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IMG_0287No matter what our age, music can nurture our faith in a wonderful way.  Here is a collection of music and prayers drawn from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal. It’s aimed at young children and those who love them. I heartily commend it, and here’s why:

The selections are arranged in an order that takes one through the day, from greeting God in the morning to bedtime prayer.  They can be used in many settings, including worship.  The Doxology medley stands out.

Different cultures are represented, along with a variety of musical styles, rhythms, and instruments.  Have you ever heard “For the Beauty of the Earth” played on banjo?  You will here!

Children and adults sing and make music together.  I loved hearing voices of all ages.  The singers sound natural, and the sound quality is excellent.

Spoken rhymes and instrumental selections add to the collection’s appeal and usefulness.  You can get out your shaky eggs and other rhythm instruments and play along, and you can give glory to God through dance.

I look forward to using Glory to God: Hymns and Songs for Children and Families as I make music with children of all ages.  Ideas for pastors, educators, musicians, and families are posted online at the PCUSA Store.  I plan to use it in our congregation’s Music for Little Friends program.

You can order CDs at the PCUSA Store, and you can also download the collection from iTunes, where the artist is listed as Nassau Presbyterian Church.

Many thanks to the Nassau Church and to all the musicians, to the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, and to the hymnal committee. Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal is a great gift to the church, and resources like Hymns and Songs for Children and Families make it an even greater blessing.

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IMG_0267Rachel Held Evans and others maintain that it’s not hip-ness and cool-ness that most young adults need and want in a faith community.  It’s authenticity.  It’s real, loving, stand-by-you-no-matter-what community.  It’s a family of people from all generations.  It’s a congregation where all–and I mean ALL–truly are welcome and wanted in the  congregation’s heart and life together.   Many small congregations cannot be “cool,” and yet we are this kind of community.  Real.  Mine is.  So how do we raise our profile so we can connect heart to heart with people hungering for the God we love, and who loves us without condition or limit?  How do we mingle with people “out there”?

I recommend Rachel’s book Searching for Sunday, and here is an article she wrote for the Washington Post: “Want millennials back in the pews? Stop trying to make church ‘cool.”

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Here is a thought-provoking article from pastor Carey Nieuwhof: 6 Disruptive Church Trends that Will Rule 2017.

Click on the link to read the whole article.  There you will find other links that discuss these trends in more detail.  In brief, his six points are:

1. Consumer Christianity will die faster than ever

“Christian maturity isnt marked by how much we know or what we can get, it’s marked by how much we love and how much we give in light of how deeply we’ve been loved and how much we’ve been given.”

2. Cool Church will Morph

“Having great preaching, a decent band and an awesome facility or environment is not a bad thing. It beats having terrible preaching, pathetic music, and a dingy facility.

But unchurched people are increasingly interested in the mission more than the method. They want to meet Jesus.

They have enough cool in their lives. They don’t have enough Jesus.”

3. Preachers Who Can’t Speak to the Unchurched Will Preach to a Shrinking Crowd

“If you’ve never thought through what it’s like to be in church for the first time, with little to no church background, with a different moral code operating in your life, hearing truths that are thousands of years old, and trying to figure out your life through a very different lens, well, it will be exceptionally difficult for you to connect with unchurched people.”

4. Preaching will fuse both the head and the heart

“Information alone doesn’t bring about transformation. Preaching to the head can lead to a changed mind, but not a changed life….Preaching only to the heart creates emotional followers, whose faith rises and falls with their feelings.”

5. Anonymity will continue to give way to community

“Figuring out how to connect people faster, at their own pace and in their own sequence, will become the hallmark of churches where many gather.”

6. Engagement will become the new attendance

“One of the changes you’ll see happening in 2017 is leaders who measure engagement as much or more than attendance.”

How many people serve, how many give, how many invite their unchurched friends and how many jump into community beyond Sunday will become the new measure of effectiveness in growing churches even more than attendance.”

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I came across an article by a young journalist about what it is like to be the only person who showed up for worship.  Having recently moved to Portland, Maine, the author was seeking a sense of sanctuary and solidity.  He had visited St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland before for a festive morning service, and decided to return for an evening service.

The priest’s care for this one worshiper reminds me of the incarnation of Christ that we recently celebrated at Christmas.  Our great God became a tiny infant in the arms of a small family.  And when our Christ grew and grew up, he mostly encountered people one, or a few, at a time.  The church has tried to proclaim the good news that he came for each one of us, for you, and for me.  This priest’s care over her one worshiper embodies (incarnates) that message in a gracious, powerful way.

When we who long so much to share the good news find ourselves wondering whether our efforts make any difference at all, we can think of this priest and the unforgettable impression she made on the lone worshiper.  He knows Jesus Christ came for him.  We can help others know that he came for each of them, too.

When you’re the only one who shows up to church

http://www.episcopalcafe.com/going-to-church-alone/

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“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.”

–Isaiah 35:1-2

The term “food desert” describes areas where healthy, affordable food is hard to come by.  One of our adult Sunday School classes talked about this recently, and we looked at some of the down in the dirt ways people are trying to address the situation.  Food deserts exist in urban areas as well as rural areas.  Not far from us the Conetoe Family Life Center is working to grow healthy young people and a healthy community as it grows and distributes healthy food.

It occurred to us that there are many other kinds of deserts as well.  Within walking distance of the building our congregation calls home, we have identified a “music desert” and a “reading desert,” and there are certainly others.  In a music desert people don’t hear much enriching music, and they seldom attempt to make music. It is all left to professionals.  In a reading desert there is little storytelling or reading, and few books around to stimulate minds through words and good art.2016-02-09-21-20-33

Isaiah 35 reminds us that God can make the driest desert blossom, and God can make a way through where there seems to be no way.  God has the greatest green thumb of all. Our little flock is participating in what God is doing to help our community flower. Every week one of our oldest members leads a group that makes music flower at a local nursing home.  We also enjoy making music with some of God’s youngest children through gatherings called Music for Little Friends, to help their minds, hearts, and souls develop.  We will soon place a third Little Library somewhere in the churchyard.  The first two are in nearby neighborhoods, and there is a weekly story time at Little Library 2.  We are looking for creative ways to encourage children and families to use the libraries and read together. In these and other ways we are trying to garden with God.

Sometimes the small things we do seem so very small and inconsequential, and we worry about how our ministry can be sustained long term.  We need our divine Gardener to creatively cultivate us.  Yet even the smallest flowers are exquisitely beautiful, like a crocus.  In God’s eyes they are, at any rate.

file-dec-06-6-17-36-pmReaders, our prayers are with you for flourishing where you are in God’s gardening scheme.  And we appreciate yours for us as we plant our seeds with hope and longing for something beautiful from God in the future.

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little-golden-bookBooks have always been my friends, and the one you see pictured here is a special friend.  I can still hear my mother’s voice reading My Little Golden Book About God.  This little book shaped my understanding of God.  I still believe that “beyond the farthest star, God knows the way,” and that God planned “[this] tiny world your two hands could span.”  I still believe that “God whispers to us in our hearts: ‘Do not fear, I am here, and I love you, my dear.'”

I am always on the lookout for children’s books to share in my ministry with children, and I have found that good children’s books speak to the faith of all God’s children, including those of us that are grownup.

I am dreaming of a book fair to help put some of the best books in the hands of children, youth, and their families.  It would resemble a school book fair, but it would pull together a collection of the very best Bible story books, board books, picture books, and books for young adults on topics such as prayer, worship, service, justice, and life in the church. It would include the best fiction as well as non-fiction.

I have started a list of titles, and I am seeking recommendations.  What titles do you dream of putting in the hands of your children and youth to support their faith formation?  I am especially in need of helpful titles for older elementary children and teens, but welcome all your recommendations.   You can put them in a comment below, or go to the contact page and email me.  Thanks very much for your help!

Meanwhile, here are two web sites for people who love using children’s literature in ministry:

Storypath is a ministry of Union Presbyterian Seminary.  You can find hundreds of book reviews there, plus bibliographies and lesson plans.  Each week they post reviews of books that relate to the Revised Common Lectionary readings for the week.  There is also a scripture index and a theme index.

Picture Book Theology is similar.  The reviews are written and posted by Hanna Schock, an avid reader who finds the presence and wisdom God in picture books especially.  She offers suggestions on how to use picture books in educational ministry.

Here are some of my own reviews from elsewhere on this site:

A Child’s First Book of Prayers, by Lois Rock.

Psalms for Young Children, by Marie Helene Delval.

The People Could Fly:American Black Folktales, by Virginia Hamilton.

Grandad’s Prayers of the Earth, by Douglas Wood.

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Snow, Jan 17 2016I came across one of the loveliest words of encouragement for small churches that I have read in a while.  Rachel S. Gerber, a denominational minister for youth and young adults for Mennonite Church USA, and participant in a tiny Mennonite fellowship, titled her post this way:  To small congregations: You are enoughShe has important things to say about the deep faith formation that occurs when children feel deeply loved in a small church.  They know they belong, and they know they are needed.

Noting that congregations often fall prey to “if only” thinking (i.e. if only we had more children and bigger and better programs, we could attract more families), Gerber declares, “Let me tell you: Programs rarely make a difference.  But genuine encounters with people always do.  Authentic faith formation is always rooted in relationships, not in the flashiest curriculum or best-decorated children’s wing.”

I love the way she closes her post, too: “To my dear small congregation, you are not lacking.  You are such an asset.  You are enough.”

That’s exactly what I want to say to my own small congregation.

Click on the title, read the whole post, and be encouraged to keep on keeping on, in the name of Jesus.

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