Trinity Sunday is one of my favorite Sundays of the liturgical year. As I read blogs and preacher helps I was surprised to learn that not all worship planners share this love. In fact most worship leaders seem to rather dread it or knock it as “the only festival of the church year that celebrates a doctrine.” I suspect the reason for this is that many begin their planning by thinking about the sermon and so start by feeling the need to preach a sermon on the Trinity that would wow their seminary theology profs and also be meaningful to the people in the pews in front of them. Old tapes about impossible term papers start playing - and it goes downhill from there. Not having to preach a Trinity Sermon, I begin by saying “It is God Sunday, the call is not to explain God but to celebrate God’s mysterious, more than we can ever explain presence. What could be better!” Of course it is also a chance to do a little worship education about the Trinity. But since even the Trinity is an inadequate definition of God, I suggest that this may be a better week to celebrate God than to explain God.
If You Do Explore Trinity with the Children…
p Introduce the trinity. Most children know “God and Jesus,” but fewer hear much about the Holy Spirit – unless they heard the word during Pentecost celebrations last week. So the task is to add the Holy Spirit and to tie all three together. One way to begin is with Trinity images. Point to those in your worship space. Identify the three separate parts that are bound together, e.g. each circle of the intertwined circles. Name the three persons of the Trinity and briefly mention things we know about each one. Early in the service challenge worshipers to be alert for “father, son, and holy spirit” in your songs, prayers, and stories today. Even fill your pockets with wrapped candies for anyone who can tell you as they leave the number of those references in today’s worship.
|God is like...|
p Warning: Lots of images of the Trinity feature three things that together make one thing, e.g. clover of 3 leaves, egg (yoke, white, shell),apple (either tree, food, seed or peel, core, flesh), even Neapolitan ice cream (chocolate, vanilla, strawberry). Grasping these images requires the ability to transfer qualities of one thing to something unlike it – which is easier for adults than for children. Children have an easier time exploring different names of a single person, e.g. a person who is Granny, Mama and Darling (wife). The transfer is easier because children are asked to relate qualities of people rather than qualities of inanimate objects to the qualities of God who is more like a person than like an inanimate object. One way to do this is to identify all of your names, including your full name and your nicknames. You may want to identify times when you are called by different names and note that no matter which name is used, you are still you. Also hear the full names of several worshipers and make similar comments. Then ask if anyone knows God’s full name. From there discuss the three names for the Trinity.
p If you regularly use musical congregational responses that name the Trinity (The Doxology, Gloria Patri), interrupt after they are sung today. Ask, “What did you just sing?” Then, briefly walk through the words defining difficult words and explaining the meaning of the whole song as it is sung where it is. Then, invite the congregation to sing it again. (Do warn the musicians of your plan.)
p Offer children a Trinity coloring sheet composed of a big triangle divided into three sections titled something like -
Something Jesus did.
A favorite places in the world God created.
A time I felt very close to God.
p Celebrate the three persons of the Trinity by singing one familiar hymn about each one. “For the Beauty of the Earth” or “This is My Father’s World” are good choices for creator. (To stretch worshipers’ understanding of God, challenge them to sing this is my mother’s world.) “Jesus Loves Me” is of course the most child friendly Jesus hymn. Select the Holy Spirit hymn that is most familiar to your congregation and uses the simplest language. This might even turn into a lessons and carols service honoring the Triune God.
If You Explore Who God Is…
p Celebrate God who is more than we ever understand. Many children assume that the adults all know everything there is to know about everything – including God. If during their childhood they are told repeatedly that this is not true, when they begin asking important questions about God they will know they are not being outrageous, but doing what everyone does and has done for years. That makes a big difference. So, today celebrate both what we know about God and the God who is more than we can ever fully understand.
As you do, cite the unanswerable questions people of all ages ask about God, such as but definitely not limited to
What was God doing before God created the world?
How can there never be a time before or after God?
How can God pay attention to each person in the world all the time?
Why did God create rattlesnakes and mosquitoes?
p If there is a conversational time with children, gather “I wonders” about God. Begin by telling some of the things you wonder about. Invite them to tell some of the things they wonder about. Be sure all worshipers knows that no honest “I wonder” is too funny or too bad to be pondered.
p To explore the fact that our understanding of God changes and grows, share some of your “used to thinks” about God and tell what you now think and how the change occurred. For example, I used to think God was a very old man but now think God is neither a man nor a woman. Also, express the expectation that what you now think may become a “used to think” in the future. (This could be done in a children’s time, but if it is done as part of the real sermon, children realize that you are talking to the adults too and expect their ideas about God to change and grow.)
p Sandy Sasso’s beautifully illustrated book In God’s Name notes that after creation all animals and people had names. But God did not. So, each of the animals and people came up with its own name for God, none of which was complete without the others. The book is a bit long. To shorten it, read only pages 5 and 16-31. (Read only the names on page 29 that you have read aloud.)
p Invite children (or all worshipers) to write a poem about God during worship using a simple format. You might offer it on a worship worksheet and then invite folks to post theirs in a set spot with or without their name or to take it home to post where they can read it and talk with God about in the coming week.
p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p
2 words that describe God __________, __________
3 ing words that God does
_______, ______, ______
What you want to say to God today
A name for God ____________
By YOUR NAME by__________________
p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p
p “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” is filled with long complicated words that describe God who is more than we can fully understand. If this is pointed out, children enjoy all the impossible words praising God who is impossible for us to understand. Before singing, point out and define the first few words of verse one – immortal means God lives forever, invisible means we can’t see God. Then ponder the meaning of the first phrase of verse 2 (“Unresting, unhasting and silent as light”). Finally, challenge worshipers to pay attention as they sing to what it is trying to say about God.
p “Holy, Holy, Holy” is often sung. Before singing it today, define the word holy (most special and important, awesome) and briefly walk through the verses. This helps children learn the hymn and makes all worshipers pay better attention to what they are singing.
1. We praise God
2. Everyone in heaven praises God
3. Even though we do not fully understand God, we praise God
4. Everyone and everything on earth praises God
Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a
p With this text we start reading our way through Genesis over the next two months. That means we read lots of the best known and loved stories in the Bible. These are stories that were told around campfires for hundreds of years before they were written down. People knew them by heart. Our challenge is to invite worshipers to savor rather than just parse them. To do this utilize your very best storytelling skills. Engage in readers’ theater. Use puppets. Read the stories from Bible story books (especially when the Biblical texts have been “complicated” by editors). Feature important props. I’ll make lots of specific suggestions, but once you start thinking this way, you’ll probably have ideas of your own.
BTW – Because of how the calendar falls, this year the lectionary skips the Propers that include the stories of Noah, the call of Abraham and Sarah, and the birth of Isaac. The Fall appears at other times of the year and the story of the first murder does not appear at all. If you are planning a Genesis series, you may want to rearrange things to include some of these stories.
p In advance, ask the children to help you create a processional reading of this scripture. Ask them to prepare large poster board illustrations of things God made and to mount them on dowels. As the accounts of the days are read, children carry in the posters for that day down the central aisle. At the conclusion of the day, those children say, “And there was evening and morning, the first/second…. day.” Children remain at the front until the entire week is read. This could be done by as few as six children or by as many as are available and fit in the space. With fewer children the last day’s posters could include pictures of many kinds of critters. If there will be lots of children, each child may make a poster of a single critter of their choosing. Singing a creation hymn immediately following this processional reading gives the children time to return to their seats.
Day 1: day and night (blank black and yellow shapes)
Day 2: the sky (sky blue shape – with a rainbow if someone insists)
Day 3: division of land and seas (big planet earth) and creation of plants
Day 4: the sun and the moon and stars
Day 5: water creatures and birds
Day 6: animals and people
This is a project for several church classes for several weeks. One week will be needed to make the posters. One rehearsal will be needed just before the service. And, adult help getting everyone started down the aisle in correct order is essential. It is not a small effort, but both children and adults enjoy reading the familiar story this way and the children feel they are definitely part of the worshiping community.
Anna Shirley simplifies this for younger children by giving them crepe paper streamers of different colors on dowels. Choose colors to go with what was created on each day. The children danced their streamer down the central aisle as their day was read and added it to a large display (maybe a large vase?) that remained in place throughout worship. (Visit her website at Anna's Hosannas.)
p Give the children an In the Beginning God Created worship worksheet on which to draw pictures of each thing created on the day it was created.
p There are several DVDs and even CDs available of James Weldon Johnson’s poem “The Creation” which retells the creation story from an African American perspective. It is also presented in a picture book: The Creation (ISBN 9780823412075).
p God Created, by Mark Francisco Bozzuti-Jones, is a beautifully somewhat abstractly illustrated interpretation of the Creation that is especially appropriate on Trinity Sunday. In begins “In the beginning… Silence. Spirit.” then lists many of the things God created going beyond the plants and creatures to include “shouting and singing,” “hugs and friendship,” “questions and answers,” and on the last page “God created you.” With a little encouragement you can draw listeners to into joining you in the repeated phrase “and so much more.” The book can be read aloud and savored in about 4 minutes.
p Pair the creation story with Psalm 8 to explore our place in the world at the beginning of summer and Ordinary Time. During summer children generally spend more time outside. Challenge them to take care of God’s world. There are lots of things they can do, e.g. not toying with or hurting the critters and plants where they play, not leaving trash (dropped candy or gum wrappers!), leaving every place we go a little better than we found it, etc. During Ordinary Time in worship we focus on learning and growing as disciples and a church. This pair of texts tells us we are created in God’s image, said by God to be good, and are given the task of care for the world. That is a good start for Ordinary Time.
p Hymns to God the Creator that children especially enjoy:
- “All Things Bright and Beautiful” may be familiar and is filled with familiar, concrete words about creation.
- “Earth and All Stars” has a repeated chorus. Children enjoy calling on very modern things to praise God.
- “All Creatures of Our God and King” has a familiar tune, the names of lots of animals, and repeated “alleluias.”
p Go to Year B - Proper 22 for a reading script for congregation and a leader with motions.
p Read from Today’s English Version which uses vocabulary children understand more readily – “Lord” instead of “Sovereign,” “greatness” instead of “majesty,” and the moon and stars that you “made” rather than “established.” Most adults will not notice the difference, but the children will.
p To explore our relationship with God and our place in the world, read “Partners,” a midrash about the creation story in which God introduces people to their role as God’s partners. The final definition of partner is “…someone you work with on a big thing that neither of you can do alone. If you have a partner, it means that you can never give up, because your partner is depending on you….” Find this two page story (read aloud in 3 minutes) in Does God Have A Big Toe? By Marc Gellman.
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
p Paul concludes his letter to the Corinthians who tended to fight with each other about almost anything, “agree with one another, live in peace.” That is good advice on Trinity Sunday when we celebrate the mystery of God. The blind men exploring the elephant story fits well here. If those blind men talked to each other about what each one had learned about the elephant rather than fight insisting that only what they knew about the elephant was true, they would learn a lot more. Likewise if we talk about all the different things we know about God, we will learn more about God than we will insisting that only what we know is true.
p Use verse 13 just before the benediction to do a little worship education. Note that Paul ends this letter with the same words we often use at the end of a worship service. Read the verse, then put it into your own words. My version would be
May Jesus Christ who forgives us,
God who created us and loves us always,
and the Holy Spirit who is with us helping us and caring for the world through us
be with you all today and every day.
As you do, define any words or phrases you traditionally use, e.g. “the communion of the Holy Spirit.” (Children hear communion as a reference to the sacrament and miss the intended meaning of the phrase.) Finally, offer the benediction as you generally say it so that worshipers will hear it with fuller understanding.
p The Great Commission is closely tied to the Ascension story. So if you did not use batons or explore the call to become Jesus’ hands and feet on June 1, check out the possibilities at Year A - Ascension of the Lord being sure to catch the baton ideas raised in the Comments. These images make great sense as you move into Ordinary Time and perhaps as the children move into summer vacation from school. At this time especially it answers the question “after all we have seen in Jesus and the Creator and the Spirit, what are we supposed to do?” Identify ways children can be disciples during the summer.
p On Trinity Sunday point out that we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are confirmed with these same words. Brides and grooms say those words over their wedding rings. When people are very, very sick and die and are buried those words are said. Walk briefly through each rite saying the words. In summary, note that saying these words at important times in our lives reminds us that each of us belong to God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.