Faith Formation in a Post(ish) Pandemic World

How are you feeling?

Are you feeling overwhelmed as you consider the reopening of your Sunday school, youth group and/or mid-week programming for the fall?

I hear from many church leaders that they are.

This is absolutely to be expected given all that our churches have weathered over the past two and a half years as we have strived to provide all the programming and care we can during this pandemic.

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Presbyterian Music Camp Celebrates 50 Years of Harmony

Congratulations to Presbyterian Music Camp!

50 years of music ministry is a wonderful reason for celebration.

The Presbyterian Music Camp would love to share with us all a taste of this transformative ministry. And, there’s no better way to do that than through the pictures and sounds of music camp over these last 50 years. Thank you to the Music Camp Board and to Rev. Angus Sutherland, a long-time camper, for sharing this wonderful video with us to enjoy and join in the celebration.

If you would like to learn more about the Presbyterian Music Camp and even join in the fun check out their website HERE.

Video: How To Choose Sunday School Curriculum Resources

If you missed the Zoom gathering on Curriculum Selection last night, were there but would like to review what was presented, or are wanting to think about your Sunday school curriculum options for the fall, here’s a video for you.

In this half hour recording you will hear about a process for narrowing down your curricula options from a curated list of wonderful Sunday school materials.

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Announcing Two Zoom Workshops for Educational Ministry

Thank you to Mike Fox and unsplash.com for this image

Hooray!!!!!

Our churches have reopened and are now beginning to consider their educational ministry options for the fall.

In light of this good news I’ve been getting lots of phone calls and emails asking for help in two specific areas in particular.

The first has to do with Sunday school curriculum.

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Let’s Take A Story Journey

“We’re doing a Story Journey tomorrow to go along with our church’s yard, garden and bake sale. We’re featuring Laura Alary’s book, What Grew in Larry’s Garden. We’re so excited.”

My good friend, Laura Duggin, minister at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Newmarket, Ontario dropped this into a conversation the other day. We weren’t talking about Story Journeys or garden sales at the time, so when Laura burst forth with this comment I needed to know more.

“Tell me all about it”

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A Simple But Significant Tweak For Your Pre-School Sunday School

All Saints Church, Fulham

If there is one thing we’ve learned as Christian educators during this pandemic, it’s that many of our parents were ill-prepared to take on the role of being faith-formers at home when our church buildings closed and our church programmes were shuttered.

And, it wasn’t their fault!

When asked, most parents say that they ought to be the primary influencers of faith with their children, and they are absolutely right. Yet, these same parents also tell us they have no idea how to do this because they haven’t been shown how. Sadly, with our decades-long emphasis on forming faith with children within our church buildings through Sunday school, mid-week groups and summer programming we’ve inadvertently left our parents in the dark on how to talk about and practice faith at home as a family. 

As we look to rebuild our educational programmes this fall we can’t ignore what we’ve learned these last couple of years; we must not cut our parents out of our faith formation plans and in fact we need to make families the centre of our approach going forward.

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Are You Making Plans For Sunday School This Fall?

What will Sunday school look like this fall?

Churches are beginning to talk about restarting in-person Sunday school after a two and a half year hiatus from offering regular children’s programming. Leaning into the hope that our churches will be able to gather safely and with a deep desire to get children back to Sunday school before our youngest generation misses out completely on a Sunday school experience, churches are anxious to do the best they can to restart well this fall. 

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We Are Many Members, But One Body

This past Saturday the Synodical of Central, Northeastern Ontario and Bermuda hosted a talk with Ms. Nora Carmi, a woman who has spent the last forty years working with the YWCA, Sabeel, and Kairosto bring about peace and justice in Palestine and Israel. Nora shared stories of the courageous leadership of women from each of the three monotheistic religions during her time with us, and in particular challenged the news we hear through the media with her alternative experiences of hope.

If you were unable to attend this wonderful and informative gathering, or if you’d like to view it once again, click HERE to view this presentation by Nora Carmi

Many Members – One Body: A Zoom Event With Nora Carmi

For many Palestinians, efforts to fight off COVID-19 have presented unprecedented challenges, as closed shops have robbed them of their livelihoods, adding to the already long-standing, deep injustices of illegal Israeli occupation. 

 “The situation in Palestine is alarming. On the economic side, people are desperate, many without work and having difficulties feeding their children.”

Nora Carmi is a Christian Palestinian who has worked for peace and justice her whole life.

She was born in 1947 in Jerusalem into a family of Armenian survivors from the genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire. She experienced becoming a refugee, and since then she has faced the worsened situation for the Palestinians since the illegal occupation of the territories in 1967.  

Everyone is invited to register for this Zoom event where Carmi where talk about the role of Palestinian women and their efforts to shape healthier and more just communities.

To register please email Katherine Allen by April 14 at kathanne5219@gmail.com

An Interactive Google Slide for Holy Week

There are so many stories to read and hear during Holy Week; from the excitement of the crowds on Palm Sunday to the quiet of the garden where Jesus went to pray, from the shock at Jesus’ arrest to his undeserved death a day later and finally to the extreme joy of the resurrection on Easter Sunday. Each day builds on the previous day revealing God’s deep and grace-filled love for this world.

For younger ones many of the stories we tell during Holy Week can be difficult to understand and even scary. Well-written children’s bible story books help us to share these stories from scripture with children in ways that are more accessible and appropriate for their age. For this reason this interactive Google Slide has been loaded with videos of wonderfully written and told stories for Holy Week. It is here for you to upload onto your churches website or Facebook page so families can visit each day throughout Holy Week to hear these stories together.

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Won’t You be My Neighbour?

Thank you to Paul Hanaoka and unsplash.com for this image

Happy Mr. Roger’s Day!

It is not only a beautiful day in the neighbourhood, it is a beautiful day to go out and meet our neighbours.

Mr. Rogers was above all else a good neighbour; more important than being a teacher and entertainer of children (and even their parents), Fred Rogers sought to show us how to be the very best kind of neighbour we can be in the communities in which we live, work and worship. 

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Closing Is Easy – Opening is Hard: An Update

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Wouldn’t you know it?

As soon as I uploaded the blog post on Saturday about the challenges churches are facing in deciding when and how they will reopen their church buildings I came across a great resource coming out of the Presbyterian Church USA. It is a document entitled Seeking to be Faithful Together: Guidelines for Presbyterians in Times of Disagreement and comes from their Presbyterian Peacemaking Program.

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Closing Is Easy – Opening Is Hard

Thank you to Tavi White and unsplash.com for this photo

Two years ago today, the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 to be a global pandemic. I remember those first days and weeks; not sure what to touch or not to touch, getting used to wearing a mask, and most of all assuming that we would all be back in church by Easter at the latest.

How unprepared we were.

This week, the Ontario government has announced that most mask mandates will end on March 21, 2022 with the remaining pandemic rules lifted by the end of April. It seems as though we are moving from a pandemic to Covid being endemic in our world.

What a long strange trip it has been.

As I have talked with friends and colleagues over the past few days and weeks, I have heard and noticed a couple of important themes.

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You’re Invited to a Zoom Gathering of the Barrie Presbyterial

Please join

Barrie Presbyterial Women’s Missionary Society

by Zoom on

Saturday, March 5th, 2022

at

10:30 a.m. (ET)

The Presbyterian Church in Canada

and Mission

including Taiwan and India

with

Rev. Dr. Glynis Williams, Associate Secretary 

for International Ministries

of the Life and Mission Agency

and

Lily Ko, Program Coordinator

International Ministries

Presentation will be followed by a Q & A

To register please email

janiceterry322@yahoo.com

705-322-3038

Our Journey Through Lent: A Devotional Booklet and Interactive Slide for Download

Are you looking for a simple Lent devotional resource to share with your families at home? Here’s one that’s free for download that leads participants of all ages through a complete reading of the Gospel of Mark.

The Gospel of Mark is the shortest of the gospels and is considered to be the first of the four to be written. There is a sense of urgency in Mark’s gospel to get it all out there as fast as possible so people can quickly hear and know “the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1) With little commentary along the way, Mark leaps immediately into revealing Christ as the Messiah, through a wealth of parables, miracles, conversations and encounters with Jesus. If you have never read a gospel through from start to finish, Mark is a good one to begin with.

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Rest for the Weary

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I just canceled the Zoom check-ins on Christian education planned for this week. Unfortunately only three people signed up and they were divided between two meetings. This low level of participation where once there was an enthusiastic number for Zoom check-ins seems to be symptomatic of what I’ve been seeing across the board with people’s participation in bible studies, Sunday school and leadership development.

I have found over these last couple of months that our church leaders and our people are more than exhausted from the ongoing stress of just keeping up during this pandemic. With the first year of the pandemic and its church building closures and protocols, leaders had a surge of energy and imagination for thinking about educational ministry in new ways and even began to focus on some things we’d been overlooking in the last number of decades. During the second year we established new ways of doing educational ministry and even began tweaking what we were doing as we got better and better at Zoom Sunday schools, porch meet ups and virtual worship. Moving into this third year I’m beginning to hear from many of our leaders that they just feel flat, without imagination, and are simply doing their very best to stay above water. 

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How Is Educational Ministry Going At Your Church?

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Happy New Year!

And, how is it going?

Thank you for all you’ve been doing to continue providing faith formation practices and Christian education programming for your church over the past couple of years. Providing educational ministry for all ages during Covid has been an incredible challenge and you have pivoted, adapted and changed focus each step of the way.

We’ve learned a lot too. We’ve highlighted families and the significant role parents play in the passing on of faith to their children, we’ve learned far more about technology than we ever imagined, we’ve embraced the word ‘hybrid’ and are beginning to understand that multiple points of access will be the new normal going forward, and we’ve come to see our church as not a building but a gathering no matter how that happens.

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The Omicron Variant and Our Congregations

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This morning, the province of Ontario returns to Step 2 of our roadmap to reopen. This decision was made in light of the staggering increase of Covid infection rates due to the Omicron variant. To give you an idea of how quickly this variant is moving, consider that the rolling average of cases in the province is now 14,598 compared to 10,327 a week ago and 926 a month ago.

The good news is that it appears that for the fully vaccinated this version of the virus is less serious than the Delta variant, but, it is still very serious.

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A Trip Down Memory Lane

Thank you to Nong Vang and unsplash.com for this image

I was asked this week if I could recall my earliest memory of a bible story. The question came from a friend who is presently studying at Knox College, one of our denominational seminaries. Her query was prompted by a paper she is busy writing on the faith journeys of children. She is hoping to sprinkle some of these personal stories of treasured memories throughout her paper as illustrations of how children grow in faith.

What a delightful invitation to take a trip down memory lane.

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Our Interactive Advent Calendar Is Now Complete

And, it’s ready for you to share with your congregation, friends, and family members.

You may have read about, and even checked out, the sample 2021 interactive Advent calendar created for congregations to upload onto their church website, facebook page and/or email to homes for Advent this year.

Well, it is now complete and ready to use.

It’s a wonder-filled calendar built on a Google Slide that allows users to click to on a new door each day of Advent and be taken on an interactive journey through the themes and stories that prepare us for the coming of Jesus this Christmas. Individuals and families of all ages will experience videoed bible stories, music, recipes, crafts, adventures, rituals, games and so much more with this calendar.

So, first of all, check out the calendar. You can do this by clicking on the picture of the calendar at the beginning of this article. When you do the calendar will expand to fill your screen. Then click on some of the dated doors and start your journey.

Then, let you people know that the calendar will soon be coming their way; that in a very short week you will have it up on your church’s social media sites or emailed to them at home.

Finally, use the following instructions to upload the calendar onto your website, facebook page or place in a congregational email and set it to go live on the evening of Saturday, November 27th (the day before the first Sunday of Advent) ready for them to experience the next day.

Instructions for uploading

To take the calendar from this article and attach it to your church’s website, drag the photo of the calendar onto your church’s desktop. Alternatively, you can right click on the picture then save the picture on your computer by right clicking on ‘save image as.’ You can then upload the picture to your computer’s website. Then, to find the link to connect the calendar picture to the interactive calendar click on the interactive calendar link above so it opens up a new window, and copy the url at the top of the screen. At this point you may choose to hyperlink this url into the picture of the calendar picture you’ve placed on your website, or add it as a link below the calendar picture, in this case noting that the link itself is what will take users to the interactive calendar.

This is the link to the calendar: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/17HgdR37Kec0tcTN6YQNFkSE5W8oiVH96rpbPhDydZ-g/present?slide=id.phttps://docs.google.com/presentation/d/17HgdR37Kec0tcTN6YQNFkSE5W8oiVH96rpbPhDydZ-g/present?slide=id.p

If you’d like something more

If you would like to complement the calendar with an all-ages devotional booklet that follows the same daily themes as the Advent Calendar, please check out free 2021 Advent Devotional booklet featured in THIS article and downloadable for printing HERE.

Thank you to everyone who contributed their time and talent to this Advent Calendar. They are Terrie-Lee Hamilton, Tobey Boyer, Martin and Trisha Smit, Presbyterian Music Camp, Mirim Kim, Kristine O’Brien, Holly Boyne, Robert Bisset, John-Peter Smit, Gale Macdonald, Marylou Malicdem, Yunmi Kwon, Karen Pozios, Robynne Howard, Laura Alary and Daniel Scott. When asked each one said a resounding yes to being a special part of this venture and have collectively made this calendar a wonderful gift for everyone to enjoy.

A Free Interactive Advent Calendar For Your Church

Click HERE For The Link

One of my fondest memories as a child was of receiving an Advent calendar just before the first day of December. I loved those little doors. I would wait expectantly for the dawn of each new day, knowing I would get to open that day’s door and find a new treasure inside. Behind every door of my childhood calendar I would find a lovely picture of a Christmas symbol along with a scripture passage for me to read. Over the course of Advent I would experience the stories leading to Jesus’ birth as I anticipated opening that one final door on Christmas day.

We passed this tradition on to our children and delighted in watching the next generation open these wonder-filled doors for themselves. Over time though their calendars began to reveal a bit more chocolate than stories, and the ritual became more of a countdown to Christmas day than a way of preparing for Christmas Day.

This Advent I’d like to invite you and your congregation to enjoy a new kind of Advent calendar, one that includes the significant stories of scripture along with some contemporary stories that connect with the important themes of Advent. In addition to these incredible stories, this calendar also includes simple crafts, new songs, outdoor adventures, special ways of caring for others, and fun games.

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For Us, A Child Is Born: An All Ages Advent Devotional Booklet to Download

Introducing this year’s Advent Devotional Booklet for all ages, For Us, A Child is Born.

On Sunday, November 28, 2021 we begin the season of Advent; the first season of our Christian year. And, as we anticipate the coming of Christ the Messiah into our world anew, it is good to prepare a way for our Lord to come into our homes and our lives. Daily devotions are a wonderful way to prepare our hearts for the birth of Jesus as we read the prophesies and stories that lead us to Jesus’ birth.

With this simple devotional booklet all ages will have the opportunity to light the Advent candles, read the scriptures and hear the stories that prepare us for the nativity. Everyone is invited to ponder Advent questions, write and/or doodle on journal pages and say pray of thanksgiving, joy and love.

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A Memorial Liturgy for All Saints Day

Thank you to Tina Witherspoon and unsplash.com for this image

November 1 is All Saints Day in the Christian Church. While we do not venerate saints in the same way other traditions do, we do have enough Knox and St Andrew’s churches along with other saint named churches to know that we take the concept of saints seriously.

We also have a further, more informal understanding of the communion of saints; namely those faithful Christians who have gone before and make up ‘that great cloud of witnesses’ that we read of in Hebrews 12. In the season of Covid, it is appropriate that we remember them.

As we head towards two full years of Covid-19, I have been reflecting on the communion of saints and in particular the opportunity to remember our cloud of witnesses on this coming All Saints Day. As I consider the past pandemic season, I realize that almost all of us have had the experience of being unable to faithfully respond to the death of loved ones. 

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Head’s Up! These Advent Resources Will Soon Be Coming Your Way

Advent Wreath in a Box – Instructions for this will be given in the 2021 Advent resources

Are you beginning to make plans for the 2021 Advent and Christmas season?

I am too!

I’ve been reading through the lectionary texts, looking through children’s story bibles and other story books, testing out crafts, listening to music, and playing with Google Classrooms all with a mind to creating engaging intergenerational resources for the upcoming season of Advent for your church to enjoy. Today I want to give you a head’s up on what resources you can expect from me later this month and early in November. I hope this will help you consider how they might work with what you’re planning for your church, and perhaps even lighten your load just a little bit as they fill in some of the areas you are hoping to fill.

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If Not In-Person Sunday School, Then What?

Has your church decided to delay in-person Sunday school for children under the age of twelve or, are you looking to provide a variety of in-person and virtual Sunday school options that will allow the church to welcome all children to Sunday school whether or not everyone is comfortable with a return to in-person gatherings?

If you missed out on our Zoom workshop last week on Alternative Options you can still view the videoed portion of the workshop that outlines six options for churches to consider. There’s a helpful handout too that includes many links to wonderful websites and resources mentioned in the video.

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Checklist for In-Person Children’s Ministry

I just got this great resource today that your church might be interested in using.

It is a very helpful and detailed checklist for all in-person children’s and youth ministry programming that takes place in your church building during the our current phase of the pandemic. This checklist comes to us from the Diocese of Toronto with the Anglican Church of Canada. While it is not a document of the Presbyterian Church in Canada it does serve as a very helpful resource for our churches to be guided by.

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Alternative Options to In-Person Faith Formation and How to Adapt Your Existing Curriculum to Each

With thanks to Sigmund, unsplash.com

What will children’s faith formation look like at your church this year?

In light of the pandemic your church may have decided to put a return to in-person Sunday school on hold for now, or perhaps would like to offer another option alongside in-person classes to meet the comfort levels of all of the families of your church.

If you want to know what some of the alternative options are for your church to consider, what the pros and cons are for each, and how to adapt your curriculum to whichever option you choose to move forward with, I’d like to offer some help.

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A Few Helpful Resources re: Protocols for In-Person Worship

Kirk Dunn, Morningside High Park Presbyterian Church, Toronto

“Welcome back! We’re glad you are joining us for in-person worship. There are a few things we’d like to share with you before you come into the building; what to expect when you enter the church, what worship will look and feel like, and a few health protocols that must be followed by everyone.”

Many of our congregations are in the process of welcoming people back to worship in their buildings. This return to in-person worship will raise a number of questions by those attending regarding the public health protocols they will need to follow, as well questions about what worship will be like when they get there. It is always our church’s prayer that no one feel uncomfortable as they come to worship and by answering these questions well in advance we can put everyone at ease. Clearly laying out your church’s expectations while offering reassurance will avoid any misunderstandings and help people make an informed decision about their onsite participation.

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A Process for Considering the Reopening of In-Person Sunday School

If you missed this week’s Zoom meetings introducing a process for considering the reopening of in-person Sunday school for your church, here is an opportunity to view the presentation portion of our get-together. This 30 minute video will walk you through the many factors your church will want to consider as you move toward a safe reopening.

Just click on the slide below and you will be taken to the youtube video.

In the video I will refer to a link to a Government of Canada file outlining areas of concern regarding physical spaces that are to be used for gatherings. This document will help you assess areas of risk and offer suggestions for ways to comply with these guidelines. Click here to be taken to this document.

I hope this presentation will assist you in your conversations and decision making.

Grace and peace, Tori

Reopening Onsite Children’s Programmes

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It’s the first day of September and many of our churches are scheduled to reopen for in-person worship services this month. This is raising a number of questions about in-person Sunday school and other children’s ministry programmes. There is so much to consider, especially as our children 12 years and under are not yet able to receive a vaccine against Covid-19, and as infections are once again on the rise.

Should we have in-person Sunday school? Should we stick with Zoom? Are there other options? What do we need to consider? And, how do we know what’s best?

Do you have questions like these?

Are you looking for a place to find some answers?

You are invited to join one of two Zoom gatherings next week to hear some helpful factors to consider as you make these important decisions.

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I Will Give You Rest

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28 NRSV)

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” (Mark 1:36, 37 NRSV)

Traditionally summer has been the minister’s ‘down time’. Meetings stop, people are away, and things are quieter all around. For many years, ministers typically took all of their holidays in one large chunk. This meant that real rest could happen.

Then things changed:

  • Cell phones meant ministers (and almost everyone else) could be accessed 24/7
  • Email meant that you were never truly away
  • People came to expect that their concerns would be addressed immediately
  • Even if we could get away from work physically, emotional distance was much harder to achieve

And then came Covid.

Over the past month or so I have had repeated conversations with church leaders who have not had time off since the pandemic began. They are literally at the end of their ropes.

Tori and I are similarly exhausted. While we have tried to be good stewards of our time and energy, we are aware of just how tired we really are. In June we took a week’s holidays and it actually took us two weeks to fit it in around emergent phone calls and meetings. 

For many, physical tiredness is just the tip of the iceberg. Many are feeling burnt out with no place to turn to deal with it. This has affected relationships, ministry effectiveness and satisfaction, as well as general health and wellbeing.

I cannot say when this will all end, nor can I resolve all of the issues this article raises. However, I would like to address just one, the need for physical rest.

As I read the above passages of scripture, three things pop out at me:

  1. Jesus needed to get away. He needed to get away to pray and he needed to get away to rest. The words of Peter, ‘everyone is looking for you’ speaks to our condition as well as his.
  2. Jesus promises rest. We are weary and heavy laden. Jesus promises rest.
  3. You can’t have spiritual rest without physical rest.

I remember talking with a friend who was connected to a retreat centre. For years this establishment had offered week long retreats for clergy. More recently they have discovered that these same clergy needed to sleep for the first five days in order to even be able to consider any spiritual work.

This is all a way of recognizing that we are tired – very tired – and that the summer should hopefully be a chance to recharge our batteries. 

I am aware that the summer is half way over but, I pray that you might recognize your own need for physical rest and might assert yourself to take it. No one knows what the fall will bring but, if there is a time to re-charge your batteries, now is it.

Tori and I will be taking the next three weeks off. During that time, we will only be available for emergencies. We will be doing our very best to also take an email sabbatical for this time.

Your ministry is a blessing. Please make sure that you are well rested and able to lead your flock. Please remember the adage; “put on your oxygen mask first.”

May God bless you in this season of rest.

John-Peter & Tori.

PS – Elders, please consider giving your minister some additional time off this year. They need it!

What Parents, Grandparents, and Church Workers Have to Tell the Church About Their Pandemic Experiences – Part 2

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How are things going at your church with your children and their families?

What did you do over the last year and a half to stay connected and provide teaching and faith formation for your youngest members? What worked well? What fell flat? What slipped through the cracks? What are you most concerned about going forward? What can you let go of that no one will miss? And, how will your approach to ministry with children and their families be transformed in light of any new learnings and discoveries that you’ve made while responding to changed circumstances?

Taking time to reflect now with your children, parents, and leaders is a crucial first step if your church wants to move forward in new ways in the months ahead; ways that will serve your entire church community well while providing the best opportunities for children and their families to grow in faith together.

While it is important that we all take time to ask the people of our own congregations, ‘how has it been going?’ we can also benefit from the research of others who have begun this process of interviewing children, parents, and congregational leaders and denominational influencers. 

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What Children and Their Families Have to Tell the Church About Their Pandemic Experiences and Church Reopening – Part 1

Markus Spiske, unsplash.com

What do the children have to say about their away-from-the-church-building experiences of Zoom Sunday school, online worship, and mid-week programming over the course of this past year and a half? 

What has been concerning them the most throughout the pandemic? 

And, what are they looking forward to when we return to our church buildings? 

We only have to ask!

And guess what? Some wonderful and caring people have already started the conversation for us. And, they have some very interesting things to share. 

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Reopening Church Buildings in Ontario – Step Three

DNK.PHOTO, unsplash.com

Friends, by now I am sure everyone is aware that we have moved to Step 3 of reopening in the province of Ontario. In terms of Places of Worship (and other religious rites) this is what is now permitted:

Religious services, rites or ceremonies, including wedding services and funeral services (does not apply to receptions): Indoor and outdoor permitted with capacity limited to permit physical distancing of 2 metres.

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Book Review: Inclusive Marriage Services: A Wedding Sourcebook

“You may kiss the bride.”

I remember it as though it were yesterday. I had planned a marriage service with a couple, but would not be able to perform it. A colleague stepped in to help. When I got back to the office, the order of service was lying open on my desk. The above sentence was scrawled out and in its place was written:

“You may seal your vows with a kiss.”

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Children’s Bible Story Videos: Comparing Two Options

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I am often asked to recommend bible story videos for children to watch at home or for Sunday school teachers to use with their classes. Unfortunately this can be more challenging question than it first appears. While there is certainly a lot of bible story videos out there for parents to choose from, there are very few that I can happily recommend that present the bible from a Reformed theological perspective, and even fewer that take into consideration how children of a young age hear these stories and understand them given their stage of development.

Recently, a minister sent me an email asking about a video series called the Bible App for Kids. It had been found by a member of her congregation, and rather than immediately beginning to use it with the kids of the church, she asked her minister to have a look at it and let her know if it was a good fit for their kids. While having a look for myself I thought that it might be helpful to share with you what I discovered as well as what I look for when I’m reviewing children’s videos, bible storybooks, and other resources.

Hopefully this might help give you an eye for viewing materials you come across along the way and wonder if you should use.

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Away At the Lake

Join Cairn Camps in Baysville for a summer retreat experience!

Cairn is excited to be offering Away at the Lake this season, an all-inclusive retreat on the shores of Echo Lake!

This summer, leave the busyness at home and immerse yourself in the beauty of Creation, enjoying a Muskoka getaway of reading on the beach, walking through the forest, engaging in camp activities at your leisure, and enjoying meals where you don’t need to cook OR do the dishes! This is an opportunity for rest, for Sabbath, and for retreat. 

Looking for more information? You can view the Away at the Lake Information Package here.

Please also know that the Cairn Campership Fund and other bursary programs are available to help cover Away at the Lake registration costs. Community Funders are eager to see their dollars be used this summer, and so we encourage anyone to apply who may find this helpful. You can view the Campership Form here.

We can’t wait to welcome you to Away at the Lake this summer!

For more information, please visit ilovecamp.org/away-at-the-lake.cfm or contact the Cairn office at admin@ilovecamp.org or by phone at 705-767-3300.

A Statement Regarding Residential Schools

Dear friends,

In response to the devastating confirmation of unmarked graves on the grounds of former Residential Schools in Canada, a statement was published on June 15, 2021, written in consultation with the National Indigenous Ministry Council, a Committee of the General Assembly, and signed by both the Rev. Dr. Dan Scott, Moderator of the 2021 General Assembly, and by the Rev. Amanda Currie, Moderator for 2019–2020. It speaks, through repentance and lament and in humility, for the lives of all the children who were lost, those we know who died at the schools and those still to be found in unmarked graves. The statement makes many commitments for the church to act upon.

In various ways, the church has begun responding to the commitments outlined in the statement. However, any work regarding former Residential Schools and the land they are or were on must be done in conversation with and after listening carefully to the affected communities and in line with their wishes. Additionally, we work in consultation with the National Indigenous Ministry Council.

This work takes time and must be respectful of the impacted communities’ wishes. We know there are cemeteries associated with some of the schools that The Presbyterian Church in Canada ran but we do not know for sure whether there are unmarked graves on the grounds of these schools, though it is likely. We are working on opening conversations around searching the grounds of both Cecilia Jeffrey Residential School and Birtle Residential School. The church has also begun looking into how to approach those affected by the schools that The Presbyterian Church in Canada ran but that closed before 1925. We have also contacted the United Church of Canada about how we will work together with regard to the schools The Presbyterian Church in Canada ran before 1925 but then became associated with the United Church of Canada.

As a colleague in ministry, I am writing to ensure that you and those associated with the ministry you serve have seen, read and considered the statement, available here.

You can learn more about the ongoing work for reconciliation and Indigenous justice as well as any news regarding this issue at the Indigenous Justice page of our Social Action Hub. It is a living resource that we keep updated.

Get Involved

We all have a responsibility to deepen our understanding of the ongoing impacts of anti-Indigenous systemic racism, of which residential schools were part, and to act. Here are only some of the ways to respond after reading the statement issued on June 15, 2021

Read the Statement publicly. Additionally, read Calls to Action 71-76 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. 

Learn about the Ministries with Indigenous Peoples of The Presbyterian Church. Watch a worship service by Indigenous ministry leaders to mark National Indigenous Peoples’ Day. 

Seek to understand the harms of intergenerational trauma on Indigenous peoples and communities. 

Read the Final Report and Calls to Justice of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and use the PCC study guide on the final report: Why work to decolonize?

Read the resources and support the work of Indigenous organizations such as the Native Women’s Association of Canada.

Learn about the impacts of colonialism, why it was necessary for the church to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, and PCC-run residential schools. Resources are online here

Learn about any schools operated near your community. As much as possible, seek information from Residential School Survivors, Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers.

Read about the work that has been done regarding the cemetery for the Regina Industrial School in “The Regina Indian Industrial School (1891-1910): Historical Overview and Chronological” by Douglas Stewart (available through Amazon).

Sincerely,  
The Rev. Ian Ross-McDonald, 
General Secretary, The Life and Mission Agency  

Information for Congregations Following the Adoption of Remits B & C: Marriage and Ordination of LGBTQI Persons in the PCC

logo of the 2021 General Assembly of the PCC

This past week, the 146th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC) took place. At least two things made this General Assembly significant. The first was that it was the first General Assembly to be held virtually. The second came with the adoption of Remits B & C concerning human sexuality; the PCC now affirms that LGBTQI couples may be married in a PCC Church, and that married or single LGBTQI persons may be ordained as ministers and elders in the PCC.

As we begin to consider the implications of these decisions, it is worth spending some time understanding how we came to this decision, particularly for those who have not been following the steps taken that have brought us to this place.

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Some One-Liners to Ponder

InterGenerate/Children’s Spirituality Summit CNOB Team

“As Christians, how we relate to each other should set us apart” (Douglas Powe)

Earlier this week a team of six people from our synod attended a virtual conference by InterGenerate and the Children’s Spirituality Summit. We spent Monday through Wednesday listening to thought provoking keynote presentations by world leaders of children’s and intergenerational ministries, attended a broad variety of workshops and/or research paper presentations led by leading practitioners and academics, and joined affinity breakout groups that applied to our areas of interest in faith formational ministry.

It was a great week!

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Are You Losing Sleep Over Your Congregation’s Future?

Nik Shuliahin with Unsplash

Covid-19 has been a very uncertain and challenging time for congregations, and it appears that for some their congregation’s health might be getting significantly more precarious.

First a little bit of history.

A year ago, when we were all trying to make sense of the pandemic, a sister denomination predicted that they would lose about 20% of their congregations as a consequence of Covid. I agreed at the time; it made sense to me given what I knew about the synod and its congregations. However, as the weeks turned into months, our congregations continued to survive. In fact they seemed to be doing okay. CERB and CEWS helped, as did special grants and gifts. For some congregations, reduced expenses also made a big difference along with a mild winter keeping utilities to a minimum.

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An Attitude of Gratitude

Hanny Naibaho, Unsplash

Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17, 18)

A few weeks ago I was standing in line at a convenience store. There were two registers open, one of which was the lottery terminal. By the number of tickets in his hand, the fellow behind me clearly had a significant lottery transaction to complete, so when that register opened, I invited him to go first. He thanked me and said; ‘that’s the first nice thing someone has done for me since Covid began.’ I hope he was exaggerating because it sure didn’t feel like much, but my greater fear was that he might have been right.

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What Will ‘Our New Normal’ Look Like?

What does the future hold for the church as we contemplate moving out of pandemic lockdowns and shuttered church buildings?

What is God saying to us, and how are we called to act as participants in this ‘New Normal’?

God declares, “LOOK! I am making a new thing, now it springs up, do you not realize it?”

This past Saturday the Synodical of Central, Northeastern Ontario and Bermuda hosted a Bible Study led by Rev. Dr. Pat Dutcher-Walls, Professor of Hebrew Scripture at the Vancouver School of Theology. If you missed it, there is still an opportunity to hear and reflect on the prophetic word Pat offered to us all.

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It’s Time to Breathe

Happy Eastertide!

Have you been able to find a minute or two to be still, to close your eyes, and after pausing for a moment fill your lungs with the new life God is offering us in these days? I truly hope so. If you haven’t been able to do this yet, there is lots of opportunity ahead as we move through the upcoming celebrations of Ascension, Pentecost, and on to the longest season of all – Ordinary Time.

Laura Alary, author of numerous wonder-filled children’s books, invites us to experience these extraordinary days by breathing deeply and getting ready to grow again. Her new children’s book Breathe: A Child’s Guide to Ascension, Pentecost, and the Growing Time, illustrated by Cathrin Peterslund, is set to be released on April 13, 2021. While it’s not out yet, I’m happy to say I’ve had the opportunity to read and delight in an advance copy of her work and want to share with you what I discovered.

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Easter Greetings from the Synod of CNOB

pixabay.com

Great is Thy faithfulness; great is Thy faithfulness;
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me. 

                  Thomas Chisholm 1923, 1996 BoP 324

This is one of my very favourite hymns, one that I regularly find myself humming or singing under my breath. In many ways it sums up, not just my experience of God, but the fullness of that experience. The key line, “All I have needed thy hand hath provided,” reminds me of the nature of God’s providence. 

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What Will We Tell the Children?

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It was a Good Friday service I will never forget. 

I was perhaps eight or nine years old and since children in my church rarely joined the adults in the sanctuary for any part of worship, going to worship on Good Friday was a very big deal for me. I wanted to see everything that went on in this place so I shuffled my stacking chair out into the aisle as much as my Mom would allow and then I craned my neck the remaining few inches around the man in front of me to watch all that was going on. 

Our minister stood high up on the stage at the front of the auditorium describing in vivid detail the specifics of crucifixion to all of the worshippers in attendance. In his hand he held a rusty railroad spike, pumping it in the air to give emphasis to his words. As he finished declaring that we, like the scribes and the Pharisees, were responsible for Jesus’ death he cast the iron spike with great gusto down the cement centre aisle of our sacred space where it ultimately landed under my chair with a resounding clatter and then heavy silence. For a minute or so I sat frozen in my seat, and then with a cry I ran out of the sanctuary and into the hallway where I collapsed in tears. I felt responsible. If I had not been so bad, Jesus would never have had to die. It was all my fault and until that moment I hadn’t even known I had done such a horrid thing.

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On the Anniversary of the Pandemic

Pixaby

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. (John 14:1 NRSV)

On March 12 2020, the World Health Organization officially declared the Coronavirus to be a pandemic.

On March 16, 2020 the province of Ontario recommended the closure of all recreation programs, libraries, private schools, daycares, and churches and other faith settings.

This week we commemorate the one year anniversary of the Coronavirus pandemic, an event that has changed lives worldwide. It simply repeats the obvious to try and recount how different the world is today from a year ago and how uncertain the future remains, even with a vaccine. This truly is a once in a century event.

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How to Create An Interactive Google Slide

Have you experienced an interactive presentation slide recently, that when you clicked on an item on the slide it popped open a new window with a videoed song or bible story to enjoy? Or, perhaps it opened a file with a recipe or craft project for you to make? If so, you were interacting with a Google Slide.

If you ever wondered, “how did they do this?” then this article is for you.

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The Holy Week Slides Are Ready To Go!

I am excited to announce that our Interactive Holy Week Slides are now complete and ready for your church receive for uploading later this month. These simple slides contain within them 26 engaging Holy Week activities designed for all ages to experience the key stories of this very important week.

Our Holy Week slides make use of a Google Classroom platform to invite users to click open new windows to devotions, storytelling, music, crafts, and meditations. With a simple ‘click’ we are included in the cries of ‘Hosanna’ on Palm Sunday, find ourselves seated at the table of the Last Supper with the disciples, and brought into the garden of Jesus’ arrest, his trial and ultimate crucifixion. And finally, we reach that wonderful day of ‘Alleluias’ and our great celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.

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Creating Interactive Google Slides

BBH Singapore – Unsplash

Are you interested in learning how to create interactive Google Slides of your own?

Since the launch of the Lent Gardens over the past few weeks I’ve received a number of requests from church educators who are wanting to learn how to create slides of their own for their churches’ online Sunday schools, youth activities and family ministry programmes. I’m more than happy to help and want to invite you to join me over a Zoom meeting in a couple of weeks time.

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Free Money!

Did you read that right? Yes – money for free!

Michelle Spollen – Unsplash

As Covid restrictions have continued, two things are happening. First I spend way too much time in front of a screen, often on the same old websites. Second, it seems like every time I open my email or answer the phone, there is a new scam for me to be fooled by. It never ends.

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A Devotion Booklet for Lent: Reading Through the Book of Mark

Are you thinking of adding something new to your daily life this Lent?

Lent is a wonderful season to begin a new faith practice; the practice of reading an entire book of the bible, day-by-day, is one members of your church might like to participate in.

This year, if your congregation follows the lectionary, the Gospel of Mark will be featured most weeks of our year. Journeying through this very readable gospel as a individual or a congregation early in the season offers all ages the opportunity to hear this gospel first as a complete story before they return to its individual texts through the year in worship, study and Sunday school.

To help everyone with this faith practice, here is a free, downloadable devotional booklet for individual or churches to use this Lent.

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The Interactive Lent Gardens Are On Their Way

Did you ask to receive the links to the six Interactive Lent Gardens?

I hope so.

I just want to let everyone know that I just emailed out the links to the six interactive Lent Gardens to everyone who asked to receive them. But, I don’t want anyone to slip through the cracks. With entering well over a hundred email addresses into the BCC, I’m just a little bit worried.

So, if you asked to receive the Interactive Lent Gardens and have not yet received an email that includes the six links, six garden screen shots, a materials shopping list and instructions for uploading all of this onto your website, facebook page or include in your weekly email – PLEASE EMAIL ME AND LET ME KNOW. I want to make sure you get them. My email is torismit@gmail.com.

If you didn’t ask to receive them, and you’d like to, email me too.

And, if you asked for them, and you got them. I’m thankful. I hope these enhance your church’s journey through Lent in wonder-filled ways.

Peace, Tori

Come Play in the Garden

A couple of weeks ago I invited you to ‘Save the Space’ for an exciting new interactive Lent resource being created for your church. I teased you with a picture of a Lent Garden wall beautifully decorated with flowers, a garden gnome and a picnic basket filled with tasty treats. I said every item in the garden would unlock a collection of bible readings, videoed stories, crafts, music, and other garden adventures for your congregation to explore every week of Lent.

And then I said, “but not quite yet.”

Well today is the day! Today is the day I want to unlock the first two of six Lent Gardens for you to explore for yourself.

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Dear Churchgoers

photo by Engin Akyurt, unsplash.com

by Laura Stephens-Reed, Clergy and Congregational Coach, laurastephensreed.com

Reprinted with the permission of the author

I recently posted the thoughts below on my Facebook page. They seemed to strike a chord, so I’m offering them here as well. Lay leaders, judicatory and denominational leaders, and ministers working outside the congregational context, I urge you to share these reflections on behalf of those local church pastors who cannot.

Churchgoers, I know you are tired of this pandemic. I know you want to hug your friends and see their full, unmasked faces on Sunday mornings. I know you are frustrated when your fellow church members start attending services and programs in congregations that are taking fewer precautions. I know you are heartbroken that Advent and Christmas observances won’t look the same this year.

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You Are the Light of the World

Gift Habeshaw, unsplash.com

A number of years ago, my then minister, Rev. Dr. Karen Dimock, preached a sermon in which she talked about light. She reminded us that the light of Jesus’ time was the light of an oil lamp not the light of a light bulb and certainly not the light of a spot light. Her point was simple, the light Jesus describes does not usually allow us to see the end of our journey or even the whole picture; often it only allows us to see the next step.

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An Interactive Christmas Living Room

Merry Christmas!

Welcome to our Christmas Living Room; a place to hear and read the amazing story of Christmas, sing a song, make a tasty treat, do a craft, and have an outdoor adventure.

This week we meet a newborn baby, cuddled and loved by his parents Mary and Joseph. This baby, Jesus, has come to change the world as Isaiah told us he would over 500 years before Jesus’ birth. On the road to Bethlehem there are travellers rushing to see this baby; shepherds and Magi. Let’s join them in the celebration. 

To access the Christmas Living Room click on the link at the end of this article. This will take you to an interactive version of the picture you see at the beginning of this article. Once there, click on the candle first to hear and see our Christmas story. After that click on the other objects you find in the room. Each will open up a new, fun thing to do. Check out the nativity scene, the mixing bowl, the musical instrument and papers, the cup of crayons, and the window to the outdoors. Have fun!

Enjoy your Christmas. And then, like the shepherds, go out and share all that you have seen and heard this day. Merry Christmas!

Click here to enter into the Christmas Living Room

Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!

Nativity, unidentified Kenyan artist, Art in the Christian Tradition, Vanderbilt University

As we come close to Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of our Saviour and to worship him, Tori and I would like to wish you the most joyous and blessed Christmas!

This has been an unusual year in so many ways. We are so grateful for your resilience, courage and leadership in these times! We are thankful for your willingness to undertake thankless tasks with grace and good humour.

As we come to celebrate this Christmas, we are particularly mindful of the nativity in the Gospel of John where we read:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life,and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-5, 11 NRSV)

While 2021 promises a light at the end of the tunnel, it will still be challenging in many ways. As you continue to lead with grace and courage, may you and yours be strengthened and encouraged with these two promises; the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it and, the Word became flesh and lives among us. This is God’s promise to us all – this is our hope and this is our assurance!

Merry Christmas and a joyous new year to you and yours!

In Christ,

Tori and John-Peter Smit

Free Resources From Illustrated Ministry for Your Church and Church Families

Are you looking to take a short break from your regular Sunday school lessons to keep everyone engaged? Would you like to give your Sunday school teachers a bit of a planning break? Perhaps you’d like to supplement your Sunday school lessons with a mid-week email to help build a bridge between one Sunday and the next by providing additional, related materials. Or, perhaps you’ve been sending out devotions and activities over Advent and want to assist your families in keeping up their newly established practice of reading bible stories together and doing fun activities at home.

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Advent Four: An Interactive Living Room

Welcome to your Advent Four Living Room; a place to hear and read the stories of Advent, sing a song, make a tasty treat, do a craft, and have an outdoor adventure.

This week we meet the Magi on the road to Bethlehem. They have the longest journey of all, coming all the way from the East.

To access the Living Room click on the link at the end of this article. This will take you to an interactive version of the picture you see at the beginning of this article. Once there, click on the candle first to hear and see our Advent story. After that click on the other objects you find in the room. Each will open up a new, fun thing to do. Check out the nativity scene, the mixing bowl, the musical instrument and papers, the cup of crayons, and the window to the outdoors. Have fun!

Come back on Christmas Eve, December 24th, for the Christmas Living Room waiting for you filled with new adventures.

Click here to enter into the Advent Four Living Room.

Fear Not!

What’s your favourite Christmas movie?

I love to watch The Polar Express, and I’ve just finished binge-watching the new Netflix series Dash & Lily, but truth be told, my absolute favourite Christmas movie is A Charlie Brown Christmas.

I was already a committed Peanuts fan when the movie came out in 1965. I would grab the newspaper each day and delight in the wisdom of Charles M. Schultz shared through his Peanuts characters. It was no surprise that A Charlie Brown Christmas leapt to the top of my list when I saw it for the very first time. It has consistently remained there ever since I lay down on the living room floor in my pyjamas that first time and became mesmerized by the story shared so many years ago.

Won’t you watch it with me again. 

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Advent Three: An Interactive Living Room

Welcome to your Advent Three Living Room; a place to hear and read the stories of Advent, sing a song, make a tasty treat, do a craft, and have an outdoor adventure.

This week we meet the shepherds on the road to Bethlehem. They’ve just left their sheep in the hills and are heading to Bethlehem because an angel told them too. They are curious, excited and filled with anticipation for what they might find. 

To access the Living Room click on the link at the end of this article. This will take you to an interactive version of the picture you see at the beginning of this article. Once there, click on the candle first to hear and see our Advent story. After that click on the other objects you find in the room. Each will open up a new, fun thing to do. Check out the nativity scene, the mixing bowl, the musical instrument and papers, the cup of crayons, and the window to the outdoors. Have fun!

Then, don’t forget to come back next week for the Advent Four Living Room waiting for you filled with new adventures.

Click here to enter into the Advent Three Living Room

Advent Two: An Interactive Living Room

Welcome to your Advent Two Living Room; a place to hear and read the stories of Advent, sing a song, make a tasty treat, do a craft, and have an outdoor adventure.

This week we meet Mary and Joseph on the road to Bethlehem and discover what amazing thing God has planned for them.

To access the Living Room click on the link at the end of this article. This will take you to an interactive version of the picture you see at the beginning of this article. Once there, click on the candle first to hear and see our Advent story. After that click on the other objects you find in the room. Each will open up a new, fun thing to do. Check out the nativity scene, the mixing bowl, the musical instrument and papers, the cup of crayons, and the window to the outdoors. Have fun!

Then, don’t forget to come back next week for the Advent Three Living Room waiting for you filled with new adventures.

Click here to enter into the Advent Two Living Room.

Considering A Longest Night Worship Service

Jessica Delp – unsplash.com

Monday, December 21 is the longest night of the year. In 2020 we have had many long nights and this year, perhaps more than ever, it is important to have a Longest Night Christmas worship service at your church.

Also called Blue Christmas, a Longest Night worship service is traditionally held to acknowledge that for many people Christmas is not a happy time of the year. Typically it is held for those who have lost loved ones over the course of the year, and for those who are lonely or separated from friends and family. 

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Advent One: An Interactive Living Room

Welcome to your Advent One Living Room; a place to hear and read the stories of Advent, sing a song, make a tasty treat, do a craft, and have an outdoor adventure.

This week we start our journey to Bethlehem with the prophet Isaiah as he describes a world of light and hope that is yet to come.

To access the Living Room click on the link at the end of this article. This will take you to an interactive version of the picture you see at the beginning of this article. Once there, click on the candle first to hear and see our first Advent story. After that click on the other objects you find in the room. Each will open up a new, fun thing to do. Check out the nativity scene, the mixing bowl, the musical instrument and papers, the cup of crayons, and the window to the outdoors. Have fun!

Then, don’t forget to come back next week for the Advent Two Living Room waiting for you filled with new adventures.

Click here to enter into the Advent 1 Living Room.

For Church Leaders

If you would like the links to all five of the Living Rooms to upload to your church website, facebook page or weekly email, just email me at torismit@gmail.com and I will forward them on to you right away.

May you be filled with hope this Advent as you anticipate the coming of Jesus.

Tori

How’s It Going? A Sunday School Leader Check-in

photo by Chris Montgomery, Unsplash

Back in September I hosted a number of Zoom meetings to talk about hybrid options for Sunday schools this fall. We had some great conversations about all of the possibilities, but perhaps even more, we enjoyed the opportunity to check-in and care for each other as we shared what we all were planning to do in this new context.

As one of these meetings finishing up a person who had been pretty quiet throughout the gathering asked, “Could we do this again? Maybe later this fall? Just to find out how we all are doing?”

What a great idea!

So, let’s do it.

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COVID-19 Updates for Churches in the City of Toronto and Beyond

I recently wrote the following letter to the churches of the Presbytery of West Toronto to encourage them to consider resuming Virtual Worship solely as we face a disturbing number of new cases of COVID-19 , and the prospect of increased restrictions within the city of Toronto.  

As much as the specifics of the letter apply to churches within the City of Toronto, I am also deeply aware that these concerns equally apply to Peel Region, as well as other regions of Ontario and other provinces in Canada, including Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Even though the language of this letter might be local, the issues are not. Thus I would invite you to use this letter as a resource for your session as you consider in-person worship in your own community. 

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Looking Forward to Christmas

Zac Cain, unsplash.com

In December of 2013, a week before Christmas, a major ice storm hit the Canada from Ontario to the Maritimes. This storm resulted in 27 deaths, loss of power to over a million residents and millions of dollars in damage. The strongest memory I have of that week was the anxiety over Christmas Eve services. Many churches cancelled altogether. Some, like ours, got power back just in the nick of time. Others chose to go ahead with candlelight services in coats and hats. For many of them, Christmas Eve 2013 was one of the most memorable ever experienced.

This Christmas, 2020 we face another storm, different in its scope but unique because we see it coming. We already know that this coming Christmas will be unlike any other in memory. The only question is how?

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An Incredible Opportunity to Attend APCE 2021 for Free

ARE YOUR CHURCHES BEFUDDLED BY COVID DISRUPTIONS?

LET US INSPIRE AND SUPPORT YOUR EDUCATORS AS THEY SERVE NOW AND ANTICIPATE CONGREGATIONAL LIFE AHEAD!

The Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE) hosts an annual educational event each year that is attended by hundreds of professional and lay Christian educators from across Canada and the United States. These events present a wonderful opportunity to hear the best researchers and practitioners in the field of educational ministry, experience transformative worship, and attend practical and cutting edge workshops.

Like so many significant events, the APCE 2021 event that was to be held in Chicago this February had to be cancelled in light of the pandemic. But, the APCE planning team also knows that we are all in the midst of one of the most challenging times our churches has experienced in this era. And APCE cares; they care deeply about how our educators might respond well in their approach to faith formation given all of the changes and issues our world presents today. And so, APCE has rejigged their 2021 theme and made their annual event virtual. With a cup of tea of tea and your computer you can attend APCE 2021 from the comfort of your home, and you can attend for FREE!!!!

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Five Interactive Advent Living Rooms for Families @ Home

What shall we do while we wait?

Advent is all about preparing for the coming of Jesus; preparing by doing things that help us get ready, and preparing in ways that are great fun! There are so many amazing stories to hear and fun things to do over these four special weeks.

I want to share with you a exciting collection of Advent activities you and your church can easily connect with over this Advent season; a collection of five cozily decorated living rooms that open up to wonderful world of videoed stories and music, family friendly devotions and outdoor adventures, tasty recipes and fun Christmas crafts.

These living rooms have been created for churches to request and then upload to their church website each week of Advent and on Christmas Eve.

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How Will We Tell the Christmas Story? A Hybrid Service of Lessons and Carols for a Children’s Pageant or Christmas Eve Service

photograph by Mick Haupt, unsplash.com

I’ve been getting lots of questions about how we will celebrate Christmas in our churches this year.

“Will our children be able to present their annual Christmas pageant, with their much-loved costumes and wonder-filled way of telling us the story?” 

and, 

“We will be able to gather on Christmas Eve, in candlelight, and lift our voices in praise as we light the Christ candle and welcome the Jesus into our world?”

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How to Make an Advent Wreath

As we think about Advent, we often think about waiting. We’re just hanging around. Waiting for something important that hasn’t quite happened yet. And, if we wait long enough, it will happen. And it will be great!

If we’re entirely honest with ourselves, we sometimes feel like Advent is season designed to fill time and space until we get to the real event – Christmas.

The Christian year begins four Sundays prior to Christmas Day. It’s seems a bit odd, why don’t we start with the main event? After all, Advent just sits there as a non-season kind of season, or at least a pre-season. It feels like the games that are played before the real season of baseball or hockey actually begins. They are nice enough, they just don’t count, so why have them at all?

Let me just say, “Advent counts!”

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On The Way to Bethlehem: An Advent Devotional Booklet to Download

I want to share with you this year’s Advent Devotional booklet entitled On the Way to Bethlehem.

Starting on Sunday, November 29, 2020 this simply laid out devotional guide will help you begin your journey to Bethlehem. Over the four weeks of Advent you will read wonder-filled stories from scripture that will have you walking with the prophet Isaiah, Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the Magi, until you finally reach Bethlehem. There, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day you will hear the story of the birth of Jesus and gather with those you have been walking with to witness this special gift of God.

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The Coming Tidal Wave of Pastoral Departures

by Laura Stephens-Reed, Clergy & Congregational Coach (www.laurastephensreed.com)

reprinted with the permission of the author

[Note: when I originally posted this piece on my blog, I realized that few ministers would feel free to share it themselves. If it resonates, I hope that judicatory leaders, laypeople, and others who support you might have passed it along on your behalf.]

There are many ways I could describe the past six months, but I’m going with “revealing.” The pandemic has clarified systemic issues related to a broken healthcare system, racial inequities, lack of leadership at almost every level (governmental and denominational), and inefficient infrastructure for responding to crises. Specifically, though, I am thinking about how all the shifts prompted by Covid-19 have uncovered how unsustainable ministry is for so many pastors in their current contexts.

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Re-opening, and Possibly Re-closing, Presbyterian Churches

by Fred Stewart, General Presbyter with the Presbytery of West Toronto

I have had the opportunity to speak to many of you about your reopening plans for your church buildings. Sessions have created a variety of strategies largely based on the different circumstances of their congregations.  A lot of planning and debate has accompanied these strategies. As a result, some congregations have already opened for worship with protocols in place. Some are planning on opening soon. Some are waiting for what they consider a safer time.

However, the last week and a bit have significantly changed the risk factors in many parts of Canada, especially in the neighbourhoods of some of our churches.

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The Election of Elders During Covid-19 Restrictions

The election of elders is an important aspect of our congregational life, and is one we don’t want to put on hold until we can return fully to our church buildings. As the pandemic has continued from weeks to months a number of people have asked me how they might undertake the election of elders in these times. It is helpful to know that the process of holding an election is relatively easy to adapt, however the actual act of ordination becomes a little more complicated.

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Setting Up a Google or Bitmoji Classroom

Tonight I will be presenting a workshop on how to use Google Classroom as a hybrid model for Sunday school delivery. As this is the website I use, I am uploading the following so I can demonstrate Google Classroom for the participants and also deliver a handout easily for them. Thus, this really isn’t an article, but instead a means of my making the material available for them. Thank you for your forgiveness if you receive an email from this article. I shall actually write an article on this topic next week, so come back then for the extra content. Blessings, Tori

Please Pass the Faith: How Grandparents Can Best Pass Their Faith on to Their Grandchildren

“My granddaughter loves going to church. We’re all there together; three generations sitting in the pew – It make me the happiest grandparent I can be. My kids are doing a great job, but I often wonder if it’s all up to them. What should I be doing to pass on my faith to my grandchildren?”

“My children no longer go to church, and don’t want to have anything to do it. I bring my grandchildren to Sunday school as often as I can and I tell them the stories of Jesus. I am so sad my grown children have walked away from the church and I don’t want to fail with my grandchildren.”

In my job serving as Regional Minister for Faith Formation I get asked a lot of questions by grandparents; grandparents who come alongside their adult children sharing their faith with their grandchildren, grandparents who rarely get to see their grandchildren, and grandparents who grieve their adult children’s leaving church and deeply desire that their grandchildren know Jesus. Regardless of circumstances, these grandparents all want to know how they can best pass their faith on to their grandchildren. It’s a wonderful question, and one I have a few answers for, for them and for you.

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New Limits on Gatherings for Ontario (Updated Sept. 19)

Greetings friends,

You may have already heard that the province of Ontario has rolled back gathering limits to ten people for indoor social gatherings and 25 people for outdoor social gatherings. The entire article regarding these changes can be found here: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/premier-ontario-cases-covid-sept19-1.5731049

We are writing to clarify that this does not apply to congregational worship. We have received an announcement from the Anglican Diocese of Toronto which clarifies this. It says: “It is important to note that the government announcement regarding unmonitored personal social gatherings does not apply to churches. Worship services will continue to be at 30% capacity.”  

We realize this is all a moving target these days, so please know that we will endeavour to pass on what we learn ASAP.

Blessings, JP and Tori

The Trouble With Technology

Last week I received an article from a colleague entitled The Coming Tidal Wave of Pastoral Departures by Laura Stephens-Reed. The article can be found here and I commend it to your reading: https://tinyurl.com/y66f5gea

There is much to learn in the article, but one paragraph in particular stood out:

“Prior to the pandemic, a significant number of my clergy coachees and colleagues were working under unrealistic expectations, whether those came from their congregations or from their own internal “shoulds.” And then, mid-Lent, they had to change the ways they did nearly everything – and fast. They became not just preachers but tech experts with all that entails: recording, editing, sound mixing, lighting, inviting people to and teaching them how to participate in and managing online meetings, exploring the most accessible social media platforms, and monitoring cyber security.”

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Three Hybrid Models for Faith Formation This Fall

Last week Robynne Howard, Director of the Cairn Family of Camps, and I hosted a Zoom training session to introduce three hybrid faith formation models your church may wish to consider for the fall as we continue to stay out of our physical church classrooms. If you missed joining us last week, or want to review what was said, I want to share with you the video from that training session along with some handouts and resources that might help your church as you determine how you will be connecting with children and young people this year.

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The WMS Synodical Zooms Their Way Through Their Annual Meeting!

“Greetings from the WMS Synodical of Central, Northeastern Ontario and Bermuda.”

These last six months have been a challenge to all of our churches as we’ve worked hard figuring out how to do ministry while staying safe, flattening the curve, and following social distancing protocols. As the proverb goes, ‘necessity is the mother of invention,’ and so our churches have been making use of some wonderful inventions during these days. For many of our church leaders ZOOM has presented the perfect platform for holding our numerous meetings, but comes with the work of learning how to use the technology itself. This can be a new challenge for anyone, but most especially if computers and computer programs are new for them.

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September’s Coming!

Have you figured out how you will be doing Sunday school and/or youth ministry with the children and youth of your church yet? 

If you are looking for a hybrid model for faith formation with the younger members of your church family that will work outside of an in-person classroom setting, join us on Tuesday, September 1 at 10:30 ET for a one hour Zoom gathering and hear about some great possibilities for at-home and online education.

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New Updates on Curriculum Resources for Hybrid Sunday Schools this Fall

A few weeks ago I wrote an article that outlined how Sunday school curriculum publishers were striving to support our churches through the production of resources to help us shift to hybrid models for teaching Sunday school this fall. Each have been busy writing new curricula and/or providing supplements to their existing offerings to assist us in making the transition to teaching outside of a classroom setting smoother and better for our teachers, participants and parents.

You can find that original article here: https://www.cnob.org/?p=1719#more-1719.

Please revisit it for an overview of the materials each will be providing this fall, especially if the curriculum your church uses is not mentioned in the following article. Your church’s curriculum may only be highlighted in the previous article because nothing has changed since July 22, 2020.

This article has been written to provide new or additional information that has been released since I last wrote on the topic.

So, let’s see what’s new.

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More Than Worship: Re-Starting Other On-Site Church Activities

Almost all of the Province of Ontario has now moved to stage three of reopening. Unfortunately, while there is a great deal of information available for businesses, there is much less information available for worshipping communities. This article is an attempt to synthesize what we do know from the documents that are available to us.  

In stage three, indoor gatherings are now permitted. Places of worship are not explicitly named, but, convention centres, libraries and other public places are, making me believe that churches can carefully reopen to other non-worship activities under these current rules. This could include congregational activities, committee meetings, bible studies and other gatherings, as well as church rentals.

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Cairn Family of Camps Has Gone Virtual

Week 1: Campers start each day in ‘cabin groups’ with their two counsellors, which promotes connection through small group discussion and activities.

We’re at the point of the year where our camp staff regularly exclaim “I can’t believe we’re almost already half-way through the summer!” 

Just a few months ago within the Cairn Family of Camps, we were worried that campers and staff would lose the opportunity to build meaningful relationships, engage in camp programs, and be part of the faith community we know and love without camp this summer.

But we found a way.

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InterGenerate AUS: Enjoy These Great Podcasts on Intergenerational Ministry

InterGenerate, is that even a word? 

Not according to the Oxford dictionary, but in faith formation circles it’s filled with meaning and implication for our congregations.

Over the past couple of decades ‘intergenerational’ has become the buzz word circulating among church educators and worship leaders. While programmes designed for age groups to meet separately for learning and faith formation have their benefits, a steady diet of graded classrooms, youth group events and mission trips, and adult focused worship and study groups has taken a toll on our church families. By revisiting of the practices of the early church, re-reading the work of foundational developmental theorists, and paying attention to more recent generational theory studies, the church has been prompted to reconsider its dependance on the ‘age and stage’ ministry that has dominated the past century. New research has revealed to the church that we do better when we’re together. People of every age are more able to grow and mature in their faith, care for one another and become the body Christ spoke of when our churches place a priority on being intentional intergenerational communities of faith.

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Planning for Online Sunday School for This Fall – Curriculum Updates

What will we teach this fall?

For many of our churches thinking creatively about how and what our Sunday schools will be teaching this fall as we go online, over Zoom, and/or become parent-led is a huge and overwhelming concern.

As each of us begins to look at the curriculum we’re already using, or perhaps wonders if there is another one we ought to consider, everyone can be assured that all of the mainline, Protestant and Reformed curricula that many of our churches use now have got our backs. Each publishing house has been working hard to develop resources specific to help you adapt their existing lesson plans for new delivery platforms and circumstances. Some have even developed new curriculum resources specific for these days that are shortened and easy for parents to use at home with little preparation and materials needed.

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Leadership During COVID – Pruning for Growth

Recently the Ontario government gave churches permission to reopen for worship. I have not tried to keep a list of those congregations who have reopened, but it seems that the majority are content to remain closed at least until September. At least one congregation that I know of has already determined that they won’t open until December 1, 2020 at the earliest.

Likewise, most congregants seem to be in no rush to re-enter their buildings. This is particularly true of older and younger generations. Thus, it seems that many of us will be worshipping remotely for the foreseeable future.

It appears to me that most of us have been focussing on the resumption of worship, however, as we do begin to think about re-entering our buildings I would like to consider some other aspects of congregational life and leadership.

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Living in An Ice Age

It’s 34°C in Toronto today, with a humidex reading of 41°C (that’s 93° and 105° for those who live in Fahrenheit locales). It’s been steadily hot and dry for the past week with no relief in sight, so it seems a little odd that I want to talk about an ice age today. But, it has been proposed, an ice age is coming.

Prompted by recent articles I’ve read, along with conversations I’ve been having with other church educators, I want to spend a bit of time in this article considering what we’ll be doing this fall in the area faith formation. This spring we were challenged by the initial weeks and months of the Covid-19 pandemic. We rose to the challenge as we accommodated children and youth in online worship, ‘Zoomed’ Sunday schools, bible studies, and coffee hours. We worked really hard to keep relationships our greatest priority in the face of physical distancing. We revised and re-wrote VBS curriculum, dropped off bible storybooks to homes for families to read together, and circulated a daily family examen as a great way to grow faith at home over these summer months.

While all of these adaptive approaches have been welcomed and celebrated in our churches, we are still left with the question, “What about the fall?” It sits there on the horizon and, as many are suggesting, our continuing approach to faith formation will be very different for many more months to come.

So, how do we do educational ministry in an ice age?

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When and How Will Your Church Re-Open? (Updated – June 10, 2020)

This week, the Ontario government moved to Phase 2 of re-opening the province in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. On June 12, 2020 additional businesses and services are allowed to re-open with appropriate social distancing protocols in place. This re-opening will be phased in with areas outside the GTA and the Greater Hamilton area opening first. The date for re-opening the GTA and Greater Hamilton areas has not yet been determined.  

However, it appears that places of worship throughout in the province will be able to open this weekend provided that the buildings are filled to no more than 30% of capacity and with physical distancing protocols in place.

Read more

Zoom ‘Teach and Talk’ – Three Simple Faith Formation Practices for Families This Summer

As our season shifts from a busy school year to quieter summer months, our families turn to the church for fresh ideas and enjoyable activities that will help them learn and practice their faith at home.

What will we say?

Find some helpful answers by joining this upcoming Zoom ‘Teach and Talk’ on June 17, 2020. 

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“Put On Your Oxygen Mask First”: Self-Care During a Pandemic

“Put on your own oxygen mask first.”

If you have ever travelled on an airplane you know the root of this phrase. On an airplane it means that in an emergency you can’t physically care for others if you don’t care for yourself first.

In March I first addressed the issue of self-care, assuming we would be at this COVID thing for two or three weeks; Easter at the latest. Here we are, week twelve, having celebrated Maundy Thursday,  Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost and now Trinity Sunday all under social distancing. Tori’s and my supervisory committee have told us that we aren’t to travel until at least the end of September and I am mentally preparing for the fact that many of us will not be back into our churches until 2021 at the earliest and even then, worship will be dramatically different than it was.

So what does this all mean?

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Session Resource on Re-Opening Church Buildings

We have been physically apart from our church families for two-and-a-half months now and we are excited that our government and health officials are beginning to consider how and when our communities might re-open down the road. In light of this, many of our sessions are beginning to wonder what re-opening their church building might look like. How will worship need to be changed to ensure that compassionate concern for the health of all of our members is ensured? Should nurseries and Sunday schools start back up right away? Can smaller groups meet in the meantime before our whole community of faith is allowed to gather together in our church building? These are all great questions.

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A Good News Story to Share

Sewing machines and knitting needles have been working overtime in Elmvale, Ontario. The members of the church’s Women’s Missionary Society and the Elmvale Craft Group have been working faithfully during this pandemic to create hundreds of much-needed items for their local hospital, for those experiencing homelessness, and for many others whose lives have been affected dramatically in Canada, the Dominican Republic and Honduras these last few months.

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Leadership in a Time of Great Change: A Call To Lead

Over the past fourteen years as Regional Minister for Congregational Health, the workshop I have most often been asked to present is entitled, ‘Eldership as Spiritual Leadership’. In this workshop I encourage elders (ruling and teaching) to embrace their calling as spiritual and physical leaders of their communities of faith. This challenge is not always easily received.

In order for the call to leadership to make sense, we need to understand what leadership is. An easy way to understand leadership is to contrast it with management. Management guru, Peter Drucker, famously said,

Management is doing things right; Leadership is doing the right thing.”

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Applying Leading With Care to Zoom Meetings for Children and Youth

“All our kids want to get together over Zoom.”

“Well, why not? It’ll be great!”

As I’ve been chatting with Sunday school teachers and youth leaders, I keep hearing that our churches’ kids miss seeing each other every week in worship, in Sunday school, and in youth group.

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Some Thoughts on the Inclusion of Children and Youth in Online Worship

As our churches have made the transition to new ways of doing worship through online platforms, I wondered how our families with children were doing. Knowing that all of our churches are working hard to keep everyone engaged in worship and the life of the congregation, I thought I would ask some parents how it was going and what they would say are the best practices they have experienced that assist their children and teens in feeling connected in worship, and what they might recommend to their worship leaders to consider as they plan for worship services that are more inclusive of all ages.

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Pinwheels for Pentecost

As we move through Eastertide, we begin to anticipate Pentecost as the amazing conclusion to this season. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit was breathed into the disciples and they launched themselves out of the room they were closed up in and into the streets of Jerusalem, filled with energy and a story to tell. On fire (not literally), they spoke to those crowded in the marketplaces of Jerusalem in every language of the world, and all the people understood them. And what they heard from the disciples was the story of Jesus; his life, his death and his resurrection. And the Spirit didn’t stop with the disciples, the breath of God blew through all of those who listened and believed that day, just as the Holy Spirit has continued to blow through the church in every age and in every place since then. Pentecost is a great day in the church: it’s our birthday – so let’s celebrate!

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