Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Worship Display To Link the Elijah Stories

got me thinking about the possibility of a display about Elijah that could be added to each week as you work through the five stories about Elijah that begin this Sunday.  It would be a great way to knit the stories of the Elijah cycle (which is not that familiar to most worshipers of any age) together and to keep those stories before the congregation for a month.

So what if you covered a table with beige burlap (for the dry world Elijah lived in).  For interest put boxes or bowls or books under the burlap to create different spots on which to display one item recalling each story.  The highest point on the table is the mountain site of the cave.  A bowl set on its side with the burlap pushed back into it forms the mountain top cave.  Set a good size rock in front to partly cover the cave entrance.  To one side of this mountain are a raised spot for Mt. Carmel and two flat areas – one for the vineyard and the other for the widow and her son.  On the other side, lay a Jordan River ribbon or strip of fabric and a slightly raised platform for the fiery chariot.  I’d set this up for the first Sunday then add story items each week.

It would also be possible to create a simple burlap banner to which items were added each week.

What to add for each story???

  1. Mount Carmel:  a small pile of charcoal pieces (hit a couple of charcoal briquettes with a hammer or burn a few sticks) OR simply blacken an area of the burlap with a black crayon
  2. The Widow and her son:  as Becky suggests a small pile of barley (find dried barley in the rice and bean section of the grocery) OR an almost empty bag of flour and jar of oil
  3. Naboth’s Vineyard:  a bunch of artificial grapes from the craft store or wherever artificial flowers are sold
  4. Elijah meets God at the cave:  maybe Becky’s paper fan for wind OR maybe nothing at all since it was in the silent nothing that Elijah met God
  5. Fiery Chariot: go to and print a large copy of one of the artist’s depictions of this event.  Prop it up as if on an easel.

If you have a small figure that could serve for Elijah move if from story to story as the weeks progress.  Find a shepherd figure from a crèche.  If your church uses the Young Children And Worship program, borrow one of those figures.  Or, any doll that stands or sits up could do the job.

Yes, it is a little late to start on something like this.  But, it’s summer and its only Wednesday!!!  So maybe….  And thanks, Becky!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Year C - Proper 5, 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (June 9, 2013)

Often during Ordinary Time one reading echoes another.  But today’s stories of the raising of the sons of two widows are so alike that even the children will catch the similarities.  It is possible to choose one story to read or to read them both.  If you read both stories, open a Bible to both stories pointing out that these very similar stories come from near the beginning and near the end of the Bible and hence tell us something very important about God that is always the same – God IS compassionate. 


F Compassion is a big word that may be new to children and is an attitude that can be hard for children to adopt.  Display the word on a big poster and savor saying it together.  Divide it into “com” and “passion.”  Define passion as caring a lot.  Note that “com” comes from the Latin word for “with.”  So compassion means “caring a whole lot WITH another person.”  To have compassion is to stand with a person, to see the world through their eyes, to know how they are feeling AND to care so much about them that you will do whatever you can to help them.  Cite easy examples of compassion such as going for help when you see someone get hurt and harder examples such as inviting a person who looks lonely to sit with you.

Some children seem to be naturally compassionate from an early age.  But, many children have to work hard to develop compassion.  Often, they are accused of being unkind, but the real problem is that they do not easily see things from another person’s point of view.  It is a skill they have to work over years to develop.  Hearing stories in which people display compassion alerts them to the possibility and encourages them to work at paying attention to the needs and feelings of others.  Today’s stories help further by insisting that God is very compassionate and calls us to be compassionate too.

F After exploring God’s compassion for people in tough situations, invite worshipers to pray for those in tough situations today.  Children can draw pictures of these people and drop them into an offering or prayer basket.  In smaller congregations, worshipers can light tea candles to place on a floor map of the world remembering people around the world who need help and concern.  (Younger children will need help locating the place to put their candle on the map.)

F Identify one or more ministries of your congregation as ministries of compassion.  Compare them to the compassion of Elijah and Jesus.  Choose at least one in which children are involved, e.g. food drives.

F Tell stories about people hiding Jews during World War II or about people operating the Underground Railroad to get slaves to freedom.  There are lots of these stories and most can be told in terms of people who could feel how other people were hurting and who risked their own safety to help those people.

F You may not want to read My Heart Will Not Sit Down, by Mara Rockliff, straight through during worship.  But, it is a story about compassion with a key phrase worth telling in your words in worship, maybe reading a few pages from the middle of the book.  Kedi, a little girl in Cameroon, hears from her teacher that many people were starving in New York during the Great Depression.  Kedi’s “heart stands up” for those people.  Her questions lead villagers to bring what little money they have to send to New York.  They say “our hearts would not sit down until we helped.”  This is a true story.  Their gift was $3.77.  Wonderful art adds to it.  I read about this on Children's Literature: A Resource for Ministry and found a copy in the public library.
1 Kings 17:8-16, (17-24)

F Background:  Before this story is read, everyone needs to hear that it takes place during a long drought that left everyone hungry and thirsty.  Children may also need to hear that a widow is a woman whose husband has died and hear briefly about how hard it was for a widow without a son to get food, clothes and a place to live.

F Since most of this rather long story is conversation, bring it to life by having it read by three readers: a narrator (probably the usual reader), Elijah, and the widow.  The text below is mostly straight NRSV with the “he said”s and “she said”s omitted.  If the Luke story is introduced immediately after this reading as another very similar story about Jesus, children can follow that reading easily and grasp the similarities.

h h h h h h h h h h h h h

Reading Script for 1 Kings 17: 8-24

Narrator:  Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah, saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.”  So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, 

Elijah:  Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.

Narrator:  As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said,

Elijah:  Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.

Widow:  As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.

Elijah:  Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son.  For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.

Narrator:  She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days.  The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah. (Brief pause)  After this the son of the woman, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him.  She then said to Elijah,

Widow:  What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!

Elijah:  Give me your son.

Narrator:  He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed.  He cried out to the Lord,

Elijah:  O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?

Narrator:  Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord,

Elijah:  O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.

Narrator:  The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.  Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother;

Elijah:  See, your son is alive.

Widow:  Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.

                               From NRSV

h h h h h h h h h h h h h

F This and the gospel story are about widows who are living on the edge.  God reaches out to care for them through Elijah and Jesus.  If you will be exploring compassion, display an almost empty bag of flour and jar of cooking oil.  Before reading the story, note that this was all the widow had left – no meat, no eggs, no peanut butter, and no hope of getting anything else.  After reading the lessons, point again to the flour and oil noting that the world is full of people in the situation of the widow.

Psalm 146

F Of the two psalms listed for today, this is the one for the children.  It is a happy list of what God does to help people in need.  The activities listed are concrete and everyday, so children understand as they are read.  The script below makes the list clearer by replacing all the “he”s with “The Lord.”  Include the congregation in reading the psalm either by having different halves of the congregation read alternating statements saying “the Lord” with great emphasis or by having the congregation say “The Lord” with a leader completing each phrase.

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

Psalm 30

F This psalm is filled with unfamiliar vocabulary (e.g. Sheol, the Pit) and ideas that make it hard for children.  If you do read it, introduce it as a song that might have been sung by either widow and by the funeral crowd who were with the widow of Nain after the sons were raised.  With this introduction, the children catch a phrase here and there, but it might be best to choose one or two verses to pray today – maybe verses 11-12.

You have changed my sadness into a joyful dance;
you have taken away my sorrow
and surrounded me with joy.
So I will not be silent;
I will sing praise to you.
I will give you thanks for ever.

                                                   Today’s English Version

Galatians 1:11-24

F Paul’s explanation of how he came to be a faithful Christian makes less than the story of the Damascus road.  If you are going to focus on this text in worship, I’d tell or read some of the Damascus road story for the children (and maybe to remind the adults of the details that are assumed in Galatians).  “Saul Learns About Jesus” from The Family Story Bible, by Ralph Milton, is a good choice but you might want to omit the sentence “And please, Ananias. While I’m eating, tell me more about Jesus.” to match the Galatians argument.

Luke 7:11-17

For children it is all about compassion.  See the beginning of this post.


Yet another reminder for those whose children are still in school: the end of the school year is hugely important to your children.  So, go to School Is Out!!!!! for ideas for recognizing it in the congregation’s worship on the appropriate Sunday.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Creating Children's Bulletins That Draw Children Into Worship

We give worshipers a printed order of worship so that they will know what happens when and how they can participate.  But, one church bulletin does not serve all worshipers equally well.  So, many congregations offer several versions of it – one for most adults, one with large print for those with vision issues, and even one for children.  For some reason producing the one for the children is the scariest of the three.  That is unfortunate because children’s bulletins can be as involved or simple as you make them.  And, since there is no right way to do them, so you cannot fail.  I have seen children’s bulletins as simple as a laminated bookmark featuring a single column of icons, one for each part of worship.  One bookmark may serve for an entire church season.  And, I have been involved in creating unique weekly bulletins that include puzzles and space for specific artwork set near the part of worship to which they relate. 
A middle page from a children's bulletin
printed on 11x18 paper and folded in half
To create a children’s bulletin that works for you and your children now, try some of the following:

  • This is a very rough draft. 
    You get the idea.
    Find or create a set of symbols or pictures to print beside each part in the order of worship.  These may come from clip art or from children’s art that has been scanned and shrunk for this purpose.  One church even got permission from the publisher to use worshiping mouse pictures from A Children’s Guide to Worship, by Ruth Boling.  Help children recognize the icons by using the same ones each week, introducing them all as you introduce the bulletin, and referring to them occasionally in worship thereafter.
  • Translate the names of the parts of worship into simple phrases with subjects and verbs, e.g. “We tell God we are sorry” instead of “Prayer of Confession.” 
  • Print the basic adult bulletin in an easy to read, blocky font in a large size for young readers. 
  • Set up a format that is easy for young readers.  When possible turn prayers in paragraphs into prayers in poetic lines with one phrase to a line.  And, help young readers find the hymn numbers by printing them right beside the hymn title rather than across the page.  (Enlist the help of an elementary school teacher to help with this and font selection.  They know things about this the rest of us miss.)
  • Provide spaces for drawing and writing related to particular parts of worship.  A big box under the Prayers of the People is an invitation to draw or write your own prayers.  Space to illustrate a hymn before singing it is welcome.  Some spaces may have directions such as “draw what Jesus did in this story.”  Others may simply be there for whatever a worshiper wants to add.  A box may appear by certain parts of worship regularly.  Others may be printed by a featured part of worship only when it really fits.
Such bulletins invite children to participate more fully in what is happening in this room on this day.  Being offered a children’s bulletin tells children that their presence is wanted and planned for in worship.  Hearing worship leaders refer to them occasionally in worship and ask to see their work reinforces that feeling.

 Aside:  Yes, there are subscription children’s worship activity papers, but they seldom really match what is going on in your sanctuary on any given day.  Homemade children’s bulletins do.  That is a BIG difference!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Year C - Proper 4, 9th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Second Sunday after Pentecost (June 2, 2013)

There are at least two possible themes in these texts that speak to children. 

F The people in the Elijah story and in the churches of Galatia need help making and sticking with choices.  Both groups tend to go this way one day and that way another depending on what felt right at the time.  They needed to know what was right and wrong and do it, always.  During the summer, many children are a bit more on their own and so face more choices than they do during the structured school year.  Things happen in the back room, at the pool, on the sports field, even in the back seat of the van that require they make choices.  These stories challenge them to choose wisely.

F The people in the Elijah story needed to learn to trust God as much as the centurion did in the gospel story.  (Though it is tempting to use the word FAITH here, TRUST is really more on target – and also saves the word FAITH for one of the future weeks of Galatians readings.)

F Summer could be a good time to focus on important faith words – like TRUST or CHOOSE.  Having only scanned what is ahead, I would not commit to an every Sunday word series, but might start “an occasional series” of words.  Before the call to worship of each service featuring a word, display a poster or banner with the word printed in large letters and maybe some decorations.  Briefly say it, spell it, define it and encourage worshipers to listen for it in stories, songs, and prayers.  This may be done like the sponsorships at the beginning of Sesame Street, e.g. “our worship today is brought to us by the word TRUST.  T-R-U-S-T, trust.  Trust is what you do when you jump from the side of the pool into the arms of an older friend who has promised to catch you.  TRUST is deciding to do what a coach asks, even when it is a little scary.  TRUST is doing what you think is right even when friends around you are not.  At the end of our lives TRUST is dying knowing that God will be with us always.  Listen today for a story about a soldier who trusted Jesus and for the word TRUST in our songs and prayers.”

1 Kings 18:20-21, (22-29), 30-39

F This story is calls for listeners with good imaginations.  To encourage them describe the situation.  Then ask listeners to close their eyes and try to see what is happening as you read.  Read dramatically, even interrupting yourself to make points like “It almost sounds like there are two altars here, but there is only one altar made with 12 big rocks.  Can you see it in your head?” or add information “These were not little peanut butter jars.  They were big water jars that held maybe 6 or 7 gallons of water.  That is a lot of water!  Listen for what Elijah did with all that water.”  Use your voice to contrast all the frantic action of the baal priests with Elijah’s quiet, deliberate action and prayer.  With one big swoop of your arm illustrate the fire coming down on Elijah’s offering.  (One way to encourage yourself to be dramatic is to invite the children forward to sit with you as you read the story from the big Bible.  Sometimes their presence, even with closed eyes, frees us adults up to get more fully into the drama of the story.)

F Another way to encourage children to listen to the story, is to give them paper and crayons with which to draw as they listen.  Before starting the reading tell them they are going to need wood brown, stone gray, and all the firey colors they have – maybe red, yellow and orange -to draw this story.  Encourage them to work on their pictures as you explore the story in the sermon, then to show their pictures to you either at the door as they leave or by coming up front to talk to you as the offering plates are passed.

F Remember that children like adults are a bit jealous of the people in this story.  They wish God did such fantastic things that they could see today.  They feel better about wishing this when they hear that adults share the wish.  If you read both this story and the gospel story, you can point out that the centurion did not need anything fancy to make him trust Jesus.  The challenge to us is to be more like the trusting centurion and less like the wishy-washy people of Elijah’s time.
Psalm 96 or just verses 1-9

F To keep the focus on God’s power in the Elijah and/or gospel stories, read only verses 1-9.  To recall God’s work in creation on the first day of summer, read the entire psalm.  No matter how many verses you read, do not read them with “inside voices.”  Instead challenge all readers to read them with “loud, happy outside voices.”  The script below calls for three groups of readers – a leader, the choir, and the people.  (The last two groups could be different parts of the congregation if there is no choir.)  Before reading, practice the first line together reading it loudly to fill the heavens with your praise.  (If the leader and choir set the volume up, the congregation will follow.  A brief rehearsal or conversation with the choir before the service might help.)


Psalm 96: 1-9,10-13

Leader:         O sing to the Lord a new song; 

Choir:            Sing to the Lord, all the earth.

People:         Sing to the Lord, bless the Lord’s name;

tell of God’s salvation from day to day. 

Leader:         Declare the glory of the Lord among the nations,

and God’s marvelous works among all the peoples. 

Choir:            For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;

The Lord is to be revered above all gods. 

People:         For all the gods of the peoples are idols,

but the Lord made the heavens. 

Leader:         Oh, the honor and majesty of the Lord’s presence!

Oh, the strength and beauty of God’s sanctuary! 

Choir:            Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,

Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. 

People:         Ascribe to the Lord the glory due God’s name;

bring an offering, and come into the courts of the Lord. 

Leader:         Worship the Lord in holy splendor;

tremble before God, all the earth.

(VERSE 10)

Choir:           Say among the nations, “The Lord is king! 

People:        The world is firmly established;
                                it shall never be moved.

The Lord will judge the peoples with equity.” 

Leader:        Let the heavens be glad, 

Choir:           Let the earth rejoice; 

People:        Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; 

Leader:         Let the field exult, and everything in it.

Choir:           Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy

before the Lord; for the Lord is coming,

for God is coming to judge the earth. 

All:                The Lord will judge the world with righteousness,

and the peoples with truth.

        Based on the New Revised Standard Version and
                                  The Book of Common Worship (PCUSA)


1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43

F Solomon’s prayer and the gospel story about Jesus healing the foreigner’s slave may lead courageous worship leaders to explore issues related to immigration.  For adults this is a complex “hot” topic.  For, children it mainly deals with how they interact with the young immigrants they all encounter at school and in the community.  So, the challenge for children is simpler.  We want to teach them to treat those children with respect and to help them as they confront the difficulties of new language and culture. 

The only story book I know that deals with this issue is Angel Child, Dragon Child and dates back to the Vietnamese War.  It is not easily available.  Does anyone know of a more recent book?

Galatians 1:1-12

F Display a large map of Galatia and point to some of the churches in the region.  Paul does not identify any churches by name.  But, it would be possible to point out several churches whose stories from Acts might be familiar to your congregation.  The purpose is to help listeners hear this as a real letter to real people.

F Print text on stationary folded and sealed in an envelope.  At the time for reading scripture announce that we have mail.   Briefly, describe how letters were written and delivered in those days.  Note that letters were read aloud repeatedly and saved carefully.  Compare that to the disposable, terse nature of today’s emails and texts.  Call worshipers to imagine themselves receiving this letter and gathering to read it.  Then, open the envelope, unfold the paper, and read it as if reading a letter.  Show your pleasure at the greeting and your dismay as Paul lambasts the readers.  Talk about how it felt, then begin exploring what was going on in the churches of Galatia and what Paul wanted them to do about it.

F To emphasize both Paul and Elijah’s calls to say what we believe, present the Apostles’ Creed or other affirmation of faith as a series of questions, e.g. “Do you believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth” to which worshipers reply “Yes, we believe that!” or “Yes, we believe….REPEAT PHRASE.”

Luke 7:1-10

F Though this is a fairly short straight-forward story, children easily misunderstand one part of it.  They frequently hear that the soldier was so used to giving orders and having people obey him, that he ordered Jesus to heal his servant and expected him to obey, too.  This seems way too bossy and children are amazed that Jesus does obey.  So, they need to hear that what the soldier said to Jesus, “when I give a command to my men they do it.  So, I know that if you command the disease in my servant to go away, it will.  You are that powerful.”  Children also appreciate that the soldier did not need Jesus to do anything fancy or even come into his house in order heal his servant.  He trusted Jesus to do it however he wanted to.

F The centurion trusted Jesus to heal his slave.  There are two wonderful children’s stories about Adam and Eve facing the first night and in the process learning to trust God.

Adam and Eve’s First Sunset, by Sandy Sasso, is a picture book that can be read in about 6 minutes.  Adam and Eve alarmed as the sun sets for the first time do all sorts of things to try to stop it, blame each other for it, and finally admit they are unable to do anything about it.  God teaches them how to make fire to get through the night, but that does not solve all the problems.  At last the sun rises again and they are relieved and bless both day and night.  (To shorten the reading, omit the pages about fire.) 

This book is beautifully illustrated and could be projected.
“The First New Year” is a short story in Does God Have a Big Toe?, by Mark Gellman.  In it Adam and the animals are frightened when the sun sets, then relieved when it rises the next morning.  That night they try to stop it when it begins to set again.  God explains about days, weeks, months, and a year.  It would be possible to stop reading after this explanation (about 3 minutes into the story).  Or, keep reading to learn about Adam’s panic when he realized that he had come to the end of the year and God’s explanation of decades, centuries, and millennia.  (The whole story can be read aloud in about 7 minutes.)  It concludes “When Adam woke up, he smelled the flowers, heard the birds singing, and thanked God for making time way big enough.”  Knowing that God makes everything “way big enough” and has “way big enough” power and love to meet any situation is why we can trust God.  The centurion might have said, “Jesus, your power is ‘way big enough’ to heal my slave from wherever you are.  You don’t have to come to my house and touch him.”  (There are no illustrations with this story.)

F See notes about TRUST as the word of the day at the beginning of this post.


p And again, a reminder that the end of the school year is hugely important to your children.  So, go to School Is Out1!!! for ideas for recognizing it in the congregation’s worship on the appropriate Sunday.