Advent and Christmas 2015: Highlighting the Advent Wreath

IMG_1661This post contains 5 sermons: 4 for Advent and 1 for Christmas Eve. (For our other Advent series, check 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.) This year during the children’s sermon, my church Edgewood Presbyterian Church is highlighting the Advent Wreath. Each week a Youth (who are also our lay readers during December) will light the Advent candles at the appropriate time. We are using the traditional words: Hope, Peace, Joy, Love in the traditional order—but on Christmas Eve we will rearrange our traditional Order of Worship in a meaningful way!

We are also excited to use a hymn written especially for the Advent Wreath. Light a Candle Bright and Tall by David Wood (2012) can be found here. I have left a message on his post; I encourage you to do the same if you use his song.

The First Sunday of Advent: November 29: The Candle of Hope
lectionary focus: Luke 21:25-36
The Second Sunday of Advent: December 6: The Candle of Peace
lectionary focus: Luke 1:68-79
The Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudet Sunday): December 13: The Candle of Joy
lectionary focus: Philippians 4:4-7
The Fourth Sunday of Advent: December 20: The Candle of Love
lectionary focus: Luke 1:35-45 (46-55)
Christmas Eve: December 24, 2015: The Christ Candle
lectionary focus: 1 John 4:7-9, 16b

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Let us begin…(and please let me know of any typos, errors, or broken links!) 

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candle1For Sunday, November 29, 2015
First Sunday of Advent
Year C
lectionary focus: Luke 21:25-36
references:
hope not as wish-so, but as know-so from an article by Jack Wellman, Patheos, 5/26/2014
Desmond Tutu quote from The New York Times, 3/7/2010.

Hello!

We are now in the Season of Advent. Advent is the time we get ready for the mystery of Christmas. Christmas is the celebration that Jesus becomes the light of the world, that we live in His light, and that no darkness can cover up the light of Jesus. While the stores and shops are trying to get us to rush up to Christmas, we here at Church settle into the time of getting ready. We sing slowly, we pray slowly, and we listen slowly.

To help us mark these four slow weeks until Christmas, we light the candles of the Advent Wreath. Notice there are four blue candles for the four weeks. We light one candle each week, slowly making the wreath brighter and brighter and brighter. And when we have lit all of the blue candles, then it will be time to light the white candle; then it will be Christmas.

But Christmas is still a long time from now. And so today, the First Sunday of Advent, Finn will light one candle. We start with the Candle of Hope.

I always thought that hope meant a wish…I hope that it snows this year. But our Advent hope is not a wish-so, this hope is a know-soby our hope in Jesus, we know that the world is surrounded by His light.

This one candle by itself does not seem like very much. But there is a wise man named Desmond Tutu who said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” Let me say that again, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” And so the Candle of Hope is the perfect place to start our Advent.

After our prayer, we have a special song to sing.
Will you pray with me? (This is an echo prayer: the leader says a line and the children repeat it.)

Dear Lord,
We light the Candle of Hope
that everyone may see
Jesus is the Light of the World.
Help us
to live in Your Light,
to live in Your Hope.
Shine within our hearts today.
Amen

And now we will sing the first verse of Light a Candle Bright and Tall.

*****

candle2For Sunday, December 6, 2015
Second Sunday of Advent
Year C
lectionary focus: Luke 1:68-79

Hello!

We are now in the Season of Advent. Advent is the time we get ready for the mystery of Christmas. Christmas is the celebration that Jesus becomes the light of the world, that we live in His light, and that no darkness can cover up the light of Jesus. The world is trying to get us to rush up to Christmas, but we here at Church are settling into this time of getting ready. We are singing slowly, we are praying slowly, and we are listening slowly.

To help us mark these slow weeks until Christmas, we light the candles of the Advent Wreath. As we light one more blue candle each Sunday, the wreath will get brighter and brighter and brighter. And when we have lit all of the blue candles, then it will be time to light the white candle; then it will be Christmas.

But it is not Christmas yet. Last Sunday, we lit the first candle, the Candle of Hope. We heard that by our hope in Jesus we are able to see the light despite all of the darkness.

Today is the Second Sunday of Advent, and that means Adrian will now light the second candle, the Candle of Peace.

I always thought peace meant completely silent and still. Listen to the candles. We can’t really hear them. Yet, notice how they flicker and move. The flames are so quiet, but they are not still.

In our Bible story today from the book of Luke, we hear that peace is an action. Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, proclaims God’s faithfulness, God’s salvation, and God’s peace. We are reminded that God calls us to move forward into the action of peace.

Our Advent Wreath is now a little bit brighter. We continue our slow journey to the celebration of the light of Jesus. With Hope and Peace, let us move forward into the action of sharing the light of Jesus.

After our prayer, we have another verse of our special song.
Will you pray with me? (This is an echo prayer: the leader says a line and the children repeat it.)

Dear Lord,
We light the Candle of Peace
that everyone may see
Jesus is the Light of the World.
Help us
to live in Your Light,
to live in Your Hope,
to live in Your Peace.
Shine within our hearts today.
Amen

And now we will sing the second verse of Light a Candle Bright and Tall.

*****

1advent8260aFor Sunday, December 13, 2015
Third Sunday of Advent
Year C
lectionary focus: Philippians 4:4-7

Hello!

We are well into the Season of Advent. Advent is the time we get ready for the mystery of Christmas. Christmas is the celebration that Jesus becomes the light of the world, that we live in His light, and that no darkness can cover up the light of Jesus. It certainly seems we are rushing up to Christmas, but here at Church we are in this time of getting ready. We are trying to sing slowly, we are trying to pray slowly, and we are trying to listen slowly.

But you know, this Advent stuff has been going on a long time. And it’s still not Christmas. We’re trying to be all slow, trying not to rush getting ready for the celebration. But slow is hard.

And so today. We’re going to take a break from slow.

It’s still not Christmas yet, but today is the Third Sunday of Advent, today we light the Candle of Joy. And you know: joy just ain’t slow.

But, let me back up a bit.

On the First Sunday of Advent, we lit the first candle, the Candle of Hope. We heard that by our hope in Jesus we are able to see the light despite all of the darkness.

Last week on the Second Sunday of Advent, we moved forward with action and lit the Candle of Peace. We listened to the silent candles, but watched them flicker and move.

And like I said, today is the Third Sunday of Advent. Now Sarah will light the Candle of Joy.

Another name for the Third Sunday in Advent is Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is an old Latin word that means Rejoice! And what do we hear in our Bible story today? From the book of Philippians, loud and clear, we hear “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Say after me, “Rejoice!” (Rejoice!) (Get them really going on this…lots of joy!)

Sigh. That felt good.

The Advent Wreath is a way for us to mark the long, slow weeks until Christmas. The three candles of our wreath are giving a good amount light. Makes us excited about how much more light is coming. With Hope, Peace, and Joy, the world is looking brighter and brighter.

After our prayer, we have a special song to sing.
Will you pray with me? (This is an echo prayer: the leader says a line and the children repeat it.)

Dear Lord,
We light the Candle of Joy
that everyone may see
Jesus is the Light of the World.
Help us
to live in Your Light,
to live in Your Hope,
to live in Your Peace,
to live in Your Joy.
Shine within our hearts today.
Rejoice!!
Amen

And now we will sing the third verse of Light a Candle Bright and Tall.

*****

1xmas8289For Sunday, December 20, 2015
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Year C
lectionary focus: Luke 1:39-45 (46-55)

Hello!

We are still in the Season of Advent. Advent is the time we get ready for the mystery of Christmas. Christmas is the celebration that Jesus becomes the light of the world, that we live in His light, and that no darkness can cover up the light of Jesus. The world has been getting us to rush up to Christmas, but we here at Church have been slowly getting ready. We have been singing slowly, we have been praying slowly, and we have been listening slowly.

To help us mark these slow weeks until Christmas, we have lit the candles of the Advent Wreath. The wreath has gotten brighter and brighter and brighter.

But it is not Christmas yet. On the First Sunday of Advent, we lit the first candle, the Candle of Hope. We heard that by our hope in Jesus we are able to see the light despite all of the darkness.

On the Second Sunday of Advent, we moved forward with action and lit the Candle of Peace. We listened to the silent candles, but watched them flicker and move.

And last week on the Third Sunday of Advent, we took a break from slow and lit the Candle of Joy. Rejoice!!

And now look! There’s only one blue candle left! And we are going to light it today. Go ahead JD and light the Fourth Candle, the Candle of Love.

Our Bible stories during Advent have given us bits and pieces of the Christmas story. Today’s reading we hear of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her visit with her cousin Elizabeth. Mary sings a beautiful song, a song of hope, peace, and joy, all wrapped up in a coat of love, love, love. Mary says, “My soul magnifies the Lord!” Love is about as big a light as we humans can make. And yet, God’s love for us is brighter. We call this the Candle of Love because no matter what, God’s love will always outshine the darkness.

All four blue candles are now lit. But we have a few more days left in Advent. We have a few days to carry slowly the brightly shining lights of hope, peace, joy, and love. And then we will celebrate Jesus becoming the light of the world, we will celebrate living in His light, we will celebrate a love and a light that knows no end.

After our prayer, we have another verse of our special song.
Will you pray with me? (This is an echo prayer: the leader says a line and the children repeat it.)

Dear Lord,
We light the Candle of Love
that everyone may see
Jesus is the Light of the World.
Help us
to live in Your Light,
to live in Your Hope,
to live in Your Peace,
to live in Your Joy,
to live in Your Love.
Shine within our hearts today.
Amen

And now we will sing the fourth verse of Light a Candle Bright and Tall.

*****

IMG_1661For Thursday, December 24, 2015
Christmas Eve
Year C
lectionary focus: 1 John 4:7-9, 16b (This is flexible if you are not using this scripture.)

Technical notes:
On Christmas Eve, EPC does a candlelight service of 6 lessons and carols with the children’s sermon coming between the second and third lesson, the adult sermon between the fourth and fifth lesson, and following the sixth lesson the sharing of the light. We have decided this year to switch up the order.* The adult sermon will come between the third and fourth lesson. After the fourth carol is sung, those younger children who have opted to be in the nursery will brought in to the sanctuary and be invited with all the children down to the chancel steps. We will ‘review’ the Advent Wreath; light the Christ Candle; and then all listen from the steps as the fifth lesson (1 John 4:7-9, 16b) is read. We will pray; sing the Advent Wreath verse; and send the children to join their families as we prepare for the congregational candlelighting. With our children’s sermon series focus on the light, we want to make sure the children are ALL there for the candlelighting…it is the highlight of our series on Jesus becoming the light of the world!
*Parents will be notified so they can make decisions about their children who typically stay through the early children’s sermon and then head to the nursery.

Hello!

Merry Christmas! Yes, Christmas is here!

We have moved slowly through Advent; all four of our blue Advent candles are lit; now we are here at Christmas. We are celebrating that Jesus has become the light of the world, that we live in His light, and that no darkness can cover up the light of Jesus.

In the center of our Advent Wreath is the white candle. Surrounded by the Candles of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love, we call this center candle the Christ Candle. As Sabrina lights the Christ Candle, let us listen to Word of the Lord. (The reading of 1 John 4:7-9, 16b)

Our Advent Wreath is now fully bright. But the light does not stop and end here. As we just heard, the light and love lives in us. And God calls us to share the light of Jesus. In just a moment, you guys will go back to where your families are sitting. You each have a candle there like this. Our acolytes will take the light from the Christ Candle and share it with each of us, and we will share it with each other, and soon our bright Advent Wreath will be even brighter as the light shines throughout the church. Now it’s important to remember, when we are holding the light of Jesus, when we are holding the lit candle, we do not tilt the candle. Wax can be hot. We always hold the lit candle bright and tall.

Jesus is the light of the world. We live in His light. No darkness can cover up the light of Jesus.

After our prayer, we will sing our special song.
Will you pray with me? (This is an echo prayer: the leader says a line and the children repeat it.)

Dear Lord,
We light the Christ Candle
that everyone may see
Jesus is the Light of the World.
We live in Your Hope.
We live in Your Peace.
We live in Your Joy.
We live in Your Love.
We live in Your Light.
Shine within our hearts.
Amen

And now we sing the final verse of Light a Candle Bright and Tall.

And now go find your family…

Thanks be for each of you,
my on the chancel steps friends,
for being part of my family!

Merry Christmas!
May the light of Jesus continue to shine through you.
Fran

We are not Christians alone.
My mission is to share, inspire, and encourage.

 

Perfect for All Time

1507ch7896edfor Sunday, November 15, 2016
25th Sunday after Pentecost
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Proper 28
Year B
lectionary focus: Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25
prop: your church bulletin

Welcome!

We are people who like to do things in order. We start at the beginning, go to the middle, and finish at the end. Even our worship service goes in order. Each Sunday we pray and sing and listen and share and have communion. And each Sunday, right before you guys come down to the steps, we pray the Prayer of Confession. This is the part where we tell God that we’re sorry for what we have done wrong. When I was a kid your age, the Prayer of Confession always confused me. It made me sad that each week we again said that we were sorry. I kept wondering why we didn’t get better, why we didn’t get it right. I mean, I made mistakes as a kid, but I thought surely when I became a grownup I’d be perfect and not need to tell God sorry.

Well, I’ve got two things to tell you about that. One: we don’t get perfect and two: we are perfect. I know, I know—I just said that we don’t get perfect and yet we are perfect; this is one of those conflicting Jesus things. First, we will never get perfect in that we will always, every week, every day make mistakes. We will always need to tell someone and God that we are sorry. But the second thing is that God knows we His children are each perfect, and God loves each of us no matter what, no matter what mistakes we make. And because of these two things—that we are imperfectly perfect—each week, we say the Prayer of Confession and while our Amen is still echoing off the ceiling, Pastor Joe reminds us that we are forgiven and that God loves us and that we are God’s perfect children.

Each week after our time on the steps, the next activity in the order of worship is to hear the scriptures read. Today we hear these words from the Book of Hebrews: “For by that one offering (Jesus) forever made perfect those who are being made holy.” (New Living Translation)

As a grownup, I’ve come to love the part of the service where we pray the Prayer of Confession. Of course, I still make mistakes and need to tell God that I’m sorry, and that makes me sad—but I know the very next order of the service is to hear again loud and clear that God forgives me and loves me and thinks I’m perfect. Therefore, I encourage each of you to hold fast to this truth: confidently tell God that you are sorry and confidently accept God’s love and forgiveness, because nothing can separate you from God’s perfecting love.

Will you pray with me? (This is an echo prayer: the leader says a line and the children repeat it.)

Dear Lord,
We make mistakes.
We are sorry.
Thank You
for forgiving us
for loving us
and for making us perfect.
Amen

We are not Christians alone.
My mission is to share, encourage, and inspire.

KEEP (SH)OUT(ING)!

IMG_1895

This is how it played out at EPC. It was awesome. ~Fran

for Sunday, October 4, 2015
World Communion Sunday
19th Sunday After Pentecost
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Proper 22
Year B
lectionary focus: Mark 10:2-16

note and PROP: As Edgewood Presbyterian Church celebrates World Communion Sunday, our children’s sermon will prepare the congregation and the table for Communion. Our prop is a fence section that will be placed on top of the Communion Table. By turning the fence into a table, we are saying: there is plenty to share; the table is big; we are one world. A great book to extend this lesson is The Greatest Table by Michael Rosen.

Good morning!

I have a BIG prop today! This is a section of fence. We put fences around things for safety. We fence our yards so our dogs can play and not get lost. We put fences beside roads so that drivers will know where to drive their cars. We put fences around dangerous things like power stations and water towers so that people don’t get hurt. Fences can be very helpful. But some people want to build fences to be selfish. Some people want to use fences to say that other people need to go away; to say that other people are not welcome there; to say that other people need to KEEP OUT (helper puts sign on the fence). Some people want to use fences because they feel there is not enough to share.

In our Bible story today, Jesus fusses at the disciples when they are being selfish. The disciples use themselves to make a fence to keep children away from Jesus. Jesus moves the disciples, opens His arms, hugs all the children, and reminds the disciples that there is plenty of Jesus to share.

Today we celebrate World Communion Sunday. Today we celebrate that there is STILL plenty of Jesus to share all over the world. Today we celebrate that we don’t have to be selfish with Jesus and His love.

But I wonder about the fences. I wonder about the people who forget that there is enough to share. I wonder what we can do. I wonder how we can move the fences like Jesus. I wonder how we can show that there is plenty to share. Here are 3 ideas.

First. I think we need to change the sign on the fence. That sign says KEEP OUT. But if we add God’s love and put a few more letters on the sign, it now reads KEEP SHOUTING GOD LOVES YOU! I think that makes Jesus’s message loud and clear.

Second. Today at EPC, we are changing this fence into a table. Watch as our helpers take the fence and place it here on top of Jesus’s table. And now our other friends will  add the elements. That fence which was designed to keep people out is now making the table bigger, is now welcoming us all to eat with Jesus.

And third. We can remember that there is enough to share. Whether we are sharing Jesus or love or kindness or food or shoes or a place to live, there is enough. And Jesus calls us all to share, calls us to make sure that others are welcome, calls us to show how big His table is.

Will you pray with me? (This is an echo prayer: the leader says a line and the children repeat it.)

Dear Lord,
Thank You
for keeping us safe.
Thank You
for sharing with us.
Thank You
for reminding us
to share with others
and to move selfish fences.
KEEP SHOUTING!
GOD LOVES YOU!
Amen
Amen

We are not Christians alone.
My mission is to share, inspire, and encourage.

Guest Post

This past Sunday, my preacher Joe Genau was up for children’s sermon duty. He presented the most amazing connection between lectionary, kids, and what we call Rally Day—the day we all gather together during Sunday School to hear about the options for Sunday School and other missions during the year. Honestly, when I read the lectionary readings I thought for sure Joe would avoid Song of Solomon and the Psalm! His genius found a way! I think his idea of saying ‘a poem can be a present’ will fit with many other lectionary-ily difficult Sundays, and so I share it here as my first ever guest sermon post. Take note!

photo by Bill Woodruff. Chicago, 2015

photo by Bill Woodruff. Chicago, 2015

for August 30, 2015
14th Sunday after Pentecost
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Proper 17
Year B
lectionary focus: Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9

Guest Post by:
Rev. Joe Genau

Edgewood Presbyterian Church (PCUSA)
Birmingham, AL

Good morning!

One of the Bible readings we’re going to hear this morning is a little strange.
It’s a poem that someone wrote for a King and a Princess on their wedding day!
And it’s not the kind of poem that rhymes – but it does use big, fancy, beautiful words.
It says things like “You two look wonderful!” and “I’m really excited for you!” and “God really loves you!”

Whoever wrote the poem was really happy for the King and the Princess on their very big, very special day. This person was so happy, that they wrote the poem to tell everyone at the wedding just how happy they were.

Did you know that you can give someone a gift like that? Instead of buying them a present for their special day – their birthday, or their wedding day, or their graduation day – you can write them a poem or a song or a story and tell them how happy you are and how excited you are and how much God loves them.

Well, today is a special day for Edgewood Presbyterian Church.
After worship, we’re going to go upstairs and have a party because it’s Rally Day!
Rally Day is the day we celebrate the beginning of a new Sunday School year.
When we go upstairs, you’re going to find out who your teachers are, and what you’re going to learn about this year.

I’m so excited about this special day that I wrote a poem for you – and I’d like to read it to you now:

Rally Day is here – I am so excited.
My heart is so happy to see you all.
You all look so nice in your dresses and shirts and cool shoes.
You’re all getting so big – it makes me feel old sometimes.
You’re all so smart – and you’ll learn even more this year.
About life. And about church. And about God.
God’s word is like a lamp, showing us the way to live.
We have such great teachers! God gave them wisdom to share.
Have fun in Sunday School. Listen and act kindly to each other.
And ask lots of questions!
Ask lots of questions!
Always, ask lots of questions!

That’s it! Will you pray with me? (This is an echo prayer: the leader says a line and the children repeat it.)

Dear God,
Thank you
For wise teachers
And for books to read
And for art
And for music
And for questions!
You love us.
We love you.
Amen.

Thanks for sharing Joe!
We are not Christians alone.
My mission is to share, inspire, and encourage.

Suffer the Little Children…

This is the E-PACKET for:

Suffer the Little Children–Worshiping Joyfully With All Ages:
A Hodge-Podge of Practical Resources, Ideas, and Discussion
A Workshop Presented at The Main Event: Leadership Development Conference Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley & North Alabama Presbytery
As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. ~Ephesians 6:15

As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. ~Ephesians 6:15

We start with questions to ponder…
What would a perfect worship service look like for a kid?

What would a perfect worship service look like for an adult?

I think the answers are pretty much the same. This presentation shares how Edgewood Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Homewood, Alabama is going beyond the children’s sermon to incorporate children into the whole worship service seamlessly and joyfully. It’s not about changing the words, just adding words to include children. It’s not about a time FOR children, just crafting the service so that children feel included.

Having a hard time convincing your congregation? Need some supporting dialogue? Try these posts:

Building Faith: Children in Church, Healthy Church Resources, Dear Parents,

A Holy Experience, 2015

Ministry Matters, 2011

How do we make this inclusive worship happen?

#1 Resource: Worshiping with Children by Carolyn C. Brown

Carolyn is a Certified Christian Educator in the PCUSA and my mentor in designing intergenerational worship. Through her blog WORSHIPING WITH CHILDREN, she provides lectionary explanations, activities, hymn and story cross-references, themes, illustrations, ideas, suggestions, and answers. After reading through her Topical Index, especially Popping Posts About Almost Anything Related to Including Children in Worship, find what you need for a particular Sunday through her Lectionary, Scripture, and Date Indexes. Subscribe to her blog and never miss a post!

Today’s Presentation Menu
In the presentation, I gave myself only 20 minutes to share some of the moments where we intentionally yet seamlessly blend children into the worship service.
Here are the descriptions; please feel free to ask questions:

1. Minions
(Acolytes)
Our kids start acolyting in Second Grade. Yes, it is scary to give them fire, but they love it!

2. Thanks to the Ox.
(Baptism)
I learned this one from First Presbyterian in Oxford, MS.
For a baptism, the children of the church are invited down to the fount. After the parents answer their questions (and before the sponsors and congregation answer theirs), these questions are asked of the children:
Do you promise to be a friend to ________? (We do.)
If he/she needs directions, will you show him/her the way? (We will.)
If he/she falls down will you pick him/her up? (We will.)
Will you play with ___________ and share with him/her the stories of Jesus? (We will.)
This could also be done when a family with children  joins the church.
I’ve also thought it would be lovely if the Youth Group (or representative) came forward, too.

3. We claim this space!
(Baptismal Waters)
Before the Prelude at Edgewood Presbyterian Church, our pastor and a child walk down the aisle to the Baptismal Fount. As Pastor Joe reads scripture, the child (ages 5 years and up) pours water into the fount. Said child then walks (usually skipping) back to their seat while Joe invites the congregation to prepare for worship by listening to the Prelude.
Lots of things happening here. It is theological and practical: We don’t have lots of baptisms and so this act reclaims the sacrament for us each Sunday. The visual entrance and audible pouring claim the space and signal that worship has begun. Besides any kid willing to do it can; no training or scheduling necessary.

4. Is this microphone on?
(Lay Readers)
We’re not just talking about the elementary aged kids! Middle and High School kids can be lay readers. EPC did a whole Christmas Eve service with just the Youth reading. (Kids are not just for Youth Sunday anymore.)

5. Yum
(Communion)
For years, we took communion back to the nursery at the appropriate time. Now we haul all those kids into the sanctuary at the appropriate time. My favorite was the time they were a wee bit late and Charlie called out, “We missed him breaking the bread!” Some kids go and join their parents (as we walk to the table) while others stay with the nursery worker.

6. Neo-Impressionists
(Didn’t you grow up drawing on the church bulletin?)
Let’s put that energy to work! Provide postcard-size papers in the pews and invite the congregation (hint hint the kids) to write and draw messages and inspirations and encouragements that can then be collected (during the offering or at the end of the service) and mailed/sent to those on the prayer list.

7. Not at all like proper children
(Shadows)
Kids don’t actually have to do the work to do the work. Meaning: have a kid stand next to the greeters or ushers or chalice bearers or preacher…they can walk down and stand there for the welcome and then go sit down. They don’t have to say anything, but they can carry stuff, handout stuff, or wave hello. Of course never pressure a kid to do any of this! Just allow, invite, and welcome.

8. Give and Take
(Blessings)
Didn’t you grow up drawing on the church bulletin?
Let’s put that energy to work! (oh wait, we’re already doing this?)
Provide smaller than postcard-size papers in the pews and invite the congregation (hint hint the kids) to write and draw blessings. At the end of the service provide a bowl at the door, people put a blessing in and take a blessing out. This gives the kids something prayerful for their participation in the service.

9. Thou Shalt
(The 10 Commandments)
On my blog I have developed the 10 Commandments of Children’s Sermons. Check them out!
But these rules fit all parts of worship:
The Lord is God: Keep it simple! Including kids doesn’t and shouldn’t be hard.
Honor your father and your mother: Yes, some of church gets lost on the kids, but by letting kids know they are included they will feel comfortable asking their parents for explanations later.
And my favorite, You shall not murder: Nothing kills a child’s participation faster that being the spotlight especially if their action causes the congregation to laugh. I know, we are laughing at their cuteness and innocence and all their good things, but they just hear laughter AT them. Do not put the kids on display for kids on display’s sake. This is worship of God. We are praising God together.

10. Back to School
(Blessing of the Backpacks)
This is a long annual tradition at EPC. (See this blog for the sermons.) As we start the new school year, we invite kids, students, teachers, parents, retirees, and all workers to bring their diaper bags, backpacks, purses, briefcases, carryalls, lunch boxes, whatever. During the children’s sermon, we look forward to the new learning in the new school year and ask God to be with us each and every day. We have college kids that come in town just for this Sunday! It is truly a special event. **First Pres at Auburn, AL shared that during their Blessing of the Backpacks they give a backpack charm (a cross or a fish) for the kids so they can carry on their backpacks a visual reminder that they are loved by their congregation and by God.

11. Waiting is the Hardest Part
(Themes for Advent and Lent)
In addition to the Blessing of the Backpacks, we use the children’s sermon time to explore season themes. Our Advent series of children’s sermons now runs on a three year cycle focusing on: the Advent wreath, the creche, and the Chrismon Tree; while the children get to light the candles of the wreath, layout the figures of the creche, and decorate the tree, all of God’s children get a lesson to soothe the waiting for the big joyous mystery of Christmas. During Lent, we have focused on different kinds of prayers, mission to others (with children bringing bread and socks and pet treats), and packing away the Alleluia (placing the items—Bible, processional cross, baptismal pitcher—we will need for the big joyous Easter celebration into a big trunk). (See this blog for sermons.) Yes, these happens during the children’s sermon but they are enjoyed by the whole congregation. **Gardendale Pres, AL, shared that they are interested in creche manipulatives to have in the nursery/children’s church area for the the kids to use after they leave the sanctuary. Krista Lovell from Generation to Generation was on hand at the Main Event with her wooden storytelling figures perfect for little hands to hold and all hearts to hear God’s story.

12. On the Cover of the Rolling Stone
(Church Bulletin Covers)
We recently started The Mud Ministry, an art program to provide images for the cover of the weekly church bulletin. We call it the Mud Ministry from John 9:15 “He put mud on my eyes…and now I see.” We invite church members to submit photographs, drawings, paintings, any artistic medium to illustrate something from that week’s lectionary. See these examples:

13. I Spy
(Chi Rho Spy)
This is why you came to this workshop! My Episcopalian friend Jill in Brevard, NC, came up with this one. We’ve taken photographs of their sanctuary…close-ups of windows, pews, the chalice, the organ, tapestries, the fount…and put them in two different photobooks (these by Shutterfly) with a verse on the left page and the photo on the right page. These books will be left in the pew once a month (or forever) and during worship, worshipers can look at the book and scan the sanctuary to locate the image. A quiet, artful, lovely meditation.

14. Do you say Crayon or Crown?
(Children’s Bulletins)
A way to harness that drawing power of children during church is to provide a Children’s Bulletin. There are many available for purchase. Check this site for a list of several:
http://www.buildfaith.org/2014/10/01/the-childrens-bulletin/
Or you can made/adjust your own. Use simple words to give the order of worship and provide an explanation of what is happening and why it is happening. Provide check boxes beside each step in the service. Be sure to have crayons and/or pencils in a plastic bag to be used with these.

15. The Used-Car Lot
(Streamers)
This past Lent, our Pastor Joe asked a question of the congregation during each sermon (such as: What is your commitment this Lent? How do you see God? What brings you joy?). In the bulletin was a 4 inch by 4 inch square of origami paper. After Joe asked the question, we had a few minutes to write our answer on the paper square. Then as we processed for communion, we dropped the paper square in a tall glass vase. The congregation was told they would see these again, but we kept it a surprise. On the Saturday before Easter, we took the 1000 squares, folded them into a triangle and glued them to long pieces of kite string; and then draped the flagged strings to the church rafters. It did kind of look like a used-car lot, but the image on Easter morning walking into the sanctuary with a 1000 colorful papers strung throughout…was breathtaking. While this was aimed at the adults, the kids were just as excited to share their thoughts (in words or drawings) on the paper squares. Everyone was amazed.

16. Bonus Track
(Your Church Newsletter)
Technically this is NOT a worship activity, but this fall in our church’s newsletter, we will start a column suggesting mealtime blessings. Our goal is to give kids something to anticipate…a new blessing!…but really anybody might want to try a different grace. The idea came from my Episcopal friend Jill who has the book A Grateful Heart; when you share her table, she has you pick a number between 5 and 65 and then you read the blessing on that page.

Whew! 16 possibilities…

And finally, I closed the workshop sharing a children’s sermon. One of my all time favorites that works nicely at this time of year as it is a Blessing of the Backpacks: More than a Cabbage. You can find it on this website by clicking here. As the lectionary has rolled around and this Cabbage from 2012 fits with 2015, I’m reworking it for Sunday, August 16, 2015 as The Curious Pineapple. Did you know that it takes 2 years for one pineapple to grow and be ready for harvest? And that each pineapple plant make only 1 or 2 pineapples in its whole life?? So much work for one delicious piece of fruit!

So that’s it. This is the end of the e-packet. Please share any comments or questions or wonderments via the Comments here or email me at: chancelsteps AT gmail DOT com

Peace,
Fran

We are not Christians alone.
My mission is to share, inspire, and encourage.

Gathering Together

150712kidsfor Sunday, July 12, 2015
7th Sunday after Pentecost
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Proper 10
Year B
lectionary focus: 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19; Psalm 24

Welcome!

I love how joyfully you all come up to the chancel steps. Some of you run; some of you skip; and some of you walk…slowly…but you each come with intention and a smile. And I love how when I come into church each Sunday, Mr. Ray meets me at the door and gives me a big hug before he gives me the bulletin. When we gather for church and when we gather on the chancel steps, we meet each other in a joyful way. And our joy gives witness to our unity, that we are excited to all be God’s children together.

On our bulletin cover this morning, there is a picture of doors. Some of you guys drew these doors a few weeks ago with Miss Lindsey. This picture shows our church is a welcoming place, inviting the world to come and join us and be part of God’s family. This picture shows that nothing will keep us from opening the doors to let the people in.

In our Bible story today, King David calls for the people of Israel to come to God’s house. King David leads the people dancing through the town, joyfully celebrating the Glory of God. The people go dancing and singing and playing instruments and inviting everyone to join them as they process to God’s temple. King David calls for the church doors to be lifted and opened that all may gather to worship God.

So you see, for thousands of years, people have been getting together to worship God. And we make a big deal of gathering. We open the doors and come into the church excited to see our friends; curious to meet new visitors; thankful that God is with us. We come into church and celebrate being together as family to worship God who loves us each very much.

This past week our special word was #dance and we looked for ways that people were dancing. This week’s special word is #music. I bet you can think of lots of good pictures to go with music. I wonder what pictures Pastor Joe is taking on his vacation to go with music? So keep your eyes watching and get your parents to snap and post some pictures with our #epcvbs. And remember, lift up your heads and worship with joy. We are gathered to celebrate.

Will you pray with me? (This is an echo prayer: the leader says a line and the children repeat it.)

Dear Lord,
Thank You
for doors that open.
Thank You
for our church family.
Thank You
for dance and music
and being together.
Us and You.
You love us.
We love You.
Amen

We are not Christians alone.
My mission is to share, inspire, and encourage.

Hashtag Summer

150607epcvbsfwfor Sunday, June 7, 2015
2nd Sunday after Pentecost
10th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Proper 5
Vacation Bible School
Year B
lectionary focus: Mark 3:20-35
props: camera phone and Instagram/FaceBook
note: Our small church has decided NOT to do Vacation Bible School this summer. Not as a week long event nor as part of Summer Sunday School. This year, we are giving ALL of our Sunday School teachers a break! We will still have a Sunday School time, but each week the children will be taught by our lovely intern (I suggested she use StoryPath books.), and all the rest from Middle School on up will be taught Bible 101 by our new preacher (I know! Where did we get this guy? Hope we don’t burn him out too quickly!).
I have been following Brother, Give Us a Word from the Society of Saint John the Evangelist.  I applaud this awesome use of social media! My Pastor Joe and I discussed how we might use such an online tool with our congregation. And so #epcvbs is happening! This Sunday I will explain our Online Vacation Bible School during the children’s sermon time, give the first hashtag word (#family), and close with a group photo on the chancel steps. Through our church’s Instagram account (instagram.com/edgewoodpres) and hashtag words of the week, we will encourage our church family to connect and to post pictures using our main hashtag #epcvbs and the hashtag word of the week (see suggested hashtag words for each week following the sermon below). We want to provide our church family with another way to stay connected visually, mentally, and spiritually during summer vacations. (Since this Online Vacation Bible School is an intentional intergenerational activity, this hashtag word of the week will not be part of the children’s sermon every week—though it can be.) (Since not everyone views social media, Pastor Joe will print out the pictures each week and post them on the “wall” in the Narthex.) So here goes…let me know if I don’t make any sense.

Happy Summer!

I am so excited that summer is here and we are into our summer routines of not really having a routine! Summer is a big travel time and lots of us will be visiting family: grandparents and uncles and aunts and cousins. Like holidays, summer is a great time for family to get together.

In our Bible story today, Jesus talks about family. Jesus points out that family is not just your parents or your brothers and sisters or your grandparents or your cousins. Jesus tells us that the people He calls family are those who follow God. Whoa! That means since we follow God that we are part of Jesus’s family! And since each of us are part of Jesus’s family, then we are part of each other’s family…meaning we are all family together. This is why we call each other part of our church family. Looks like we’ve got a big, happy family!

One of my favorite things that families do is take family photographs. So today I’ve brought my camera to take our church family picture together here on the chancel steps. But the thing is…I want each of you to be able to see the picture. Do you guys know who this is? You may have seen him in Pastor Joe’s office. He’s the church mouse. Pastor Joe posts pictures of the church mouse on an app called Instagram. So we’re going take our picture with the church mouse, post it on Instagram, and then all of our church family can see it! Here, you Ben, hold the church mouse.

And I’m going to stand back here, you guys squish in on the steps, and you guys in the congregation do your best photo-bomb pose! I might have to take two pictures. One, two, say Alleluia! (take the picture or two!)

One of the ways that Instagram makes it easy to share pictures is through labels called hashtag. Do you fingers like this. (Do the hashtag symbol if you understand what I’m talking about.) By using a hashtag label, we give a picture a theme. The hashtag for this picture that I just took is of course #family.

This is fun! I want to do this more. And I bet you guys would be good at it too! Let’s do this. All summer long, our church family is invited to post pictures on Instagram. This week, we start with #family. So when you guys (those on the steps with me here) and you guys (those in the pews out there) see something that makes you think “family,” we want you to photograph it, hashtag it with #family, and then post it to share. And so we can see them all together, Pastor Joe will print out the pictures and post them on the Narthex wall. AND each week this summer, Pastor Joe will give us a new hashtag word of the week for next week, and we can find other opportunities to photograph the new theme.

But we also need a hashtag to connect all of the pictures and themes. Our main hashtag will be #epcvbs. EPC stands for Edgewood Presbyterian Church and VBS stands for Vacation Bible School. Using Instagram, we are taking our Vacation Bible School wherever we are this summer. Through #epcvbs, we can share our family adventures with our whole church family. This way, we can all be church family together, following God whether we are here or there, near or far; we can stay connected spiritually and visually through the magic of technology.

Will you pray with me? (This is an echo prayer: the leader says a line and the children repeat it.)

Dear Lord,
Thank You
for family.
Thank You
that we are each
part of Your family.
Help us all
stay connected this summer
through worship,
through fun,
and through technology.
Amen

Suggested Weekly Hashtag Words that fit with the Revised Common Lectionary
We are still working on these. We want to find hashtags that don’t pull up inappropriate pictures on Instagram…if you know what I mean.

For the week of
June 8: #family

June 15: #davidandgoliath or #bestill

June 22: #morning or #balance

June 29: #honor or #HONORGOD

July 6: #welcome or #music or #fullness

July 13: #rocks

July 20: #picnic

July 27: #water

Aug 3: #truth or #GODSTRUTH

Aug 10: #backtoschool or #blessingofthebackpacks

We are not Christians alone.
My mission is to share, inspire, and encourage.