited to transform stone into bread. Jesus knew he was not called to do this by God. Perhaps prayer helped him to know what he was called to do. Might there be a stony place in you that needs changing? Some attitude or habit that, with a little attention, might even become a gift for you and others? When you are angry or sad, it may feel like your heart has become a rock. How does that feel? How can you help someone who has a “rock” in their heart? When we are hungry or hurting it can be hard to do the right thing. How can we remember to choose to do the right thing? Pass around the rock. Using a permanent marker, write a word that everyone can pray to help you when you feel like you are in a rocky place.
This time in the church
was known as Ordinary Time, but the Season between Epiphany and Lent is
anything but ordinary. In most places, Winter is setting in, sports and
activities have slowed, and people are spending the majority of their time
indoors. This is a great time to give
families short activities they can do indoors as a family, especially after all
the activities of the Christmas Season coming to an end, there is a void of
ritual, celebration, and family time that can be missed.
The Season After Epiphany
is a great time to spend some time on the Parables of Jesus. Most people are not familiar with them or
understand that they were stories used by Jesus to teach. Many people thought they were events that
actually happened in the Bible or just did not know them.
There are several
activities that can be offered to families as a way to talk about and have fun
with the Parables. I start by choosing
one or two parables, depending on the amount of time we have before Lent
starts. One for every four weeks after
Epiphany is a good gage of how many to introduce.
Some ideas to give
families the tools they need for a parable include: Parable Kits, Parable
Discussion Pages, Parable Dive, and Parable Devotions. Ways to expand and help families
to practice what they are discussing at home include: Family Service Sunday,
Godly Play Story and Meal, Lego Parable Night and a Parable Play.
Starting with the basics,
no matter what tool/activities you choose, is important. A brief overview of “What is a Parable?”,
where it is found in the Bible (including what was happening that Jesus told
the parable), and a copy of the scripture is a must no matter which options you
When thinking of the activity/tool
you choose, ask yourself, why this is important, what you want the families to
walk away with, and how you can tie it to something going on in their lives or
in their church lives.
When explaining what a
parable is, keep it simple and use words the children in the family will
understand. I love the picture of
parables as gifts to us. I love the idea
that a parable can mean different things to the person hearing it, depending on
where they are in life. I love the way
Jesus taught by not stating an answer, but sharing a story to think about and
dig deeper into. I love that the parable
lessons are true throughout time.
Parable Kits: these include ways to “handle” the parable. It can be making the figures and the parts of the parable (printing something on cardstock for them to color and cut out or cutting printed items out of felt and placing on small blocks of wood or carboard.) The Parable would be introduced and then the family would be encouraged to make the parable. Another option, is to have significant pieces of the parable in a small bag and pull out the pieces when it is read out loud. Once this activity is completed, a sheet with talking points, discussion questions, and three activities to do to encourage exploring the lesson of the parable.
An example of the Parable
of the Lost Sheep kit might include sheep to make, a shepherd to draw and craft
sticks to make a sheep pen. The Parable
would be included. An explanation that
Jesus was asked why he ate with tax-collectors and sinners; why he kept company
with those who the religious community at the time said should be avoided. The explanation of what a parable is would be
on the outside of the kit. Discussion questions might say, “Who are the sheep?
Who is the shepherd? I wonder why Jesus choose the image of a shepherd and
sheep to tell this story? I wonder what
those hearing the story were thinking?
In Jesus’ time, there were people named who were the lost sheep. Who are the lost sheep around us? Where/when have we felt lost? Who are the shepherds who find us when we feel
lost? I wonder if the shepherd had a hard time deciding to leave the 99
sheep? I wonder how the 99 sheep felt when
the shepherd left them to find the lost one?
I wonder how the lost sheep felt? I wonder how the lost one felt when he
saw the shepherd? How about when the lost sheep was returned to the other 99?” Some of these questions could be split over
different times when the Parable Kit is brought out. Activity ideas would be a sheet of paper with
ways to help those we consider “lost”, an outreach activity, another book to
read that has the same theme, and a game to play that follows the theme.
Parable Discussion Pages: Include the same things as the Parable Kits, but without objects to make. This is a more realistic activity for families with teens or children too young to participate in the Parable Kit. For families with young children, pages that the young child can color for themselves is fun for them.
Parable Dive: Starting with either the Parable Kit or Parable Discussion Pages, the Parable Dive includes focused activities at church for the Parable. Each week in Christian Formation, a part of the parable can be taken home with the focus on the different aspects of the parts of the Parable. To do a Parable Dive for the Parable of the Lost Sheep, each week for the next three weeks, a part is discussed and sent home. Week one: the shepherd is discussed. People to give pictures to place on a bulleting board about who are our shepherds or where we see our shepherd. Children can be asked to draw their shepherd or write thank you notes to their shepherd. Week two: the sheep are discussed. People are encouraged to draw, write, describe their “flock”. A take home sheet includes identifying the different “flocks” we belong to. Week three: the lost sheep is discussed. A stuffed sheep or small sheep can be hidden in various places for people to find throughout the week. A small cutout sheep can be sent home and every time we identify someone who is lost, we place a small cross or star on the sheep. Week four: the celebration is discussed or the sheep pen or another part of the parable. “You are seen and loved” stickers or cards can go home to be given out (for the celebration) and include a celebration and encouraging pictures of the celebration. Places we feel safe and at home (the sheep pen) can be discussed. Pictures and drawing of those places can be displayed. Who is in them? Encourage family pictures in front of these places to be displayed on the bulletin board.
Parable Devotions: Send out a weekly devotion based on the parable for families. Include discussion questions and a prayer. These devotions can be written by the clergy, the Sunday School teachers, Vestry members, or anyone who can give the time to write a one page or less devotion.