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

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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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

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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A Time for Reflection: What are we learning?

Three months ago life as we had known it changed. Schools and church buildings closed. Stores and businesses shut down. Homes became offices for many.  We became even more aware of the “front line” workers in our communities and the risks they take to keep basic services in place.

Words and technology platforms that we used occasionally or hadn’t heard of before became part of our daily language. Many faced the realities of virtual worship: to stream or to record? Instrumental music or vocals? What tools do we need to pull it off?

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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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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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