Cross-Generational Mission Workshop

At the end of the summer the youth of our church share the story of their summer mission projects in worship. It’s a beautiful service. It’s also a great opportunity not only to hear about mission but to participate in mission together as a church, with people from all generations. Regular fall Sunday school hadn’t kicked in yet, so no one felt like they were missing out or being asked to skip something mid-stream. And because this was the week school started families were back in town and showing up at church. What better time to show them how we can do cross-generational ministry that is exciting, fulfilling, and well planned?IMG_3073

I had several goals for this workshop
1. Create an intentionally cross-generational event
2. Do real and good work
3. Assist the mission committee in meeting their goals

We ended up with between 90-100 people at our workshop from age two to folks in their eighties and everywhere in-between. We offered several stations.
Station 1 –  Assembling UMCOR Health Kits
Station 2 – Writing cards for shut-ins and drop-in visitors.
Station 3 – Sharing mission stories and pictures on large pieces of butcher paper. Also the station to find out more information about and get involved with mission at Duke Memorial.
Station 4 – Assembling “Hospitality Bags” for visitors who drop by the church in need of assistance.
Station 5 – A parishoner sharing about a ministry in South Sudan with which he is involved
Station 6 – Visioning our Future in Missions by using post-it notes to answer questions posed by the Mission Committee (“What can we do better?” “Who are our neighbors?”)

We also offered snacks, music, and people representing different mission groups with name tags that said “Ask Me About…” One of my favorite pieces was a scavenger hunt where you could win a button or bracelet if completed. The “hunt” included:-Find someone 20 years older or younger than you and make an UMCOR kit with her or him
-What is the mission theme for this year?
-Find someone who went on their first mission trip this year.
-Find someone who has been on an overseas mission and write the name of the country they were in.
-Write a fact about South Sudan.

It was amazing to see people from all generations sharing in the workshop, talking together, and meeting people they hadn’t met before. At the end we collected our UMCOR kits in baskets and the children brought them down during the offering to be blessed. I’m hopeful that Mission Workshop will bear good fruit for our neighborhood, for cross-generational friendship, and for our church as we learn how to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world.

Tough Questions from Children – Creation

This question is part of a series on difficult questions we hear from our children. These can be questions can be anything – faith, race, death, unicorns, or the Bible. I don’t have all the answers, but I’ll offer some suggestions, both of ways I’ve failed to answer well the questions I hear as well as some resources for how you might respond. As with all things parenting it takes a village, so if you don’t like what I say, or would say it differently, add your voice in the comments. If you have a question you’d like us to tackle feel free to add it in the comments.

“Mom, did God create the world like it says in the Bible?”

This was a recent question I heard from my almost-6-year-old daughter. There have been a lot of “did God make that?” questions in our house lately, and we had also been reading the story of Creation in Genesis 1. On this night, around bedtime, she wanted to know, “did God create the world like it says in the Bible.”

A million things went through my mind, and I thought about how I had answered this question for parishoners and college students in the past:

The Bible is not a science book. And Genesis isn’t meant to be an exact guide for scientists exploring the origins of the universe. It’s a poetry book that tells the story of how God was with us and for us from the very moments that the earth came into being. It’s the beginning of a love story. Did Creation occur in a literal six days? Maybe, but doubtful. Did God create the universe? Absolutely.

I tried to give a kindergarten version of this explanation to my daughter. And it didn’t go over well. She was confused and frustrated. I hadn’t answered the question. Did God or didn’t God?

The answer I should have given her, and eventually did, was “yes.”

Here’s why:

She’s begin to enter into the “mythic-literal” stage of faith development. (These stages were established by the developmental psychologist James Fowler and are closely in kinship with Jean Piaget and Erik Erikson.) A main attribute of this phase is working out the difference between fact and fiction. What do we read that are fairytales and what do we read that are stories that actually happened? At the same time, children at this stage of faith development still think strictly in concrete terms. There is no metaphor. A thing is what the thing is, so approaching the idea of creation as a poem is going to be meaningless for most children ages 6-12.

What children are looking for at this point is affirmation that the things we are telling them about faith are true. “True” may not be the same thing as “factual” for adults, but children can’t make that distinction at this point. My child was asking: are these stories a true thing, a thing I can rely on, a thing I can depend on. The answer to those questions is “yes.” Later, when my daughter is older we’ll be able to talk about poetry and metaphors. But now, in this stage, I’ll be helping to ground her in the true story of God’s love for her that extends back before time, a story that is so wonderful that it’s beginnings are mysterious and holy and inscrutable.

Pew Projects

IMG_2706I work at a church that is firmly committed to keeping children in worship. For us the question is, how do we keep children engaged in worship? This is an especially important question as we look at current trends in Sunday school attendance.

Something we’ve introduced to aid children during the sermon portion of worship is Pew Projects. It goes something like this: just before the the primary Scripture text for the sermon the children are invited forward. I give them something to listen for in the reading and a project they can work on in their pew.

Here are some examples
-We had children act out the parable in place of the traditional Gospel reading of the wheat and the weeds. I gave the children a blank cartoon (with words for each block supplied by me) so that they could draw their own cartoon of what they saw and heard.
-For Peter walking on the water I asked the children to draw something they feared on a coffee filter with a blue marker. We sprayed our filters with water and saw that they looked like water. During the Scripture we listened for why Peter was afraid of water. Our coffee filters reminded us that God was with us, even when we are afraid.
-When we did the Great Commission we actually “made disciples” out of peg people, scraps of cloth, markers, and glue sticks. They then decorated a bowl with blue tissue paper and were asked to listen for what they were supposed to do with their disciples and the bowl. The answer: baptize them!
-On a Sunday when there were five parables I made an eye spy with items mentioned in each story. They re-read the parables and searched and circled each item along the way.

I hand out Pew Projects in canvas bags just before the sermon and try to have something that will only last that amount of time. I want the children to be able to enter into the other parts of the service – hymns, prayers, Scripture lessons – with their families/friends instead of focusing on a craft for the whole hour.

What is most interesting about Pew Projects is that on three different occasions I’ve had adults tell me half-jokingly that they want a Pew Project, too. These conversations have been good reminders of how often we forget that not everyone is an auditory learner, and how powerful it can be for people of all ages to take in God’s Word through your other senses.

I had a personal experience with this last week. I was working on my example coffee filter and doodling to try and get a fear (I have so many!) that would be accessible and understandable to our children. After I was done I took the spray bottle and watched these fears slowly melt into watery blue waves. I felt the wet paper in my hand and I thought about Peter, looking down at those waves, maybe hoping that Jesus would say, “no, just stay in the boat.” I prayed that God would help me with my fears, that they wouldn’t overwhelm me as I sought to follow Jesus wherever he led me.

There is a long way to go in making our worship accessible to people of all ages, but Pew Projects are one way that we’re making space for children to engage in holy, creative, vibrant worship.