Category Archives: Christian Education Archive

2016 Family Advent Devotional Booklet

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Advent is a perfect time to come together as a family daily and prepare for the coming of Christ. In the rush and worry of Christmas, we often forget to hear and see what God is doing all around us. Pausing, hearing anew the prophesies and stories of watchful waiting remind us what exactly it is we are waiting for. Sharing our thoughts, prayers, and joys with one another helps us all grow in faith and faithfulness together.

Attached is a easy to use advent devotional booklet written particularly for families with children. Each day, following the lectionary texts, families are invited to pause, pray, read scripture, and discuss together a variety of themes over the four weeks of Advent. Each week there are additional songs, storybooks and activities that draw families in to the traditional themes of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love as they move towards the day of Jesus’ birth.

The file attached has been laid out as a document for assembling as a booklet. Because of this when you open the file you will see that it doesn’t make a lot of sense if you read it as is – it is only when it is assembled as a booklet that it ‘reads’ logically. If you only want only one copy of the booklet, print out the file as a double-sided, short-side, 5 page document, and then fold it into a devotional booklet and staple on the fold (much like a bulletin looks). Or, if you want multiple copies of the booklet for distribution to your congregation, print it out as a single-sided set of 10 pages and then photocopy these using the double-sided setting on your photocopier, fold into a booklet and staple down the middle seam. If you are printing the file single-sided for photocopying you will see that the second page is blank. This page needs to stay in your set as it is the blank inside cover page and if it is removed all of the other pages go out of order.

If there is a problem please don’t hesitate to email or call me for some help (647-348-0879,

Enjoy this very special time together as you grow in knowledge and faith as you anticipate this great coming of Christ into our lives and our world.

  Click here for the Advent Devotional Booklet file

A Bibliography of Children’s Christmas Books


The following is a list of beautifully written and wonderfully illustrated children’s picture books that tell the story of the birth of Jesus and unwrap some of the major themes of the Advent and Christmas season. Each of these books are suitable for reading during worship, Sunday school, at home or as a beautiful gift for a child. I have sorted the books under headings that might help you think about which books would work for your church or family.

Most of these books are readily available at Chapters/Indigo or other bookstores with good children’s book sections, and are also available for download on Kindle/Kobo.


If your church collects warm mittens and hats during this season

Mittens to Share by Emil Sher.
A child playing outside in the snow loses her mittens and digs through the mitten box filled with all sorts of shapes and sizes of mittens and is able to go back outside to play in the snow


Advent 1 – Year A – Waiting and Preparing for Jesus to Come

Who Is Coming To Our House by Joseph Slate.
All of the animals in the stable prepare a cozy welcome for baby Jesus

Waiting by Kevin Henkes.
Each of the toys on the nursery room window are waiting for something. Then a cat with patches joins them on the window ledge. She didn’t seem to be waiting for anything, until one day the thing she was waiting for is revealed.

The Man With the Violin by Kathy Stinson
This true story of musician Joshua Bell takes place when a little boy witnesses Joshua playing his violin in a Washington subway station. No one notices the musician except the little boy who is filled with the music he hears and dances with delight. Watchfulness at what is being displayed around us reminds us of our need to wait with our eyes and ears open.


Advent 2 – Year A – Peaceable Kingdom and Welcoming Others

Room for Little One: A Christmas Tale by Martin Waddell.
On a cold winter’s night one by one animals make their way to the warm stable and make room for each other, until all of them make room for Mary and Joseph and their baby. Take note of each of the animals and wonder how each animal was able to welcome another who they would normally not be with.

God’s Dream by Archbishop Desmond Tutu
This story opens with children wondering what God dreams about. The story tells of God’s dream of people getting along even when they are different. Sometimes we don’t get along, but even then God dreams that we will not get angry or hurt one another. The children then wonder how God’s dream can come true. If you are reading this in worship you may want to read a limited number of pages from the book to keep within time limits.

Last Stop On Market Street by Matt de la Pena.
As CJ and his Nana ride the bus after church, going across town to volunteer in a soup kitchen, CJ wonders why they have to go by the bus. Nana reveals to CJ the beauty of all of the people on their bus as each person shares with the others their music, compliments, and experiences. Through the bus ride and his time at the soup kitchen CJ discovers how his Nana sees things differently.


Advent 3 – Year A – Joy and Joy Shared With Others

Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo.
This beautiful book shares the story of a little girl who watches an organ grinder and his monkey out in the cold of the city. She wants to invite the man in, but is discouraged by her mother. She invites the man to her church Christmas play, and when he arrives she bursts out her line of great joy.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathon Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski.
A gloomy wood carver arrives in the town and is approached by a woman and her son to have him carve a nativity set that was lost some years ago. Through a number of visits and kindnesses the man becomes friendly and teaches the boy how to carve as the boy teaches the man about his most loved figures in the nativity.

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett.
A little girl discovers a box full of yarn of every colour. As she knits sweaters and hats and mittens for everyone, every creature and even the buildings of her village the town brightens with her work. The box never runs out of wool until it is stolen by an archduke who wants it all for himself. He opens the box to find it empty, but when the box returns to the little girl the knitting carries on.

The Night Gardener by the Jan Brothers
In the darkness of the night the trees of the town are slowly being transformed into beautiful shapes by someone unknown. William must discover who is doing all of this. After waiting all night William spots the night gardener and is invited to share in the work that brings joy to the town.


Advent 4 – Year A – Love Shared

Beautiful Hands by Kathryn Otoshi.
Vibrantly painted handprints come together to display pictures of all of the wonderful things hands can do to share love with the world. Simply told and colourfully illustrated this book is a great conversation starter for how we display our love with the world.

Plant a Kiss by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.
In this simple book a little girl plants a kiss, and then tends and waters it day and night and waits for it to bloom. Her friends come to see it as it blossoms, but caution her against sharing it because of it’s rare nature. She ignores their words and spreads her love with everyone. All this from one simple kiss!

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts.
Jeremy wants the black high tops with two white strips, but hi Grandma reminds him what he really needs is boots for the winter. Everyone else has them, well almost everyone. In the end he gets the boots, but finds the high tops in the thrift shop for only $2.50 and buys them with his own money. Just because they are too small doesn’t matter – he’ll stretch them. But his friend Antonio needs shoes, and his feet are smaller, and so Jermey gives his precious high tops to his friend.


Christmas Day, Epiphany, and the Flight to Egypt

The Friendly Beasts: An Old English Christmas Carol by Tomie dePaola.
Through strong images and words of the this Christmas melody the story of the birth of the baby is retold.

One Wintry Night by Ruth Bell Graham
Caught in a snow storm in the mountains of North Carolina, Zeb Morris is taken in by a woman to wait out the weather. Sitting down in front of the fire Zeb’s host retells the story of Christmas beginning with creation, sharing highlights of the Noah’s Ark, Moses and God’s chosen people, Samuel, David, and the prophets. Mary and Joseph are both visited by the angel and together they travel to Bethlehem where Jesus is born. The book concludes with the crucifixion and the resurrection as Zeb hears how this little baby could save the world. The artwork in this longer, chapter book is absolutely incredible and a page or two could be lifted from book to tell just a piece of the story while showing the art to draw listeners in.

To Whom the Angel Spoke: A Story of the Christmas by Terry Kay.
In this story of three very different shepherds with very different feelings, a voice interrupts their evening to tell them of the birth of Jesus. Unifying belief brings them together to celebrate the thing they all believe together.

A Shepherds Gift by Mary Calhoun
Matthew sets out to find his lost sheep and is lead to the stable with a gentle couple and their new baby.

The Grumpy Shepherd by Paddy Devon.
Joram is a habitual grouch until he is faced with the words of an angel telling the shepherds about the birth of Jesus. His sadness and loneliness are changed to love and hope when he meets Jesus.

Jesus, the Word by Mark Francisco Bozzuti-Jones.
This beautifully written and illustrated book retells John’s prologue (John 1:1-4, 14) and encourages the contemplation of the question, “Who is Jesus?”

Refuge by Anne Booth.
This gentle retelling of the nativity focus’ particularly on the flight to Egypt with the search for finding kindness in the strange places and among the people they will meet. The dream of Joseph to go is shared in the story, but the particular reason for going to a new land is not revealed – they just need to go and found refuge in the welcome of Egypt.

Click here for a printable file of this bibliography


Dear Friends,

Please find attached a poster for the upcoming Annual Meeting of the Synod of Central, Northeastern Ontario and Bermuda. This event is happening on Saturday, November 5, 2016 at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Brampton.

Three years ago the executive of the synod made a shift in the focus of the annual synod meeting to include an extended opportunity for everyone to enjoy and benefit from a more educational and worshipful event. While attendance at the synod meeting is still by commissioners representing each presbytery, the synod executive has added in a plenary speaker, workshops and a full worship service to the day and have invited anyone interested to come and enjoy.

This year we are delighted to have Dr. Anna Carter Florence from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia join us and speak about excellence in worship and preaching. Her topic of the day comes from a book she is presently writing. We are delighted we will have the opportunity to not only hear her speak on her area of knowledge, but also have her preach during our closing worship service.

Some have questions about how the day will unfold. In the morning synod commissioners will conduct their business meeting in the sanctuary, while the WMS Synodical executive will conduct a business meeting in another room, while a workshop led by Rev. Glynis Williams, of International Ministries, will take place in a third space for everyone else. Following lunch everyone will come together to enjoy the Dr. Florence’s plenary, one workshop of their choice, and closing worship with Dr. Florence. All participants, other than synod commissioners, can choose to attend for the full day, join us for lunch and the afternoon activities, or just come for the afternoon activities. Commissioners are expected to attend the morning business meeting and are invite to stay for the day.

Please stress that all participants need to register for this event and indicate if they intend join us for lunch.

It is my hope that you will circulate this poster throughout your presbytery so that as many as possible can benefit from this wonderful opportunity to come together, catch up, and participate together in great learning and worship.

Thank you, Tori


Milestones: Back-To-School

Back to school photo


As parents do pirouettes in the aisles of the local Staples singing, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” we recognize that the last few days of the summer are now upon us and soon the ‘real’ first day of the new year is about to occur. It’s ‘Back to School’ time in Canada, and students, parents and teachers are all getting ready for this event.

In the homes of our church families many annual rituals are now taking place; parents are out shopping with their kids, hunting for outfits that will fit and impress, backpacks are being dug through to establish what needs to be replaced, and what will do, and lunch box worthy foods are being assembled to ensure students are energized for their upcoming days of school. At home, children are beginning to go to bed a little earlier each evening to become acclimatized to the demands of an early morning rush to get everyone out the door on time for school buses and walks to school. Teachers are putting together lesson plans and decorating classrooms to be welcoming and educational.

Some students are looking forward to this brand new school year, while others may be worrying about what this year might bring. Will they like their new teacher(s)? Will their teacher(s) like them? Will they do well, or will the challenge of new learning feel like a constant up uphill battle? Will they get on the school team this year, or will they face disappointment. Will some of their very best friends be in their class(es), or will that person who bugged them every day be sitting in the desk next to them. For most students the first day of school is a complex mix of all of the above.

Where is the church in all of these preparations, celebrations, and anxious anticipation? As a church we are often great at marking significant religious events in people’s lives, but we sometimes forget to also offer rituals for the other significant events or milestones in the lives of our people. Back-to-School is a great opportunity for the church to mark this significant event in the lives of our children and youth and anchor this occasion in the activity of God. Rituals surrounding the special moments of our lives remind us of who we are and what God has done in our lives. As we celebrate this story with our families we place it into God’s story and our children hear that this aspect of their lives is important to God and to us. We remind our children that God goes with them as they return to school and that the church values and cares for them as they enter into this new year. Adults of the church are also reminded to care for the children and youth of the church and to be present in all of the events of their lives.

So what can we do to mark this great milestone. We begin in community worship the first Sunday after Labour Day weekend and acknowledge this event in our corporate prayers, stories, and preaching. Most importantly we must pray with and for our students as they head off to school. We need to give thanks for God’s activity in all of the events of the lives of our students and particularly for God’s care and presence as our children head off to school. Pray for growing wisdom, safe places, anxieties relieved, opportunities to care for others, fun and joy in learning vocation and for the teachers that will guide, teach and mentor our students. A file with a few samples of a few litanies for this Sunday are attached below.

In addition to prayer, many churches are beginning to add a ‘Blessing of the Backpacks’ ritual on this Sunday. Students (and even teachers) are invited to bring their packed backpacks to worship on the first Sunday of the school year and come forward to be blessed along with their backpacks. A children’s message that helps to anchor their activity in school as their vocation and remind them that God is present with them in all of the aspects of their lives helps children to see themselves as children of God in all things and to bring their faith and faithful activity to school with them. As they and their backpacks are blessed, consider also giving each child a small token reminder of this day as a gift from the church. A button or key ring that has a symbol of God’s love on it could be attached on the outside or inside of their backpack as a constant reminder that they are loved by God and their church community. A link to a blog posting on the backpack blessings can be found at the end of this article.

In addition to blessing the backpacks of the students of the church, consider also gathering good quality new school supplies and backpacks to be given to children who are unable to have these new and much-needed items as they return to school as well. These packed bags could be given to a local shelter that welcomes children or even a nearby school or teacher from your congregation to distribute as needed.

As you introduce this new ritual to your September calendar take note of what was welcomed by church and what might be improved upon for next year. Begin to think of what you might do next year, remembering that while our rituals may be tweaked each year the repetition of ritual itself is significant. Such rituals have ‘staying power’ and shape us and our experience of God’s presence in our lives.

Click here for Back-To-School Litanies

Link to Litany of the Backpacks

Some additional thoughts and ideas for Back-To-School


Getting Up-To-Date With Pokemon Go


In just a few short weeks the world has become obsessed with the recently released, interactive game Pokemon Go. This free app that you can download on your iPhone or Android is reviving the huge success of the Pokemon cards, game, and TV show of a generation ago. This new application of the game is getting players out of their chairs and walking the streets of their town or city trying to ‘catch ‘em all’. It is literally the talk of the town this summer!

Pokemon Go is a location-based augmented reality mobile game that has kids and adults alike throwing Poke Balls at Pokemon that pop up on the screen of their mobile phones as they walk around their neighbourhood, and then training and engaging in battles at PokeStops and Gyms. You may not have played the game, but you may have recently discovered that your church has been identified as a Pokemon Gym, and you now have kids and adults alike hanging around your church yard with their faces focused on their phones. What’s a church to do?

The first step is to get educated. Find out what this game is about and what your church has to do with it. If you’re not already playing, read a few of the articles linked below, and/or download the app and try the game out for yourself. Get out and chat with others you meet on the way and ask why they’re playing and what they like about the game. Learn a few of the terms and names of the characters and what the point of the game is.

Second, begin to think of ways your church can respond well to the occasional players that you find on your church property training at what they see as a Pokemon Gym. Through these unexpected visits, congregations have been given a fortuitous opportunity to reveal themselves positively to those in their community who might otherwise never know what a church community is. While I suspect that this new phenomenon is not going to bring huge numbers to your church looking to become members, I do believe that in these chance events we form lasting memories and attitudes shaped by our welcome and treatment of all people; we are defined in these telling moments. To help you consider ways of making these moments great again read a few of the links attached.

Have fun this summer, and I hope you ‘catch ‘em all’!

Pokemon: What Parents Need to Know

Pokemon: How The Church Of England Aims to Catch ‘Em All

Pokemon: Top Ten Do’s and Don’ts When Your Church is a PokeStop

Families and Screen Time




“Make Room” for a wonderful, new children’s Lent and Easter book



Presbyterian minister and mother, Laura Alary, has gifted the church once again with a wonder-filled, story-resource for families. Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter invites children and their parents to consider together the story of the life of Jesus during the season of Lent, and make room in their homes and hearts to welcome God in as they prepare for Easter.

From her perspective as a mother, Laura writes, “When my children were very young I always looked forward to the changing seasons. Inside and outside the church, the turning of the circle brought new colours and sights and smells – plenty of opportunity to explore and create. My little library of activity books kept us busy. But when it came to Lent and Easter I was never satisfied. The kids and I ironed grated crayons on to waxed paper to make stained glass crosses; we made purple paper chains, and hot crossed buns; we even blended and burned our own incense. But something was missing. Although we had plenty to do, we lacked a framework – something to hold the pieces together in a meaningful pattern. We were missing the BIG picture – a narrative which held the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as an integrated whole, and which invited children to become a part of the story.”

Make Room is written for children using a story format that gently weaves episodes from the life and ministry of Jesus with reflections on Lenten practices from the point of view of children. The rituals and practices revealed within its pages are simple ones for families to complete: cleaning our rooms; eating plain meals like bread and soup; giving up snacks and using saved money to help someone in need. They are all variations on the traditional Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and they all centre around the theme of emptying out to make space. Woven together the practices find their meaning in the stories of Jesus as these events are brought together to become a part of the big picture of what God is doing in the world – through Jesus, and through those that follow him.

Please consider buying this resource for your own family this Lent and Easter, and also placing an extra copy in your church library for other families to discover for their homes.

Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter can be purchased from Paraclete Press at, or through




Advent Intergenerational Event 2015 – Year ‘C’


The beginning of Advent is a wonderful time to gather the whole church family together to learn and celebrate together the beginning of a brand new church year and begin to anticipate and prepare for the coming of Jesus at Christmas.

Intentional inter-generational events are among the best activities a church can have to help all of our members grow in faith and in faithful relationships across all ages. When we share our rich stories of faith with each other we help our younger members learn from those they look up to and provide opportunities for our older members to experience anew the wonder and awe of our children. Together we build meaningful cross-generational relationships that lead to life-long faith formation.

This Intergenerational Event has been designed to not only provide and opportunity for faith sharing and learning, but also to provide resources for all of our families to continue to learn and worship together at home through the ritual of lighting an advent candle each day of advent and doing age-appropriate family devotions together. Together the congregation will share in a meal, learn about the history and practice of advent, get to know each other a little more, make an family advent wreath to take home, be supplied with an advent devotional booklet, and practice the ritual of lighting the wreath, reading and praying as a family at the event so they’re ready to carry it on day-by-day as a family when they get home.

This event is designed to happen on the first Sunday of Advent following worship or in the evening, or on a weeknight during the week before Advent. Here’s what your Advent Event could look like:

Share with a Meal (45 minutes) A potluck meal makes it easy for everyone. You may wish to ask families to bring a seasonal family favorite. Is there a food they always eat when they decorate the tree? wrap presents? have extended family members over? You may wish to put on some hot apple cider or hot chocolate for everyone to enjoy the scents of the season. Whatever works for you church with the emphasis on easy and enjoyable.

Invite families to sit together at this meal, but make sure a broad cross-section of ages are represented at each dining table. Decorate the tables festively and place some discussion cards on each table with fun Christmas questions such as: What is your favorite Christmas carol? What was the best Christmas gift you ever received and why? What is your favorite Christmas cookie and who makes it? Who’s coming for Christmas this year? What do like to eat at Christmas? Encourage tables to get to know each other a little more through these questions and chat about Christmas’ past and the joy each has brought.

Intro to Advent (10 – 20 minutes depending on the age of the group) While everyone is still at their tables take some time to introduce the theme of Advent to the group. Rather than delivering a lecture on Advent you might want to pick some of the more interesting points about Advent an print one point per piece of construction paper, cut each piece of construction paper into a 6 – 8 piece jigsaw puzzle, and place each jigsaw puzzle into an individual envelope. Distribute the envelopes of puzzles to the table groups and have them assemble their puzzles to discover exciting things about Advent for themselves. Have each group share what they have learned with the whole group.

Here are some interesting things to know about Advent:

  • Advent is the beginning of the church year
  • Advent means ‘to come’
  • Advent begins four Sundays prior to Christmas
  • During Advent we ready ourselves for the birth of Christ, the coming of Christ into our lives, and for the return of Christ
  • Advent is season of expectation, anticipation, preparation
  • Advent was originally a season of penitence and has become a season of joy and celebration in modern times
  • The colour of Advent is either purple or blue, depending on the congregation’s choice
  • The bible is filled with references to Christ as the light of the world. We light Advent candles to remind us that Christ is coming as light and as the number of lit candles increases as we get closer to Christmas we see that the light is growing brighter week by week
  • The evergreens of the advent wreath represent life and growth
  • The circle of the Advent wreath have no beginning and no end, as Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega; the beginning and the end
  • The four coloured candles of the Advent wreath represent the themes of Hope, Peace, Joy (sometimes represented by the colour pink) and Love.

Make An Advent Wreath (30 minutes) Each household should make an Advent wreath together to take home with them. The instructions for a beautiful and easy, fresh Advent wreath are included in this file. If there are  families who might want to make more than one wreath, they might make additional wreathes for shut-ins.

Worship Together (15 minutes) As families begin to complete their wreaths gather the whole group together and distribute the Advent devotional booklets included in this file. Explain that Advent is a wonderful time to begin a new family tradition together and that lighting the advent candles and reading scripture/stories together is a wonderful ritual to bring into their homes. As a whole group complete the first day of Advent devotions as it is written in the devotion booklet. You may wish to include a couple of Advent hymns to you worship.

Thank the families for attending and remind them to repeat the devotion that evening and continue through their devotional booklets at a consistent time each day.

Click here for instructions on making an Advent wreath

Click here for a pdf file of the Advent Devotional Booklet for 2015, Year ‘C’

When you open this file it will appear out-of-order. The file has been saved for you to print and then photocopy back-to-back, assemble, and then fold and staple as a booklet down the middle. You can also also print the booklet 2-sided, fold and staple as a booklet down the middle.

Introducing The CNOB Vacation Bible School Resource Lending Library

Children holding a heart shape

I am grateful to Knox Presbyterian Church in Guelph for cleaning out their attic and passing on to me a variety of VBS resource kits that they’ve used over the years. With this kind gift I am now able to begin a small but mighty VBS resource lending library for churches to save a bit of money while hosting a great Vacation Bible School at their church or in their community. If you wish to use one of these resource kits you are welcome to do so, knowing that each of them comes from a past season and therefore comes ‘as is’, without the possibility of ordering publisher pre-packaged craft kits, give-aways and student booklets. Many of our churches already avoid these ‘extra’ kinds of purchases already. Please know that every resource kit in the library already includes excellent directions for crafts and lots of activities making the packaged craft kits, give-aways and student booklets often redundant. So with just the VBS introductory kit from the lending library you should be good to go.

You will find a list of the available resources linked at the end of this blog post. With each listed VBS resource kit you will also see noted the overall theme of the curriculum, daily themes with accompanying scripture references, and details of every item the kit contains. I hope this will help you in making a resource selection suitable for your church.

If you would like to borrow a resource from the library to use for your Vacation Bible School, Professional Development Day programming, or for mid-year school break activities please contact me to find out if your resource of choice is available for the time you require it. Once I have received the request I will confirm the kit can be loaned to you and I will then try and use the Presbyterian people connections we share to pass the resource on to you as soon as possible while also trying to avoid shipping costs (I have no budget for shipping). You are welcome to keep and use the materials for as long as you need to prepare for and carry out your event, but please do not lose or destroy any of the materials you receive so that they might be used again and again by other churches down the road.

Once you’re done with the materials please contact me and once again we’ll try and get them back to the synod office in Toronto through the people we together know who might be travelling in this direction or as I travel just by your door as I tour the synod.

Finally, if you are busy cleaning out your church attic and are wondering what you could do with those very useable VBS kits you have taking up space at your place, please know that they could be used helping other churches this summer and beyond. If you’d like to donate them (even if they are duplicates to ones I already have) thank you and please let me know and I will figure out a way of picking them up from you and getting them into the Resource Lending Library. I am also hoping to build up a library of intergenerational materials as well, so feel free to keep that on your radar and pass things along when you’re done with them.

Thank you to Knox, Guelph for providing the beginnings of this very helpful ministry to the churches of our synod. Now let’s welcome the children for some exciting ministry opportunities throughout the synod.

Blessings, Tori Smit, Regional Minister for Faith Formation, Synod of Central, Northeastern Ontario and Bermuda

To borrow a kit please contact me at or call 647-348-0879

Click here to view the VBS Lending Library Resource List