Outdoor Sunday School-A Nursing Perspective

I live in Austin, Texas, and attend Central Presbyterian Church in downtown Austin. I run the children’s program under the associate pastor as well as teach Godly Play. During the week I am a pediatric home health nurse. I work nights fifty hours a week for a patient who is severely immune compromised, the common flu or RSV sends my patient to the (P)ICU. When I went into isolation March 13th, 2020, I did not know it would be 15 months until I would see any of my church family again.  

We reopened June 13th, 2021, with masking HIGHLY encouraged for everyone and the first thing I did when I sat down in the pews again was look out the windows and see some of my kids. I got right back up and went outside to be with them, because that is where I have always been called to be in the church, with the children.  

I wanted to be there for the kids and return to some sense of ”normal,” so I began brainstorming how to best restart our Godly Play program. Over the lockdown I had been writing a small synopsis for our e-blast with YouTube links for videos of that week’s story. I didn’t do Godly Play live during quarantine because it felt like it was one more thing for parents to feel obligated to chaperone and I liked the idea of them being able to do it on their time. When we were able to come back together I wanted to do so in the safest way possible and that was never going to happen in doors.  

I was vaccinated, but the vaccine was not available (and still is not currently available, but might be, come October! *fingers crossed*) for children at that time. So the safest place for us to meet was outside. The only problem? It was summer in central Texas with temperatures consistently in the 90’s. That first Sunday back while talking to some of the parents on the playground I threw around the idea of restarting Godly Play outside. There is this space in our playground that used to have swings, but those were torn down a few years ago due to safety concerns (they were falling apart). The area was constantly in the shade between the fellowship hall and a neighboring parking garage. It was at least 5 degrees cooler there. I got an old quilt for us to sit on (that I washed every week) and encouraged everyone to bring their own water bottles (or provided individual ones). Our fellowship hall was right there if anyone needed a few minutes of AC and I decided not to provide snacks. When I was out of town I would let everyone know a week or two in advance and decided against having a substitute. I continued to send the YouTube videos via blast for those who were still unable to join us. All of these precautions I took to heart very seriously for the safety of my patient and our children‘s health.  

Two months later Austin returned to a level 4 and quickly a level 5 and I had to tell the pastor that I no longer felt like it would be safe to conduct Godly Play in person again with the rise in cases and the severity of the Delta strain. These are by no means the only ways to keep our little ones safe and to keep spreading the stories of the Bible, but they were the ones I made for me and mine because I love these children and want only to do the best by them as much as I am able. 

Benita Alice “Allie” Barden, RN, Austin, TX

Picture Books in Ministry

Our Children’s Ministry Team is trying something new this summer.  We have been meeting online for over a year (as most of you have been, too).  We are going to start slowly restarting in-person worship and Sunday School.  We are requiring reservations for worship, which means not everyone will be able to come each Sunday.  This also means that the number of kids in Sunday School will be dramatically decreased, we will have a variety of ages (4-11) and we expect sporadic attendance.  We thought – this is a great time to try something a little bit more relaxed and open-ended. 

Our plan: (about 45 minutes)

  • After the Children’s Message, the kids will be dismissed with leaders to the front lawn of the church.  We will sit on foam squares, in the grass, in a circle.
  • Open with prayer and a couple, fun, camp-style songs. 
  • Introduce the book with “See, Think, Wonder” questions: show the children the cover of the book, ask what do you see?  What do you think this book is about?  What do you wonder about?”
  • Read the book. 
  • Ask a few “Wonder Questions”:  Where can we find God in this story?  What does God have to say to us through this story? How does Scripture tie-in to the story? 
  • End time together with something fun.  Chalk drawing, parachute play, bubbles, nature walk, spray bottle (water) art, hopscotch, 4-square, etc.

I asked educators and pastors to share their “best reads”, “Top 10” or “recommended titles” for this post.  I got a HUGE response.  The whole list of suggestions loaded in the “Files” on the Hope4CE Facebook Group and found below as an attachment

A couple of websites to check out:

  •  Compassionate Christianity shares their new Children & Youth Books & Resources Database. It is a searchable database of progressive books and resources.  These resources are great for ministry leaders, pastors, parents, and Sunday school teachers.  They have been classified by theme, age range, type of resource, and scripture passage to help facilitate planning.
  • Story Path from Union Presbyterian Seminary – you can search books by Revised Common Lectionary date, Scripture passage, or theme)
  • Picture Book Theology -last post was 2019 – but you can search books, authors, themes — there is A LOT of great info on this site

Why use Story Books or Picture Books to teach Sunday School?

From Picture Book Theology: (author Hanna Schock) We all learn through making connections. This very human strategy never ends. Ideas have to have something to attach to. The more attachments we can muster, the stronger the learning. Likewise, the more varied a concept’s attachments, the broader our understanding will be and the more likely we’ll be able to generalize our learning to new situations. Repetition of ideas leads to deeper learning. Strong, broad, and deep learning occurs when concepts are easily and quickly accessed in a variety of situations.

Below you’ll see the attached file curated from a variety of sources:

Whitford Recommended Books 2021

Jenni Whitford is a Certified Christian Educator in the PC(USA) and Director for Children’s Ministry at Worthington Presbyterian Church (Columbus, Ohio). She is also a member of the Hope4CE Steering Committee.

Micropracticing

“What is the simplest this can be and still be effective?”

Over the last twelve months I’ve found myself asking the question above over and over. I’m exhausted by the realities of day-to-day living during a pandemic, and I’m guessing many families around the world would say the same.

As I was brainstorming what to offer for Lent in Vibrant Church Communications, the question of simplicity was front and center in my thoughts. As my thoughts tumbled around, the rough edges knocked against each other and smoothed into shape: micropractices.

directions for planting seedlings

On the surface, micropractices are simple. They are an action that can usually be taken in the moment or easily done at some point in the day. They follow the three pillars of Lent: praying, fasting, and giving. There’s an additional fourth category called “more” for practices that don’t fit into the first three.

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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.

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A Glimpse: What Fall Ministry Might Look Like

We’re starting a week on planning in a time of uncertainty by this reblog of another excellent post by Christine V Hides. Please share your own plans for the fall and what you are doing to prepare this summer either as a comment here or on the Facebook group page.

Christine V Hides

In the spirit of collaboration and modeling vulnerability, I am offering you a glimpse of the first iteration of our plan, designed in the shape of a teeter totter, able to pivot smoothly between gathered and online as needed. Here are the steps we took to get to our first iteration from which we will learn, adapt, and grow.

FYI,  I’m part of two upcoming planning webinars that will delve deeper into planning in these unpredictable times:

Step 1:

Remember your why. While just about everything has changed over the last few months, your ministry purpose has not. There are many ways to say it, but our purpose has always been to nurture disciples who know, love and serve God and in so doing transform our hearts, minds…

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FIG-Families In the Garden

Is your church searching for a family activity that moves slowly into an expanded social bubble while providing an opportunity for the congregation to begin to “regather” in person on your campus? Why not be a FIG and DIG?

family in the garden (003)
Children of God, of all ages, are looking for ways to connect beyond screens. Church activities have been fairly two dimensional in the last few months. Now, we are all ready to head outdoors and back to working together doing kingdom work with kingdom hands. Second Presbyterian Church is reviving one such project called FIG. The “Green Team” tends the Northside Community Garden to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to the Northside Ministry’s Food Pantry. They collaborated with the Children’s Ministries Team to include members of all ages. Three years ago, a program called “FIG” began.
“FIG” is a collaborative partnership between the Community Garden and the Children’s Ministries program. It stands for Families in the Garden.

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Insights for Churches from Our Camps and Conference Centers

As churches consider what it will look like to offer in-person programs for children and youth, you may want to gain insight from the experiences of others. While most of our camp and conference programs were cancelled due to COVID-19, some sites are currently offering face-to-face programing this summer. Here are just some of the insights shared by our camps and conference centers:

T-shirt front that says "Six Feet Apart but Closer than Ever" and has an outline of a camp saying "Summer Camp 2020" at the bottom.

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Beyond the Book Club: Anti-Racist Children and Family Ministry

This is a reblog from Christine V Hides’ site with her permission. This is a very important post for our times and for our ongoing work in loving our neighbors. KLD

Christine V Hides

There seems to be a pattern. Whenever a video of a Black person being killed emerges, shock and outrage fill our social media feeds. White people begin to ask (again), “what can we do?” Booklists begin to circulate (again) on social media. Book clubs begin (again). Fortunately, there is a wealth of excellent resources for learning about the history of systemic racism in the United States. There are also amazing lists of books to read with children and tips to help White parents to have important conversations about race. I am grateful for the hard work and effort of those who write and curate these resources and the churches who engage with these hard conversations. But…

Unfortunately, in both society and in Children and Family Ministry our efforts often don’t move beyond the book club. White colleagues, let’s not wait until the next horrifying news event to take…

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Connecting With Kids This Summer

We are all coming up with NEW ideas to help connect with our kids and families this summer.  We may not be able to gather in large groups, but we can still CONNECT in creative and meaningful ways.

I have gathered ideas, suggestions and try-it’s to share.

This is a start; I am sure this awesome group of Ministry Leaders/Teachers/Educators will keep adding to the list.  Most of these you can do with a small group 3-5 people or families can meet up and participate as their own small group.

 

FamilyBikeRiders

*Meet up or Drop off (limit 3-5 people and observe social distance protocols)

  • Bike Ride
  • Visit a farm – the Bible uses a lot of farming and shepherding metaphors (ask the farmer to demonstrate calling animals for feeding time or how they plant a field or to explain what gleaning is)
  • Drive-thru farm (we have a few of these in Ohio)
  • Serve at a Soup Kitchen or Homeless Shelter
  • Petting Zoo
  • BinGO – Bingo in the church parking lot. Open the back of the mini-van or SVU, sit in lawn chairs near your vehicle.  Use a bull-horn to call #’s.
  • Movie – outdoors (bring your own blanket or chairs)
  • Book Club – read a book together and discuss in person or over zoom
  • Dog Show – dress up your dog, best groomed, tricks or agility (even if you don’t have a dog, it would be fun to come and watch)
  • Hike at a local park
  • Walk and meet at smaller/less known Nature Preserves
  • Kayaking or Canoeing
  • Video – send in a 60-second video of anything – blowing a bubble from bubble gum, cup stacking, playing the piano, reciting a poem, doing a trick on their bike, burping the alphabet…etc

*Disclaimer: I wouldn’t use the church van this summer but encourage parents to meet you or drop kids off for a designated work time.  I would also encourage mask wearing.

Low Touch or No Touch Games

  • Frisbee golf (each participant brings their own frisbee, or provide cleaning wipes)
  • Bocce Ball
  • Cornhole (make up new bags using ziplock baggies, easy to wipe down)
  • BadmintonWater fight (002)
  • Capture the Flag
  • Croquet
  • Supersoakers – water fight

 

Things I have been thinking about, but not sure how to do

  • Theology on Tap with Kids — Lemonade on the Lawn?
  • Some Good News – based on John Krasinski’s SGN channel – ask people to send in short videos of people doing good things (make a compilation video to share)
  • Mission UNTRIP – serve locally – dog shelter, resale or thrift shop, food bank, community garden, etc…
  • Unwind at 9 – a meet up time with parents to check in, share fears and hopes and connect

What have you been thinking about?

What can you add to this list?

Update in the comments – share your ideas.

jenni bio pic  Jenni Whitford is a Certified Christian Educator in the PC(USA) and Director for Children’s Ministry at Worthington Presbyterian Church (Columbus, Ohio), Member of Hope4CE Steering Committee