Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Year A - All Saints Day (October 30 or November 1, 2011)

I had two requests last week for All Saints ideas!  So, I’m putting off the September 5 readings to work on All Saints which is one great holy day for children.  There are three themes to explore:
-         What and who is a saint?
-         Remembering the saints who went before us
-         Trusting God in the face of Halloween fears


With children we tend to turn All Saints Day into a celebration of Christian heroes and heroines.  There is value in doing that.  Children need role models and it is wise to offer them some specifically Christian ones. 

To do this (and take up on the Halloween costume interest) invite children (or worshipers of all ages) to wear costumes or carry a prop related to one of their Christian hero/ines.  Stage a processional in which worshipers stop at a microphone to tell in one sentence the name of their hero/ine and why that person is important to them.  Help parents get their children into this with advanced publicity that defines saint as a person who shows us about God, lists several well known saints, e.g. St. Patrick, St. Paul, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, at least one local saint and notes that saints may be living or may have already died.  In an oral announcement, identify one of your saints and tell what you would wear or carry to represent that person.  If there are churches named after saints in your community, encourage people to learn about one of those saints.  A light touch throughout will make this a fun and celebratory worship event for everyone.

Instead of wearing costumes, challenge church school classes and households to make a paper banner or poster about one of their saints.  Stage a processional of these art works and display them during worship.

The downside of celebrating saintly hero/ines is that it leaves most of us feeling less than saintly.  To avoid this, emphasize that all God’s people are saints.  We all learn about God from the saints around us.  To celebrate some of these saints (both living and dead) who are dear to members of the congregation create posters, banners, or table cloths decorated with their names.

Prepare several blank banners (possibly cloud shaped to refer to the great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 12).  Invite worshipers to arrive early enough to add names of their saints in fabric marking pens to one of the banners.  Just before worship slide the banners on to poles, process in with them, and display them prominently during worship.

Instead of creating banners create a table cloth for the central worship table.   Worshipers can write the names of their saints on a white sheet which is then draped over the worship table at the beginning of worship.  Candles, crosses, even communion elements can be added during a Call to Worship which summons all the saints, both the living and the dead. 

Two children’s picture books about quilts provide good back stories for these creations. 

In The Keeping Quilt, by Patricia Polacco, a woman immigrating to America creates a quilt that connects to memories of family in the old country.  The quilt is used as bedcover, a Sabbath tablecloth, a wedding canopy, and a baby blanket to wrap a new generation.  The book is too long to read in worship, but can be easily told turning to a few key pictures for illustration.

In The Name Quilt, by Phyllis Root, a little girl goes to sleep each night with stories about the people represented in her family quilt.  The quilt is destroyed in a storm, but the little girl and her Grandmother still have the memories, and start a new quilt that includes the little girl’s name in the middle.  (This book may be harder to locate than the other.)

A Little Easter

All Saints Day is also known as a Little Easter.  Children are fascinated by celebrating Easter in a different season.  So bring out all the Easter paraments and robes.  If you “buried” an Alleluia banner or poster during Lent, bring it out and refer to it in worship again. 

Talk about the difference in celebrating resurrection in the springtime when flowers blooming and in the autumn when everything is turning brown and dying.  Celebrate both the joy of knowing there is new life when you see it all around you and the importance of remembering there is new life when everything around you is looking dead.  Older children enjoy thinking about how different Easter feels in the different hemispheres. 

On this day many congregations remember all the members of the congregation who have died during the last year.  Children are keenly aware of the intensity of this reading.  Indeed, many adults have childhood memories of the occasion.  Ways to enhance this worship event for children ( and all worshipers) include:

-         Toll a handbell as each name is read.
-         Light a candle as each name is read and leave the candles lit throughout the service as a reminder of the continuing presence of the saints who have died.
-         One church in Maine projects the names on the walls – talk about being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses!
-         Speak briefly about the connection between the living and dead saints.  At its best this can be a time when gratitude takes the center in the grieving process.

Selecting hymns for All Saints Day is almost a no-brainer.  But there are ways to make them more sing-able for the children.

“For All the Saints” is 6 verses long!  Rather than sing all of them at once, spread them throughout the service.  Everyone will pay better attention to the words.  At the beginning of the service point out the Alleluias and practice them so non-readers can join in.

“I Sing A Song of the Saints of God” uses simpler language, names very specific recognizable saints, and asks the singer to commit to sainthood.  Singing it in the congregation suggests to all that children are also saints.

Singing “When the Saints Go Marchi’ In” in worship delights children and helps them understand the song in a new way.  I even heard of one congregation that sang “When the Saints Go Marchin’ Out” at the end of service.

If you will celebrate communion and use the reference in the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving to “joining with all the saints of all times and places,” point it out and talk about what it means before the sacrament.

The All Saints Texts

Revelation 7:9-17

U On Halloween children are confronted with scary images of death – ghosts, cemeteries, open graves with decaying corpses and skeletons.  The writer of Revelation offers a very different picture.  All the saints gather around the throne, singing and celebrating.  Though the worship images are a pleasanter vision of life after death, most children do not respond, “I want to be in that group worshiping constantly.”  They do however want to be part of those receiving the care of the Lamb described in verses 16-17.  So, after letting them in on the secret code (the Lamb is Jesus) read these verses as a description of heaven.  Older children are interested in identifying all the common pictures of harps and halos as just human guesses about what heaven is like.  They are open to hearing that we do not know many of the details about what happens after we die.  God has kept that as a surprise.  What we do know is that God and Jesus will be in charge and we will be safe and happy.

U Revelation was written in code during a time when a person could be killed for having a Christian book.  Children enjoy learning pieces of the code as they are read and in the process learn not be afraid of the book.  On the day before Halloween the most interesting piece of the code is the image of saints wearing robes made white by being washed in the blood of the Lamb.”  Laugh over the fact that if you wash anything in blood it comes out red, not white.  Then, explain the code.  Jesus is the Lamb and the blood of the Lamb reminds us that Jesus died to forgive us.  Finally, restate the decoded message something like, “the saints were completely forgiven by Jesus.” 

Ecclesiasticus 44:1-10, 13-14  (Episcopalian Lectionary)

U No matter which translation of this text you use, please make the language more inclusive, “let us now praise famous people.”  Consider Today’s English Version which has an especially clear to children rendering of verses 4 and 5.

There were statesmen (politicians?) whose policies governed the people,
rulers who issued decrees,
scholars who spoke wise words,
and those who used pointed proverbs,
poets, and composers of music,
rich and powerful men (people) living peacefully at home.

U After reading this list of saints, challenge worshipers to list others who could be saints.  (This would be a great lead in to singing “I Sing A Song of the Saints of God.”)

U Using the pictures in Peter Spier’s book People or a big book of photographs of people from many cultures, consider the possibility that any of these people could be saints.  Saints come in many shapes and sizes, live and eat in many different ways, and enjoy many different activities.  They are all God’s saints.  Peter Spier's book is too long to read and enjoy in its entirety during worship.  Choose several pages.   I would choose the pages of noses, ears and hair and the page of all the languages.  (The only complaint about Spier’s wonderful book is that it depicts some people living as they did years ago, e.g. native Americans living in teepees.  On All Saints Day this can be an opportunity to note that people from all times in history can be saints.)

Psalm 34:1-10, 22

U David was afraid that the King Achish/Abimelech would put him in prison or kill him, so he did crazy things like doodling on the city gates and drooling.  The king was disgusted and told his servants to send David away.  David went.  This alphabet psalm celebrates his escape, his sanity, and mostly God’s care for him in a tight situation.

To imagine him creating it with his men, briefly tell the story then have one person call out each letter to which David responds with the appropriate verse.  The alphabet readers could sit with a microphone on the first row or be gathered on the floor around David.  In the latter case, rehearse yelling the letters loudly enough to be heard.

U “The fear of the Lord” is an interesting phrase to explore on the day before Halloween.  For children Halloween is about facing fears (ghosts, gory stuff in haunted houses, even being out after dark for the youngest).  They fear the things that they think are too powerful for them.  The psalmist claims that the one to fear is God.  God is definitely more powerful that any of us.  Fortunately God loves us, cares for us, and is with us when we are in scary situations.  The underlying message is to fear (to acknowledge as more powerful than we are) the right things and people.  So we do not have to fear ghosts, the dark, walking past the cemetery at night, or anything else.  Instead we, like David, fear/trust God’s loving power.

1 John 3:1-3

U In an All Saints Day service focused on everyday rather than heroic saints, this short reading paraphrases for children.

God must really love us.  God calls us God’s children, saints.
We know we are God’s saints now.  We don’t know what we will grow into or become. 
But, we do know that saints are like Jesus. 
So, we try to be like Jesus every day.

U Address each other as saints.  Give everyone name tags to wear that say “Saint NAME.”

Matthew 5:1-12

U On All Saints Day, The Beatitudes are a description of the saints.

U Though “happy” is more familiar to children than “blessed,” I’d go with “blessed” here.   “Blessed” can be presented simply as deeply happy about the most important things in life.  Illustrate the difference by comparing two situations.  One is sitting on your bed dumping out all your Halloween treats with delight.  The other is settling into your bed to sleep with hugs and kisses, knowing that you are safe and loved and OK.  The first is simply happy.  The second is blessed.  The trick is to acknowledge the happiness of the Halloween treats and yet insist that the snug tuck-in at night is the more important. 

U Many of the beatitudes require fairly detailed explanations to make sense to children.  Below is my stab at children’s versions of a few of them.

Blessed are the saints who trust God’s power and loving care,
for they are part of the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are the saints when they are sad because the world is so unfair,
They have God’s promise that justice will come.

Blessed are the nobodies who know they are nobodies and still do God’s work. 
In God’s world they are the leaders.

Blessed are the saints whose greatest wish is to do what God desires.
God will give them what they want.

Blessed are the saints who treat other people gently,
God will treat them gently.

Blessed are the saints who get in trouble when they do what God requires,
For they are surely among God’s saints.


  1. Carolyn, as always, thanks so much for your ideas. I was particularly interested in using one of the books you mentioned but had a difficult time finding it . . . Until I realized the title is actually slightly different. It is actually The Name Quilt, not The Naming Quilt (by Phyllis Root). Amazon does have copies available.

  2. Oops! It always helps to get the title exactly correct. Thanks for getting it right for all of us.


Click on Comments below to leave a message or share an idea