These are unprecedented times. Our churches have been instructed by the Ontario Government and the Ministry of Health to cease holding worship services and all other religious gatherings and meetings for the foreseeable future. Our participation in social distancing offers us all an opportunity to actively help flatten the curve and prevent the needless transmission of this virus to anyone we might meet and interact with. It is imperative that our churches follow the instructions of our government and health care leaders.
Now that we’ve had a day or two to check-in with our congregations’ members and church leaders, many are beginning to turn their attention to finding creative ways of supporting and staying connected throughout this pandemic.
This synod website will be regularly publishing articles and recommending a variety of means for how churches might continue in ministry while being separated from one another physically in the days ahead. Today we’ll begin with some ideas to carry on Sunday school and ideas for families with children.
With Sunday schools on hiatus it doesn’t mean that faith formation is on hiatus too. In fact, now is a great time to provide families with some excellent resources designed to help families share bible stories together, wonder how these stories connect with us, and do some creative activities that help everyone in the family talk with each other about faith and their experiences of Jesus in their lives.
Parents are the absolute best people to pass on their faith to their children. Research shows that far more than the minister, the Sunday school teacher, the youth leader and the neighbour next door, parents are the ones children look to the most to hear about God and experience faith. The best the church can do at any time is to help parents in their primary role of passing their faith on to their children by supporting and resourcing them with materials and ideas to undertake this wonder-filled calling.
Children may be anxious about what is going on, wanting to know what is happening and why it is happening. Parents may be calling the church looking for some advice on how they might answer these questions. I will be writing an article answering this in more detail later this week, but for now please know that it is important to answer children’s questions regarding the pandemic openly and truthfully. Acknowledge children’s fears and provide clear answers to the questions they raise that are appropriate to their age level. Move from general to more specific the older the children are. Offer reassurance that they are loved and well-cared for by their parents and by God and that others (perhaps even the parents) are providing the best of care to those that are sick from this virus.
Illustrated Ministry has developed a colouring booklet featuring three Prayers for When You Feel Anxious. These can be used by families as colouring activities and then as family prayers. A file with this prayer booklet is attached to the bottom of this article for you to download and email to your church homes for them to colour and pray together.
Children respond to what they see and hear their parents saying and doing. Parent’s need to be cautious about the transmission of their own fears to their children and consider how frequently they are following the news and talking about the pandemic. Take time to talk about their concerns but don’t allow it to become the topic of every conversation and activity. Enjoy family time together; play board games, get out and ride bikes or walk down to the park, build a fort in the basement and read good books or watch family favourite movies together.
Send home Sunday school and other materials to your families. But, don’t send all the materials out at once. By sending each lesson plan out weekly with a great covering letter of support and lesson specific advice you get to keep in touch consistently with your families and encourage them to work together on each week’s lesson plan. Email each weekly lesson on the same day each week so they grow to expect this check-in from their church home.
If your church is using a digital format for your Sunday school materials, downloading and attaching lesson plans and additional materials is an easy operation. If you are using a print version of Sunday school materials you may need to scan each lesson plan into a file for distribution by email.
Before forwarding the lesson files to families there are a few important things you’ll want to do first to help your parents smoothly adapt the lesson for home use. Take a bit of time to review each weekly lesson plan first. Note what in the lesson plan will easily transfer to a multi-generational home situation and what won’t. Point these things out in your accompanying email. Suggesting adaptations to the lesson will be very helpful to parents who may be inexperienced with teaching Sunday school.
Invite parents to talk about their experience of the biblical story, or what they have thought about the story when they heard it when they were a child. Remind parents that they have lots of time to do the lesson. They may wish to break the lesson down over a number of days, or use it as a family activity one evening each week.
If your church is using the digital format for any of the Sparkhouse curricula (Spark Lectionary, Spark Classroom, Spark Rotation, Spark All Kids, Whirl, Holy Moly, and/or Connect) your digital contract provides you with great resources that lend themselves to home use. Many churches are unaware of what they already have at their finger tips, and now is a moment to discover those. If you would like me to walk you through your digital catalogue and let you know what to send on to parents weekly call or email me and I’ll walk you through the website (email@example.com, 647-348-0879)
Many other Christian publishers have worked hard to develop some great resources for you to use at home as well. Illustrated Ministry is offering a free weekly subscription to families to continue their Lenten journey at home. Illustrate Ministry excels at colouring pages for everyone to enjoy and reflections on the stories they present. I can highly recommend this resource. Your church families can sign up for a weekly email here: www.illustratedministry.com/flattenthecurve.
Worshiping With Children by the PCUSA Christian educator, Carolyn Brown is providing simple, weekly worship services for families to conduct at home. These services will use at least one of the lectionary readings for that week. Consider emailing to services to your families on the Friday or Saturday of each week to allow households to prepare for worship as well as participate in it on Sunday mornings. You can find the service for March 22nd here: www.worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2020/03/worshiping-at-home-on-march-22-2020.html?fbclid=IwAR1Fu_NyWUqKDTOYGrQ6d_uR4nKB_eH-X7e9ultJbusjd_u9Nr0J9pfG8s
A gentle and creative resource for family devotions called Pandemic Hope: A Family Devotional For Life During COVID-19 gives readings and activities for 8 weeks for families to do together. This resource can be found here: https://s3.amazonaws.com/media.cloversites.com/cb/cb0cd516-be94-40af-99bd-f2f2860b752e/documents/Pandemic_Hope_Devotional.pdf?fbclid=IwAR3KRDsnz5z8h9VBo8LXc_H8D0OQBnM1saiXExd2KpNrZfUYPM46FU_LVps
Finally, if you have not distributed the synod family devotional booklet for Lent, it is never too late to do so. You will find attached at the end of this article a devotional booklet entitled, Our Journey Through Lent: Reading Through the Gospel of Mark. In it you will find daily scripture readings for all ages and accompanying children’s bible story book readings from the Spark Story Bible and/or Growing in God’s Love along with questions, prayers and conversations to be had each week of Lent leading us to Easter.
I hope these resources give you a place to start with materials and ideas for keeping connected with families during these days. Come back to the website often and find new ideas for all aspects of ministry during COVID-19. And if there is something you’re hoping to discover here please let us know and we’ll get to work on it right away.
Blessings, Tori Smit, Synod of CNOB Regional Minister for Faith Formation