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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

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John and Mimi

My husband, John, and his grandmother, Blanche Todd

I often think about how faith is transmitted across generations.  Last night I heard a story about the power of shared faith across generations.  I was listening to a book entitled The Spiritual Child, by Lisa Miller.  It’s about the neuropsychology of spirituality, and how nurturing children’s innate capacity for spirituality helps them thrive.  The book is very repetitive and a bit sleep-inducing, and I am still listening for practical applications.  However, this story was striking.

The author describes what happened one Sunday morning aboard the New York City subway.  When she boarded, she saw that the passengers were crowded at one end of the car.  At the other end of the car was a disheveled man clutching a bag of fast food, brandishing a piece of chicken at the other passengers and yelling, “Hey!  You want to sit with me?  You want some of this lunch?”  The author took an empty seat across the aisle from the man.  At every subway stop the man issued the same invitation as people boarded.

At one stop an elegant older woman boarded with a young girl, about eight years old.  They appeared to be a grandmother and granddaughter.  They were beautifully dressed for a church service.  When the man saw them, he issued his invitation: “Hey!  You want to sit with me?”  The grandmother and granddaughter looked at each other, nodded, and sat down right next to the man, looking into his face.  “Thank you,” they said in unison to him.  The man and all the passengers were shocked.  “Do you want some?” he bellowed as he offered his chicken.  They replied, “No, thank you,” and again looked at each other.  He asked again, in a calmer voice, and they patiently replied with kind voices, “No, thank you.”  This was repeated a few times, and each time, the man grew calmer and calmer, until he was quiet. The grandmother and granddaughter looked at each other with understanding and agreement.

It was clear to the author that the grandmother and granddaughter had a shared spirituality.  The look that passed between them, which the author calls “the nod” was a sign of something deeply shared.  It was a sign of spiritual direction and values taught and received in a loving relationship between an elder and someone younger. The author felt like she was witnessing the passing of a sacred torch.

My hunch is that this granddaughter had accompanied her grandmother and  observed her kind manner and respect for others many times before.  And soon this way became a part of who the granddaughter was, too.  The author went on to point that out that the strength of this kind of connection across generations makes a big difference as children learn to live with the ups and downs of life.  Among its blessings are a sense of security and resiliency.

I give thanks to God for my grandmother and all the elders in my life who gave this gift to me.  I’m still looking for ways to pass that sacred torch on.

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In the ideal world families come to church together.  The reality is that sometimes children come alone. Sometimes an adult friend or neighbor brings them.  As Christina Embree points out in her article Seven Family Ministry Ideas for Kids who Come Alone, there are things the congregation can do to nurture children who come without their families.

Among her suggestions:

  • Find other adults and families who will welcome the solo child to worship with them.  These could be older adults, who become grandfriends.
  • Talk about their home and family.  Make sure you know the names of the important people in their lives.
  • Reach out to their family with personal invitations to church gatherings, instead of always using the child as a courier.
  • Give the child a place to serve, such as helping to hand out bulletins.  Help them know that their presence and contributions to the church are welcomed and needed.

Read her post for more, and see the links she shares.

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When Presbyterian minister Fred Rogers, beloved Mr. Rogers of public television, stood to acknowledge his induction into the Television Hall of Fame, he spoke about the power of neighbors, including people on TV, to shape the lives of children.

You can view his acceptance speech and other videos here.

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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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“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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