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

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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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

Daily Devotionals

When I was an educator/pastor at the Nassau Presbyterian Church, the Adult Education Committee had the idea of creating a Lenten devotional, with daily entries written entirely by members and friends of the congregation. Guidelines for submission included a maximum word count, inclusion of a 2-3 sentence prayer and brief bio, and style suggestions such as preferred Bible versions for a brief selected quote and appropriately inclusive language for God and humanity.  This is not a unique or even a new idea, but two features of it, and a Covid-19 time expansion that grew from the practice this spring, may be developments worth noting.

The first year, 46 days of devotions, based on each person’s choice of text from the daily lectionary, were printed in a small booklet, and reproduced in large print. The latter were in such high demand multiple additional copies were printed. Older adults were enthusiastic users!

In subsequent years, these additional access points have been added:

  • Daily posts are sent by email (the first one automatically, subsequent ones to those who subscribe)
  • All are made available on the church website
  • All are posted in the early morning on Facebook

These two features have become very important to readers:

  1. The writer’s name and a short bio are attached to each devotion, primarily stating one’s involvement in the congregation
  2. Writer’s email addresses are provided so readers may write a note of appreciation or connection to the writer. Emails are listed in the print version only to protect privacy. Those using other formats may send an email forwarded by the church office.

In this spring of virtual worship and programming, connection is so important no one has wanted to stop receiving these after Easter, so the practice has been extended through the 50 days of Eastertide to Pentecost. No print version is available but all other ways of distributing the daily devotion continue. Volunteer writers are solicited and all submissions follow the usual guidelines and focus on a selected lectionary text for the day. (See below for an example of a recent Daily Devotional Post.)

Daily posts inspire faith and prayer, offer encouragement, and most important of all, create and nurture connection amongst the congregation, something worth valuing at all times, not just in this time.

Devotional Post Example 6-1-20

Joyce portrait

 

Joyce MacKichan Walker, Retired Church Educator/Pastor, Princeton, New Jersey

Bytes of Faith-An Idea for Faith Formation

When Covid-19 stay at home orders came in March, our congregation was caught off guard.  Our Christian Education ministry relied on face-to-face gatherings.  From Sunday School to youth Confirmation, Wednesday night LOGOS to weekly small groups, we were used to traditional ways of doing Christian education.   And we were in the midst of our Lenten Small Group study!  Teacher training events never talked about what happens during a pandemic when you are told to physically social distance from other people.

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Faith at Home- Narrative Lectionary

Just as Hope4ce offers Revised Common Lectionary related at-home activities, we want to provide a similar resource for congregations that follow the Narrative Lectionary. From the Working Preacher site, “The Narrative Lectionary is a four-year cycle of readings. On the Sundays from September through May each year the texts follow the sweep of the biblical story, from Creation through the early Christian church.

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Family Trivia Night

Zoom fatigue anyone? Yeah, me too. I realized it finally when I had a youth meeting and only my kids showed up because I made them. We are forgetting time and what used to be a normal schedule and routine. In many ways I am ok with this, except it is 11 am here on a “school day” in North Carolina and I have yet to see a child emerge from their bedroom.

My children and youth families I am sure are feeling the same. We have been picking back up with attendance to meetings now that school has gotten organized, but one thing that has never dropped off is our family trivia night. Every Friday at 7, I lock myself in a room in my house so my husband and kids can participate while I facilitate. Our church families log on to a Zoom meeting and talk a little trash while I play a little Yacht Rock to get them pumped up for competition.

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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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Youth Ministry in a Pandemic

No one knows how to do ministry in a pandemic. This is all so difficult. My Presbyterian Youth Workers Association (PYWA) colleagues and I worked with the Office of Faith Formation to help provide some support to youth workers through some Quicksheets. The Quicksheet, “Stay Home, Stay Connected” gives youth workers some ideas about how to use our gifts of support and connection virtually as we do ministry in the midst of a pandemic. We are all doing our best and trying new things.

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