Disciple: Picnic Blankets, Porch Drop-Offs and Costumes
Children’s ministry in a pandemic
The miracle of Christmas is near, and the excitement is in the air! Can you feel it? We are all preparing for the arrival of God as a human baby. I wonder what your children’s ministry has in store to share during this time? As I write this article, COVID-19 numbers are down, the COVID-19 vaccine for children age 5 and older has been approved, and I am hopeful pageants and the like soon will take place all over our diocese. I am guessing each of you also hopes this year will look different from the last one. Last year, many of your congregations offered virtual pageants and at-home kits for families to use in preparation for the great miracle of Christmas. From the smallest congregation to the largest, there were so many creative ways God’s love was shared. We have learned so much about new ways to be in community with one another and new ways to share the gospel message of love, grace and hope. The fact is, God is good, even in a pandemic.
[Emmanuel, Southern Pines, hosted a variety of creative children’s ministry events during the past 20 months, including a drive-through pancake supper—complete with costumes—for Shrove Tuesday 2021. Photo by Melissa Giltzow]
CHANGING PLANS, STAYING FAITHFUL
While we adults have been trying to figure out which end is up and making plans, only to change them again when COVID-19 numbers spiked or the delta variant ruined our September back-to-church plans, our kids have remained adaptable—and so have the people who work with them. Those who God calls to journey alongside children have some extraordinary qualities. These shepherds along the journey have patience; they are adaptive and energetic; when faced with challenges, they are enthusiastic; and they are playful, creative and compassionate. The leaders of our diocese who work with our youngest are passionate about working with kids, and they overflow with abundance to share God’s love with them. These people include not only those in the pews who are paid but also the even greater number of folks who volunteer because God has called them to this ministry. It really does take a congregation to raise a child, and there is a great cloud of witnesses helping each of us along our journey.
I benefited from the godly love and compassion of church volunteers when I first began attending a Baptist church when I was in sixth grade. I was invited to go with a friend and actually answered the altar call on that first visit. I remember being invisibly compelled to walk down the aisle and join others who were kneeling and praying at the altar. I’m not certain what words were prayed over me, but I do remember the excitement I felt. Those prayers of the congregation buoyed me and carried me back to that church over and over. I especially remember Brenda, my youth leader. She was such an example of God’s love: a shepherd and a model of Christian faith and care. I work to ensure that all the Brendas in our diocese are equipped to help mold, guide and form our children and youth. They are amazing, and God’s goodness shines through their acts of love and service.
Not only does God’s love shine through us as individuals, God’s love shines through even brighter when we come together as God’s body. During the last 20 months, God’s body—the people of God—have been disjointed while we have been detached from one another. We have been viewing church from home and gathering together over Zoom. It has made the task of piecing together a community even more challenging. While it has not been easy, without a doubt, God is good, even in a pandemic. Just take a look at the creative ways we have found to piece together community. We have moved outdoors, used beach towels to socially distance children, prepared videos to be shared with families at home, worked together to create virtual pageants and so much more. We have dropped off items on porches, made home visits in driveways and changed course when asked. The people of our diocese who work with our children and youth have remained faithful and diligent to share God’s message. Here, I want to say THANK YOU! Thank you to youth leaders who found a new way to celebrate seniors as they graduated; thank you to volunteers who put at-home packages together! Thank you to amateur videographers who made videos for kids; thank you to everyone who sent a child a note in the mail; thank you for not giving up.
[Image: The pre-K through fifth grade Sunday school at St. Alban’s, Davidson, meets outside on socially distanced picnic blankets. Photo by Courtney Fossett]
GETTING CREATIVE WITH CHILDREN’S MINISTRY
Our friends at Emmanuel, Southern Pines, decided to offer a Bible science program during the summer instead of Vacation Bible School (VBS). They held it outside and included all ages of kids and youth, 4 to 17. The experiments were messy, but the kids loved them. They also decided to hold a silly drive-through hot dog fundraiser. The idea was to raise funds to work on rebuilding their youth program. They dressed as hot dogs and held signs. Emmanuel’s youth also hosted a drive-up pancake supper for Shrove Tuesday 2021 and dressed up for that event, too. The children and youth supported the Whispering Pines community in December 2020 by purchasing a Christmas tree to decorate for the drive-through experience at the Whispering Pines Fire Department. They made their own earth ornaments for the tree with plastic Christmas balls and earth-colored paints.
Upcoming, Emmanuel’s children and youth plan to participate in a community event to support the Moore County Literacy Council and Moore Buddies Mentoring. They are fundraising to purchase gingerbread houses and supplies. Then there will be a competition; the catch is you can use only the supplies you haven earned through fundraising to decorate your house. This creative opportunity gives back to the community and offers a way to bring people together safely.
Over in Winston-Salem, at St. Paul’s, they have been busy with many creative ways to come together, including an outdoor St. Nicholas service in December 2020, outdoor VBS and a fellowship gathering at a local farm for all the families of St. Paul’s, where everyone could be outside together, sharing fellowship and catching up with friends they had not been able to see in a while. They also participated in Books with a Purpose, encouraging families together to read books that facilitate starting discussions on racism and antiracism.
This fall, Christ Church, Charlotte, ordered carts for each of their Sunday school classes, and teachers load them up each week and roll them out to meet with their kids outdoors. During October, they offered an outdoor intergenerational Eucharist where people brought their own blankets or chairs, and everyone was invited.
At St. Alban’s, Davidson, they took advantage of the great weather to hold Sunday school outside, and at Grace, Lexington, the Sunday school teachers challenged the Sunday school kids to take the Martha Challenge and see how much they enjoyed being a “Martha” at home. It was fun for everyone, especially the parents who got some extra chores checked off the list. All Saints’, Hamlet, also took advantage of the outdoors to hold a back-to-school event and enjoy VBS over the summer.
[Image: A young member of Grace, Lexington, embraced the Martha Challenge and took on extra chores around the house. Photo by Carrie Ingram]
We hope these stories make you begin to wonder about creative ways you can serve the youngest in your pews, or on the blankets, or in the folding chairs. The children, families and youth department is always available to answer questions, give advice and help you find resources. Children’s and youth leaders throughout our diocese meet monthly on the first Tuesday to share ideas and support one another. If you are not connected with this group, we welcome you and would love to hear what’s going on in your part of the Diocese. Please let us know by emailing the children, families and youth department. We are better together, better in community, better as the connected body of Christ!
FAITHFUL FAMILIES AT HOME
On Thursday, January 27, 7-8 p.m., the diocesan children, families and youth department will host the Rev. Traci Smith for a webinar about the importance of parents in the faith formation of our children. She is the author of the bestselling book, Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home. An ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and mother of three, Traci has many wonderful ideas for sharing faith at home and we are thrilled to have her join us. We invite parents, caregivers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, Sunday school teachers and others to join as we learn more ways to share our faith with the youngest! Register.
Amy Campbell is the children and family missioner for the Diocese of North Carolina.
Tags: North Carolina Disciple