Category Archives: Christian Education Archive
The Presbyterial of Kingston met recently and considered the theme “Be Strong – Be Courageous” in mission and in bible study. The following is a short study on the passage from which the presbyterial found their theme. Take some time to reflect on the passage itself. What words and phrases leap off of the page for you? What questions do you have about the circumstances of Joshua’s call to lead the people of Israel into the promised land? What are the challenges ahead of him? What will be the key to his success?
Then go ahead and read the brief commentary following the passage and consider the questions that follow.
You will then be invited to pray using one or more of the prayer practices included. Each practice invites us into contemplation and consideration of the our own need for strength and courage and the needs of those around us and throughout the world.
Spiritual practices and disciplines have gained a lot of attention in the mainline church over these last few years. Many are rediscovering the spiritual practices of an earlier church and in testing out these practices people are discovering through the ritual of disciplined prayer, reading of scripture and meditation they are able to experience God in new and meaning-filled ways. In this workshop/ experience we will go back further than the early or medieval Christian Church and rediscover some of the spiritual practices of our Jewish heritage.
Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren F. Winner has inspired this exploration of Jewish spiritual practices. Following her conversion to Christianity from Orthodox Judaism, Winner found herself missing the richness of the traditional spiritual practices of her Jewish heritage. She wrote Mudhouse Sabbath to reconsider these meaning-filled practices through a Christian lens inviting readers to transform the way the view the world and God. Practices of Sabbath Keeping, Hospitality, Mourning, and Fasting are among the eleven practices explored in her book.
In this workshop I have selected five of the spiritual practices she considers in her book. Each practice can be explored through a learning centre as an individual or as a group. Each spiritual practice is considered through handouts outlining background information, questions for reflection and/or discussion, and detailed instructions for an activity which has been designed to invite participants to ‘test out’ the practice before leaving the centre and moving on to consider another practice. Participants can explore as many or as few practices as they wish, taking all the time they need to experience the practice as fully as needed to repeat it at home. Multiple copies of the files can be photocopied for participants to take them home and reinforce the practice as they wish.
You will find five individual attachments included, one per centre. In each attachment you will find a supply list for the centre, a sheet of condensed background information, a sheet of questions for individuals to reflect upon or the group to discuss, and instructions for the activity(ies) that go with that practice. Choose to use all the centres,or explore one each time you gather.
Thank you to Rev. Stephen Dunkin of Graceview Presbyterian Church in Toronto for sharing this Good Friday service of worship. Through the stories of some of the people who were there we gain a fresh perspective on the thoughts and feelings of those who loved and those who witnessed the events of the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. Please feel free to use and/or adapt this script to your congregations setting and needs.
The special seasons of preparation for the church offer congregations the opportunity to support families in the developing and maintaining of good practices for faithful devotion as families at home. Parents are very clear that they believe that they ought to be the primary teachers of faith to their children, but often struggle with how they might do that. Parents want to share their faith with their children, but they often simply don’t know how to do it. Research also affirms that children learn faith best from their parents. So, the best thing that the church can do for our children is support and resource their parents in the ways and means of passing on their faith with those they love so much.
Here is one resource that congregations can give to families to help them do just that.
What follows is a Lenten and Easter Family Devotional Booklet that is written for families to use daily; sharing scripture, prayers, conversation and activities while also sharing their family meal. It begins on Ash Wednesday (February 18. 2015) and goes through to EasterSunday (April 5, 2015). It invites families to engage with the lectionary readings of 2015 through short readings of scripture and/or age appropriate bible stories from The Bible in 365 Stories by Lion Publishing (this is a great children’s bible story book to recommend to families to use with primary school children). In addition to the readings and open ended conversations focused on ‘wondering’, the booklet includes each family making a simple and small tabletop garden that will grow and evolve over the six weeks of Lent, with new symbols occasionally being added and fun activities to do over their time together that tangibly express the ideas they experience together. Clear instructions to make this garden are included in the booklet.
To help families get started and learn how to use the booklet, your congregation might want to set aside some time just before Lent begins to start these gardens as a part of a larger Lent Event. Getting together as a church family while learning about Lent is a wonderful way of comfortably sharing the importance of faithful family conversation and resourcing families with the tools they need to get started. The garden is inexpensive to make and would take about 20 minutes to plant. A congregational Lent Event might include other activities such as sharing a meal together, playing some games, introducing the themes and meaning of Lent through a trivia game, the planting of the tabletop gardens in household groups, and then the important step of practicing daily family devotions by using the first day’s devotion as your closing worship together.
There are a few extra items mentioned in the booklet (kazoos, little animals, silk butterflies etc.) that families will use at home to continue re-creating their gardens over the weeks of Lent. Churches may want to send home a goodie bag with each family filled with these items so they will be encouraged to stick with their devotions and maintaining of their garden at home. These items are clearly noted in the booklet.
Finally the booklet file is in pdf format and has been written so that you can print out the 12 pages of the booklet, photocopy the pages front to back (page 2 on the back of page 1; page 4 on the back of page 3; etc), collate the pages, and then fold in half and staple it together down the middle to form a booklet. For this reason, when you open the file it will appear out of order. It isn’t. Have a go, photocopy it, assemble it, and the dates will all be in the right places. I promise!
I hope you and your family enjoy this opportunity to grow together over this wonderful season of Lent as we prepare for the wondrous glory that Easter brings.
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:
Would You Rather (10 minutes) This is a fun getting-to-know-you game that you could play either before after the shared meal. You play Would You Rather by dividing the Would You Rather questions slips of paper between four baskets. Place one basket on each of four little tables or chairs set up in a circle to create question stations. Divide the participants between each of the stations and invite one member of each group to pick out a slip from their basket and read it to the group surrounding the basket beginning with the words, “Would you rather”, followed by the two options on their slip of paper. For instance they might read, “Would you rather a. hot chocolate or b. apple cider”. Each person responds with their own personal preference. Once they’ve shared their answer with their group those who chose option ‘a’ move to the next station in a clockwise direction, while all of the ‘b’s’ move in a counter clockwise direction. Just drop the slip of paper in the basket before you move on for someone else to pick out later in the game.
Every station is asking and answering questions all the time with people moving quickly to their next stations, either clockwise or counterclockwise, depending on their individual answers. There are no winners, just opportunities to mix the group up and get to know each other a little more. Stop the game while it is still fun.
The Would You Rather slips of paper are attached as a separate file with this resource. Just cut them apart and you’re ready to go.
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 bigger families who might want to make more than one wreath, they might want to make an additional wreath for a shut-in.
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.
To make one wreath you will need the following:
- a 9” X 2” clear vinyl plastic liner and a 7” X 2” clear vinyl plastic liner (available from a florist or Home Depot gardening department)
- 1 block 3” X 4” X 9” wet (dark green) oasis, cut into six pieces (3” X 2” X 3”) (available from Michael’s)
- florist’s tape for wet oasis (available at Michael’s)
- 4 taper candles (purple or blue)
- 1 chubby white candle
- fresh evergreens
- pruning shears
- advent devotional booklet
- Hot glue the bottom of the smaller plastic dish inside the bottom center of the larger plastic dish, creating an inner dish with an outer ring (moat) surrounding the inner dish (it will look like a chip-dip dish).
- Soak 4 cut pieces of the oasis in water until they are saturated (The two extra blocks can be used by another family for their advent wreath). Take the oasis blocks out of the water and wedge each piece of oasis in the outer ring (moat) of the plastic dish with the oasis standing up above the upper edge of the plastic dish. The oasis should be wedged tightly at the 12, 6, 3 and 9 o’clock positions in the outer ring.
- Firmly push one colored advent candle into the center top of each of the four oasis blocks. Using 8 – 10 inch lengths of florist’s tape, tape the blocks to the plastic dish, securing the block on either side of the candle from the outside of the plastic larger dish to the inside of the smaller plastic dish. No one will see the tape so feel free to secure the blocks well.
- Snip the greens into 4 – 6 inch lengths. Push the cut ends of the greens into the oasis filling out your wreath until you can no longer see the dish or the oasis.
- Place your chubby white candle in the center of the dish and place the dish on a dinner or serving plate for greater stability.
- Water your advent wreath in the outer ring (moat) regularly throughout advent and it stay fresh and green throughout the season.
If you would like to celebrate the season of Advent this year with a devotional for your family or congregation, here are all of the resources you will need to take part in that. We have a devotional booklet, craft, event information, and game that are all printable for your church or family Advent celebration!
I was privileged to see this light hearted introductory skit highlighting the importance of the Leading With Care policy at Oakridges Presbyterian Church in London Ontario. Thank you to the author, Rev. Jane Swatridge, for allowing us to post this resource and giving permission to other congregations for it’s use. ~Tori Smit
Leading With Care: On Gilligan’s Island
It is now time for our Leading with Care presentation, and I’m sure it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before!
But please understand that although we may have a little fun with the policy today, the message is important for the continued safety of our church family and those we serve. Watch and learn, and enjoy!
Leading With Care: On Gilligan’s Island
(Play the “Gilligan’s Island’ theme song. Gilligan & the Skipper appear at top of verse 2; rest of cast appear at, “five passengers set sail that day …” Pantomime the storm at verse 3, “The weather started getting rough …”, mimicking being tossed around on stage, etc. Then cast members step forward, acknowledge crowd as their character is mentioned.)
(After the song ends the pantomime continues with the Howell’s ‘chat’ quietly with each other counting their money; Gilligan, Mary Ann & Ginger ‘chat’ excitedly as Gilligan picks up picnic basket; Professor notices something on the ground, bends to examine; Skipper notices Prof’s actions, then turns to Gilligan]
Skipper: What are you up to, little buddy?
Gilligan: The girls & I are going on a picnic to the other side of the island.
Mary Ann: I’ve packed us nuts, and fruit, and I made my famous coconut cream pie!
Ginger: And I’m the scenery.
Prof: I’m not sure that’s a good idea.
Thurston: But she’s always the scenery. (Lovey glares) Sorry Lovey, here (hands her some money).
Prof: No, I’m referring to these prints I’ve found here in the sand.
Skipper: What is it, Professor?
Lovey: Looks perfectly harmless to me.
Prof: Why, Mrs. Howell, don’t you realize what this means?
(everyone reacts, looks stunned, confused, shrug shoulders, etc.)
Prof: Why, judging from the unusual size and shocking depth of these footprints, and the apparent direction and pace of perambulation, before you can go picnicking anywhere, you’d better prepare a (look to audience) RISK ASSESSMENT.
(Mary Ann cowers beside Gilligan, Ginger cowers beside Skipper, Thurston cowers beside Lovey for protection)
Gilligan: Do you mean, Professor, that we can’t just do whatever we want …
Mary Ann: whenever we want …
Ginger: with whomever we want …
Lovey: without completing one of these? (brings Risk Assessment form out of purse) Well, that’s ridiculous!
Prof: Mrs. Howell, that’s precisely what I mean.
Thurston: Now look here, my good man. I’m Thurston Howell the Third, and I don’t fill in any forms. I have people to do that.
Prof: Mr. Howell, if you want to stay safe, I’m afraid you’ll have to. Why, all our lives may depend on it.
(Thurston harrumphs indignantly)
Lovey: Oh there there, maybe you can pay someone to do the form for you.
Gilligan: Do we all have to fill them out?
Mary Ann: For everything we do around here?
Ginger: What do you consider, risky, Professor?
Lovey: My yes, are we safe here?!
Prof: Absolutely. But we must understand that certain activities involve RISK.
Skipper: Well, like what sorts of things, Professor?
Mary Ann: Oh, how can a friendly picnic possibly have any risk?
Ginger: Come on, Professor, just one teensy, weensy little picnic?
Thurston (to Lovey): Where in the blazes were the tickets on sale for this picnic?
Lovey: We almost went down in a storm on the Thames, and he’s worried about a picnic!
Gilligan: Yah, she’s right – Skipper, whatever happened to the pre-tour Risk Assessment?
Skipper: Well, I thought YOU did one…
Gilligan: … I didn’t do one – I thought YOU were going to do one …
Skipper: No, little buddy, YOU were supposed to do one …
Gilligan: Uh-uh, I’m not trained on the paperwork, YOU were supposed to do one …
(they keep arguing until cut off by Thurston)
Thurston: I KNEW we should have just bought our own boat & crew!
Mary Ann: Well, it’s not Gilligan’s fault if he wasn’t properly trained.
Ginger: Ooo, training is everything. I mean, that’s the difference between a Golden Globe … and an Oscar!
Prof: There are important things to consider in every case. Mary Ann, do you know for certain that those nuts and fruits are safe for everyone to eat? I mean, did you check for allergies?
Mary Ann: Well, no, but I’m sure we’d find out one way or another.
Prof: And what about food preparation? Did you wash your hands, and ascertain that the utensils & working area were clean?
Mary Ann: I brushed off the sand as best I could. Back home in Kansas, we just wipe our hands on our pants.
(Howell’s & Ginger turn up noses/cringe; men just nod in agreement, ‘oh yah, that works’, etc.)
Prof: And Ginger, were you really planning on hiking to the other side of the island in that gown, with those shoes?
Ginger: What’s the problem? They match.
Gilligan: Well, you do look like an Incident Report ready to happen.
Skipper: Good thinking, little buddy.
Prof: And Gilligan, as the leader of the picnic group, have you considered the appropriate ratios of leader to number of those in your party? What about your Criminal Record Check? We haven’t checked all your references yet. And what about the vulnerability of those you’re caring for?
Gilligan: They look pretty sturdy to me.
Thurston: On second thought, think I’ll go back to our cabin and lock the door. Coming, Lovey?
Lovey: Oh you’re not worried, are you dear?
Prof: As long as we’re prepared, and we’ve considered all the risks, we’re perfectly free to proceed with virtually any plan.
Ginger: You mean, like a quiet, scenic picnic.
Mary Ann: Or sharing a meal together.
Gilligan: Or a simple little hike in a ball gown.
Skipper: Not quite, little buddy.
Prof: But about these footprints. We’re obviously not alone on the island (everyone looks around, wide-eyed, scared & suspicious). Ladies, you stay here. Mr. Howell, you come with me and we’ll conduct a reconnaissance mission.
Skipper: And Gilligan, you come with me and we’ll conduct a reconnaissance mission.
Gilligan: Ok, but I really think we oughta scout around a bit first.
(girls exit stage right, Prof. & Thurston exit stage left; Skipper & Gilligan exit stage right)
Voiceover: Sadly, they remained on the island, marooned there forever. What a positive difference it would have made had they invested in training and planned ahead appropriately for the tour. Oh well …
Theme Song resumes
Hey, Have I Got A Question For You!
The Art of Asking and Answering Difficult Questions With Children
Why do we ask questions?
We ask all sorts of questions in Church School. If we’re asking questions, why are we asking them. Some of the reasons are:
- to check in and find out what children have learned (or not learned)
- to hear if there are concerns or issues that require further conversation and/or explanation
- to prompt debate
- to prompt deep thinking
- to experience God
The art of asking questions:
Good questions open up the room to great conversation. We don’t want to simply recite questions and receive the ‘correct’ answers. We hope that the subject energizes the room and together we grow in our knowledge and experience of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and kingdom of God living. These thoughts should help you plan for better questions and discussion that moves us into new realms of experience:
- ask open-ended questions, not closed, one-word answer questions
- ask one question at a time and resist the urge to add on even more questions hoping one of them might resonate with the class. With too many questions at once children become overwhelmed with the options
- present questions to the whole group, not to individuals
- provide positive feedback on the answers your receive
- follow-up answers with more probing questions, inviting the group to dig deeper into the subject
- be silent; let the question resonate and good thinking to occur. Don’t try and fill the silence assuming your question wasn’t well presented or with your answer so things keep moving along. Leave time for deep thinking
- use an inquiry style, don’t interrogate
- encourage participants to ask their own questions of each other
- encourage conversation across the group and away from you
- accept responses as a gift
There are three types of questions:
By ensuring all types of questions are asked, often moving from the first type, on to the second and finally spending quality time discussing the third type we help participants personalize their learning and growth in a non-threatening way.
Invite difficult questions:
These are the questions we often fear, but they are also the questions that help us move from knowledge about God to knowing God. They require honesty and deep care and compassion for everyone in the group. Setting an inviting tone for such questions helps your class to become a meaning-filled place of acceptance and deep learning.
Answering difficult questions:
Thinking about how you might answer difficult questions before they are even asked helps prepare you for great conversation. The following helps in thinking about how you might answer questions that make you sweat and stumble over your words:
- listen carefully to what is being asked. Don’t jump to thinking about your answer, first think about the question, the age of the person asking, and what they are really asking
- honour the question and the person asking it
- ask questions of clarification
- ask, ‘what do you think (feel, have experienced etc.)?
- you might ask the class what they think,or what their experience of God ays to them
- take time to think about your answer – it’s not a race to the finish line
- give age appropriate answers
- know that it is okay to say, ‘I don’t know; perhaps we could do some research together, we could ask the minister, or look into that in next week’s class etc.
- don’t give and answer you’ll have to undo down the road
- give answers that are consistent with what you believe about a loving and caring God
- let parents know if a child’s questions need further conversation at home. Ask for permission to do this
- recognize the balance between confidentiality, safety and disclosure
Do you have more questions?
Feel free to ask me!
Regional Minister for Faith Formation
Synod of Central, Northeastern Ontario and Bermuda