Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Whispering in Church

Whispering in church is OK – even good and necessary! 
Do not apologize for it! 
Instead, learn to do it very well.

Whispering is good because it connects children learning to worship with their adults who know how to worship.  Parents can no more worship “beside” their children than they can eat “beside” their children.  Instead they must worship and eat “with” their children coaching them along the way.  During childhood both are team sports and whispering is how the coaches and players communicate in the sanctuary.

The trick is to cultivate the art of whispering in church.  At first most whispering needs to be done by the adults because young children have only stage whispers that can be heard for several rows.  Adults can lean in with instructions, observations, and questions to think about.  As children develop their ability to whisper quietly, they can also ask questions, make observations, and reply to their adult.

What do you whisper about?

>  Call attention to something that is coming, “this is the prayer
      where we all tell God what  we’re sorry about.”

Encouragement to participate, “we’re going to pray the Lord’s
      Prayer.  You know it. You can pray with us.” Or “look at the last
      line of this song.  It’s the same every time.  Sing it with me.”

Suggestions about things to listen for, “Jesus is going fishing in
      this story.  What do you think he’ll catch?” or “there are A LOT
      of alleluias in this song!”

Connect to something at home, (just before the Doxology) “my
      favorite blessing this week was our picnic yesterday.  What was


Share your love of worship, “this is one of my favorite songs. 

      I like….”

Cultivate the art of the no-answer question, “How do you think

      Jesus felt when that happened?”

The whispering need not be constant.  Several whispered comments or questions spread throughout the service are needed by younger children.  One comment on something that especially hits home is enough for many worship savvy older children.

Surprising benefit:  When parental whispering is mostly about sharing worship rather than correcting worship behavior, it enriches the worship of the adults as well as the children.  We have to stay alert and pay attention.  Actually, instead of getting in the way of our worship, it tends to make us better worshipers. 

Year B - Proper 28, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, 25th Sunday after Pentecost (November 18, 2012)

_ This is the Sunday before Thanksgiving in the US.  Go to Year B Thanksgiving to find ideas for worshiping around this year's Thanksgiving texts.  It will also direct you to a more general article that will be useful in planning both for Thanksgiving worship in your own congregation on either Sunday or Wednesday/Thursday and for community services.

_ It is National Bible Sunday.  Two ways to feature that with children are:

1.      If your congregation responds to the reading of scripture with, “The Word of the Lord - Thanks be to God,” interrupt just after it is said to ask, “what did we just say?”  That leads to “why did we say that?”  Add a few words about the importance of reading the Bible together, then repeat the response with everyone.  (You could call the children for this conversation or hold it with the whole congregation in their seats.  Children will tune in for this interruption!)

2.      At the beginning of the service give children Bible stickers to put on their printed order of worship every time they hear the Bible read or pray or sing from the Bible.  With older children point out the scripture references in the hymnal to help them see the Bible connection there.

1 Samuel 1:4-20

_ For a child-friendly telling of this story read “A Baby for Hannah” in The Children’s Bible in 365 Stories, by Mary Batchelor.  In spite of its title, the story ends with Hannah feeling “peaceful and almost happy….She had told God her trouble.  Now she would wait for his answer.”  (Can be read aloud in 4 minutes)

_ Ask a woman of child bearing years to read this passage to the whole congregation.

I Samuel 2:1-10

_ Hannah’s prayer or song should be read by one or more women.  If the group includes women and girls of all ages, it feels like a choir of happy women praising God.  The script below lists 15 readers, but could be read by as few as 3 or4 readers with each reading one part in turn.  Give each reader a script with her part/s highlighted. 


Hannah’s Prayer
All:                   The Lord has filled my heart with joy;
how happy I am because of what he has done!

Reader 1:        I laugh at my enemies;
how joyful I am because God has helped me!

Reader 2:        No one is holy like the Lord;
there is none like him,
no protector like our God. 

Reader 3:         Stop your loud boasting;
silence your proud words.
For the Lord is a God who knows,
and he judges all that people do. 

Reader 4:         The bows of strong soldiers are broken,
but the weak grow strong. 

Reader 5:         The people who once were well fed
now hire themselves out to get food,
but the hungry are hungry no more. 

Reader 6:        The childless wife has borne seven children,
but the mother of many is left with none. 

Reader 7:        The Lord kills and restores to life;
he sends people to the world of the dead
and brings them back again. 

Reader 8:        The Lord makes some poor and others rich;
he humbles some and makes others great. 

Reader 9:        The Lord lifts the poor from the dust
and raises the needy from their misery. 

Reader 10:      The Lord makes them companions of princes
and puts them in places of honor. 

Reader 11:      The foundations of the earth belong to the Lord;
on them he has built the world.

Reader 12:      The Lord protects the lives of his faithful people,
but the wicked disappear in darkness; 

Reader 13:      People do not triumph by their own strength. 

Reader 14:      The Lord’s enemies will be destroyed;
he will thunder against them from heaven. 

Reader 15:      The Lord will judge the whole world;
he will give power to his king,
he will make his chosen king victorious.

                                                            Based on the TEV


_ Hannah prayed when she was really unhappy.  She also prayed when she was really, really happy.  In her prayers she tells God exactly how she feels.  Together make a list of feeling words.  Suggest that each child or each worshiper select one that fits them today, then draw or write a prayer to God about that feeling.  Collect prayers in prayer baskets or the offering plates and place them on the Table at the front.


_ Leaf through a copy of Happy, by Mies Van Hout.  Each page of the book contains one emotion (happy, angry, sad, confused, etc.) illustrated by a fish who displays that emotion.  The colors are vivid and the fish clearly emotional.  Select two or three emotions to share.  Talk about what the picture tells us about how the fish is feeling.  Imagine why a fish might feel this way.  Identify times we feel that way.  Finally, together come up with some prayers we could pray when we feel each of these emotions.  The point is that like Hannah we can talk to God about how we feel.

_ To connect Hannah’s prayers to the prayer requests shared in your worship and/or in “the long prayer,” take time to talk about the latter just before they come in your worship.  (This could be a children’s time or a conversation addressed to the whole congregation.)  Note that Hannah prayed two of the most common prayers – “help!” and “thank you!”  Point out several of each that you will include in the church’s prayers this day and encourage young listeners to listen for others.

Daniel 12:1-3

If I were going to explore apocalyptic themes with children, I’d use the gospel rather than this.  But, if you do read this text, for the sake of the children read from The Good News Bible (TEV).

The angel wearing linen clothes said, “At that time the great angel Michael, who guards your people, will appear. Then there will be a time of troubles, the worst since nations first came into existence. When that time comes, all the people of your nation whose names are written in God’s book will be saved. Many of those who have already died will live again: some will enjoy eternal life, and some will suffer eternal disgrace. 3The wise leaders will shine with all the brightness of the sky. And those who have taught many people to do what is right will shine like the stars for ever.”

Psalm 16

The NRSV translation is full of biblical images that keep the uninitiated from hearing the joy in the psalm.  The TEV translation omits those images and provides a great prayer of praise for the Sunday before Thanksgiving.  Children will not hear every line, but will hear thankful lines here and there.

Hebrews 10: 11-14, (15-18), 19-25

_ The key phrase for children is “he sat down at the right hand of God.”  It is the answer to the question “where is Jesus now?”  Jesus is with God and is Lord!  Add the word Lord! in big letters in a prominent place on your Hebrews word poster.  Then explore verses 19 -25 which answer the question “what shall we do for Lord Jesus?”

_ Because Jesus is Lord we can be bold and courageous.  Often children hear calls at church to be kind and nice and gentle.  This call to be bold and courageous is an attractive change of pace.  This connects to the gospel call to face dangerous or difficult times bravely knowing that God is in charge. 

Point out to older children that all the pronouns here are plural.  We are not asked to be bold and courageous for Lord Jesus on our own.  That would be really hard.  But, we can do it together.  Talk about scary things we can do together – like go on a mission trip with friends at church, work at a soup kitchen the first time with our whole family, or go on a long hunger hike with our church school class.  Name and celebrate brave things your congregation has done together.  Show pictures and tell stories.

_ Most often when we “provoke each other,” it is to do things we really ought not to do or we do things that make others angry.  The writer of this letter wants us to “provoke each other to good deeds.”  Read this phrase. Talk about how we usually provoke each other.  Then describe how we can provoke siblings and friends and even people we don’t particularly like to do good things.  Describe children bravely welcoming new children in school, reaching out to the outcasts on the bus, even standing up to people who are bullying other kids.  Include in your stories the possibility of encouraging other children to do likewise. Two examples,

After a police dog was killed on duty, an 11 year old wanted to buy a $1,200 bullet proof vest for the dog that took his place.  She “provoked others” to help her do this by putting collection jars in the local grocery stores and getting a story about her effort in the local paper.

To earn their Eagle Scout Award boy scouts must do a community service project that requires that they organize others to help them do the project.  In the process they learn how to “provoke others” to join them in good work that benefits the community.

Mark 13:1-8

_ Before reading these verses with children, show them a pictures of your country’s national buildings.  Note with pride how big and impressive they look and how proud people feel when they see them.  Point out that Jesus and his disciples felt the same way when they saw the Temple in Jerusalem.  Then read what Jesus said about that Temple and about God.

_Go to Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Biblical Apocalyptic for general ideas about exploring apocalyptic messages with children.

Public Domain from NASA
_ Jesus wanted his disciples to think bigger than their own Temple in their own city.  To encourage children to think bigger today display pictures of the universe and talk about how big it is, how small we are and how much bigger the Creator of the universe and us is. 

-          Go to NASA Picture of Earth from Space for a public domain picture of the earth and moon from space.

-          Go to Hubble Telescope Pictures in Space for beautiful pictures of the universe taken from the Hubble space telescope.  (They come with several different ways to download them at no cost.) 

-          Show the segment of the IMAX “Hubble” DVD (available from Netflix) that takes us on a star trip past Orion’s belt and into deep space.  It starts about 9 minutes into the show and lasts 3 minutes.  It is awesome!  (Be sure to get the 2D rather than the 3D version which requires special glasses for all viewers!)

_ Another way to place ourselves in an order that is much larger than us is to read all or parts of Lifetimes: the beautiful way to explain death to children, by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen.  The author insists that all living things have a beginning, a lifetime and an ending.  He describes and compares this pattern in the lives of trees, flowers, rabbits, birds, fish, and people.  The unstated but clear message is that we all will die, but that dying is part of the plan.  We do not have to be afraid when anything (even the Temple) or anyone ends.  Endings are part of God’s plan.

It takes 5 minutes to read the whole book aloud, but it would be possible to omit a few of the lifetimes descriptions to shorten it a bit.

_ Mark’s apocalyptic talk has links to two phrases in the Lord’s Prayer.  Explore one of them before the Prayer is voiced in worship today.

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (traditional) or “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven” (ecumenical) are wishes that God will take control of the future on  the earth.  To explore this gather a list of situations in which God’s will needs to be done.  After each one as a group say the prayer line as an eyes-open conversation with God and each other.  For example,

When everyone is tired and crabby and bickering…

When countries are going to war…

When we are trying to make a hard decision…

“Thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever”(traditional) or “for the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours” (ecumenical) remind us that no matter what is going wrong at the moment God still has the final word.  To explore this reality collect a list of situations in which it seems like all is lost.  After identifying each one, the whole group says the prayer line as a reminder that God is still in control.  For example,

Even when the mean kids are making my life miserable on the bus…

Even when I don’t have a single friend…

Even when it looks like the whole world is going crazy…

_ Children overhear and “run with” adult talk about potential dates for the end of the world.  Often older elementary students engage in wild speculation among themselves.  Since another well publicized date is coming up as the Mayan calendar ends December 21-23 of this year, there is likely to be more such talk.  This is a chance to directly tell children that such predictions are always false.  Go to Wikipedia Article on Apocalypse for a very detailed list of historic predictions.  Select one or two famous ones to share and laugh at with the children.  Then remind them that only God knows when the world will end and God is keeping that as a surprise.  Jesus told us so.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Year B - Proper 27, 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, 24th Sunday after Pentecost (November 11, 2012)

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17
I This is the second of two readings about Ruth.  If you used the All Saints readings on November 4, you will need to tell the whole story of Ruth today.  For a concise telling of the story try ”Two Brave Women” in The Family Story Bible, by Ralph Milton.  It covers the main movements in the story, but summarizes the harvest festival with “Soon Boaz and Ruth got to know each other and to love each other.  They got married ...” and (like the RCL) omits the sandal transaction entirely.  It can be read aloud in 5 minutes.

I If you are devoting two Sundays to Ruth or if you want to explore in more detail the harvest festival and the sandal transaction, review the story from last week then read “Ruth Finds “Work” and “Happy Endings” in The Children’s Bible in 365 Stories, by Mary Batchelor.  (They can be read in a total of 5 minutes.)


My drawing: feel free to use
I If you focused on family love last week, expand that love to the love of the stranger or outsider this week.  If you did not do so last week, begin with a display of a map of the Old Testament lands.  Point to Bethlehem identifying it as the place Naomi started out and the place to which she returned with Ruth.  Then point to Moab and note that people who lived in Bethlehem thought the people who lived in Moab were dirty, dumb, and “not as good as we are.”  They ignored people from Moab when they came around and treated them poorly.  Imagine aloud how people in Bethlehem might have treated Ruth when she appeared with Naomi.  Then, read what actually happened.  Repeat and revel in the last verses' claim that the great King David’s great grandmother was a woman from Moab. 
Identify and ask worshipers to identify who gets treated like Moabites today.   DIfferent groups are the "Moabites" in elementary school, high school, college, and at work or in the larger community.  Ask what the Bible is telling us about all those people.  Pray both for those people and for those who mistreat them.

Identify groups of foreigners that tend to get treated like Moabites today.   (In my area that includes migrant farm workers.)  Insist that these people are God’s children and pray for them.

Introduce the word hospitality defining it as welcoming strangers.  Describe some of your congregation’s ministries of hospitality to strangers or outsiders.

I Another way to explore this story with children is to point out after reading it that three people each did more than they had to in order to help others.  Ruth could have stayed in Moab with her family, but she moved to Bethlehem with Naomi and worked in the field to feed them.  Naomi could have sat in a corner and felt sorry for herself, but she carefully thought out a plan for Ruth to find a husband.  Boaz could have said that Ruth and Naomi were not his responsibility, but he went to the man who was responsible for them and offered to take them into his own home.  Children struggle to learn to “do more than they have to do” to make life better for people around them.  These three are models promoting such loving care and pointing out that such care often works out for those who care as well as those being cared for.

This theme also runs through the story of the widow who fed Elijah.

I To present this story with all the rather unfamiliar details, devote the sermon to a dialog between an older Ruth and Boaz recalling it and musing over it together. 

Psalm 127

The psalmist here reminds worshipers of something most children assume, that they can trust someone else to provide for them.  Children usually begin by trusting their parents, but trusting parents leads them to trust God like the psalmist does.  This is not something children can articulate, so I’d skip this psalm for the children.

1 Kings 17:8-16

I This story is simple and simply presented.  To get the attention of the children before reading it, produce a bottle of cooking oil with only a little bit left in the bottom and a bag of flour rolled down indicating there is not much left in it.  Display them and tell worshipers that today’s story begins with a mother and son who have only that much oil and flour left in their kitchen – nothing else, no eggs, no meat, no peanut butter, nothing – and no hope of getting anything else.  Then read the story.

I Children, like people of all ages, think they will share when they have more than enough for themselves.  AND, they tend to think they never have quite enough.  This story (and the gospel story about the widow dropping her last coins in the offering plate) insists that even when you are down to nothing, you can still share.  Eleven days after Halloween, the candy stashes are beginning to run low.  Talk about when it is easier to share, the day after Halloween when you have LOTS of candy or when you are down to your last two pieces.  The answer is that it is just as easy either time.  All you have do is decide to share.  Do be careful to avoid implying that if they share all their remaining Halloween candy, the stash will miraculously never run out!

Psalm 146

This psalm is suggested for both last week and this week.  In the US there is a hotly contested election between the two readings of it.  On November 11 some, including children, will be happy about the outcome.  Others will be despairing.  Verses 3-4 speak to both groups.  For the children add presidents, vice-presidents, senators, etc. to “the princes.”  Note that no matter who won or lost, we still depend most on God’s power and love.  It could be read in unison or responsively using the script below.  The script replaces all the “hes” with “the Lord”

d d d d d d d d d d d d d d d

Psalm 146

LEADER:    Praise the Lord!
                        Praise the Lord, my soul!

ALL:           I will praise him as long as I live;
                        I will sing to my God all my life.

LEADER:   Don’t put your trust in human leaders;
                        no human being can save you.
                      When they die, they return to the dust;
                        on that day all their plans come to an end.


The Lord created heaven, earth, and sea, and all that is in them.

The Lord keeps every promise;

The Lord judges in favor of the oppressed

The Lord gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets prisoners free

The Lord gives sight to the blind.

The Lord lifts those who have fallen;

The Lord loves righteous people.

The Lord protects the strangers who live in our land;

The Lord helps widows and orphans, but takes the wicked to their ruin.

LEADER: The Lord is king forever.  Your God, O Zion, will reign for all time.

ALL:     Praise the Lord!

                                                   Based on TEV

d d d d d d d d d d d d d d d

Hebrews 9:24-28

I The Hebrews readings are getting quite repetitive to me.  I also am finding as I get toward the end of the series that the Christ words poster/banner that I envisioned at the beginning is proving hard to keep fresh.  Actually as I dug into some of the texts and connected them to other texts for the day, I changed the words – without checking as carefully as I should have to see how the change impacted future words.  The good news is that next week’s word is clear, “Lord!” – as in “Jesus is Lord!”  That is our response to all the other words.  This week is a bit murkier.  Depending on what you have done to date, there are a few possibilities:

ETERNAL or FORVER - as in Christ is present with us always. This word was used in Proper 25, so check there for ideas related to alpha and omega symbols in the sanctuary and singing “the time hymn” – Our God Our Help in Ages Past.  Or, practice and explain what it means to sing “as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be” in the Gloria Patri.

FORGIVING - as in the reason Christ died was to forgive us.   Unpack this by exploring the petitions about forgivenes in the Lord's Prayer.  Jesus forgives us.  Jesus also asks us to forgive each other.   

ONCE AND FOR ALL  - as in Christ died to forgive every one of us.  We are safe in Christ’s loving forgiveness.  (See Proper 26.)

Do remember all the previous cautions about children being offended by all the Hebrews talk about killing animals in order to get God to forgive them.

Mark 12:38-44

I To grab the attention of children and to emphasize the comparison of the teachers of the Law and the widow, read verses 38-40 in proud tones and with arrogant gestures from the lectern.  Then, taking your Bible with you, move to the offering plates to read verses  41-44 about the widow’s gift in simpler more straight-forward tones.

I Why the Chimes Rang, by Raymond MacDonald Alden, is usually read at Christmas time, but it fits this story well.  Two young brothers who are poor set out to go to the cathedral on Christmas Eve to see the great service and all the rich people bring their grand gifts in hopes of hearing the chimes that are said to ring when great gifts are given.  On the way they come upon a woman dying in the snow on the side of the road.  The older brother sends the younger to the cathedral with a single coin to put in the offering while he stays behind to help the dying woman.  The younger brother is in awe of what he sees.  Before he leaves he slips near the altar to leave their coin and the chimes ring.  The story can be read in about 10 minutes.

I Many commentators insist that this more about the church’s tendency to recognize the rich and powerful while ignoring those on the margins than it is about the significance of the widow’s small gift.  They connect it with God responding to Ruth and Naomi on the margins in their day.  Build on their theme by describing one or two of your congregation’s ministries to people (especially women) on the margins of your town. 

I Challenge children to put at least some of their very own money in the offering plate.  Suggest they think about their birthday money, money they have earned or money they have been given to spend as they wish.  Be clear you are not talking about the money parents give them to put in the offering or about money they are given for other specific purposes – just money that is theirs to spend however they wish.  Point out that it may not be much, but that by giving some of their very own money now they are being real givers.  Insist that it is no easier to give money when you have lots of it than it is when you have little.  Use the widow as an example.

Alexander Who Used to be Rich Last Week, by Judith Viorst, describes one little boy (yes, the same Alexander who stars in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad, No Good Day) spends money given him by his grandparents in a series of very silly ways.  In the end he is left with nothing of value.  Read it today to explore using money on things that are important rather than just spending it on anything we think we want at the moment.

A Shared Theme Possibility

I The heroes and heroines of today’s stories put love into action.  They do not just feel love, they do love.  Illustrate and explore the fact that loving involves using our bodies by helping the children form the letters for the word LOVE with their bodies.  You might have each child take the shape of each letter in order.  If you do this after shaping and discussing each letter cahllenge the children to spell out the whole word with their bodies as you spell it for them.  Or, shape different children into each letter until you have the whole word. 

L          Each person sits up straight on the floor with legs out straight and
             arms above the head

Look where we are sitting – on the floor.  Love means being willing to get down wherever needed with people.  Ruth sat with Naomi in Moab. We can get down on teh floor to play with our little brother. 

O       Form big Os with arms in front of you like a big hug

Loving begins with caring about/ hugging people.

V        In pairs put feet toe to toe and lean back to form the letter V holding
             hands or arms as support

Point out that people have to trust each other to love each other, Ruth trusted Naomi’s plan, the widow in Zarephath trusted Elijah’s promise…

E        Each person sits on floor with legs straight out, one arm bent
            at the elbow then straight out at the waist and the other arm
            straight out at shoulder height.

This is harder to get into position than the hugging O.  Loving is hard work.  We have to be willing to glean in the hot sun, share our last meal, maybe even drop all we have in the offering plate.