Puppetry and The Pandemic

I have learned many new technology skills during this time of physical isolation and virtual ministry. I’m sure you have, too. I’ve also discovered that I could reach back to skills that I haven’t exercised in a while that find new life in these challenging times.

One of those skills is the art of puppetry. I’ve always been enamored with puppets, since my time growing up with the likes of Captain Kangaroo, Shari Lewis, and later Fred Rogers and the Muppets. There is something magical that happens when you animate these pieces of fabric and stuffing into a living character with particular personality traits.

At the Presbyterian School of Christian Education back in 1990 I actually took a class in puppetry and spent many long hours at the sewing machine making as many of these fabric friends, as I could in the short three-week intensive class. Puppet ministry was still in full swing in many churches. In my first ordained ministry at Spring Hill Presbyterian Church in Mobile, Alabama, I trained my middle school youth in the art of making puppets and producing puppet plays. A church member built a stage and we performed throughout the community and on mission trips.

Fast forward to the present and puppet ministry has taken a back seat to more technology friendly ways of getting across the biblical story and the formational aspects of a life Christian discipleship and service. However as people in educational ministry search for an optimal way of presenting Biblical stories online, puppetry is once again making a come back.

Why?

  1. Visually puppets are attractive and eye catching on the screen, as many of the people I listed above discovered with the advent of television.
  2. In a time when we’re physically distant and pastors and educators are talking to a screen, puppets give us a conversation partner with whom we can have a dialogue, often times embodying the voice of the missing child
  3. Puppets bring humor and life to a difficult situation. I remember in doing these community shows back in the 1990s, often just the appearance of the puppet on the stage would bring laughter from the children. They didn’t even have to say anything.
  4. Puppets can ask the questions that children may have, but not be able to voice. They don’t have to be shy or embarrassed to make mistakes or can ask a question that a child might feel is too silly to be asked.

So, when my home church asked me to film two children’s moments while our pastor was on vacation, I brought out Zeb (short for Zerubbabel), who I had built back in 1990 and this 30-year-old puppet made his debut assisting me with telling two stories from the book of 1 Samuel, which our church is currently studying:   Call of Samuel and  Capture of the Ark of the Covenant. You can view these two messages with the above links.

Let me know what you think about puppetry making a come back and any experiments that you are doing in this art form within your ministry. You can leave a comment here on the site or within the Hope4CE Facebook group.

Kathy L. Dawson, Benton Family Associate Professor of Christian Education, Columbia Theological Seminary, Hope4CE Steering Committee Member

Is VBS to be part of your RE-ENTRY?

In 2020, being an “experienced” Vacation Bible School (VBS) staff or volunteer won’t automatically get you very far, at least not on the programmatic side. Nationally, Christian Educators are seeking out ‘bridge options’ to serve children and families during this between-time. They are choosing a creative mix of the virtual and the mundane. Some can be integrated into a unique, perhaps one-time (perhaps not) VBS venue. Examples include: creating short video clips via LOOM, a “daily bread dinner” story and cooking project, Godly Play sessions via Zoom, adapting an Easter “Ring-and-Run,” “Flat Jesus” narratives, or a Zoom game or art night.

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And the Survey Says . . .

Sharon Ely Pearson shared the results of her ecumenical curriculum survey on her own blog. I wonder how your ministry matches or challenges these results.

Rows of Sharon

4006230793_9b2742c25e_oAn on-line survey was held on a voluntary based during June 2016 to learn what curricular programs were being used in congregations with children, youth, and adults. The survey was disseminated through e-mail and social media (predominately Facebook groups) and various organizational list-serves (Forma, APCE, CEF,AUCE, and the Christian Education Network of the ELCA). The construction and results of the survey was conducted by the research group of the Church Pension Group, the parent company of Church Publishing Incorporated. The analysis of the data is strictly mine, and I take all responsibility for its interpretation.

Godly Playcontinues to be the most used program with children, with Montessori-type programs used by 36% of churches. The other three types of curriculum were lectionary-based (25%), Bible story based (30%), and workshop rotation model (9%). Most churches use a variety of resources, combining and tweaking them…

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Stepping Stones in Faith

One Church’s Process to Identify the Basic Milestones on the Journey of Faith…

Over twenty years ago in my early days as Minister of Education at Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, GA we began to talk together about what were the most important concepts to teach our children, youth and adults. We needed a plan and a goal. So we formed a committee! But what a gift this committee became to me and our ministry together. For as we met over more than a year and a half we began to solidify what became the foundational book of our Christian Education at Peachtree – Stepping Stones on the Journey of Faith. I don’t remember the term milestones at that point in time but our work does seem to relate to the emphasis that is now found in many churches in providing milestones for the journey of faith.

As we got started I did some research to see if there was a document in existence that listed what the important concepts of our faith were and at what age they should be taught. I remember having a conversation with Liz McWhorter at the PC(USA) national offices who told me they had always talked about creating something like this but never had that she knew of. She challenged me to create it. So we began our work together at ground zero and it was well worth it.

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Visual Parables: Connecting Faith and Film

Fr. John Culkin inspired me to develop bridges between faith and film when he wrote that were Jesus to begin his ministry today, he would become a filmmaker. The best storytellers are working in Hollywood, so that is where he would be in order to reach the masses with his message. VisualParables.org is the culmination of my media ministry (Presbyterian) that began in the Seventies with writing reviews for several Catholic magazines, followed later by reviews in Protestant and secular newspapers. VisualParables.org moves beyond merely reviewing films by providing tools for church leaders to use them with their people to explore faith and personal and social issues.

The site offers about 1200 free reviews with one or more Scripture references attached. (Sometimes I spend almost as much time searching for the relevant Bible passage as in writing the review.) Each month the VP journal, available by either annual subscription or individual issue, includes the reviews plus a set of questions, ranging from 4 or 5 to as many as 20. Preachers tell me that they usually read the column “Lectionary Links” first because it suggests one or more films related to the Sunday texts of the Common Lectionary. Methodist chaplain Doug Sweet contributes a column that reviews film books and new DVDs. There are special articles, such as “Celebration of the Dance in Film,” and “Social Issue Films Reviewed in Visual Parables,” arranged according to category/themes—the latter lists almost 550 films. Cindy Corey, director of a Presbyterian resource center, reviews various short films.

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Selecting Children’s Bibles

At a recent gathering of the East region the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators, Elizabeth “Lib” Caldwell, retired professor of Christian Education at McCormick Seminary, led a discussion of things to consider when choosing a children’s Bible.

She offered a variety of criteria, or lenses, through which to examine children’s Bibles. Continue reading

Planning for Adult Faith Formation

At the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE) Annual Event in Baltimore,  Zeta Touchton Lamberson led a workshop on Adult Faith Formation. Believing that the role of the church is to walk alongside adults through their journey of faith providing resources, opportunities and conversations that will draw them into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ, the workshop led the participants through a process of developing an intentional comprehensive adult education program. Using the Stepping Stones on the Journey of Faith resource (available from Zeta Lamberson at billzeta@bellsouth.net) four areas were identified as important: Biblical Knowledge, Worship & Sacraments, Stewardship & Mission, and Church History/Theology/Doctrine/Polity. The participants used a brainstorming process to identify resources that had been used in their churches in four areas. Following the event the list of resources were compiled and amplified and Zeta has shared them here and would love to know of other resources used successfully with adults. Continue reading

Is reading books a dying art?

Earlier this week we looked at Maria Harris’ three questions of what may be living, dying, or rising in educational ministry. I’m working on a project now where I need to write an apologetic for reading books in the digital age and am wondering if the reading of printed books is something that may be dying. Will it go the way of cursive writing in this ever increasing proliferation of electronic devices? Is there something inherently different in the way our brains work when we pick up a book with paper and ink and when we pick up a tablet or sit in front of a screen to read? Continue reading