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

A Meaningful Advent for Adults

advent-retreat-2016-candleAmidst all the hectic preparations for Christmas, many of us fail to give Advent its due as a time to prepare ourselves spiritually for the birth of Jesus and anticipate his return at the end of time. If we are willing to make a commitment to slow down and reflect on this sacred season, there are plenty of resources available to guide us on our journey.

Beginning Advent with a retreat can be done in many different ways. A local retreat center or other organization may offer an in-person retreat for a morning, afternoon, or longer period of time. PRC – Practical Resources for churches is offering its annual Advent mini-retreat on November 19, 2016 at Hope Lutheran Church in Selden. You can click here for more information. You can also find a variety of virtual retreats online, from a short meditation you can download at no cost called “A Lesson in Waiting,” to a four week paid Upper Room course with Pamela C. Hawkins, author of Prepare the Way: Cultivating a Heart for God in Advent.

There are many wonderful devotional books with readings and activities for each day of Advent, such as Beth Richardson’s The Uncluttered Heart: Making Room for God During Advent and Christmas, which offers a quotation, scripture, passage, reflection, prayer, and “word” to carry with you through the day for each day in Advent. All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings offers meditations and original woodcuts which “reflect on how wild animals adapt when darkness and cold descend.”

Gathering with a small group for an Advent study is another way to keep the focus on Christ. Cokesbury offers a number of studies and also provides an Advent Planning Guide which compares the various studies. Church Publishing offers A Thrill of Hope which has a 50-minute DVD and tells the Christmas story from the gospels of Matthew and Luke; it includes the artwork of John August Swanson. The study can be done in six sessions or combined into one session.

For those looking for simple ways to get away from the consumerism of the pre-Christmas season, check out the Advent Conspiracy website. It was started by a group of pastors who advocate four tenets: worship fully, spend less, give more, and love all. They offer resources for churches and families to make the holidays less materialistic; you can donate to their fund to provide clean water for people all around the world.

If you’re involved in planning a joyous Christmas Eve or Christmas Day worship service, don’t forget those who are grieving or suffering from depression during the holiday season. Consider offering a Blue Christmas service, which is often held on the longest night of the year, on or near December 21st. Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church offers a liturgy for a Blue Christmas service. There are numerous other liturgies available online, including one called When Christmas Hurts posted on the Young Clergy Women website.

-Debbie Kolacki

Advent Activities for Children

adventcandlesAdvent calendars

Advent calendars are a fun way for children to count down the days until Christmas. The Sunday School Crafts website has a simple Baby Jesus Advent Calendar for little ones with a circle to color each day. You can use 25 Random Acts of Kindness: A Christmas Countdown to create an Advent calendar by filling in an act of kindness for each day in December using a calendar template. You can also cut the acts of kindness into strips and put them in a jar or basket; the children pick one each day of Advent.

The Kodak website offers an Advent calendar template of a house with windows and doors that open. You can put a picture behind each door or a suggested activity, such as the random acts of kindness. The Activities for Kids website has downloadable pages to make an Advent calendar paper chain that tells the Christmas story with verses from the Bible.

Advent wreaths and candles

One of the most well-known symbols of Advent is the Advent wreath, usually made of evergreen branches in a circle, which symbolizes eternal life and God’s everlasting love. The candles can symbolize different things but often stand for hope, peace, joy, and love.

There are four candles lit on each of the four Sundays in Advent; three or four of them are purple, the color of royalty. The candle for the Third Sunday of Advent is often rose or pink for Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday. A fifth candle, the Christ candle, is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. This candle is white and represents Jesus, the light of the world coming to banish the darkness.

Making Advent wreaths for the children to bring home, along with instructions and a simple litany, is a wonderful way to help families celebrate their faith at home. Or you might want to host an intergenerational event after Sunday worship and let each family make their own Advent wreath together. There are many websites with instructions on making Advent wreaths, including the Feels Like Home blog and the Building Faith website.

Wreaths can be made with fresh greens or artificial ones. You can find wreath bases, some already with candle holders, in craft stores or online. Autom sells a variety of wreath bases and candles, including flameless Advent votive candles.

Discipleship Ministries has a page called 2016 Advent Home Worship which has an Advent Worship Service for Families with suggested prayers, hymns, and discussion questions to use when lighting the Advent wreath candles.

Church year and colors of Advent

The church year begins on the first Sunday in Advent and it’s a good time to teach children about the church year and the colors that go with it. The Reformed Worship website has an article with ideas for teaching children about the church year in worship, Christian Education classes, and at home. The United Church of Christ website has an article called “Liturgical Colors and the seasons of the church year.” The Sunday School Kids website has instructions and a downloadable pattern for making a church year wheel.

Jesse tree

The Jesse tree is named for the father of King David, an ancestor of Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father. In Isaiah 11:1, we read what is considered by some a prophecy of Jesus’ birth: “A shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse; a branch will sprout from his roots.”

Jesse trees can be an actual Christmas tree, a large branch, or a tree made of fabric or paper. Jesse trees can be used as an Advent calendar, with a different ornament being added to the tree each day. The decorations represent the stories of people in Jesus’ family tree. For example, an ark and rainbow represent the story of Noah and a crown stands for King David.

The website of the Reformed Church in America has instructions on making a Jesse tree along with patterns for ornaments. It also has Jesse tree devotions, family devotions to use with the Jesse tree, an intergenerational event based on the Jesse tree, and a list of additional Jesse tree resources.

On the Building Faith website, you’ll find an article written about a church which had their children study a different Old Testament story for several weeks; they also made a Jesse tree ornament for each story. They then had the children put on an Advent skit based on the Jesse tree. The script is available to download free from the website.

-Debbie Kolacki

Fall Holidays for Faith Formation

kids-with-pumpkinFor some Halloween, with its emphasis on evil, witches, and ghosts, seems to be far removed from Christian teachings. Yet the holiday, which has connections to the ancient Celtic harvest festival of Samhain, also has Christian origins. The name “Halloween” comes from “All Hallows Eve,” the evening before All Saints Day. Some churches may choose to emphasize All Saints Day in their children’s ministry, rather than Halloween.

The article “All Hallow’s Eve and All Saints’ Day” by Sharon Ely Pearson of Church Publishing gives the history of Halloween and All Saints Day as well as offering activities for All Saints’ Day and an intergenerational event to explore the origins and meaning of Halloween and All Saints’ Day. The Worshiping with Children website has a page with suggested activities for All Saints’ Day that children can relate to.

If you want to celebrate Halloween in Sunday school, there are lessons and party ideas on the Sunday School Center website. Danielle’s Place has some Halloween alternative crafts and activities and DLTK’s Bible Crafts for Kids has an activity which shows kids “How a Christian Is Like a Pumpkin.”  Creative Communications for the Parish offers some Christian-related Halloween items for purchase. The Ministry-to-Children website offers ideas for a church Trunk or Treat event, as well as other Halloween activities.

The Thanksgiving holiday offers a great opportunity to teach children to be grateful for all that God has given us. The Creative Bible Study website has links to numerous Christian Thanksgiving crafts, games, and other activities. The Children’s Ministry magazine’s website offers “22 Thanksgiving Ideas for Sunday School,” including “5 Kernels: The Meaning of Thanksgiving.” A search on Pinterest for “Thanksgiving Sunday School” yields plenty of results for children’s activities.

The “Intergenerational Thanksgiving Learning Program,” on the Lifelong Faith website includes gathering activities, an all ages opening experience, activity centers and learning activities for varied ages, a whole group sharing experience, service opportunities, and ideas for sharing and applying what was learned at home.

-Debbie Kolacki