One of the things I really enjoy about the Lutheran liturgy (and probably liturgy in general) is that it gives voice to corporate experiences. Through liturgy we can celebrate, greive, confess, pray and listen to the Word together. One of my desires in working with faith formation with young children is to translate that corporate liturgy, which is often geared more towards adult involvement, into the language of young children’s experiences. The liturgy tells the story of the people of God, and I believe children can participate actively in that story on a level that’s incredibly faith-full and meaningful.
So when I realized that our class was going to be in charge of Bible Time on Ash Wednesday, I knew I wanted to work out an imposition of ashes. I thought it would be neat if the pastor from upstairs would come down and do ashes for the kids, so I emailed him to see if he’d consider it before talking to my director. He said he would consider it, so then I went to talk to my director to make sure she was okay with it. Her first thought was, “he won’t do it…we usually do it ourselves.” When I told her I’d already asked him and he’d already agreed, she was a little annoyed with me. She didn’t really believe he’d actually do it, so she told me to be ready for him not to show up. But to go into that is to detract, so suffice to say the pastor agreed to come down right at the end of our little 20 minute Bible Time to do a prayer and put crosses on the kids’ foreheads with ashes.
Then Mr. Ken died, so I wanted to make sure we named that and included our grieving in our Bible Time. So I asked the teachers to encourage the kids to draw pictures and make cards for Mr. Ken that we’d bring together as an offering and then give to his wife.
The story for the day was actually the Transfiguration story, which was the Gospel for the previous Sunday. So the challenge was to tell the story of Transfiguration, do a brief memorial for Mr. Ken and then explain Ash Wednesday…all before the little 3 yr. olds got fidgety or started falling asleep for nap. Actually, the memorial for Mr. Ken gave a nice bridge between the LIGHT of Transfiguration and Epiphany to the DARK of Ash Wednesday and Lent.
We usually hold Bible Time in the fellowship hall, and after the morning Bible study Mr. Ken puts away the tables and sets up the chairs for us. Well, I went down there 10 minutes early to set up the cross and candles, and the chairs weren’t set up. Of course. No one had thought about it. So I improvised and set up our space in the back, where we’d sit in a circle around a cross and candles in the middle.
Overall, Bible Time went really well. The pastor showed up just as we were getting started, so joined us for the whole service. The director didn’t come. I use Kenyan kangas a lot for costumes for Bible stories, and usually the kids get to wear them. I decided to switch it up and use the teachers this time, which the kids really enjoyed. We’d read the story in our class earlier in the week, so when we got to the part where a voice comes from Heaven, the teacher playing God didn’t know what the voice said, but the kids in my class helped him out. We said a brief Epiphany Litany as our prayer, where they responded to a petition with “Jesus is the light.” Then we plugged in Christmas lights, turned off house lights, and sang the Taize prayer “Jesus, remember me when I come into your kingdom” as the kids brought their cards and pictures up and placed them on the floor around the ‘altar.’ Then the pastor talked about how the cross reminds us what God did for us through Jesus. We sang “Jesus loves me” as he went down the line and offered ashes to those who wanted them. Not too much fidgeting and no one fell asleep!
Later I heard a kid humming “Jesus remember me when I come into your kingdom” as he played with dinosaurs. We also have what we call a “Jesus shelf,” which is a small book shelf that has Bible stories and other manipulatives. I’ve tried to use the shelf to reinforce the seasons and stories we talk about, so had recently switched out the nativity set for a bowl of rocks and battery-operated tea lights. I’ve also left my kangas there for the kids to dress up in. After Bible Time on Wednesday the kids all wanted to play in the Jesus corner. One girl wanted to be the pastor so we found a small bowl and she went around pretending to mark crosses on people’s foreheads and said, “Jesus loves you.”
Kids get it…that’s what I’ve learned this year. When we take time to include them in our faith practices, they get it. When we give them the tools to hear the Story and act it out, they get it. There’s so much in liturgical worship that they can respond to and interact with. They get it.
During Advent we read a devotional where each day there was a brief reading followed by an Advent Activity. By the time Advent was over, the kids were the ones reminding me to read each day. Now, during Lent, we’re going through a Lenten devotional that’s called “What Color is Lent” (http://www.printeryhouse.org/ProdPage.asp?Prod=DYL&cat=232), where each page is a seek-and-find puzzle and a brief reading about Lent. Again, they’re really getting into it. On Friday the color was white and the object they were supposed to find was the cloud, out of which the voice of God said at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my son, whom I love.” So I told them that when they see a cloud outside they can remember that God says to them, “Name, you are my son, whom I love.” And sure enough, we had to go through the whole class and say that for everybody. (“what about me?”) Then, when we had said it 10 times for the kids there, we had to keep saying it for the kids that weren’t. Then someone remembered that we’re getting new friends soon, so we had to say it to them too. Then someone else said the teachers, so we had to say it for the teachers. And Mr. Ken’s wife.
So, needless to say, I really enjoy bringing these liturgical seasons into the rhythm of our time in class and Bible Time. Something else I’m trying this year, which will either work or not, is having a prayer room set aside during Lent. We’ve gotten permission to use a Sunday school room as a prayer room, so each week I’ve planned different prayer activities that reinforce the story for the week. The idea is that a teacher can visit the prayer room with a small group of kids, and that throughout the week all the kids will get there. The first week starts tomorrow, and the kids will be making a necklace with prayer beads to remind them of the promises God gives us in the Lord’s Prayer to help us stand up against temptation. More on that as it plays out.