Tag Archives: family faith

Decision Time: The Future of Your Sunday School

For my entire life I’ve been a Christian educator. Whatever you may call it: Sunday School, Church School, Religious Education, Christian Education, Education or Formation Hour (the names have changed throughout the years depending on the understanding and purpose of what we are “doing” with/for children on Sunday mornings), I believe we have come to a turning point. For some this may be a reckoning moment that things may never be the same again in our churches – at least on Sunday mornings. Welcome to the future – it is today.

In the various denominational Christian formation Facebook groups I participate in, the big question that is being asked with a variety of responses are: How are you going to hold Church School (or whatever you happen to name it) when we go back to our buildings? How do we keep our classrooms clean? How will we get small children to wear masks? How much hand washing will be required? Fill in the blank with your most pressing question of bringing children (and youth) back to church when September rolls around and / or your church building opens for worship.

Yes, parents are overwhelmed with home-schooling and distance learning. Doing formation at home has added to that burden, even though many churches and educators have found creative ways to send materials to homes such as “lessons in a box” dropped off on the family front porch, using Zoom for telling Godly Play stories, or emailing a lesson with creative ideas to do together as a family using stuff easily found at home such as crayons, glue, scissors, markers, paper, or LEGO-bricks. But how are we engaging everyone in a household together that isn’t seen as another “thing that has to be done”? How are we helping form disciples to learn about and follow Jesus during this time?

Perhaps parents want to simply drop their kids off for Church School while they have some peace and quiet in the sanctuary. We want life back the way it was before COVID-19. I live in Connecticut about 50 miles northeast of New York City. We were part of that first “gigantic red circle” you saw on the nightly news in March and April. Thankfully, our state governments took things seriously and we have been social distancing, wearing masks, and washing out hands since March. We entered Phase 2 of our reopening in mid-June and will not be going to Phase 3 in mid-July as planned due to the rise across the rest of the country. For the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, our church buildings remain closed for worship with some doing socially distanced worship outside with families sitting far apart on blankets or their own lawn chairs while masked (12 feet apart). I don’t see us worship inside our buildings anytime soon – even with our “numbers down.” Oh how I wish the rest of the United States had learned from our hard experience this spring.

empty church pews

Let’s face it, we are now living in a new normal, which means Church School needs to reinvent itself now. And expect a resurgence this fall, if we ever get a handle on the ever-increasing rise in cases across our nation.

I’ve written about this plenty of times (see my 5-parts series Christian Formation in a Changing Church post five years ago, particularly Part 3 about a new ecosystem). In recent months on this site since we’ve been figuring out how to support one another while in quarantine I’ve suggested numerous resources. Looking back on what we’ve been doing and what we can be doing, I suggest this:

The Church and Christian Formation leaders are called to:

  • Focus on the spiritual nourishment of our congregations for all ages. For me, this means worship. Liturgy is formation. We hear God’s Story alongside (if the preaching is good) our own story. But worship needs to be accessible to all as family units sit spread out in the sanctuary, with chairs set at a distance or pew spaces roped off. Theresa Cho of Still Waters wrote an excellent article: Children in Worship: It’s More Than Coloring Sheets and has numerous pieces about creating intergenerational worship. We need to focus on how we can engage all ages safely in worship before planning how we will open up classrooms to small group learning. After all, segregated learning / formation is a relatively new phenomena in the Christian tradition (as well as Jewish and Muslim).
  • Support households (of all ages) in learning scripture and praying at home. That might mean making sure every household owns a Bible and prayer book (or has access to both via the internet – but let’s get away from our screens!). If someone else reading or praying is an access point to families, develop a calendar with links for them to hear scripture (such as The Bible Project’s Church at Home or Godly Play stories told on YouTube) and prayer (such as The Mission of St. Clare or Praying with Children. Create your own videos of instruction for families and individuals to guide them how to use (and read) their Bible as well as tools for prayer. The Church has failed in many ways to teach adults these skills and tools. Here is an opportunity.
  • Recognize that not all have the technology or time to engage. Those who need to put themselves at risk as they are front-line workers and those do not have the option to work at home (especially our siblings of color what are disproportionately sick and dying of this disease) need our support. How can we put our faith into action by helping food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and any number of services that are being overtaxed? It is easy for our (predominately white) congregations to want things back to normal when there are plenty of Black, Latinx, and Asian folks struggling to survive.

As a leader in your faith community, how will you set an example for re-envisioning the future?

Images: header by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash; top photo by Jens Lelie on Unsplash; bottom image (Matthew 25) from cruzablanca.org – Hermanolean;

Celebrating Pentecost at Home

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:

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Celebrating Easter at Home

This is the day to fill our home altars with flowers! If there is anything blooming outside, create a bouquet (be sure to ask the owner of the property before you cut a branch or flower) or make some paper flowers. Put on some uplifting music and watch a livestream of a worship service. If your church is not offering one, you can watch the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.

Here are some ideas to do at home:

Make Resurrection Rolls

Ingredients (and what they symbolize): 1 (8 ounce or 12 ounce) package refrigerated crescent rolls (the bigger size makes it a little easier to wrap around the marshmallow) = the wrapping of Jesus’ body or the tomb); 1/4 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon = spices used to anoint Jesus’ body; 8 large marshmallows = body of Jesus; 1/4 cup butter, melted = oils of embalming; oven = tomb

Directions: Separate rolls into eight triangles. Combine sugar and cinnamon. Dip each marshmallow into butter, roll in cinnamon-sugar and place on a triangle. Pinch dough around marshmallow, sealing all edges. Make sure to seal well or all the marshmallow will escape. Dip tops of dough into remaining butter and cinnamon-sugar. Place with sugar side up in greased muffin cups. It helps to use jumbo muffin tins so that the juice doesn’t overflow.
Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes or until rolls are golden brown. Allow to cool slightly then eat warm. There will be a surprise inside – the tomb is empty!

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Morning Prayer for Children & Families

There’s a new book out, just in time to help families start and end their days (and all those between times) as everyone is home together. Common Prayer for Children and Families by Jenifer Gamber and Timothy J.S. Seamans (Church Publishing, 2020) is a simple, yet beautiful book that will assist preschoolers and elementary age little ones learn the sacred practice of daily prayer. Whimsically illustrated with creatures living life to the fullest scattered across the pages by Perry Hodgkins Jones, children will enjoy seeking out the little mice, bunnies, and butterflies as they learn to read these original, timeless prayers.

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Keeping Faith at Home with Children

There are a variety of reasons why families are often unable to attend church: sports, travel, illness, school related activities, and so much more. Often our communities have been affected by natural disasters: hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, or snow storms. These are usually isolated areas of our country depending on the circumstance. However, March 2020 (and most likely longer), communities across the United States (and world-wide) are living with a new reality of many houses of worship cancelling in-person services to protect the health of all.

It has been no surprise to me that Christian formation folks have been at the forefront in sharing resources and ideas for supporting households who are staying at home. Many ideas that have been shared are not new, but are coming to light as the need has arisen for so many. New collaborations are forming to determine new ways to use social media and virtual gatherings for worship, prayer, Bible study, and simply being present with one another as a faith community. With large thanks to Forma and my colleague Mary Hawes’ (Church of England) Growing For Growth, below is a curated list (which will be updated regularly – so you may want to bookmark this) of ways to help parents, children, and youth focus on the reality that God is with us – no matter what.

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