Celebrating the Special Days after Easter

pinwheel-9229_1920Easter is the holiest and most important holiday in the Christian year, but there are still special days to celebrate after Easter. Along with holidays of the church year which include Ascension Sunday, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday, the secular holidays of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can also be recognized in Sunday school and other Christian Education settings.

Mother’s Day is celebrated this year on May 14th. If your children attend part or all of the worship service, work with your worship planners to include the kids in some way. The Re:think Worship website has some ideas for this in the article “Creative Mother’s Day Ideas for Church.” For the classroom, you can plan a lesson based on God and mothers. The article “29 Mother’s Day Ideas for Your Children’s Ministry” includes complete lesson plans for preschool, elementary, and preteen children, as well as suggestions for crafts and games. Be sensitive to the situations of adults and children who may find Mother’s Day to be a painful time. The United Methodist Communications website has an article titled “Honor Moms on Mother’s Day without Hurting Others” and the Children’s Ministry website offers advice in “Mother’s Day and Kids Who Have Lost Their Mom.”

Not all churches celebrate Ascension Sunday, but you might want to consider teaching your children about this important event which is mentioned in the Book of Acts, especially if you are focusing on the early Church at this time of year. Ascension Day this year is Thursday, May 25th, and Ascension Sunday is May 28th. The Building Faith website offers “6 Resources for Teaching the Ascension” and you can find additional crafts, coloring pages, and other activities on Pinterest by searching for Jesus’ Ascension Children’s Activities.

Pentecost is a fun and joyful holiday and one that seems made for children. PRC – Practical Resources for Churches recently offered a webinar called “Celebrating Pentecost with Children,” which shared lots of ideas which can be used in worship, Sunday school, and in intergenerational settings. You can click here to register and view this free webinar. The Ministry Matters website in an article titled “Make a Big Deal about Pentecost!” offers Pentecost activities for children and adults. The Day When God Made Church is a beautifully written and illustrated book for children which tells the story of the first Pentecost and also includes ways for churches and families to celebrate this special day.

Another somewhat neglected special day is Trinity Sunday, which falls on June 4th this year. The Trinity is not easy for kids to understand, and the adults in your congregation may also struggle with the concept of the Trinity. This excerpt from The Prayer Guide to Christian Education offers scripture passages, a short explanation, and some discussion questions. The Sermons4Kids website offers not just children’s sermons but also group activities as well as coloring and activity sheets. They have a number of resources on the Trinity.  

Father’s Day falls on June 18th this year. The DLTK website offers Father’s Day resources for younger kids including an explanation of the day, coloring pages, crafts, puzzles, recipes, and music. The article “21 Father’s Day Ideas for Your Children’s Ministry” on the Children’s Ministry website includes complete lesson plans as well as craft and gift ideas. As with Mother’s Day celebrations, be sensitive to those in your congregation who may struggle with Father’s Day. The Interpreter website offers an article entitled “Father’s and Mother’s Day Get Complicated” which you may find helpful.

-Debbie Kolacki

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Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter

Make-Room a Child's Guide to Lent and EasterFor parents and Christian educators, explaining to children the meaning of Lent and telling them the stories of Holy Week can be challenging. Christmas emphasizes the birth of a baby surrounded by animals and angels. Before you know it, that baby is a grown man who is arrested, put on trial, and condemned to death. It’s tempting to concentrate on Easter Sunday, but children won’t truly understand what happened that day unless they have some understanding of the events that preceded it.

Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter by Laura Alary with illustrations by Ann Boyajian is a wonderful tool adults can utilize to help children see Lent in a positive light and understand the last days of Jesus’ life and his resurrection. The book reads like a poem; the illustrations are beautiful and simple and suit the words of the book.

Most of Make Room is focused on Lent and how Christians make time to be with God during the season. Children learn about prayer and how we talk with God in different ways – with words, music, and colors — as well as how we make silence, read Bible stories, and pay attention to how we live. While acknowledging that making room for God during Lent can be hard, it is also portrayed as a positive action.

During Lent we make space.
We clean our whole house.
We sort our clothes and toys and books
and give away what we do not use.
It is hard at first.
I like my things and I want to keep all of them.
But someone else might need them more than I do.
Besides, I like having space in my room.
It makes me feel lighter.

There are also stories from the life of Jesus including how Jesus went out to the desert to make time for God. The description of Holy Week is simple yet includes all the essentials. The events and the sadness of Good Friday are acknowledged but quickly followed by the joy of Easter morning.

This book could be used in children’s ministry or a family setting; it could even be given as a gift to adults who would enjoy the simple, contemplative feelings it invokes. It is available from Paraclete Press; the list price is $15.99 but right now it is on sale for $11.19. You can also order it from Amazon and other online booksellers.

Paraclete Press provided me with a review copy of this book.

-Debbie Kolacki

The Many Forms of Worship

church-581069_960_720Most of us, when we hear the word “worship,” think of the traditional service that occurs in churches on Sunday morning with formal prayers, organ and choir music, congregational hymn singing, and a sermon by the pastor. However, worship occurs in many different forms.

  • Contemporary worship

The definition of contemporary worship varies but it usually includes modern music such as praise songs with instruments like guitars and drums rather than the organ. Often, contemporary services are thematic rather than following the lectionary. Technology is also in evidence, such as PowerPoint presentations and the use of screens. Rather than the traditional sermon, the message may be communicated through interactive preaching, dialogue, or even discussion in small groups. PRC – Practical Resources for Churches will be presenting a webinar on this topic on Tuesday, February 7, from 7 to 8 PM by Rick Bundschuh, author of Moving Messages. The webinar will be recorded; to attend the live broadcast or view the recording, register by clicking here.

  • Contemplative worship

In contemplative services the congregation quiets themselves in order to open their hearts and minds to God’s presence. Lights are dimmed and there may be a display of candles and icons to contemplate. Silence and meditation are used; communion may be celebrated. Often the structure follows that of the Iona and Taizé communities. For those looking to introduce a contemplative element into their services, check out LEAD’s website, which is offering free print-ready resources for this Lent based on the lectionary. The theme is Let the Living Water Lead Us and includes weekly bulletins with liturgy and prayers, weekly images to color, and prompts for engaging in a simplified form of Ignatian Contemplation suitable for all ages.

  • Blended worship

Large churches may be able to offer a variety of worship forms, either on Sunday morning or other times. Smaller churches might instead offer one weekly service of blended worship, with elements of traditional, contemporary, and contemplative services “blended” into one service. Ancient-future worship and emerging worship services are often blended services. Dr. Marcia McFee, an author, worship designer and leader, advocates for and teaches about sensory-rich worship with something for everyone, no matter what the style. She will be presenting a workshop for PRC on September 30, 2017. More information will be posted on the Workshops page of PRC’s website soon.

  • Targeted audience worship

Worship services may also be intended for a specific audience, such as a Blue Christmas service for those grieving or depressed. There are also healing services, services for specific age groups such as youth and youth adults, multicultural services, and services for the homeless or those with mental disabilities. Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter of the Congregational Church of Patchogue, NY has a series of events that “explores the ‘spirituality’ of select artists, bands and genres whose songs touch the hearts and souls of people in ways that sermons and newsletters might never do.” Offered on Sunday nights, Rev. Wolter finds that those who attend these events have become a “second congregation” at his church. Rev. Wolter recently presented a webinar about “The Spirituality of Popular Music” for PRC; you can view the webinar by clicking here.

  • On the road worship

Churches may take their worship services on the road to nursing homes, college campuses, prisons, or they may hold worship services outdoors or in public spaces. Some churches are combining worship with service projects, either within their church building or outside of it. Taking worship on the road can even include online worship services and virtual reality worship services.

  • Intergenerational worship and eduworship

There is a growing movement to include everyone in worship by adapting adult-centered worship to make it appropriate for all ages. Organizations such as Lifelong Faith Associates offer resources, workshops, and articles related to intergenerational ministry by Christian leaders and authors. Rich Melheim, founder of Faith Inkubators and author/editor of the book Let’s Kill Sunday School (Before it kills the church) suggests that churches move to eduworship, an “intentional blending of education with worship, especially in a Cross+Gen setting.”

For more information about different forms of worship, visit the Webinars and Recorded Webinars pages of PRC’s website to view our many free webinars on the topic.

-Debbie Kolacki

Help for a Holy Lent and Blessed Easter

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor those in ministry to children, youth, and adults in the church, offering resources to help make the seasons of Lent and Easter meaningful and spiritual is important. Thankfully, this doesn’t require a lot of work or a big budget. There are some wonderful websites out there which offer creative activities for all ages to help them celebrate a holy Lent and blessed Easter.

Bless Each One
The website Bless Each One: Weaving faith into everyday life has a section on Lent and Easter. There is a free downloadable Lenten devotional based on the Psalms which has an introduction, readings for each day, and weekly discussion questions. There are also suggestions for easier to read versions of the Psalms for children and teens. Holy Week reading bookmarks are available to distribute to church families. One side has a reading for each day of Holy Week while the other side can be used to share the times of your Holy Week services. The bookmarks are available in Microsoft Word format, so you can customize them for your church’s use.

Building Faith
Enter “Lent” in the Building Faith search box and a number of the blog’s posts will come up, including one about creating a prayer loom or a prayer net as a group activity. There’s also a post about Creating a Lenten Prayer Space at Home which can be shared with your congregation by email or as a link on your church’s website.

PRC – Practical Resources for Churches
The Lent and Easter page of PRC’s Links & Online Resources section includes booklets on Celebrating Lent and Easter in Sunday School, Holy Week Activities for Children, and Making Lent More Meaningful to Children. The booklets include clickable links to information and suggested activities. You can also watch free recorded webinars on topics related to Lent, Holy Week, and Easter. In addition, there are lists of websites with Lenten children’s activities.

Rethinking Youth Ministry
You’ll find several blog posts with Ideas for Lent on the Rethinking Youth Ministry website, including directions for putting together Lenten prayer stations based on the Lord’s Prayer. Unfortunately, since most of the posts are several years old, you may encounter a few dead links so you might have to adapt the ideas accordingly.

-Debbie Kolacki

An Antidote to Christmas Madness

advent-coloring-calendarEvery year it starts earlier and gets worse – the emphasis on materialism as the “meaning” of Christmas. The ads on TV guarantee a joyous Christmas if we just buy the right gifts. We can complain or ignore this commercialism, but it seems pretty certain it’s not going away.

For people of faith there is another option, thankfully. We can celebrate Advent and make that the focus of our attention for the weeks before Christmas. I recently led an Advent retreat where we looked at different types of prayer, with the hope that one or more would become the focus of our spiritual life for Advent. One of the prayer methods we experimented with was meditative coloring, which has become widely popular with adults as evidenced by the profusion of coloring books on sale in stores and online.

I recently received a review copy of a coloring book from Paraclete Press called The Advent Coloring Calendar: A Coloring Book to Bless and De-Stress Through the Season. There is a quote, from scripture or somewhere else, along with a picture for each of the 24 days leading up to Christmas, so you can make coloring a daily spiritual practice for Advent. Or, if you’re like me and not as disciplined as some folks, you can color a picture when the mood hits and save any unfinished ones for next Advent. The pictures themselves include the numbers 1-24 embellished with various shapes. There are also several pictures for Christmas and the days following. You can download a free excerpt from the book by clicking here.

If you want to enhance your coloring time with beautiful music playing in the background, the book is sold as a gift set, packaged with your choice of two CDs. The Advent Color and Sound Set with Beloved Carols includes readings from Matthew’s gospel along with songs that focus on the birth of Jesus. You can also select The Advent Color and Sound Set with Gregorian Chant which uses the music of Gregorian chant to describe the time before and after Jesus’ birth.

You can give the books and CDs as an early Christmas gift or as something to put away for next Advent. The Advent Coloring Calendar retails for $11.99 but is on sale now on Paraclete’s website for $7.79. You can also purchase it from Amazon and other online sellers. The book and CD gift sets retail for $24.95 but are on sale now for $16.22 from Paraclete. This is a wonderful way to de-stress and get your mind and spirit ready for Christmas. It’s also an activity that can be done with friends, as a family, or at an intergenerational event at your church.

-Debbie Kolacki

It’s a Blue Christmas for Some

blue-christmasThe lyrics of a popular song say that Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year,” but this isn’t true for everyone. Those who have recently experienced the loss of a loved one, are lonely, or suffer from depression find it difficult attending a Christmas Eve service and joining in as the congregation sings “Joy to the World.”

Many churches reach out to those who are sad this time of year by having a Blue Christmas or Longest Night worship service on or near December 21st. This type of service acknowledges the pain that people are feeling while emphasizing that there is hope.

The Building Faith website has a post titled “Blue Christmas: Liturgy and Hymn Suggestions” offered by Quentin Chin. The liturgy includes selections from two poems, prayers, contemplative music ideas, and the suggestion that those who attend “should have an opportunity to take part in at least one healing ritual, such as lighting a candle or praying with someone.” Another post on the website is titled “Blue Christmas: Description and Service Outline.” Along with scripture readings and several reflections, there is a “Liturgy of Remembering” using the Advent wreath candles.

The PCUSA website has “Blue Christmas: A Service of Wholeness and Healing” from the First Presbyterian Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Every year the parish nurses offer this service. They design the worship and use readings from books of meditations, poetry and sacred readings.

The Presbyterian Mission Agency site has an “Advent Longing for the Light of Healing Service” which starts in quiet darkness and ends after communion with “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” The site states that the service is ideal for a Blue Christmas service.

There are many more Blue Christmas worship services available online. The Appreciative Way website has a page devoted to Blue Christmas resources. You can also find links to resources about Blue Christmas on the Text This Week site.

-Debbie Kolacki

Looking for a Different Advent Devotional?

all-creation-waitsAn Advent daily devotional is a wonderful way to prepare our hearts, minds, and spirits for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. If you are looking for something a little different from the usual devotional, check out a new offering from Paraclete Press called All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings.

The introduction explores the roots of Advent and how they’re related to what is going on in nature. Late autumn is the end of the growing season and a time of increasing dark and cold. In the early church this time was seen “as a foreshadowing of the time when life as we know it will end completely.” Yet the church saw that “When life as we know it goes, this year and at the end of all years, One comes, and comes bringing a new beginning.”

All Creation Waits includes 25 meditations which focus on animals and how they adapt as darkness and cold descend; the theme emphasized in the daily devotions written by Gayle Boss is that the darkness does not signify an ending but is the way a new beginning comes. The meditations are accompanied by lovely original woodcuts of the animals by David G. Klein.

Advent is a time of introspection. What better way to explore our connection with God than by relating our journey to that of our fellow creatures who are part of God’s creation?

A recent email from Paraclete Press included this: “For a limited time use coupon code ADVENT40 and save 40% on All Creation Waits. Order 10 or more and your order ships free!”

-Debbie Kolacki