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Archive for the ‘Children in the Church’ Category

“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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In a blogpost entitled A Child Speaks About Church, pastor Steve Lindsley and director of children and family ministries Lynn Turnage share six things children need from a church.  They write as if a child is speaking.  Here is the list.  Click on the post to read the details for each point.

  • Just tell me the Bible story.
  • Remember: I can’t sit still for long.
  • Give me, at the bare minimum, an hour a month with the pastor.
  • My best adult teachers/leaders/volunteers are the ones that I KNOW care about me.
  • Give me some responsibility in the church.
  • I like to be with my family and all ages together in worship.

On that last point, here is some of what they add: “You think I don’t want to be in worship during the sermon because it’s ‘boring.’ I actually listen to what they say and it sticks with me–as you are well aware in other contexts, I’m great at remembering everything you adults say.  All things being equal, I’d rather stay in worship with my church family–we call ourselves a family, right?  I might get a little antsy (worship bags will help). But I promise you I won’t fall asleep like that dude in front of me every week.  Surely you’ve seen him.”

Thanks for some good food for thought, Steve and Lynn!

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*at least not THAT kind of youth group.

Here is a challenging post on not segregating youth into youth ministry silos.  Its catchy title: Blowing Up the Youth Group Model. 

I recognize that people in in different age groups and generations do need to spend time with their peers.  However, I’ve long thought that the typical youth group ministry aimed at “hooking” youth interest with entertaining, exciting, and often expensive programs led by a high-energy professional actually vaccinates youth against full participation in the church.  Too often graduation from high school and from the youth group has also led to “graduation” from church.

While it might not feel like a blessing, it is indeed a blessing not to be able to have such a program.  The small number of children who spend significant time being nurtured and mentored by mature Christian adults in a small faith community grow in discipleship, and they often end up being leaders themselves.  When they move away to pursue education and careers, they can end up being the most mature leaders in a larger church because they grew up being active in the church’s ministry and not just consumers of the church’s ministry.

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Stories don’t always have to be big to be good.  They don’t have to be exciting to be powerful.  Here is a sermon inviting disciples and congregations of disciples to point to Jesus by telling the simple, beautiful stories that are ours.  It follows up on the sermon Be Opened, and it celebrates my home congregation’s heritage.

 

Have We Got a Story to Tell!
A Sermon on Exodus 3:7-12, 4:10-13; Romans 10:14-15, with allusions to Mark 7:31-37
Homecoming at Morton Church

At first Moses liked what God was saying. God was saying, “My people are crying out in pain in Egypt, and I’m going to do something about it!” Even though Moses had been living in Midian for decades, he remembered well the horrible abuse the Hebrew people were experiencing at the hands of the Egyptians: unjust working conditions, physical and emotional violence and more. Doggone right something needed to be done! High time! Past time!

“I’ve seen my people’s misery in Egypt,” God was saying, “and I’m going to get them out of there and take them to a good new place.” “Wow!” Moses was thinking.

“ And so…and so,” God continued. I am sending you to Egypt to speak up for me. Tell the people that I know very well what is going on with them. I see how they are suffering. Tell them the good plans I have for them. And tell Pharaoh that I say, ‘Let my people go!’” Then you lead the people to their new home.

Moses was utterly gotten away with. “Who, me?” he exclaimed. What made God think anybody would listen to him? Nobody was going to listen to him. So Moses gave God all sorts of reasons why this was not a good idea. Moses raised a series of objections, ending with one that really was serious. “But I am slow of speech and slow of tongue,” Moses objected.

Perhaps Moses simply felt that he wasn’t particularly good at putting words together. But the original Hebrew text there uses a pretty strong word for what ailed Moses. It reads “heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue,” like there really is some physical difficulty.

Moses probably had a physical problem—perhaps a cleft palate—that meant he had to work really hard to make himself understood. And the reality is, if you have speech related difficulties, people often wonder if your intelligence is intact, and if you really have anything to say. Is it worth the effort to listen.

With substandard speech, who was Moses to be speaking publicly, and in the name of God? No! Just no!

“Lord, please send someone else!”

But when God’s got a job to be done, somebody has to go. Somebody’s got to speak up. Just like Paul said in our epistle lesson today, “How are people going to trust Jesus unless they hear about him? And how are they going to hear unless somebody tells them the good news? Somebody’s got to tell the story.”

Often people think that telling the story of Jesus is a job for someone else, and for reasons a lot like Moses’ reasons. They feel inadequate. Surely somebody else can do a much better job. What about a trained professional?

Maybe it’s partly a hearing problem, as we were talking about last Sunday. Last week we noted that you have to hear and repeat words in order to be able to speak them. Hearing and speaking go together. To speak the word of Christ’s love to others, we must first hear it—hear it deep down in our souls, and let it heal us.

Or maybe it’s that we aren’t sure we have a story to tell, not an interesting story, anyway. Not a powerful, riveting story like Paul’s story, where the light of God literally knocked him down and turned him completely around. How can we be effective witnesses unless we have something big and exciting to share? Who’s going to listen to us? (more…)

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HPIM0165In his book Bowling Alone, published in 2000, Robert Putnam described the fraying community and social ties in American society, citing declining church attendance; declining voter turnout; and declining participation in labor unions, in civic clubs, in scouting, and in all sorts of community organizations like bowling leagues.  He warned that declining engagement with one another jeopardizes the social connections and social resources that we must have in order to solve community problems.

In a new book entitled Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, Putnam describes the growing divide between children born into families who are able to give them enriching experiences such as reading to them beginning in babyhood and taking them to music, sports, scouts and other opportunities, and children whose families are struggling simply to survive economically  He stresses that it’s not just material resources that these children lack.  They are missing out on mentoring and the benefits that come from knowing a network of caring adults, and from enriching activities.  Along with a good education and good health care, these blessings help children grow up into strong adults.  Putnam reminds us that all of these children are OUR children, and we are collectively responsible for them.  Faith communities can certainly help address the situation, Putnam notes, especially when it comes to mentoring children. I resonate with Putnam’s call for adults to step forward and be mentors.  There is no substitute for having adults show interest in you and want to spend time with you.

You can read a Washington Post article about this book here, and a review from the New York Times here.

I look forward to reading the whole book.  Growing up I received so many blessings and was loved and mentored by so many caring adults in my family and church.  My husband was similarly blessed.  Thanks to our families and our church, my husband and I were able to pass these blessings on to our daughter.  God has brought to our church’s attention a whole flock of children that we can share these blessings with, and we are seeking ways to do that.  See my recent post on sharing music with little children.

God has also brought to our attention some statistics that cause great concern.  We have learned, for example, that within a seven mile radius of our church’s building 37% of households with children are headed by single mothers, and 8% are headed by single fathers, and that adds up to 45%.  Moreover, 18% of all households within this radius are subsisting on $15,000 a year or less.  It is a varied and challenging community in which to seek God’s call.  However we answer the call, it is going to require an investment of our hearts, making friends and building relationships.

 

 

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