Pentecost is sometimes referred to as “the birthday of the Church,” but the birthday refers not to the institutional church, but rather to our birth into the new life of the Risen Christ, the new creation that comes from the Holy Spirit. Pentecost (this year on May 31) brings the Easter season to an official end, but it also marks the beginning of our new life together. Through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we are guided and supported in our attempts to live out our baptismal promises.
There are significant meanings in the Acts of the Apostles description of Pentecost. The Jewish feast commemorated the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. The gift of the Spirit to the Church on this feast fulfills the words of Jeremiah, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). Pentecost also symbolizes the reversal of Babel in Genesis 11. At Babel, confusion, in the form of diverse languages, confound the understanding of the builders. On Pentecost (in Jerusalem), the apostles understood every language being spoken by the crowds (Acts 2:1-4 and John 20:22). At Babel, the human city is scattered. On Pentecost, the City of God is drawn together as 3,000 believers are added to the Church.
After Easter, Pentecost is the most important day of the Church year. Churches typically celebrate it with everyone wearing red (representing the flames of the Holy Spirit), perhaps a dove kite soaring above the congregation in procession, lessons read in various languages, children wearing construction paper flame hats, red balloons tied to pews, and birthday cake at coffee hour. Not this year! But it can still be celebrated at home. Some ideas and links to others:
- Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing (The Hymnal 1982, #686; The Presbyterian Hymnal, #346)
- Every Time I Feel the Spirit (Lift Every Voice and Sing II – LEVAS, #114; The New Century Hymnal #293; The Presbyterian Hymnal, #315)
- Hail Thee, Festival Day (The Hymnal 1982, #225; The Presbyterian Hymnal, #120 and #394)
- I’m Goin’-a Sing When the Spirit Says Sing (LEVAS, #117; The United Methodist Hymnal, #333)
- Spirit of the Living God (LEVAS, #115; The New Century Hymnal, #282)
- Sweet, Sweet Spirit (LEVAS, #120; The New Century Hymnal, #293)
Make Pentecost Party Hats
Supplies: tissue paper in red, orange, and yellow; scissors; stapler; 12″ x 18″ white paper; colored markers
- To make flames, cut sheets of tissue paper into 8″ x 15″ rectangles. Layer together three rectangles of tissue paper in different colors.
- Roll the layered rectangles into a 15″ tube. Make four evenly spaced cuts, each cut 3″ long, at one end of the tube.
- Moisten a finger and insert it into the cut end of the tube. Carefully pull the inner rolls out while gently holding the top with the other hand. Staple the center and end of the tube.
- Make the hat by taking the 12″ x 18″ sheet of paper. Cut a 12″ circle from it. Form a hat by overlapping the cut edges of the paper. Staple the hat to hold its shape.
- Staple the flames to the hat.
Storytelling with Story Scramble Cards
This is an activity for everyone to do together or as a competition. Depending on age, give specific clues to finding the correct order of the 77 words that tell the story found in Acts 2:1-4.
Supplies: NRSV Bible; 3″ x 5″ blank index cards (38 per person or per entire group) or download “Story Scramble Cards” (last few pages of this download); scissors; pens or markers.
- In advance, cut the index cards in half (3″ x 2 1/2″). Write one word on each card, taken from Acts 2:1-4 (include any punctuation with each word, such as a comma or period) or print out the “Story Scramble Cards” and cut them apart.
- Pass out several words to each participant. Have a Bible on hand for reference. Together, put the four verses together.
The Holy Spirit is Here! Game
This game is a variation of “Duck, Duck, Goose.” You’ll need Flame Hats (see above) or some other representation of the Holy Spirit. Invite everyone to set on the floor in a circle. Designate one player as It. Give It the Flame Hat. Holding the hat, It circles the seated players, touching each participant on the head and saying, “The Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit,” etc. until he or she chooses one player by saying, “The Holy Spirit is here,” dropping the Flame Hat on that player’s head. The player who receives the Flame Hat must chase It around the circle as It tries to run to the chosen player’s place. If It reaches the places before being caught, then the chosen player becomes the new It. If It is caught, he or she must take the hat back and try again. Any successful It should be given a Flame Hat to wear once seated. Only players who do not have hats may be chosen in subsequent rounds. (This assumes there are lots of players – of course, while staying at home, you’ll need to adapt this to a small group of individuals.)
Snacks for the Day
Eat red foods such as strawberries, raspberries, cranberry juice, or bread spread with raspberry jam. Make a Pentecost cake: make or purchase a cake with chocolate frosting. Cut a piece of waxed paper the size of the surface of the cake. Cut out dove shapes from the waxed paper; then place the paper over the surface of the cake and sift powdered sugar or red sprinkles over the cake. Remove the waxed paper. Gumdrop balloons: Insert pretzel sticks into large gumdrops.
Note: The above ideas are adapted from part of my book, “Faithful Celebrations: Making Time for God from Mardi Gras Through Pentecost.” Lots more ideas in the book!
Links to More Creative Ideas
- Nurya Love Parish shares on Grow Christians 5 Ways to Celebrate Pentecost.
- Building Faith gives plenty of ideas: Pentecost in a Box, Pentecost Fire Sticks, and a Tongue of Fire Hat.
- Trinity Wall Street offers a video explaining the meaning of Pentecost.
- Forma’s Pinterest board on Pentecost has lots of ideas, including pinwheels, kites, and hanging doves.
- Lauren Villemuer-Drenth posts Helping Families Celebrate Pentecost on her blog Lauren’s Lines.
- The Diocese of Texas has a great short video for children (and adults): Why Wear Red for Pentecost?
- Flame Creative Kids gives a bunch of ideas for a Pentecost Story Bag.
- Illustrated Ministry has offered this free, downloadable Pentecost Coloring Page.
- Christine V. Hides shares Pentecost Art Projects.