Conversation about Conversations – Part 2

Resources for the Home

In my last post, I promised to share resources that help parents encourage conversation in the home.  It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to get back to this post, between a major milestone, demands at work, and a household of sickness.  In the midst of all that, circumstances led to private conversations with each child about an important issue in their life. Then there were the usual conversations about the minutia of life, with a few brief moments of intentional connecting with each child.  And through it all, there is me, living with the nagging feeling that I am too busy, and not spending enough time with my kids!

Still, setting the guilt aside, I realize that these moments of conversations are for me some of the most enjoyable parts of parenting. More importantly, I know my children feel cared for when I take time to really listen and engage with them.

Conversation goals with children and teens

I have always thought of conversation as a learned skill, and see honest conversation as a gift we can give our children. Scripture talks about God knowing our innermost being, of God hemming us in ‘behind and before.’ (Psalm 139). There is nowhere we can flee from a God committed to loving us, just like the bunny that is unable to escape his mother’s love, in Margaret Wise’s well-loved children’s story, The Runaway Bunny.

Scripture tells us God knows us.  And that is comforting, intellectually. But how do we come to experience ourselves as known, and loved?  For me personally, the experience of being known and loved by God has come through prayer, which is of course conversation (talking, listening, focus on mutual presence and through it all: honesty).

Most of my conversation goals with my children come from my experiences in prayer.  Also influential is a book I read by Toronto-based child and family therapist, Jennifer Kolari, called Connected Parenting.  The book describes, among other things, how to build loving bonds between you and your child through empathetic conversations.  I read it ages ago, but it continues to subtly shape my thinking and practice.

Here is a rough description of how I would like our children to feel in conversation with me.  Namely that:

  • Mum genuinely is interested in what I think and how I feel
  • Mum is willing to talk with me about hard things
  • Mum is willing to listen
  • Mum values me
  • Mum and I can heal do healing and constructive things through conversations
  • Mum is proud of me and thinks I am a cool person

My hope is that our children will not only learn how to have conversations, in general, but that experience of being loved through conversation might also open them to experiencing loving conversation with God.  Whether or not I am succeeding in any of this, I have no idea. Regardless, I am committed to trying!

As a Christian mum, another one of my goals is to introduce faith as one of the many things we talk about as a family. Just as I want my children to gain the words to talk about their feelings, about their problems and about ideas, so I want them to acquire a language of faith.  One of the way that language acquisition happens is through conversation with a parent or close mentor who already speaks the language.  And, as mentioned in the last post, learning to speak about faith is part of the acquisition and development of faith itself.

Aside from the conversations that happen organically over the course of the week, here are some of my intentional practices:

Resources:

Encouraging dinnertime conversation:

We are lucky to be able to eat all our dinners together.  Our longtime practice has been to do a simple review of the day, each person sharing the best part and hardest part of the day.  When they were younger, to get things going and to learn about emotions, I would ask the kids to pick cards that described two to three emotions they felt during the day. (You can find that post here.)  We also have conversation cards, to broaden the topics we speak about as a family, and to build bonds by learning more about one another.  Some of the sample questions we have asked are as simple as “What is your favourite food that grandma makes?” to more obviously spiritual “If you could go and witness any moment in Jesus’s life, which would it be?” to downright revelatory: “If you could ask God any question, what would it be.” If you google “conversation cards Christian parenting,” a ton of free resources will come up such as this and this.  It’s up to you as parent to figure out which questions to ask in your home.

Using guided conversations around faith:

So, Christian devotionals.  Nothing revolutionary here. And it is not always effortless. We are are 24 entries into a new one right now, and it’s just meh. Our kids have loved the Adventures in Odyssey table devotional, and we have several of those. Overall, our experience with devotionals have been really hit and miss.

What is important to me is that there is a least some time in the week when we are having a family conversation about faith, no matter how brief, or, occasionally, how bored or confused.  The scintillating discussions are awesome, but I suspect the mundane and brief ones might matter too.

And to be perfectly up front: it doesn’t happen every day.  Sometimes we have been weeks without it, especially when we are running off to other activities.  But we always come back to it, and keep trying.

Seizing ordinary opportunities for conversations about faith:

This is really just about remembering to pay attention. If your kid asks a faith related question, don’t disappoint them by failing to engage!  This might unintentionally communicate that questions about faith don’t matter.  If you don’t have time, acknowledge the importance of the question and agree to find time later to pick up the conversation.

And if, of course, your child asks a question that stumps you (happens all the time around here), try not to close the conversation before it starts by only saying: “I don’t know.”  How about: “I don’t know.  What do you think?”  Or: “I wonder who might be able to help us find the answer?”  Wondering questions are always good. And it’s okay not to have all the answers.  I sure don’t have all the answers, and I am supposed to be a Professional Religious Person!

Creating extraordinary opportunities for conversations about faith:

Is there a parent/child Christian retreat at your Church or at your child’s summer camp?  Seize it. Is there a learning event that would interest your child, that you can attend together? Grab it.  Is there an opportunity to invite your tween into a conversation with other adults on faith?  Invite them in.  Recently, I took our eldest to a convent for a spiritual retreat. I thought she would be bored to tears; instead, she really welcomed the experience of silence.

When we move outside our comfort zones during these liminal moments, God sometimes does surprising things. Certainly, I am learning not to underestimate my offspring. Or God.

This desire to create extraordinary opportunities may be more important during the teen years, as the cognitive capacity of  your child grows and there is the desire to verbally and intellectually make sense of life, the world and faith.

Inviting others into the family conversation:

This is important for teens.

This is a new idea that we are trying on in our household, so I don’t have much insight to offer!  But the research suggests that for faith to “stick”, teens benefit from 5 Christian mentors investing in their lives in some way.   That person might be a youth pastor, a godparent, a trusted friend who is a regular feature in the family.  I will share more on the research on this one in a later post.

 

Conversation about Conversations

A few years ago I read the book Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids.  The book is one of two coming out of a major research project by Kara Powell and Chap Clark from Fuller Institute, who researched a group of 11,000 church-going teens. One of their findings in that study was the importance of conversations about spiritual matters between parents and their children. Sadly, the study also discovered that these kinds of conversations are happening infrequently in American Christian homes.

Since then, I have read a number of interesting studies in psychology journals whose findings line up with those in Sticky Faith.  A particularly compelling read was Kenda Creasy Dean’s report on the results of the National Study of Youth and Religion research, by sociologist Christian Smith.  In her book, Almost Christian, Dean has a chapter on the importance of language for creating not only meaning, but faith.  That chapter is so important, I reproduce a portion for you, below.

After a discussion of philosopher Charles Taylor’s writing on language, Dean notes:

If language has world-creating power, a theological vocabulary that helps us talk about God also helps us imagine what a God-shaped world looks like. The Holy Spirit reveals divine truth in the gospel not only to tell us what God has done in Jesus Christ but to help the church envision a way of life in which the life, death and resurrection of Christ become the ‘grammar’ of human existence. Teenagers who have trouble articulating what they believe about God also seem to have trouble forging a significant connection to God – and youth who do not have language for Christ are unlikely to imagine an identity in Christ. The practical theologian Thomas Long points out: ‘We don’t just say things we already believe. To the contrary, saying things out loud is part of how we come to believe.”(142)

Dean then goes on to make a case for what she calls ‘conversational Christianity,’ which includes reflections on the place for testimony as a tool for learning Christian language. (You can see the influence of Dean’s writings in my un-Anglican love of testimony!)

Dean’s writing in particular has galvanized my interest in helping parishioners find ways to gain a language of faith; in the home, it has in particular spurred on my interest in ‘sticky conversation.’

In my next blog posts, I will share resources I have found to encourage sticky conversations in the home, and my own efforts at encouraging parishioners more generally in developing their skills in conversational Christianity.

In Theaters: The Case for Christ

I just took our eldest to see the movie, The Case for Christ, which is out now in select theaters.

The movie tells the true story of an atheist journalist, Lee Strobel, who sets out to disprove Christianity after his wife becomes a Christian. To his mind, she has joined a cult; he despises the  (perceived) religious kookiness so much that for him, his quest is really about saving his marriage.  The movie essentially relates the backstory to Strobel’s world-wide bestseller: The Case for Christ.

Now I am not, generally speaking, a fan of explicitly Christian cinema, as it is usually tainted by overacting and saccharine plots. Of course, Lee’s conversion is a foregone conclusion – this is after all a Christian film!  True to life, Strobel does indeed come to faith through his strange little piece of “investigative journalism,” in a most awkward scene in the final moments of the film.

Having said all that, my daughter and I both liked the movie.  Yes, there was a bit of over-drama.  The story itself, though was compelling. The film is essentially a series of love stories: it is the story of a husband’s and wife’s struggling love in a bad place in their marriage; of a son’s anger at his distant father; of a man’s resistance to the very notion of a loving God.

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Strobel and his wife, not seeing eye to eye

There’s nothing in the movie that will convict the viewer of the ‘truth’ of Christianity, but the movie doesn’t aim at laying out the material in The Case for Christ.  The movie simply offers depictions of different ways of coming to faith, with Strobel wrestling for a reasonable faith, and his wife having more a deep conversion of the heart.  I appreciate that it also tells the stories of the atheists and agnostics too – those who have landed, by faith, in a different space – and painting them as the reasonable and caring people.

The research literature talks about the importance of mentors for young people, as they begin sorting through what they believe and don’t believe, and what their religious identity will be.  This movie, in a modest way, gives space for teens to question and wonder, and perhaps find for themselves someone with whom they identify in the film.  The characters offer a comforting model of people – who unlike, perhaps other adults in the teen’s life – haven’t landed yet on the side of faith but are still figuring out what it all means.

Capture
Strobel working late, investigating news stories and the Jesus story

The film offers a helpful assurances that questions and wondering and uncertainty are all a normal part of the journey of faith, which is critical for teens to hear at their stage of faith development.  It also gently reminds the viewer that the end goal is not doubt, but trusting relationship.

For the youth pastor and the parent, this movie may be a helpful resource, opening the door to conversations about the young person’s own faith questions and intellectual wrestlings, which conversations are so critical at this stage of development.

Our Family’s Holy Week Practices

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As a pastor, preparations for church Holy Week services consume a lot of my time and head space right now.  As a mum, we have our own family practices that – because they are annual – we just naturally fall into.  I thought I would share some of our family practices here, in the hopes that you may gain some inspiration for your own home.

Signs and Symbols

Just like we decorate for Christmas, in our household we decorate for the other seasons in the Church Year (especially feast days and holy seasons like Advent, Lent, and Easter-tide).  I like there to be a consonance between the signs and symbols in the church, and the signs and symbols in our home.

We have an alcove that I guess you could call a home “altar” where we decorate for the Church season. Here’s what we have up for Lent:

pray

homealtar

I’ve collected our “signs and symbols” over the years – mostly from dollar stores and thrift stores, although some of the treasures are ones made by me and the kids.  The art is all pretty much from printable downloads from artists on Etsy.com.  I store our seasonal decorations in bins, just like we do our Christmas decorations.  Now that they are older, the kids help decorate, just like they do at Christmas.

I know my positive, affective associations with Christmas are shaped in part by the sights and smells and sounds I associate with that season.  I hope that in a very humble and gentle way, these signs and symbols from Lent and Holy week will be one more thing that ties our children’s affections to God, in that same way that the Transcendent sometimes impinges upon our consciousness through a piece of choral music, or a stained glass window, or a fiery sunset.

Food and Fellowship

As a child and teenager, I was always fascinated by the Jewish observances around food, and especially the linking of special foods with special Festivals. Once I became Chief Cook in our household, with power and authority over the menu, I began wondering about ways to tie in special foods with special season of the Church Year, noticing all of my own positive associations with special foods at Thanksgiving and at Christmas.

Turns out, there are already many historic associations with the Church year that I simply didn’t know about!

Maundy Thursday

In 10th century England, clergy used to hand out Pax cakes to their parishioners on Palm Sunday as an encouragement to extend peace to one another and to their neighbours.  I have found some traditional recipes, but they are a bit complicated for me.  So this is the one I use:

Pax Cakes Recipe

Beat one egg.
Add and beat until smooth:
1 cup sour milk or buttermilk
2 tablespoons salad oil (salad oil is any vegetable oil)
� cup whole wheat flour
� cup wheat germ
� cup white flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
� teaspoon soda
� salt

Grease a heated skillet or griddle. Pour batter from jug onto the hot griddle in 3 to 5 cm diameter dollops. Turn the pax cakes when bubbles show.

Heat on the second side until brown. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Cinnamon may be added if desired. Makes 30-50 pax cakes.

Variation: Use 1 cup white flour, instead of combining whole wheat flour, wheat germ, and white flour.

Good Friday

On Good Friday, in the morning, we eat hot cross buns.  That is the first day we begin to enjoy them, and then continue eating the buns all through Eastertide.  One legend has it that 12th century English monk dreamed up these delicious treats as a way of honouring Good Friday, with the cross being the obvious symbol.

We also eat fish as our main meal that day.  This dates back to the the old traditions of fasting during Lent, which ranged from some kind of daily fasting, to fasting on certain days of the week, to fasting from meat on Fridays.  In some traditions, the diet for Holy week fasting (ie. one meal a day) was the xerophagiæ, which was a diet of dry food, bread, salt, and vegetables.  Fish was often allowed for the meal, as the fast excluded only flesh meat.

We haven’t practiced any kind of fast as a family, and this is mostly because I haven’t figured out how to meaningfully explain it to our children when they were younger, and because I myself get lightheaded and can’t work well without something for breakfast. But this year, our 12 year old understood the notion of “giving something up” for Lent for first time, as a meaningful spiritual exercise, so we might revisit it next year, and at least extend the practice to Fish Fridays in Lent.

Easter Sunday

A friend of mine taught me how to make pascha bread, and so that has become our Easter morning tradition. Unfortunately, since I leave the house at the crack of dawn, I don’t get to join the family in the meal; but I like that when our kids wake up, there are not just chocolate easter eggs waiting at the table for them, but a meal that is unique to the resurrection celebrations.

paschabread
Pascha bread

Lamb, a traditional food for Easter, doesn’t fit our budget, and anyways we are lucky in that my husband’s usually gathers this day, and so cooking is all taken care of.

Simnel cake is another lovely traditional food at Easter if you are baker (which I am not). It has marzipan balls representing the 12 disciples (minus Judas, which I guess makes only 11 marzipan balls!). If I felt equal to the task, we would eat Simnel cake on Easter Sunday or Monday.

Devotions and Worship

We do daily devotions at suppertime and during Lent have been doing the special devotional given out at our church.  But during Holy Week, we enter a special time of family reflections.  We have a Holy Week Egg tree devotional that we use, that I love because of the reflections and the visual reminders is offers:

eggtree

The artist is from Etsy, and is called Jesse Tree Treasures.  This was a birthday gift one year, as it is not cheap.

When the kids were younger, we used Resurrection Easter eggs, for Holy Week, which you can make or buy.

resurrections-eggs21-1024x768

Or, you can simply find a special devotional online to use in the home to mark this special week.  Here’s a simple one I found online this morning.

And, of course, worship with our faith community is an important part of this coming week.  For us, it means Palm Sunday as a family, Good Friday, the Easter Walk on Holy Saturday, and the big party on Easter Sunday.

Usually our kids go down for the kids’ program on Good Friday; just today our eldest asked if she could stay up with the adults.  She’s ready, I think.

Can’t believe how time flies!

Remember: there is no right or wrong way to mark this holy time in your home.  You know your family best!  Be creative.  And have fun with it!

An interview worth reading: “The Teenage Brain”

On the Grown and Flown website, there is an excellent interview with Dr. Frances E. Jensen, author of the The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults.  You can find it here.

We don’t have teens yet. But I do know that from a spiritual perspective, emotional attachment with parents is an important piece of the faith transmission puzzle. Dr. Jensen offers good tips on how to stay connected to your teen during those often turbulent years. Her insights help parents understand their offspring’s sometimes trying behaviour, from a developmental perspective.

Dr. Jensen also offers advice on key parenting issues during those growing years, especially as it relates to brain development.

It’s a quick and worthwhile read.

I find neuroscience (when it is explained in lay terms) fascinating, so I may even get around to reading Jensen’s book.  Likely when our kids move into the teen years, and I shift into “oh-oh” mode.

 

Youth Alpha

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I am currently using Youth Alpha for confirmation classes for a group of eight 12-14 year olds at our church. It’s my first time using it, and I’m impressed.

Here’s what I like so far:

It’s engaging and gets them talking:

No bored kids in this class! The length of each video is about 20-25 minutes, which ends up being about 45 minutes to an hour when you add in discussion.

The production value on these videos is impressive. It’s no longer just talking heads, as in the old adult Alpha series; instead, these videos are visually rich and make use of the most creative styles of image-communication.

Since the videos were made as an evangelistic tool, they assume little to no knowledge of the Christian story. For confirmation classes, given that young people come from all different places spiritually, this is very helpful. Everybody is able to participate.

Following the model of the older Alpha series, Youth Alpha is low-coercion and open to questions. Before each group discussion question, there are interviews with ordinary people giving their perspectives on the question. There are always a range of viewpoints, and that diversity in outlook (ranging from belief to unbelief) creates space in the small group discussion for people to speak their minds.

This is one of the gifts I appreciate most about Youth Alpha. I have never had so much honest conversation with young people in a group setting. Somehow, the videos create room for people to speak the truth about where they are at spiritually, instead of giving the correct ‘religious’ answer. As a pastor, I have gained deep insight into our young people’s lives, and so been better able to engage with their questions. For that I am truly thankful.

youthalpha

It talks about the basics:

Kenda Creasy Dean, in her excellent book Almost Christian, talks about the failure of both Mainline and non-mainline churches to teach the basics of the Christian faith to young people. This, she argues, has led to the concomitant development of unorthodox faith amongst North American young people, which sociologist Christian Smith has dubbed Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Dean writes:

We ‘teach’ young people baseball, but we ‘expose’ them to faith…we blithely assume that religious identity will happen by osmosis, emerging ‘when youth are ready’ (a confidence we generally lack when it comes to, say, algebra). We simply have not given teenagers the soul-strength to recognize, wrestle, and resist the symbiotes in our midst, probably because we lack [it] ourselves… Exposing adolescents to faith, as it turns out, is no substitute for teaching it to them.

Youth Alpha provides an excellent resource that helps redress that imbalance.

Here’s a look at the topics they cover off:

Life: Is This It?
Jesus: Who is He?
Cross: Why Did Jesus Die?
Faith: How Can We have Faith?
Prayer: Why and How Do I Pray?
Bible: Why and How Do I Read the Bible?
Follow: How Does God Guide Us Into Full Life?
Spirit: Who Is the Holy Spirit and What Does He Do?
Fill: How Can I Be Filled With the Holy Spirit?
Evil: How Can I Resist Evil?
Healing: Does God Heal Today?
Church: What About the Church and Telling Others?:

It is user-friendly and manageable for small churches & tight budgets:

Once upon a time, when I worked in multi-staff settings, I had time to develop my own curricula. Now, I am a factotum pastor: I am needed everywhere.

Youth Alpha enables me to do (I feel) a good job of confirmation preparation without requiring hours of prep. That means a lot to me, because the kids going through confirmation in our church matter…but my sanity is worth something too.

Plus, did I mention it is free?  No?  It costs exactly zero dollars, so that helps churches with tight budgets. (Of course, donations are welcomed to help under-write future Alpha ventures).

The caveat: It needs tinkering for your context

So obviously, as with every program, you’re not going to love every aspect of the videos. For example, we will not be showing the video session on healing (it is optional). And, you may not agree with every angle taken in the teaching. But you can handle that yourself as the leader, in the discussion portion.

So, for example, one of the questions today took us 20 minutes of energetic discussion to sort through: “How do you feel about the idea that God has a plan for your life?”  We talked about what that even means, this notion of “plan”, and what it doesn’t mean. We talked about human choice, and human responsibility. We talked about a “way of life” as opposed to a “blueprint.” We wondered about suffering, and how that fits in with this notion of God having a plan. We wondered about the scope of freedom. We somehow even ended up talking about sex and the huge pressure on teenage girls to give oral sex.  (Yep. Very revealing conversation, that continued on for awhile with parents and teens after the class officially ended).

There is a new Youth Alpha being developed, although the one currently available is only four years old.

Alpha has been around for so long, some people have developed an allergy to it.  I encourage you to keep an open mind and check it out.  It’s not going to be for everyone, but for those for whom it’s a fit, it is an incredible resource.

For Canadians, you’ll find the videos here:  https://www.alphacanada.org/ayfs/

 

St. Patrick’s Feast Day

celebratingseasons2

It’s March 17th, and bars around the world are serving green beer.

In our home, we are marking the day with our annual Irish coddle, a heart-clogging stew of potatoes, onions, bacon, sausage garlic and beef broth. It’s the only time we make it – in the hopes that the children will associate St. Patrick’s with this family meal in the same way I link turkey to Thanksgiving dinner. We are intentionally trying to build a family tradition.

coddle
It tastes and smells better than it looks.

And it’s a tradition that we are trying to create not so much because we are Irish (we are Irish in the same way that we are Scottish and English: barely).  We have made this celebration a family tradition because Patrick is a Christian saint whose story is inspiring and worth re-telling, year by year. Plus, it’s a party, and why shouldn’t religious things be associated with good food and good fun?

We celebrate the Church Year in our home, as a way of marking time other than by the school year calendar. I like the cyclical nature of the Church Year, with the holy seasons like Advent and Christmas and Lent and Easter shaping our family practices, and the party days like St. Patrick’s giving us reasons for practicing hospitality and inviting over friends, and fellowshipping over a fine meal.

A feast for the eyes:

Just like we decorate our homes for Christmas, so we decorate our home for the different seasons of the Church Year.  This often includes Saints days like St. Patrick’s.

shamrock
The feast begins.

As much as possible, I like there to be consonance between the seasonal colours at church and in our home, so there is the visual carry over from worship in community, and our communal life at home.

Thrift stores and dollar stores are my best friends. Plus, small plastic bins for storing these treasures year to year.

Fun and Fellowship

When our children were younger, we would often play games associated with whatever gospel story or feast day we were celebrating. On St. Patrick’s day, for example, a very popular one was finding the dollar store plastic green coins Mike hid around the house, then exchanging them for the pot of gold (dessert).  We still eat gummy worms with our dessert in memory of the fanciful tale of St. Patrick ridding Ireland of snakes, but this year we skipped the treasure hunt. Nobody complained, which is a reliable sign that the time for that game has passed. This year, the older ones were more interested in joining in adult conversations, and that is pretty wonderful too.

The key thing? I want my children to have warm associations with their faith. I want these celebrations to provide them with a treasure trove of good memories, and memories that go deep because they are rich with familiar tastes, sights, sounds and stories.

The Stories We Tell

As part of our Feast day celebrations, we always take a moment to read the bible story of the event we are remembering, or read a storybook or watch a video of the person we are recalling.

Since I left our usual St. Patrick storybook at the office, we watched this video instead.

It held the attention of the tweens in the room, and was easy enough to follow for the younger ones. It also generated some good discussion, including our youngest wondering how Patrick knew it was God who spoke, and not just a strange dream because of something he ate. This prompted a little out-loud thinking about how God guides, and some suggestions as to why Patrick drew the conclusions he did. There was also some wondering about whether we would have readily gone back to the country that had enslaved us. Our son concluded that “It would have to be from God” for him to go, but if God said “go,” then he’d go.

Then we ate green jello and worms, which is often how these things end: with laughter and too much sugar.  Just like every good celebration.

Edited to add:  this photo from five years ago just showed up on my Facebook timeline.  What ridiculously cute kids, eh?  And, I see we were still eating green jello back then.

oldays.PNG

 

Our Story & the Children’s Talk

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This is the second in a three part series.  Read the first entry here:.

Ivy Beckwith, in her excellent book Formational Children’s Ministry: Shaping Children Using Story, Ritual and Relationship, talks about the importance of not only of sharing God’s Story and the Church’s Story with children, but also telling the story of the local church.

She writes:

“No one can refute that our own stories, our own personal histories, and the way we tell them to others and ourselves shape who we are and how we act. Our memories provide our lives with context. Our histories help us to know who we are and explain ourselves to others. Our histories give us our identities. Because I believe faith communities play a large and important role in the spiritual formation of children and that stories of all kinds have the power to transform, it stands to reason that the particular stories and histories of a child’s faith communities have the power to shape children into children who love God and follow Jesus.” (49)

The children’s talk provides a good forum for sharing these stories.

Anniversaries & Images

Our church is looking ahead to celebrating the 90th anniversary of our foundation and the 40th anniversary of the rebuild after a fire destroyed the original church structure. A good part of our first planning meeting was taken up discussing how we would share these stories with the children and young people in the church. We talked about posting pictures in the entranceway, creating videos, interviewing the seniors who were there in the days before the fire and during the rebuild…Obviously, with these special anniversaries looming, we will have lots of occasions to tell and re-tell our community story.

fire
Photos of the fire that is part of our story.

But the most natural place to engage children with our local church story, on an annual basis at least, is on our parish’s feast day or anniversary Sunday. Again, as we have screens, it is easy for us to display photos from different eras of our church’s past. In other church contexts, it might be more appropriate to print a few, scanned digital images, show them during the children’s talk, and then post them on a bulletin board in a highly visible place where Sunday school meets.

Meet and Greets

I like to do interviews from time to time with members of our church, to allow those who participated in our parish history to tell their story and for members to tell children the story of the unfolding faith and life of our community.

A lot of this is testimony, which is about witnessing to what God has done or is presently doing in our lives. A former Bishop of mine, Philip Poole, used to call these Now Testaments, a term I absolutely adore and have re-purposed in my own context.

Now Testaments provide a powerful reminder that God continues to speak into and act in our world today.

interview (3)
Our caretaker, telling his story.

Because Now Testaments can be on the long-ish side, I tend to put those in between scripture readings once the children have gone down to Sunday school.

But I like our children and teens to hear these stories too, and those I handle in the children’s talk in the form of an interview.  Why an interview?  The interview allows me to control the length and direct the content.

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One of my fave interviews

Let me give a few examples of the kinds of interviews you can do in the Children’s Talk.  When nine of our older children went through our local formational program, I interviewed one of them, asking him to describe the highlights of the course and his accomplishments. He talked about learning to pray and his pride in reading through the Action Bible, from cover to cover. On another occasion, I interviewed a young tween about her decision to ask guests at her birthday party to bring canned for the local food bank in lieu of gifts for herself. She spoke powerfully about God’s call to care for the poor. In another instance, I interviewed our retiring caretaker and he talked about his ministry cleaning and caring for the building. Praying for him, and giving thanks, then made a lot more sense to the children. On still another occasion, when we were talking about praying for the sick, I invited a senior who had been sick in hospital to come forward and tell his story. He talked about what it meant, while he lay in his hospital bed, to know that the church community was praying for him.  (He was still very frail that day, so we had him sit for the interview. In a totally unscripted but melt-worthy moment, one of the shyest kids in Sunday school spontaneously came over and climbed onto his lap, sitting quietly there right through the whole interview).

Again, I cannot tell you in any statistical way what real impact this is having on kids’ lives. There is always a mix of kids paying close attention, kids poking their neighbour, kids looking bored to tears. In short, kids being kids! But I keep plugging away at it, because there is plenty of research that confirms the importance of mentoring in the faith formation of children and teens.

As Beckwith says: “When kids meet people who talk about their stories of faith, how God works in their lives, and how they live out their faith every day, they have models for their own faith development. They see people other than their immediate family, who make positive choices about loving God and living in the way of Jesus.” (53)