I’ve written several posts about the Upper Room, the kid-friendly space in our sanctuary balcony where school-age children go during the worship service. There they take part in quiet crafts, books, and other activities, all the while listening and participating in the worship service in their own way. It’s always gratifying to hear about a child asking her parent about something she heard while puttering around the Upper Room. Children listen.
You can read about some of our new challenges and growing pains here. It’s all good and natural stuff as we seek to be hospitable to our young friends upstairs in the balcony and our young-at-heart friends downstairs in the pews.
But I wanted to share a BIG cause of joy—the Upper Room is getting a mural! One of our folks has contacted an artist, Kate Cosgrove, who generously and graciously allowed us to use her work to adorn our walls. Nancy, the mother of two of your little ones, did the outlining based on Kate’s work, and the kids are filling in the color.
The idea is that the children would work at various times before and after worship, but last Sunday there was so much joy and momentum that, well, they kept going during church itself. Yes, things got a bit boisterous. But the photos of this masterpiece-in-progress speak for themselves:
My time at Myrtle Beach with First Presbyterian Church, Sumter SC, closed with a wonderful worship service, planned and led by the pastoral and music staff. I preached, but as is sometimes the case with these things, we did not coordinate a huge amount. Still the Holy Spirit wove everything together.
Sabbath confronts the culture of relentless production and our fears of scarcity… and this responsive call to worship captures it perfectly:
Temptation surrounds us:
do more, take more, have more. More food, more money, more power, more life!
‘What could it hurt?’ we hear—from friends, the media, our own souls: More hunger, more suffering, more need, more fear, more anger.
So we gather in God’s abundance and remember: God rested. We were slaves. God gave us Sabbath for renewal. In Christ we have everything!
Let us drink deeply from God’s spirit. God gives us all we need to Live fully, love deeply, and serve faithfully. Thanks be to God!
What’s inside? The collective wisdom and inspiration of the people of Tiny Church.
Pastors well remember that Christmas fell on a Sunday two years ago. In some traditions, a Christmas morning service is par for the course, but it’s not the norm for Presbyterians. What to do?
At Tiny Church we had a “come as you are” service in which people could wear PJs or other casual wear. We did not have a printed bulletin, which gave our administrative assistant a break from the copy machine during a busy time of year. Instead, I announced each element of the service. We read the psalm for the day from the pew Bibles as the call to worship. And the hymns that morning were the organist’s choice.
For the sermon/proclamation time, I had prepared a series of questions, each of which was printed on a slip of paper. These I placed in a Christmas-themed gift bag which people passed around. They were invited to pull out a slip of paper and answer the question, or choose a new one, or they could pass.
It was such a fun, low-key mode of worship that we did it again last year, and we’ll do something similar this weekend. (This time around we have the new “Glory to God” hymnal that has ready-made liturgies in the front!)
The gift-bag “proclamation” will be an experiment—Sunday is December 29, and it could be a good-sized crowd, much larger than Christmas Day two years ago—and people may come expecting an actual sermon. I may preface the sharing time with a short story or poem. But one of the great things about Tiny Church is how willing they are to do different things in worship.
Below are some of the questions I’ve used in the past. Have you done something similar? What questions would you add?
This Sunday’s gospel text is about Joseph, Mary and Jesus’ flight into Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous paranoia. We’ll be hitting that story harder on January 5, but if I use this text on Sunday, I’ll need to supplement these questions with some tougher ones that tease out the incredible sense of danger and drama in the story.
Tell about a favorite gift you’ve received—tangible or not.
Tell about a favorite gift you’ve given—tangible or not.
What is your most beloved Christmas carol and why?
“Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without ____________________.”
Which character from the Christmas story do you most admire and why?
Tell us about someone you think of especially this time of year.
Tell about a great surprise you have received. (not necessarily at Christmas)
Tell about an important Christmas tradition, now or in the past.
“For me, the Christmas season tastes like _______________________”
“For me, Christmas season smells like _______________________”
Jesus is the “prince of peace.” What’s one situation (personal, or global, or in between) in which you’re longing for peace?
Do you make New Year’s Resolutions? Why or why not? If so, will you make them this year?
Shelli Latham (whose blog is quickly becoming a must-read for me) put together a great mix of tunes to help her “worship in her running shoes.” I tried it out this morning (had to download a couple of the songs) and can testify that it’s great for running, and for running as a spiritual practice.
Someone commented on her blog how fun it would be to have with a whole series of playlists that follow this pattern, starting with gathering/call to worship, proceeding through the liturgy of the Lord’s Day, and closing with a blessing/sending.
I decided to come up with my own mix. I used Shelli’s criteria:
(1) You have to be able to run to it.
(2) It has to have the capacity to point you to God, even if you have to be a little creative.
(3) No references to pimpin’, guns, or anything that may sound like making out with Jesus… This is not the place to come for your Jesus is my Boyfriend fix.
Regarding (1), I’m a pokey, look-at-the-trees-while-gasping-for-breath runner, so my challenge was to pump up the energy with this mix, rather than fall back on the sad-sack aging girls with guitars stuff I usually listen to. Regarding (2 and 3), some of these actually do mention God, but Jesus is nobody’s boyfriend in these.
I also changed a couple of the categories and added baptism and communion. What do you think?
Prelude: Great Day, Eddie from Ohio
Call to Worship: Get Up Offa That Thing, James Brown
Prayer of Confession: Been Caught Stealing, Jane’s Addiction
I liked Lori McKenna’s Mars here, but it’s not fast enough for running. See sad-sack thing above.
Assurance of Forgiveness: Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours, Stevie Wonder
Prayer for Illumination: Ray of Light, Madonna
The Word: I’d suggest putting several things in this slot and/or mixing and matching depending on what inspiration I need that day. Options off the top of my head: World Leader Pretend, R.E.M.
Dare You To Move, Switchfoot All Star, Smash Mouth Yahweh, U2 Where You Been, Carrie Newcomer, which is actually about Jesus, but he visits the gay pride parade in a borrowed El Camino… so a bit of a midrash, no?
Anything by the Psalters. Gypsy gospel punk makes ME wanna run, how about you?
Affirmation of Faith: Let It Ring, Amy Ray
Baptism: Glass of Water, Coldplay
That seems too on-the-nose, but it works.
Communion: Cheeseburger in Paradise, Jimmy Buffett
It’s sad the extent to which I’m chuckling at this one.
Prayers of the People: Higher Ground, Red Hot Chili Peppers version
See how skillfully I avoided doubling up on the Steve Wonder? But the RHCP version really is better for running.
Offering:Hammer and a Nail, Indigo Girls
Benediction, aka Cooldown: Joy to You Baby, Josh Ritter
Can’t wait to try it out. Marathon training starts next week and I’ll need all the help I can get. Suggest your favorite running/workout/feelgood song in the comments.
The Sunday School movement began in the 1780s to provide education to children working in factories—children who were not receiving any other formal education. Teachers shared lessons on Christian religion, but also things like reading, sports, and drama. Today, more and more people are asking whether Sunday School is nearing the end of its life cycle, particularly in certain congregations and contexts.
Tiny Church’s practice in recent years has been to have Sunday School class during the worship hour, following the children’s time. For a small congregation, we have a good number of school-age children—this fall there will be nine, plus about seven middle and high schoolers and a handful of nursery-age.
That’s if they’re all there.
But they’re never all there… which is one of the problems with relying on Sunday School as a child’s primary Christian formation. “Regular church attendance” is different than it was even 5 years ago. Now, a couple times a month is considered regular. Around here, folks generally aren’t slacking off and sleeping in. They’re attending Girls on the Run, taking a weekend trip out of town, volunteering at the Kennedy Center, or helping a friend move. That means the adults who would teach weekly Sunday School are also out a lot, in addition to the kids.
Several of us at Tiny met this past Sunday to talk about Christian education in our congregation, and decided to see all of this as a creative challenge rather than a problem. We have the opportunity to think about Christian formation more holistically, rather than shuttling kids off to a separate room and trusting that they’ll get everything they need there.
Starting this summer, Tiny Church will no longer have Sunday School.
Instead, we will continue work in our Upper Room, which is the kid-friendly worship space in our balcony. School-age children go up after the children’s time and spend the rest of the service there. An adult leads them up and, before they go in, encourages them to “get ready to continue worshiping” by calming and centering, removing their shoes, and so forth.
There are always kinks to work out, but I’m happy to say that the Upper Room is working as well as I could have dreamed. Kids are able to wander, browse a children’s Bible or picture book in one of the comfy chairs, draw or do a simple craft at the table, use the Buddha Board, or mess around with the wooden Noah’s Ark or nativity set. And yet… they’re listening. They’ll walk over to the railing, peek over and watch what’s going on. I was preaching about Pope Francis’s recent remarks and a six year old walked up to Robert and whispered, “What’s an atheist?” I love it.
That said, we also see the value in building intentional relationships between adults and children (which is one of the primary benefits of Sunday School), so we’re thinking about planning a multi-week project maybe once a semester. At these times, children would have a “pull-out” during worship, perhaps to make a video about a Bible story, plan a puppet show, or prepare an anthem as an ad hoc children’s choir. But—and here’s the key—those activities would always connect to the life of the whole worshiping community. The video would be shown in worship, etc.
We also know we need to help equip parents. Like it or not, we are our children’s primary faith educators. I’ve heard of a church that sends home a packet each month with stories, activities, questions to discuss together, rituals, etc. I love this “homeschooling” approach. Sometimes (when I have time and inspiration) I will put together a GPS guide (Grow Pray Study) in the bulletin that helps people think further about the scripture and sermon, and I try to include something for families. That might be something we do more regularly.
We are also still considering how youth fit into this mix. We can see them as co-leaders of the special pullout activities. And we’re considering some mentoring, as well as partnering with another congregation for a mission trip.
Have you moved beyond Sunday School where you are? Would love to hear what you’re up to.