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.
' 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:
- 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.
If not stoles to wear,
what about streamers to shake
while singing spirit songs?
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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- Many denominational logos feature flames. Point to those flames and connect them to the flames of Pentecost.
- Even though Jesus has ascended, God is still with us. We are not on our own.
- 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.
' 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 top 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
' 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 sermon. It is also shorter.
' 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 2,013th 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.
' Adults grasp and enjoy the pairing of this story with the Pentecost preaching in all the languages, but children don’t get it easily. If they do get it, they tend to shrug their shoulders. They also tend to worry about the fact that God seemed to be threatened by human efforts at something they understand and enjoy – tower building – and can be offended that God thought it was not a good thing for people to be able to do whatever they wanted to do. So, I’d tend to focus on the Acts story today.
' Give out puzzle pieces and markers with which to illustrate one verse or draw one picture of something God created for which you praise God. Assemble the pieces fitting them together near the end of the service and sing a final hymn of praise to God of creation. (Be sure the back side of the pieces in clearly marked so all the pieces go together with the picture side showing.)
' Or, simply 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.
' The story texts have more to offer children than this one does. But if you do read it use the TEV translation which is the easiest for children to follow. It calls children to be the happy, unafraid children of God. Omitting verse 17 makes the reading even more focused on the power of being God’s children.
14Those who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s children. For the Spirit that God has given you does not make you slaves and cause you to be afraid; instead, the Spirit makes you God’s children, and by the Spirit’s power we cry out to God, “Father! my Father!” God’s Spirit joins himself to our spirits to declare that we are God’s children. Since we are his children, we will possess the blessings he keeps for his people, and we will also possess with Christ what God has kept for him; for if we share Christ’s suffering, we will also share his glory.
' Children are often quite aware and fascinated by who is adopted and who is not. If you know your children fairly well and feel a conversation about adoption would put no one on the spot, begin unpacking these verses by identifying those worshipers who are adopted and those who are not (or letting them identify themselves). Then insist that actually we are all adopted by God. Read the verses celebrating this fact.
John 14:8-17, (25-27)
' If you have already read and explored the gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts, point out that in this passage “the Advocate” and “the Spirit of truth” (or whatever terms are used in the translation you read) are other names for the Holy Spirit. Jesus is talking to his friends about what is important about the Holy Spirit coming.
' In many ways this discussion sets the stage for celebrating the Trinity next Sunday. Jesus says that while he was alive on the earth, God was with people in him. But, now that he has died and risen, God will be with them as the Holy Spirit. They will feel God’s love burning in them and God’s power will enable them to do amazing things.
Introduce two symbols for God with us today, then use them again adding a third next week. Today introduce a simple cross to remind us that God is with us in Jesus and a lighted candle to remind us that God’s Holy Spirit burns within us. Display both symbols prominently.
J J J J J J J J J J J J J J J
And last but not least, a reminder that the end of the school year is coming up. The children in my area had so many snow days this year that they will be in school well into June. But yours may be getting out within days or at least a week or two. Whenever your children finish school, it is a HUGE event for them. Go to School Is Out!!!! for ideas for recognizing it in the congregation’s worship.