Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Year A - Day of Pentecost (June 12, 2011)

R 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 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 a 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.

Vocabulary note: Use God’s Spirit or Holy Spirit rather than Holy Ghost.  Holy Ghost conjures up Halloween images throwing children hopelessly off track.

R 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.

R 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.

R “Breathe On Me Breath of God,” even with its Elizabethan English, is one of the best longer Pentecost hymns for children.  They savor the repeated first phrase of each verse and figure out the rest of the verses over the years.

R 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.

Acts 2:1-21

R Before reading the story, alert worshipers to the list of the 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 a show of hands from the congregation to learn who has visited which places.  Note the places , like Libya, 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.

R Wind and fire are the two key symbols in this story.  The list at the beginning of this post offers lots of suggestions for using them in worship.  Especially on Pentecost, include the overwhelming power of wind and fire as well as the comforting ones.  Refer to the power of raging forest fires, exploding volcanoes, windy storms.  Tell stories of people acting powerfully to do great things in God’s name.  Encourage the children to see themselves doing the same.

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, 35

With so much else attracting the attention of children, the psalm may slide by.  To provide children with a worship worksheet, 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

R 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.

R 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.

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

R 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 there is no way to explain why there are two such different accounts of Pentecost in the Bible, I would skip the gospel entirely this week to focus on the Acts Pentecost story.

R If you do read it, check out The Second Sunday of Easter for a way to link the passage to “forgive us our debts and we forgive our debtors.”  

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