Friday, May 30, 2014

Year A - Trinity Sunday - First Sunday after Pentecost (June 15,2014)

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

The Texts

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.”

Psalm 8

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.

Matthew 28:16-20

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.  

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Year A - Pentecost (June 8, 2014)


You will realize as you read through this post that I am really into Pentecost.  It is a holy day filled with potential for children.  I have gathered ideas from my Years A and B posts and added some fresh ideas here to create my up-to-the minute list of Pentecost ideas.  So, enjoy and add any of your own in the comments section.

First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, CA. Pentecost art work,
from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved May 10, 2014].
Original source: 

>  Pentecost is a birthday party for the church.  Since children are the pros on birthday parties, it is a good Sunday for them to be involved in lots of ways.  Go to Celebrating Pentecost for a list of 27 ways to do this – everything from everyone wear red that day to having readers scattered throughout the congregation read the Pentecost story in different languages at the same time.  To that list, I add:

1.    If you have birthday party at the fellowship hour, ask the children to host it.  Preschoolers add stickers (church buildings, flames, “Happy Birthday”) to the usual white napkins.  Elementary schoolers decorate an iced sheet cake or cupcakes.  (White cake is fine, but Red Velvet Cake is more liturgically correct J and interesting.)  Write “Happy Birthday Church” and add flames, crosses or other symbols with red icing tubes.  Older elementary children can serve the red punch.  Children can also lead the congregation in singing Happy Birthday and blowing out the candles.

2.    Children’s classes can prepare red crepe paper stoles for all worshipers to wear during worship.  Precut the red streamers and ask children to add a Pentecost sticker (church, flame, dove, “Happy Birthday”) to each end of each stole.  Children may give these stoles to worshipers as they enter the sanctuary or distribute them during the Call to Worship as a worship leader explains the meaning of wearing stoles and briefly introduces Pentecost.

NOTE: Flame stickers and decals today are most likely to be those that go on hotrods or motorbikes.  And that is just fine.  Those are powerful flames that appeal to children more than a warm campfire flame.  They say to the wearers, “ladies and gentlemen, start your engines” – or get on the move for God empowered by the Holy Spirit.

3.    Instead of draping worshipers with red crepe paper stoles, mark each one with a flame sticker on the back of a hand or forehead.  An older children’s class could work with greeters to put one on each worshiper as they arrive.

4.    Meet with a congregation from a different ethnic background.  Share languages, choirs, and even a picnic with all kinds of foods – and the same Lord!

5.    Give worshipers red candles to light from the Easter candle.  Notice that the light these candles make during daylight is not as impressive as the light of candles lit on Christmas Eve.  But, it is a fact that God shines through us every day.  Sometimes we don’t feel it makes a big difference, but it does.

6.    Many denominational logos feature flames.  Point to those flames and connect them to the flames of Pentecost.

>  If the youngest children simply enjoy the birthday party aspect of the day’s worship, that is enough.  Older children are ready to hear a little about the Holy Spirit.  On Pentecost, there are two points:

1.    Even though Jesus has ascended, God is still with us.  We are not on our own. 

2.    God gives us power that enables us to do God’s work on earth.  God inspires us, gives us gifts (talents), and works through us.  God expects us to “do something in God’s name.”  This is a powerful self-image.  We are powerful and God has work for us to do.  Impress it on the children, encouraging them to identify and practice their gifts.  Tell stories about people and churches doing this.  Look forward to seeing what each of them do for God.  Celebrate that fact with amazed joy.

>  Create a flame poster or banner that features all the names for Holy Spirit (Holy Ghost, Holy Spirit, Advocate, Counselor, God’s Spirit, etc.) that you will use in worship today.  Present it at the beginning of the service and challenge children to listen for each one.

BTW Use the term Holy Spirit rather than Holy Ghost to avoid weird Halloween’y misconnections among the children.

>  The best Pentecost songs for children are often familiar short choruses.
“Spirit of the Living God Fall Afresh on Me”
“Every Time I Feel the Spirit”
Consider singing only the chorus since the verses refer to unfamiliar-to-children Bible stories and the River Jordan.
“I’m Gonna Sing When the Spirit Says Sing”
Make up new verses that match the ideas or illustrations in the service, e.g. I’m gonna serve, walk (fund raiser walks), etc.
“Breathe On Me Breath of God,”
Even with its Elizabethan English, children like it.  They savor the repeated first phrase of each verse and figure out the rest of the verses over the years.

>  It is a good day to sing hymns from different countries.  Many current hymnals include Spanish and Asian hymns with words printed in that language and English.  If each hymn is introduced with a simple “our next hymn comes to us from the Christians in NAME OF COUNTRY, children will enjoy all the variety and learn that the church includes people who speak many different languages.

>  If you regularly use the traditional form of The Apostles’ Creed in worship, this is a good day to do some worship education about “I believe in the Holy Ghost , the holy catholic church.”  Interrupt the congregation as they say the creed saying “hey wait a minute do you hear what we just said – ‘I believe in the holy Ghost, the holy catholic church?’  That is so today, so Pentecost!”  Then connect the phrases with the Pentecost story.  You may also want to translate Holy Ghost to Holy Spirit and explain what catholic with a small c means.  Finally, invite the congregation to start from the beginning of the creed again and say this phrase like they know what they are saying.  (Instead of interrupting the creed, you could hold this conversation as an introduction to the creed – even as a children’s time – but it has more impact with worshipers of all ages as an interruption.)

The Pentecost Texts

Acts 2:1-21

>  The Roman Catholic Lectionary cuts this reading after verse 11 which omits the Joel prophecy and Peter’s sermon which is rather difficult for children.  It is also shorter. 

> The Day That God Made Church: A Child’s First Book About Pentecost, by Rebekah McLeod Hutto, tells the story of the text with artful words and illustrations.  Read it instead of the biblical version in worship today.  Or, read it just after the biblical version urging worshipers to listen to this version of the same story to hear in more detail what happened.

>  Before reading the story, alert worshipers to the list of homelands of people in the Pentecost crowd.  Project or display a map of the region and point out where each named place is.  When possible name the language spoken in each place at that time.   Laugh about how hard it is to pronounce some of the names.  Get show of hands from the congregation to learn who has visited which places.  Note the places that are in the news today.  The goal is not that the children know and pronounce all the names, but that they realize that these were real places and the people who lived in them were real people visiting in Jerusalem.

>  Pentecost is the birthday of the church.  Every birthday includes some wonderful birthday surprises.  The church’s birthday surprise on the first Pentecost was that even though Jesus had died, been raised, and then gone to heaven, his disciples were not alone.  The Holy Spirit, the very power of God, was with them giving them the power to be the body of Christ in the world!  What was true for them on the day the church was born is also true for us today on the church’s 2,014th birthday. 

>  Wind and fire are metaphors.  Point out that Acts does not say there WAS wind and fire but that something strange and mysterious and powerful happened.  The only way people could describe what happened was to say it was LIKE wind and fire.  Note that the important thing was not the wind or the flames, but that people knew for sure that God was with them in a very powerful way.  Knowing that gave disciples (who were hiding out in fear) the courage to run into the streets and tell everyone they met about Jesus.  Knowing that gives us the courage to follow Jesus today.

>  We Are One, by Ysaye M. Barnwell, is a short picture book to read and savor with children on Pentecost.  Each page features a short phrase that recalls Joel’s prophecy and the realities of Pentecost illustrated beautifully.  Rather than point out those connections, simply read the book and speak briefly about one or two of the pages.  I found a copy in the local public library.

Numbers 11:24-30

>  Moses’ “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his spirit on them” is a birthday wish for the church.  It might be said aloud before the candles on the birthday cake are blown out or incorporated into a litany prayer of intercession in which it is the congregation’s response.

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

With so much else attracting the attention of children, the psalm may slide by, but...

>  Ask the children to help the congregation read this psalm.  Invite them to select a figure from a large collection of animal and people figures.  (Beanie babies and other small stuffed animals, plastic toy bin in the nursery, etc.)  Be sure to have enough for each child to get one and for you to have one land and one sea creature.  Before reading the psalm ask all the children with creatures that live in the seas to hold them up, then those with creatures that live on land to hold theirs up.  Note that in this psalm all the creatures are involved.  Instruct all the children to listen and follow you and your creatures as the psalm is read.  (It is probably easiest to have one person direct the children and another read the psalm.)
Verse 24                    sea creatures are held high
           25-26              land creatures are held high
           27-28              all creatures held high waving
          29                     all creatures held down low
          30ff                  all creatures waving on high

>  Provide children with a worship worksheet based on the psalm.  Print the text in the middle of a page and frame it with empty blocks.  Invite children to illustrate a word and phrase they find in the psalm in each block.

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

>  With all the fire and wind images, it is probably wise to save the body of Christ image for a separate Sunday on which it can be the focus.  If you do explore it,…

>  The gifts listed in this passage are not familiar to most worshipers, certainly most children, today.  The Roman Catholic lectionary gets around this by deleting the list of specifics, i.e. 1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13.  That leaves you free to list more familiar gifts.

>  The CEV translates verse 7, “The Spirit has given each of us a special way of serving others.”  Use it to tell children that each of them has been given one-of-a-kind (not “special” as in fancy, but simply unique to them) abilities. Their job is to recognize them, practice them, and use them to love God and other people.  Point to recognizable gifts among members of the congregation as examples.  Offer the children a worship worksheet with a big gift box on it.  Invite them to draw or write about their gifts in each section of the box, fold it up, and put it in the offering promising God to use those abilities well.

>  Head, Body, Legs: A Story from Liberia, by Won-Ldy Paye, is a short whimsically illustrated story telling of body parts coming together into order to eat the mangoes none of them could get on their own.  The youngest children enjoy this fable immensely.  Older children and adults enjoy listening over their shoulders.

John 20:19-23 or 7:37-39

>  Of the 2 John readings, John 20:19-23 is the first choice for children, even though it was read on the Second Sunday of Easter.  It provides a second story of the giving of the Holy Spirit.  However, since reading it today leads older children to ask which story of Pentecost is “true,” I would skip the gospel entirely this week to focus on the Acts Pentecost story.

>  One difference in this story and the Acts story is that in Acts the Spirit is wind and fire that comes from and stays outside the disciples.  In John the Spirit breathes INTO the disciples, filling them up, making them new.  The power of the Spirit becomes part of their very bodies.  And they become the Spirit lose in the world.  To help children begin to understand this.  Take time to breathe together before reading scripture.  Talk about the important of breath.  Tell about babies who get a jolt to start breathing after they are born and CPR that starts injured people breathing again after they have stopped.  After reading the text, remind people “God the Spirit is with us, as close as our breath inside us.”

Monday, May 5, 2014

Year A - The Sunday after Ascension, Seventh Sunday of Easter (June 1, 2014)

The Ascension of the Lord is always on a Thursday which means most people never worship around that story.  Thus, The Revised Common Lectionary both offers the Ascension story from Acts on the Seventh Sunday of Easter and suggests that worship planners might want to use Ascension Day texts on the Seventh Sunday of Easter at least occasionally.  Planning worship around Ascension once a year is an especially good option for children for two reasons:

1.    The Ascension story answers the child’s question, “where is Jesus now?”  His life walking around on the earth is over, but he lives with God and continues to love the whole world from there.  As he left, he clearly passed the baton to his disciples – and to us. 

2.    As you complete the cycle of liturgical seasons about Jesus’ life and passion (Advent, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter), Ascension Day is a chance for worship review (How did we follow and celebrate Jesus in each season?) and a peek ahead to the rest of the liturgical year. 

+  Go to Ascension of the Lord for detailed suggestions about exploring the Ascension Day versions of the story.  Look below for ideas about using the other texts of the Seventh Sunday of Easter.

+  Celebrate the last Sunday of Easter season with lots of alleluias in songs, and processing the alleluia banner

+  Also, remember that this may be the last week of school.  Actually children feel that rising from one grade to the next is similar to Jesus rising from earth to heaven.  They expect their lives in the next grade to be totally different – and hopefully more wonderful.  It is an important day to recognize in some way during the congregation’s worship.  There is one text-based suggestion below.  Go to School is Out!!! (2014) for more general ideas.  

The Texts for Today

Acts 1:6-14
+  This is the story of the Ascension.  Go to Ascension of the Lord for suggestions about

Exploring the Ascension with great artworks – and creating your own

Using batons as props for this story

Hymns that review Jesus’ life and ministry 

+  The Roman Catholic lectionary suggests reading only verses 12-14 which tell tells of the disciples gathering to wait together for Pentecost.  For children it answers the question what did they do for the 10 days between Ascension and Pentecost.  They waited and they prayed.  
+  Highlight the section on Jesus in the Apostles’ Creed.  Before reciting/reading the whole creed together, read the phrases about Jesus stopping to elaborate a little on each phrase.  You might offer a teaching picture poster to go with most of them.  If you do, lead the congregation through the Jesus phrases pointing to each picture as you go.  

With older children note the change in the verb tenses starting with “he sits on the right…”  Point out that Jesus is not only in the past.  Though he is no longer walking around on the earth, Jesus is very much alive and with us today and in the future. 

“Why are you looking up?”
+  At the end of the school year and beginning of summer this is a good question for children.  The messengers’ point was that God/Jesus is not somewhere off in the sky or in heaven.  God/Jesus is all around us, wherever we are – at school, at the pool, on the field, at camp, on vacation, etc.  We are to look for signs of God at work everywhere we go and join in the work.

+  Take time to unpack what it means to be a witness. 
+  Write WITNESS on a poster in large letters.  Together talk about what a witness is and does.
+  A witness tells what he or she saw happen.  Discuss the importance of getting the story right and the problems that ensue when one tells a story that did not happen quite that way.  This leads to the importance of knowing the Bible teachings and stories very well.
+  Ponder the difficulties of having witnessed something that is hard to share.  For example, Jesus told us to love everyone and your friends are teasing a kid in a very unloving way.  How is hard to be a witness in this situations?
+  List some of the ways your congregation witnesses.  Be sure to include some in which children are active participants.
 +  Offer children a coloring sheet divided into sections.  Using a map or globe, point out the places the angel named and note that those places were well known in Jesus’ day.  Challenge children/all worshipers to label each section of the paper with the name of one part of their world this summer.  Invite them to add words or drawings about ways they can witness for Jesus in that place.  These might be dropped in a prayer basket, posted on a bulletin board, taped on the altar rail, or posted at home as a reminder to be a witness every day.

+  Sing your way into Ordinary Time with “Lord, I Want to be a Christian” which is simple and familiar or “God of Grace and God of Glory.”  Before singing the latter point to the refrain describing it as a good song for the disciples just after the Ascension –and for us today.  Either one points us to how we will live in response to the story of Jesus.

Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35
+  Focus with children on the praises of verses 32 -35.  Because these verses pile up rhyming ideas, they lend themselves to reading by different parts of the congregation.  Those parts might be the 1. Minister, 2. the choir and 3. the congregation or 1. the choir, 2. one side of the congregation and 3. the other side.  Or, you may see another configuration.  Before reading it together suggest that this is a psalm the disciples might have sung as they watched Jesus ascend.
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Psalm 68: 32-36

1.       Sing to God, kingdoms of the world,

2.         sing praise to the Lord,

3.         to him who rides in the sky, the ancient sky.

All:   Listen to him shout with a mighty roar.

1.       Proclaim God’s power;

2.          his majesty is over Israel,

3.         his might is in the skies.

      1.      How awesome is God as he comes from his sanctuary—

2.         the God of Israel!

3.      He gives strength and power to his people.

All:    Praise God!

                                                                          From TEV

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1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
+  At the simplest these verses point out that Christians may face very hard times.  Sing this truth with “Jesus Walked the Lonesome Valley” or “We Shall Overcome.”  Neither require much explaining and can be sung on many levels by worshipers of all ages.

+  Display a cross or other work of art from Christians who are facing hard times today.  Briefly discuss what they are up against and how their faith shines through it.  Pray for them. 

+  Using a globe or world map take a prayer trip around the world.  Name groups of Christians who are suffering making them real by pointing to where they are on the earth.  Pray for them.  At the moment I am aware of Christians whose churches are being burned in Egypt and Pakistan, people in African who are being killed just because they are Christians, Christians in Central America standing up for justice.  There are of course more.

John 17:1-11
+  John does not tell the story of the Ascension.  But these verses answer all the questions the Ascension stories answer.  The language is so abstract and the sentences so complex that children do not get the message as it is read.  But, they can hear it if they are guided though the key phrases. 

Acts answers the question “where is Jesus now?” by telling the story of the ascension.  John answers the question with Jesus’ words in verse 4 and 5.  Jesus says that he has completed what he came to do on earth.  Now it is time to go back to God’s presence – back to where he was from the beginning of everything. 

Jesus is not leaving us behind.  Verses 6 and 10 insist that we and God and Jesus are closely bound together.  We belong to each other.  We are closer than best friends or even loving family.  We are together for always.

Verses 10-11 then point out that Jesus is no longer on earth.  We are AND Jesus is turning over his ministry to us.  We are witnesses and forgivers and lovers and peacemakers and…. in Jesus’ place. 

So some things have changed.  We no longer see Jesus walking around and talking on earth.  But, some things are still the same.  God/Jesus is still with us every bit as closely as when Jesus was on earth.  And, in the “after the Ascension” world, we are to take Jesus’ place on earth.  (That is not all that new, since God’s people were to be God’s hands and feet all through the Old Testament.  The difference is that now we know all the things Jesus taught us and did for us.)

+  Verses 6 - 8 and 11 can be Jesus’ prayer for us at the end of the Advent – Ascension part of the church year and the beginning of Ordinary Time.  To help listeners follow all the pronouns, point out before reading it that Jesus is talking to God about his disciples and us.

I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.  Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.  And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
John 17:6-8,11 (NRSV)
+  Pray in response to Jesus’ prayer
God, thank you for coming to us in Jesus of Nazareth.  We have heard all that he taught us.  We can see what he showed us when he fed the crowds and healed people and made friends with people everyone else ignored.  Mostly, we are amazed and deeply thankful for his dying on the cross and rising again.  His story is the most important story in our lives.  Be with us as we tell that story to others and try to live like he did today and every day of our lives.  We pray this in his name.  Amen

 +  Jesus was praying for us and Christians everywhere.  To follow his example, invite children (all worshipers) to create prayers for others on paper.  Begin by drawing a large loopy design that covers the whole page leaving big spaces.  Write God and/or Jesus in one of the central spaces.  Then write names of other people you especially want to pray for and be one with today.  Add words and or designs to each space as you pray for the person in it.  Worshipers might work simply with pencil or might use colored markers or crayons.  (Find Praying In Color or Praying in Color (Kids’ Edition), by Sybil MacBeth, for a more detailed explanation of this way of praying.)