Monday, September 26, 2016

Year C - All Saints Day (Tuesday November 1 or Sunday October 30 or November 6, 2016)

All Saints Day falls on Tuesday this year.  It could be celebrated with great creativity during a mid-week gathering, but many congregations will celebrate it either on the Sunday October 30 and tie it to Halloween or on Sunday November 6 and tie it to the resurrection of the saints.

If you celebrate All Saints Day on October 30, look at the suggestions below but also go to HERE.  Especially Habakkuk and the psalm featured there may be more useful for children than the texts specifically for this day are.

If you celebrate All Saints Day on November 6, look at the suggestions below but also go to Proper 27.  The gospel and epistle there offer more ideas than the ones here.

And, if you celebrate All Saints Day on November 6 in the USA, remember that it is Time Change Sunday and turn your clock back so you can enjoy that wonderful extra hour of sleep.

Whenever you celebrate it, All Saints Day is one great holy day for children.  It is both an opportunity to point to Christian hero/ines and a chance to explore God’s promise to be with us always and forever no matter how hard things get.  So think of the children as you plan.  Check out both the general All Saints Day ideas below and the suggestions for the texts for the day that follow.

All Saints Day

With children, it is easy 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 connect to the Halloween interest in costumes) 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.  Saints are people through whom God shines.  Each saint shows us a different part of God.  Illustrate this by naming what of God you see in some of the saints in your congregation – maybe the music minister or the guy who heads up the CROP Walk every year.  Challenge worshipers to identify what they see of God in people around them.  Remind them that the more people we know and pay attention to, the more we know of God through those people.  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 a 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 Naming 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.)

To introduce the idea of saints to the children display one of the following pieces of art.

Used by permission.  Go to

“Gathering of the Spirits”  is non- literal art and will challenge children.  Some “I wonder” questions will help them understand the picture:
I wonder what that round thing is?  the sun?  the moon?  the light of God?
I wonder who the gold things are? 
Can anyone guess what the square things are? 
        (You may have to talk briefly about halos 
This should get to a discussion about all the people/saints who we are always aware of, who show us about God by just being there, and who help us live well. 

Used by permission.  Go to
Or, look at her collage “Of Supper and Saints” in which many different kinds of “saints” gather around the Table.  Identify what makes each figure unique.  Then, ponder what holds them together.  What do they share and what do they gain from being together “at the Table?  (This is especially effective if communion will be celebrated during this service.) 

"(I believe in) the communion of saints..."
If you regularly recite the Apostles’ Creed in worship, point to the phrase “(I believe in) the communion of saints.”  Direct worshipers to find it wherever you have it printed.  Note that it is a reminder that we are connected to all the people who have loved God and followed Jesus in all times and all places.  We are a community, a family.  Name some of the saints you will be thinking of today when you say this and invite others to think about the saints they will remember.  Then, recite/read the creed together.

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 process it around the room as you sing a hymn with lots of alleluias. 

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.

“For All the Saint’s Who’ve Shown Your Love” by John Bell uses simpler language than some All Saints hymns but is not as “cute” as “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.”   Go HERE for music and lyrics.

“We Are the Church Together” makes the point that the church is not a building, a steeple, or a resting place, but a community of people.  Before singing this song, recite this phrase and remind worshipers that they and all saints together are the church.

The second verse of “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty” is especially appropriate for All Saints and Communion.  Walk through it pointing out the connections.  Define cherubim and seraphim simply as angels.  Ask a class of children in advance to make banner illustrating all sorts of people and angels praising God together.  Process the banner in and display it during the singing of the hymn.  Sing the second verse again at communion even in response to the phrase “with the faithful of all times and all places.” 

Highlight the phrase “Praise Him above you heavenly host” in the Doxology.  Note that we are among “all creatures here below” and that everyone who loved God and has died is one of “the heavenly host.”  Point out that all the saints you have been talking about in worship today praised God when they were creatures her below and praise God now among the heavenly host.  Praising God connects us.

Singing “When the Saints Go Marchin’ 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.

Something to think about:  This is one of those days on which rituals, liturgy and songs have more power than preaching.  The challenge is to help children understand some of those rituals and the words in them.  It may be worth spending more time on getting banners made and involving people in rituals than in producing well studied sermons.

Year C All Saints Day Texts

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18

On the day before Halloween (and maybe near the end of a Halloween focused weekend), Daniel’s nightmare recalls all the scary stuff dealt with at Halloween and connects those to the scary nightmares and fears of monsters under the bed that trouble children.  It can also lead to identifying other scary things we face every day.  To all of these monstrous fears verse 18 is the answer.

Verses 1-3 say only that there were four monsters in Daniel’s dream.  Add verses 4-8 from CEV to hear about each monster and enjoy the awfulness of his nightmare.  A dramatic reading including facial responses to some of the details of the monsters bring the monsters to life.  Four older children might read one of the beasts each.

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Daniel 7:1-15

Daniel wrote: In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylonia, I had some dreams and visions while I was asleep one night, and I wrote them down.
The four winds were stirring up the mighty sea, 3 when suddenly four powerful beasts came out of the sea. Each beast was different.

      The first was like a lion with the wings of an eagle. As I watched, its wings were pulled off. Then it was lifted to an upright position and made to stand on two feet, just like a human, and it was given a human mind.

5 The second beast looked like a bear standing on its hind legs. It held three ribs in its teeth, and it was told, “Attack! Eat all the flesh you want.”

6 The third beast was like a leopard—except that it had four wings and four heads. It was given authority to rule.

7 The fourth beast was stronger and more terrifying than the others. Its huge teeth were made of iron, and what it didn’t grind with its teeth, it smashed with its feet. It was different from the others, and it had horns on its head—ten of them. 8 Just as I was thinking about these horns, a smaller horn appeared, and three of the other horns were pulled up by the roots to make room for it. This horn had the eyes of a human and a mouth that spoke with great pride.

Pause here, shaking your head as if shaking off the dreams.  Then read verses 15-18.  I’d immediately say “let’s reread that last verse again.  It is the one we need to remember.” Then, reread verse 18. 

15 Daniel wrote: I was terrified by these visions, and I didn’t know what to think. 16 So I asked one of those standing there, and he explained, 17 “The four beasts are four earthly kingdoms. 18 But God Most High will give his kingdom to his chosen ones, and it will be theirs forever and ever.”
From CEV
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Some Things are Scary Things, by Florence Parry Heide, can take you from Halloweeny fears to more everyday fears.  The book is a random collection of wonderfully illustrated things that scare children.  Rather than reading the whole book, select a few of the pages to read and discuss.  Present verse 18 as hope for each of the fears.

Psalm 149

Turn verses 1-5 into a responsive reading.  Have a worship leader read the verses with the congregation responding, “Praise the Lord!” to each one.  Even non-readers can join in on that.  Or, prepare a more elaborate reading with a choir (maybe a children’s choir) and children (maybe those who are not in the choir) with rhythm instruments.   One brief rehearsal with the saints involved in the latter is essential.

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Psalm 149:1-5
Responsive Reading

Leader:         Shout praises to the Lord!
People:        Praise the Lord!
           Rhythm instruments sound off
Leader:         Sing him a new song of praise when his loyal 
                     people meet.
People:        Praise the Lord! 
                           or a praise phrase sung by choir
Leader:         People of Israel, rejoice because of your Creator.
People:        Praise the Lord!
Leader:         People of Zion, celebrate because of your King.
People:        Praise the Lord!
Leader:         Praise his name by dancing and 
                     playing music on harps and tambourines.
           Rhythm instruments sound off
Leader:         The Lord is pleased with his people,
                      and he gives victory to those who are humble.
People:        Praise the Lord!
Leader:         All of you faithful people, praise our glorious Lord!
Celebrate and worship.
People:        Praise the Lord!
           Rhythm instruments sound off

Based on the CEV

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Ephesians 1:11-23

On the Sunday before Halloween, Paul insists that the saints belong to Christ who is the most powerful being in the whole universe.  We are safe.

Last Judgment, from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
[retrieved October 3, 2013].
To explore the lordship of Christ, display a photo of a judgment door from a middle ages cathedral.  Point out the demons who are being thrown aside and the big powerful statue of Christ in the middle.  Note that every time people walk through those doors to worship, they remember that they are safe with Christ. 

Mosaic of Jesus Christ, from Hagia Sophia,
from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
[retrieved October 3, 2013].
For the youngest children, display a picture of a very gentle Jesus (maybe Jesus with the children) and a stern Jesus as the Lord of the world.  Discuss the differences in the faces and how it feels to look at each picture.  Note that both are the same person – Jesus, the Christ.  Jesus is what his friends called him.  Christ is who he really was, the Lord of the whole world.  Conclude that having both pictures reminds us that we are safe with Jesus who is the Lord of the world and who loves us.

Talk with the children about all the gory tattoos people wear on Halloween, then give them each a removable cross tattoo or sticker to remind them that they belong to Jesus, the Christ, who is Lord of the whole Universe.

Tell worshipers that Paul wrote a prayer for the Christians at the church in Ephesus.  Insist that the same prayer could be for us.  Invite them to listen to it as if it were being prayed for them and for your church.  For the sake of the children with shorter attention spans, read only verses 16-18.  Read from The CEV with great inflection stopping to look up at the congregation at key points.

Luke 6:20-31

This reading might be titled “Rules for Saints.”  Children will get lost in the blessings and woes.  So select one or two to highlight with them.  The best might be The Golden Rule in verse 31.  Read it first introducing it as the number one rule for saints.  After discussing this key rule briefly, encourage older children to listen for other rules that go with it as you read the text. 

Another rule for saints is to love your enemies.  Enemy Pie, by Derek Munson, tells the story of a boy who saw his new neighbor as an enemy.  His dad volunteers to help get rid of the enemy by baking enemy pie.  One ingredient was that the boys had to spend one afternoon together before the pie could be served.  You can guess what happened.  The enemy became a friend.  The challenge for saints is to turn enemies into friends.  (It is important to note that it is often harder to do than it is in this book, but that the book gives us a good goal.) 

Highlight “Forgive us our debts/transgressions/sins, as we forgive…” in the Lord’s Prayer.  Before the congregation prays it, point to the phrase.  Talk about all the things people do to each other that need forgiving.  Include everything from saying mean things, hitting, taking what isn’t ours, and playing mean tricks on people to really hurting someone, even going to war with them.  Insist that the only difference between a friends and enemies is that the friends forgive each other.  Challenge worshipers to think of friends they need to forgive so they don’t become enemies.  Then, pray the whole prayer.

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