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

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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The Eucharist Has Left The Building

Jesus told the Samaritan woman in the Gospel of John, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither worship God on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem…But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:21-24

For the first time in my lifetime, the entire congregation is on the church’s shut-in list. We have been mandated to “shelter-in-place” and practice social distancing whenever we venture out of the house due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, churches have turned to social media platforms like Zoom, Periscope and Facebook Live to carry on the business of the church. Bible studies, small group gatherings, and the worship experience have been moved from the church house to our house. We are forced to go beyond the four walls of the sacred sanctuary into living rooms, and family rooms to partake in study and worship.  For some of us this is the first time that we’ve had spiritual formation experiences outside of the church. Our biggest challenge, however, has been what in the world do we do for communion? For the most part, we have adapted to going to church in the living rooms across the country. It is reminiscent of the early church which got its start in the homes of the early Christians.[1]  So, what does that look like for us on first Sunday? How do we experience Holy Communion when we are not there to physically partake of the liturgy and elements?

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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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Mother’s Day

I am a mother of two. One bright, creative, full of life five year old and her sister who lives in heaven. Mother’s Day has always been tricky for me. Don’t get me wrong. I love recognizing my mom, both of my grandmothers and the many other important “mothering” people in my life. My living child has an amazing godmother and many positive female role models but Mother’s Day is a challenge.

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Christian Faith, the Bible, and Public Schools

My mother began her teaching career in the public schools in the early 1970s. Over the years, she has recounted the times when she was expected to read the Bible to students. She remembers lovingly sharing Bible stories and even praying with her elementary-aged students. However, as the years passed, those expectations changed, and by the time she retired a few years ago, she no longer read—and wonders if she would have been allowed to read—Bible stories to students.

There is no question that the role of the Bible and Christian faith in the public schools has changed dramatically over the last half century. Some of these changes have been for the better; others have been less positive. Still, it has left some wondering, “Is there a place for the Bible and Christian faith in American public schools today? And, if so, what is it?”

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All Aboard the Intergenerational Train!

In their seminal work Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584-2069, William Strauss and Neil Howe describe generations metaphorically as distinct trains carrying groups of like-minded people to stations that represent the different stages of life. For instance, today, the “Millennial” train is passing through the rising adulthood station and the “Generation X” train is passing through the midlife station. Strauss and Howe posit that each train looks different to observers as they come through each station because each generation has a distinct character.

Generation theory (and its precursors) has been around for a quarter-century now. Perhaps an older notion than that is the presumption of a “gap” between each generation that makes living together more difficult. This perception has been aided by a trend in American society toward age segregation over the last 100 years, with the youngest Americans receiving an education separate from adults, who are in the workplace, and separate from the oldest Americans, who are retired. That is a major shift from what was previously a largely agrarian society. Continue reading