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Morton Church’s children’s book fair is underway online.  Here are some mini reviews of some of the books you will find there:

IMG_1756.jpgMy Little Golden Book About God. This book was very special to me as a child.  I can still hear my mother’s voice reading it.  I still believe that “Beyond the farthest star, God knows the way,” and that God planned “this tiny world your two hands could span.”

Beautiful Moon.  This gorgeous book allows us to eavesdrop on a IMG_1760.pngchild’s prayers.  As a beautiful moon illuminates people in need around his city, this child prays for them: people who are homeless, hungry, or sick, and for many others.  The author has dedicated it “To All Those in Need of Prayer.”  I have shared this book with our congregation during worship.  Prayers don’t have to be fancy to be very beautiful indeed.

IMG_1761At Your Baptism. I keep this little book on hand to give families at a baby’s baptism. It’s a wonderful expression of God’s great love for us before we even know we are in the world. The text at the top of each page comes from a statement of God’s promises from the French Reformed liturgy for baptism. All that Jesus did, he did for you—yes you!—before you knew anything of it. Read this book, remember your baptism, and be thankful!

The author of Psalms for Young Children, Marie-Helene Delval, has captured the spirit ofIMG_1757.jpg the psalms, and rendered them in language that is “prayable” for our younger saints as well as deeply touching for us older saints. She includes the psalms of sorrow and lament as well as the psalms of praise and joy, showing us that we can take everything to God in prayer, even the feelings that dismay us.IMG_1783.jpg

In If Kids Ran the World, Leo and Diane Dillon show children from all over the world working for justice, kindness, and peace, along with caring well for our planet itself. The world they dream of and work for looks a lot like what God is dreaming of and working for. It’s a good one to share at young disciples time during worship to encourage people of all ages to dream God’s dreams—and to join God in realizing them.

Here are two books by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In the Children of God Storybook Bible,IMG_1798.jpg he tells fifty-six Bible stories, most in the space of one or two pages, with stunning artwork by artists from around the world and gentle prayers for each one. This book IMG_1797.jpgmakes a wonderful gift. The readings also work well for devotionals and for children’s times during worship. In God’s Dream Archbishop Tutu describes the Beloved Community of God, and invites everyone to help God’s dream come true. The Beloved Community is not perfect, but God has given us gifts to mend and heal. I use this book in worship, too. I would love to give these two books to every child. 

Look! A Child’s Guide to Advent & Christmas, by Laura Alary. This gentle book invites young people and their adults to reflect on Advent themes, such as saying yes to God, and IMG_1811.pngto undertake Advent spiritual practices like putting ornaments on a Jesse tree and
serving others in need. It draws readers into the experiences of the people waiting in darkness in Isaiah, the ministry of John the Baptist, and Mary’s call to be Jesus’ mother. Savor this book in small bites throughout the season with your elementary and older children.

Jesus came for everyone. That is the message of That Baby in the Manger. It tells the story of what happened when a group of church children realized that the figure in the crèche of IMG_1794.pngbaby Jesus with blonde curls didn’t look like them, and what one of the elders and the pastor did about it. What a good discussion starter for conversations on the incarnation, race, ethnicity, and more! Highly recommended for every family and every church. In abbreviated form it works for reading during worship.

A Small Miracle by Peter Collington is a wordless book that invites people of all ages to reflect on what it means to incarnate the love and kindness of God. An old woman weak with hunger foils the robbery of the village church’s IMG_1799.jpgChristmas charity offering and cleans up the mess the robber left behind inside. She reassembles the crèche, putting each figure back in place. On the way home she collapses in the snow, and the nativity figures come to her rescue. They carry her home to her tiny caravan, where she lies unconscious. Mary and the baby stay with her while all the other figures go out to get food and other necessities. Carpenter Joseph even fixes a broken floorboard inside the caravan. This is a book to savor Christmas after Christmas. 

Refuge focuses on a part of the Christmas story that doesn’t
get much attention: the flight into Egypt.  Jesus and his family were refugees dependent IMG_1764.jpgon the kindness of strangers.  The donkey tells the story of the journey simply without mentioning Herod’s rage and violence.  A dream of danger is what prompts the Holy Family to flee.  This book is simple enough to share with little ones, short enough to read in worship, and deep enough to prompt discussion of how Jesus calls us to welcome strangers and care for refugees.

IMG_1762.jpgI’m a big fan of British author Lois Rock who tells the stories of Jesus and speaks of the things of God so eloquently and simply for children.  I’m also a fan of artist Alison Jay.  They have teamed up to to draw people into the nativity story in On That Christmas Night.  The illustrations are set in medieval Europe and resemble an illuminated manuscript in color and light, but the figures are rendered in a way that is unique to the artist’s style.  There is so much to see on every page.  One of the best things about this nativity book is that it includes both annunciation stories, and also the flight into Egypt.

Many books imagine the nativity story from the point of view of the animals that were IMG_1825.jpglikely present.  Room for a Little One by Martin Waddell is a lovely example.  One by one the animals gather and welcome each newcomer with the refrain, “There’s always room for a little one here.” The last to arrive is tired donkey carrying Mary who is in labor.  This book is for even our littlest followers of Jesus. At Morton Church’s Christmas dinner last year, one of our elders read this story to the children, and she used stuffed animals to represent each welcoming animal.  It was a hit.

IMG_1826.jpgChristmas Day in the Morning is a classic by Pearl S. Buck, and it’s a favorite at my house.  Maybe it’s because I grew upon a dairy farm and could easily picture this story taking place back home on our farm.  The thought of Jesus being born in a barn and of people bringing him gifts in the barn prompted a young man of  fifteen to ask, “Why should he not give his father a special gift, too, out there in the barn?” And so a gift that brings tears to my eyes was given early on Christmas morning.  The best gifts of all are not things.  The illustrator includes a note about how his own children responded to this story.

Christmas in the Manger is a board book that makes aIMG_1823.jpg good first Christmas book for an infant or toddler.  The characters of the nativity story are introduced through bright pictures and simple rhymes.  My favorite is the last one: “I am the baby asleep in the hay, and I am the reason for Christmas Day.”

In Sally Lloyd-Jones’ book Song of the Stars, all creation and all creatures from smallest to greatest long for the arrival of our Redeemer, journey to Bethlehem, and gather around the manger in awe and praise.  The truth they see is that “the One who made us has come to live with us!”  It reminds me of creation’s eager longing in Romans 8.  This book is yet another invitation to ponder the eager longing of Advent, and the mystery and wonder of the incarnation.

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BB01074E-C8F2-43D8-82D6-7E9EA43466EDAdvent will soon be here.  Are you looking for good books to share with children and youth in your congregation, family and friends?  Come visit Morton Presbyterian Church’s Young Disciples Book Fair online.  Its goal is to help you find books that nurture faith and to promote reading in general.  Reading together is a great way to cultivate spirituality and strengthen relationships.  We are doing this through childrensbookstore.com, an independent online book store that only sells children’s books. 

Here are the details:

  • Dates: November 11-November 25, 2019
  • Go online to www.childrensbookstore.com/morton-presbyterian-church. You can view the site now.
  • Look through our posted lists of books on topics like “Who is God?” and “Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.” Scroll to the bottom of the page and click on links to book lists by reading level.
  • Search for books in the search box at the top right of the web page, or click on “Shop Books” near the top left to find books by subject, series, and more.  More than 200,000 children’s and young adult titles are available.
  • Add books to the shopping cart, check out, and have the books shipped to your home.
  • During the dates above, Morton Church will receive 30% of every book purchased.  After the book fair dates, you can still order through our page, and the church will receive 15% of every book purchased.

The web page will stay active after the fair, and people can continue to use the book lists and order.  We would love to hear your book recommendations as we continue to update the page.  What books would you love to place in every child or youth’s hands?

29FFDC61-F80F-4397-84A2-660439268A1DThe book lists we created for the page are based on books we have used and loved, or they have been recommended by another source.  For example, the current issue of Christian Century has a list of books helpful for talking about difficult topics with children.  Read more here.

You can also find book lists, reviews, and recommendations for using children’s books in ministry at Storypath.com and Picturebooktheology.com.  I consult both of these sites regularly.

We are glad to share these resources with you.  If you choose to make purchases through our book page, thank you so much!  Money that we receive will help support and expand Morton Church’s ministries with children and youth in the church and community, which include Backpack Buddies at Coopers Elementary School to feed hungry bodies and summer book drives to feed hungry minds.

Please feel free to share this post far and wide.  Thank you!

My Fundraising Page

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Laura and her Grandma at worship.

I am passing along two good articles about having realistic expectations of children during worship:

Christina Embree has so many good resources on her blog, Refocus.org.  Her post is Kids in Church: What Do you expect is going to happen?

Building Faith is another helpful site.  The post is entitled Children’s Behavior in Worship: Does Your Congregation Have Realistic Expectations?

 

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Here is a post from a young pastor,  Rebecca Gresham-Kesner, who sees the wonderful gifts that small communities of Jesus can offer children.  It’s entitled Smaller Congregations are Great Places for Kids to Grow Up!  She is definitely preaching to the choir with me, and she gives good examples of what being a beloved community of people of different ages looks like.

This post pairs with one I wrote on a similar theme: Give a Small Church the Chance to Nurture Your Children.

We rejoice when God’s youngest are among us!

 

 

Miniatures

Some artists work on a grand scale.  But others work on a small scale, or even on a miniature scale, producing work that is every bit as skilled, intricate, and beautiful as much larger works. In the pre-photography days, being able to to paint small portraits was a highly valued skill.  Portrait miniatures were about the size of our smallest school photos, and they could be worn as jewelry.  They were usually watercolors painted with tiny brushes on ivory.  Some artists specialized in portrait miniatures.  The actual size of this portrait is about 1 5/8″ x 1 7/8″.  (Portrait of Alice Walker by her father Horatio Walker, ca. 1891.)

People who love small church ministry are like the portrait miniaturists.  It takes just as much skill and creativity as working on a larger scale, and the results are beautiful with the fruits of lives made better and filled with love.  Unlike the large paintings that dominate museum galleries and can be seen from a distance, you have to get close to portrait miniatures to truly see them and appreciate them.  They are tiny treasures.  We small church folk appreciate it when someone comes in close enough to see what the Spirit of Jesus is doing among us and recognize the gospel treasure there.

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One of my most-used paintbrushes.

The Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, South Carolina, has a large collection of portrait miniatures.  Here is a link to a video about how these tiny treasures are made.  You can also view the collection online.

XMSC_151Over the last few months my congregation and I have been talking about our life together as a kind of monastic community with Jesus at the center.  I wrote this article to help stimulate discussion:

They still print Christmas cards showing small, light-filled church buildings looking inviting in the winter snow.  These images still capture some people’s imaginations momentarily.  Perhaps they remember a similar spot that was dear to them in their childhood.  The thought, “How lovely!” flashes through their mind.  But that’s often where the imagination stops.  They don’t imagine calling such a place home now.

In the light of day, real life little churches in the wildwood seem to have little to offer with their small communities of believers, simple buildings, humble worship, and slower pace.  What can they offer that is excellent and life-enriching? 

It’s true that some small congregations—and larger ones, too, for that matter—are not healthy.  Whatever its size a church isn’t healthy if it’s only about serving self and what the insiders want, or if it’s a service club wearing religious clothing.  It’s not healthy if it’s a place where people are primarily interested in wielding power and controlling others.

But other small churches in the vale are healthy, and what they offer is a way of life, a way of being together in community with Jesus at the center.  They are trying to practice the way of Jesus with one another and with the neighborhood and world around them.  They are trying to become like him.  They want to help others see Christ and experience his healing love and salvation.

Healthy small churches can be a type of monastic community, complete with a rule of faith and practice.  Whether it’s expressed explicitly or not, the people see themselves in sacred covenant with each other.  These congregations resemble the ancient Celtic monasteries that were more like a small village.  Celtic monastic communities included single men and women, which is what we typically think of when we imagine a monastery, but they also included couples, and families with children.  Celtic monasteries were intergenerational.  Hospitality was one of their highest values.  Strangers were honored and welcomed to spend time with the community.  The guest house was one of the most sacred places in the village. Sometimes strangers found the way of life in the community so welcoming and so winsome that they stayed and eventually became believers (1).

The small congregation I serve that calls a little reddish-brown church building home is a monastic community with Jesus at its heart.  Morton Presbyterian Church has formed generations of loving, serving, giving people who have taken the blessings of Jesus Christ far and wide.

With a huge and tender heart, Morton Church very definitely offers a way of life, and we have a number of spiritual practices that are distinctive.  Here are some of the norms of life and practice at Morton.  We do not practice them all perfectly, but we are growing into them.

  • Our boundaries are elastic.  The word “us” is very elastic.  People are warmly included and welcomed to walk with us as long as they need to and want to whether they choose to “formally join” or not.
  • The family of our family is our family.  This practice is apparent, for example, when the congregation offers tender care and hosts funerals for people who have never been in the church, and perhaps have never been in any church, just because they and their families need it.  Another example is helping people in the extended family and community celebrate milestones with graduation lunches and baby showers.
  • We show up for one another, whether it’s a funeral for a relative or a child’s school program.
  • Prayer bathes everything.  For us, prayer is a way to practice love.
  • Gratitude is a central practice.  The congregation deliberately counts its blessings, noticing what is good and beautiful, noble and just, and gives thanks.  Prayer concern times are filled with thanksgivings as much as naming needs.
  • Children are cherished.  They are seen as young disciples.  Wherever possible they learn to serve by serving alongside faith-filled adults.  Adults go out of their way to reach out to other people’s children, not just their own.  Older and younger people spend time together.
  • We tell and retell the scripture stories, aiming to internalize them so that they come to mind when we are discerning what to do in the present.
  • Simplicity is a way of life.  Simplicity is practiced in many ways.  Our worship is simple.  Our organizational structure is simple.  Our church house is simple, yet beautiful.
  • Group singing is a practice that joins our hearts in fellowship.
  • Stewardship means caring well for all that God has entrusted to us.
  • Breaking bread together is a priority, and so is seeing to it that people get nourishment when they are sick or stressed.

We find these practices and more to be life-giving.  Walking together with Jesus in this way greatly enriches our lives.  A big question for us is, “So how do we share this way of life?”

I have read article after article and book after book expressing the deep hunger of people of all ages in our culture for loving, authentic community.  Loneliness is profound, and people long to be known and loved as the people they really are.  Yes, that includes young people, who do not need more of the noise, busy-ness, chaos, and stress that so often characterize daily life in this age.  Young pastor Laurie Lyter Bright, for example, speaks of the millennial generation’s longing for deep relationships across generational lines.  “Millennials want to know and be known,” she writes (2).  “They want to choose and be chosen into a family in the fulness of their identity.  Is the church ready for that?”

Are we? A healthy small church certainly has the potential to be that family.  How does a small monastic community like ours take our tenderhearted hospitality where the people are, where they can experience it and experience Christ’s love?  How can we make the guest house, the sacred space of hospitality mobile and visible out in the world?  How do we share Jesus pure and simple without seeing people primarily as potential consumers of programs, attendance builders, and offering-givers?

The light inside the little church in the wildwood is lovely indeed.  But imagine another Christmas card showing the people spilling out of the church, carrying the light through the darkness to all kinds of people in all kinds of places.  It would in fact be a better representation of the meaning of Christmas.

 

1 For a discussion of life inside a Celtic monastery, see George G. Hunter III, The Celtic Way of Evangelism (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2010), Chapter 2.

2 Laurie Lyter Bright, Vagabonding: In Defense and Praise of Millennial Faith (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2018), p. 61.

For more about children in small churches, see this post, Give a Small Church the Chance to Nurture Your Children.

PaliftsLaura

Pa lifts Laura, 1994

In a post entitled An Army of Grandparents, Christian educator Christina Embree cites studies showing that grandparents have a strong influence over their grandchildren’s faith development, an influence second only to the children’s parents.  In some cases that influence actually increases with time.  She writes:

“I learned that if grandparents talked about their faith with their grandchildren face-to-face more than once a week OR went on family vacations with their grandchildren once a year that those grandchildren had a significantly higher chance of remaining in the faith than those who did not and led to an increase in grandchildren talking with others about faith struggles in their life.

I learned that ‘when grandparents consistently modeled their faith, their grandchildren tend[ed] to share that faith.'”

Whether we have grandchildren of our own or not, we should not underestimate the power of simple, everyday actions like saying “Hey!” to children when we see them, reading together, talking about things that matter, and taking them along when we share God’s love with others.

If you are looking for good books and activities to nurture your children’s and grandchildren’s faith, here are a few resources:

Books to read:

The mission of Sparkhouse Family is to support faith development in families.  They have a growing catalog of Bible story books, other books, and videos you can enjoy with your children and grandchildren.  Our church’s Sunday School teachers are adapting some of them for use on Sunday mornings with our children’s class.  They also have a blog you can subscribe to for ideas, including Bible reading plans.  Each month of readings has a theme.  Click here to subscribe to the blog, and here to subscribe to monthly Bible reading plans.  Look in the sidebar for categories of posts: parenting, faith resources, family freebies, things we love, and news.  Sparkhouse Family books include titles like Search and Find in the Bible, which resembles the hidden picture pages in children’s magazines, Spark Devotions for Kids, and Frolic First Bible,which makes a nice baby gift.

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers has published many wonderful titles for children, including one of my all-time favorites, Psalms for Young Children. Click here for my review of this book.

You can access these materials from the publishers’ web sites and from booksellers, and you may be able to find some in your local or church library.

Pockets Magazine is published by Upper Room Ministries of the United Methodist Church.  It is aimed at children ages 6-12.  Eleven issues each year deliver “full-color photos, stories, poems, games, mission-focused activities, daily scripture readings, non-fiction features, and contributions from children who read the magazine.”

Activities to share:

Flame Creative Children’s Ministry is a blog with lots of activity ideas using simple materials.  For example, here is a meal time grace place mat  with prayer reminders that you can make.

Music to listen to:

Glory to God: Hymns and Songs for Children and Families. See my review here.  You can order the CD here.  You can also download it from iTunes.  Search iTunes under “Nassau Presbyterian Church.”  I love the natural sound of acoustic instruments, and the voices of singers of all ages on this CD, and the fact that it includes music we sing during worship.

Shine Early Childhood Music CD. This CD comes from the Shine Curriculum of the Mennonite Church.  Click on the title to hear some samples, and to order.

CDs from Making Music Praying Twice.  I can’t recommend these highly enough.  I have thoroughly enjoyed using these with children.  Click here to read about how we have used these in our church to nurture young children.

 

 

An Army of Grandparents Unleashed