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.”


  1. I think we will have a chocolate fountain for fellowship time on Pentecost this year. It is fun, celebratory, something to share as one body, and allows for different kinds of things to dip that cover food restrictions (like gluten-free).

  2. Excellent ideas! I'll be happy to share these. I also teach Sunday School students about Pentecost's connection to Shavuot and explain why the Jews describe the scriptures as "milk and honey for the spirit." We talk about how milk makes our bones strong, which leads into a discussion of how reading the scriptures makes us spiritually strong. Then we talk about why we have a special cake on our birthday (and how it makes us feel special; just as the scripture do.) This is a perfect segue to discussion of Pentecost being the birthday of the church.

  3. children are strong agents of evangelisation. let us involve them in our churches. very helpful ideas


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