“The Pope’s Cat”– the Story of a Special Relationship

The-Popes-CatChildren are drawn to animals and find them fascinating, so it’s no surprise that a number of children’s books focus on animals. The Pope’s Cat written by Jon M. Sweeney and illustrated by Roy DeLeon is a little bit different, however. It tells the story of a very special relationship between a cat named Margaret and the head of the Roman Catholic Church. Although the pope in this story is not identified, he certainly shares a number of traits with the present Pope Francis, including his concern for the homeless and those looked upon with disdain by society.

On an early morning walk outside the Vatican, the pope meets up with a stray cat who is standoffish at first, a trait the pope find refreshing because of all the people who say “yes” to him. The pope names the cat “Margaret,” an appropriate choice considering that St. Margaret of Scotland is the patron saint of the homeless and other outcasts.

The pope’s day is filled with appointments and religious duties. On the day he finds Margaret, he is to have lunch with the Queen of England. Despite his impending meeting with the queen, he is concerned for Margaret who is left alone in his room. Margaret manages to make the pope’s luncheon interesting; you can read the book to find out what happens.

The Pope’s Cat is recommended for ages 6 and up; it would certainly be of interest to those of the Roman Catholic faith but could be enjoyed by anyone. This would be a good book to share in your children’s ministry as St. Francis’ feast day (October 4) approaches and many churches are offering a Blessing of the Animals service. It’s available from the publisher, Paraclete Press, as well as from Amazon. It is the first in a series. The second book in the series is Margaret’s Night in St. Peters: A Christmas Story with a publishing date of October 1, 2018.

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Faith Formation Is a Lifelong Journey

Never stop learning

As September approaches, it’s time to get ready for another programming year in the church. Often, when we talk about Christian education or Sunday school, we’re referring to programs for children and youth. But no one “graduates” from learning about God and how to live in God’s world — faith formation is lifelong. We can ponder our questions about life and faith alone, but adult study groups give us the opportunity to share the struggles and joys of living a Christian life with others. Adults bring their varied life experiences to group discussions and can offer different ways of looking at biblical passages or complex issues.

In the past, adult study groups were often led by the pastor or another person who was there to impart wisdom to the group. Nowadays, groups are more prone to have a facilitator, someone who can keep the discussion on track and make sure everyone has a chance to share their views. The use of an introductory video segment is a great way to start a session and can quickly give information and raise questions, especially in studies which don’t require lesson preparation for participants. Study groups may meet at the church or in someone’s home; starting with food is a great way to encourage fellowship.

Trends in studies include not only the use of videos and little or no participant preparation, but also short-term studies. DVD studies, as well as traditional studies, can be expensive and may only be used once in a small church, so churches may want to save money by subscribing to the services of a resource center which loans out studies.

At PRC – Practical Resources for Churches we have a large selection of studies (over 1300 study-related resources) available for subscribers to borrow at no cost. We will even mail out studies to those who are unable to get to one of our centers and we will usually purchase a study if it is requested by one of our subscribers. If you prefer to purchase studies yourself, follow the links in this post for more information.

Some of our most popular studies are in the area of Prayer and Spiritual Practices, Theological Questions, and Living Your Faith. Studies in all areas of the Bible are also popular. We have numerous DVD studies by recognized authors such as Adam Hamilton, Philip Yancey, and N. T. (Tom) Wright. Hamilton’s many studies include Making Sense of the Bible which looks at how we understand and interpret the Bible. He also has studies on biblical figures such as Moses, John, and Paul, as well as studies for the seasons of Advent and Lent. Two of Yancey’s most popular studies include The Jesus I Never Knew and What’s So Amazing About Grace? Available N.T. Wright studies are Jesus: The New Way and Surprised by Hope.

Many of the studies in our Living Your Faith area are video based and include the Embracing series with presenters such as Walter Brueggemann, Diana Butler Bass, and Phyllis Tickle. Other offerings include The Way of Life with Brian McLaren, as well as Hazardous Saints: Christians Risking All, Changing Everything, and The Jesus Creed. We also have studies on the topic of social justice including Fear of the Other and the recently published Dialogues on the Refugees Crisis.

Contact PRC for assistance in planning an adult study program or selecting a study for your church. For more information about planning and leading studies, check out our recorded webinar “You Can Lead an Adult Study” and/or download the booklet of the same name. You can also find more information about CE for adults on the Adult Ministry page of the Links & Online Resources section of PRC’s website. PRC offers annual subscriptions at a reasonable price for those in our geographic area as well as at-a-distance subscriptions. Check out our website for more information.

We’d appreciate it if you would take a few minutes to answer our online survey about adult Christian education at you church.

Choosing Curriculum for a One Room Sunday School

hands-2847508_1280In many churches, we’re seeing less children in Sunday school. Adapting to decreased attendance may mean reevaluating how children are grouped and going to a multigraded or one room curriculum. Publishers are responding to these changes and there are now a number of choices available.

The One Room Sunday School has been around for a long time; it comes from Cokesbury, the United Methodist publisher, and is considered part of their Deep Blue curriculum line. It is for ages 3-12 and the retail price per quarter is $76.99. Deep Blue also offers a Large Group/Small Group option for elementary age children which lists for $99.99 per quarter. Beginning Fall 2018, the theme for Deep Blue is “At Home with God” which emphasizes families today, families in the Bible, and what it means to be part of God’s family; the curriculum follows a three year cycle. The One Room Sunday School kit includes everything you need for lessons including a leader guide, reproducible kids’ book, resource pack, and a CD-ROM with music resources; the Deep Blue DVD can be purchased separately for $29.99. The Large Group/Small Group kit also includes everything necessary; it has the leader guide, student sheets, and other material available as PDFs on a CD. The DVD as well as music resources are also included in the kit.

Sparkhouse, the ecumenical branch of the ELCA publisher, is introducing two options for multigraded Sunday school classes starting this September. They are both for a classroom with children ages 5-12 and follow a two year cycle. Spark All Kids sells a quarterly leader guide for $24.99. Reproducible learner leaflets are not available; they must be purchased for each child at a cost of $5.99 per quarter. Many of the activities in the leader guide use the leaflets. A separate music CD for the year can be purchased for $19.99. Whirl All Kids is a video-based curriculum. The leader guide sells for $24.99 per quarter; the quarterly DVD is also $24.99. Learner leaflets sell for $6.99 per child per quarter. The Whirl music CD sells for $19.99.

Shine: Living in God’s Light is a Sunday school curriculum from the Mennonite Church and Church of the Brethren with an emphasis on spirituality and peacemaking. It is used by churches in a number of other denominations. Shine offer a multiage component for ages 5-12. For each quarter, you will need a teacher’s guide for $13.99, a resource pack for $24.99, and student leaflets for $9.99 per child. The songbook and music CD for the year sells for $19.99.

For Presbyterian (PCUSA) churches, the Growing in Grace and Gratitude curriculum offers a multiage component for ages 5-10. The Leader Material is available as a download for $50 per quarter or in print for $75 per quarter. One copy of the student Stories, Colors and More is included with the Leader Material; additional copies are $20.

If you’d like to use a multiage curriculum based on the lectionary, there are a few options. Feasting on the Word is an ecumenical curriculum from the PCUSA publisher which offers a multiage component for children in grades 1-6. The price for Feasting on the Word varies as it is available as a download or as a printed product; churches can purchase one quarter at a time or select a 9-month or 12-month subscription. The curriculum includes leader guides, reproducible resource sheets, and more. Full-color visuals are included in a printed color pack. A yearly music CD is available to purchase separately. Another lectionary-based curriculum which offers a multiage component is Living the Good News which is ecumenical and comes from the Episcopal publisher. It is downloadable and costs $139.99 per year for each age level. Seasons of the Spirit is another option for churches wishing to use a multigraded, lectionary-based curriculum. It comes from Woodlake Publishing, an ecumenical publisher based in Canada. Seasons of the Spirit offers worship resources as well as a curriculum for ages 3 through adult which includes a multiage component for ages 5-12. Student resource sheets are reproducible. Pricing is available for 1 quarter, 3 quarters, or all 4 quarters in three different formats: web, printed, or on a CD.

Samples of all curriculums mentioned are available on the publishers’ websites. As Sunday school attendance continues to diminish, we can expect to see more options available for one room or multigraded classes.

Bruised & Wounded: Struggling to Understand Suicide, a Review

Bruised-and-WoundedI must have been around eight or nine years old when Aunt Mill died; she was my mother’s aunt (my great-aunt) and my mother was close to Aunt Mill, who called the night she died. Aunt Mill had been drinking and had taken pills. She wanted to end her life but had second thoughts, so she called my mother for help. An ambulance came and brought Aunt Mill to the hospital, but it was too late. In my Irish-Catholic family, her death was spoken of in hushed tones. At that time, suicide was considered by many in the church to be a mortal sin and someone who committed suicide was usually denied a Catholic burial.

I thought about Aunt Mill as I read a review copy of Paraclete Press’ Bruised & Wounded: Struggling to Understand Suicide, written by Ronald Rolheiser, a Catholic priest. I was relieved to see that the attitude of the Catholic Church to suicide had changed drastically from those days. Rolheiser speaks of the emotional depression that leads to suicide as an untreatable, terminal disease.

Rolheiser’s view that most of the time suicide is an involuntary act allows him to argue that those who commit suicide are not breaking the fifth commandment (Catholic version): Thou shalt not kill. Therefore, those left behind do not need to be “unduly anxious about the external salvation of those who fall prey to it.”

The book is a mere 77 pages and repeats a few points throughout its pages. Its brevity and clarity make it a good choice for someone dealing with the suicide of a loved one. Grief often leads to brain fog, the inability to pay attention to anything for long periods of time, so longer or more complicated books about suicide may prove unreadable for many dealing with the aftermath of suicide.

After someone commits suicide, it is common for family and friends to feel guilt and wonder if they could have somehow prevented the tragedy by words or actions. Rolheiser assures readers that “Suicide is an illness and, as with any sickness, we can love someone and still not be able to save that person from death.” Referring to the stigma of suicide, Rolheiser suggests that it is necessary for those left behind to redeem the life and memory of a loved one who died by suicide. This can lead to healthy closure for the loved ones.

In speaking of God’s love, Rolheiser states that “There is no private hell, no depression, no sickness, no fear, and even no bitterness so deep or so enclosed that God’s love cannot descend into it. There are no locked doors through which Christ cannot go.” Such an image is sure to bring comfort to those who have lost a loved one to suicide.

Piggyback Psalms for Fun and Easy Singing

Piggyback PsalmsThere’s something about setting words to music which impresses them into our memories. I remember once my husband and I went to visit our two children who were attending the same college. We decided to go out to lunch and, with the parents in the front and the kids in the back, it was a familiar setting for numerous trips we’d taken over the years. The kids started singing, something we frequently did during family trips, and the selections turned to Sunday school songs. They sang everything from “Rise and Shine” to “Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego” without missing a beat or word.

Whether you are a musically talented Sunday school teacher or not, Piggyback songs are something you can add to your lessons. Piggyback songs are familiar tunes with different lyrics. Emily LaBranche Delikat has written a book called Piggyback Psalms: 100+ Bible Songs to Tunes You Know. Some of the songs include just a sentence or two from a psalm, whereas others contain the entire psalm, such as the song for the 23rd Psalm, which is set to the tune of “Over the River and Through the Woods.” Each psalm is written in child-friendly language and also includes chords plus a simple melody to play.

There are suggestions for using these Piggyback Psalms beyond the walls of Sunday school. Because each psalm in the Revised Common Lectionary is included, the songs are ideal for use in worship. It is also suggested that the songs could be used in children’s choirs, in intergenerational and children’s worship, or at home. There is information at the beginning of the book on the benefits of singing the psalms intergenerationally, along with creative ways to use them with all ages. Delikat also includes “A Letter About Lament and Anger” which explains how she dealt with the difficult themes in some of the psalms. The book also includes a Tune Index, as well as a Revised Common Lectionary Index.

I received a review copy of Piggyback Psalms from the publisher, Abingdon Press. The book, which was published in June 2018, is available from Cokesbury, Amazon, and other bookstores.

Books to Share to Show You Care

It’s hard to watch someone we love going through a tough time. We can offer to listen, pray, and try to help in other ways. Sometimes we might want to share a book which we think would be helpful.

Both All Shall Be Well: A Spiritual Journal for Hope & Encouragement and Love Never Fails: A Journal to Be Inspired by the Power of Love by Hilda St. Clair would make great gifts for those going through a difficult time in their lives (or for someone just looking for inspiration in their spiritual life.) They are much more interactive than most journals and can ignite creativity in those who may find it difficult to center their thoughts. Each journal has 60 inspiring quotes beautifully illustrated along with a simple writing prompt. The owner of one of these journals might choose to focus on one quote daily. I can imagine them copying the quote and carrying it with them to look at throughout the day. I could also see using the quotes and writing prompts in a study or women’s group as a beginning devotional, or as a spiritual exercise during a retreat.   

In times of stress, it can be difficult to think clearly, but Words of Healing: A Coloring Book to Comfort and Inspire invites the reader to focus on one word as they color an abstract picture with the first letter of the word in the center. There is also a scripture verse for each word. As the brief introduction to the book puts it, people can “speak in color” which is sometimes a relief for those who struggle to put their present situation into sentences.

All three books are available from Paraclete Press, which provided copies for this review.

All-Shall-Be-WellLove-Never-FailsWords-of-Healing

A Devotional for Hesitant Pray-ers – Holy Ground: An Alphabet of Prayer

Holy GroundThere’s no shortage of devotionals available. Search for them on Amazon and you’ll find ones for women, men, girls, boys, teens, and even animal lovers. Some of these encourage us to “claim” the promises in the Bible and realize the power of prayer to get us what we’re entitled to. Julie K. Aageson’s book, Holy Ground: An Alphabet of Prayer, is nothing like those devotionals.

Holy Ground is for those of us who are still trying to figure out prayer but are pray-ers none the less. Aageson is someone who has spent her life in ministry but says this about how she felt when invited to write a monthly column for a denominational magazine:

I was at once both honored and terrified. The column’s title, Let Us Pray, conveyed certain assumptions I was not at all sure about – did they think I had prayer all figured out? Did they assume I was a disciplined prayer-er, perhaps one of those “prayer warriors” I’d heard about? Did they have any idea how much I struggle with praying, with knowing how to talk to God, listen to God? Did they know of my doubts and skepticism about much of Christian life?

Reading those words in the introduction to the book, I felt as though I’d found a kindred spirit. That realization was reinforced when the author mentioned Richard Rohr and his admonition that “prayer is not primarily words but a place, an attitude, a stance – and that for Jesus, prayer seems to be a matter of waiting in love, returning to love, and trusting that love is the unceasing stream of reality.” Yes.

The reflections in Holy Ground are based on words from A to Z and include topics such as beauty, enthusiasm, imagination, mindfulness, stillness, and wonder. As Aageson notes, the reflections are “not meant to be a theological or biblical description of prayer” but rather her “wrestling with a God who makes the ordinary holy.”

In writing about mindfulness, the author contrasts her Muslim friends’ practice of set times of daily prayer with her own multi-tasking lifestyle. Yet, she is aware that “to be present simply with silence is a sacred act of prayer.”

There are questions after each reflection; these could be used by individuals during their devotional time, by a group studying the book, as a program opening activity, or for a retreat. If Holy Ground speaks to you, be sure to check out Aageson’s earlier book titled Benedictions: 26 Reflections.