Posted in Worshipping with Children, Writing

Innovative Ministry during COVID-19

I am a pastor in Seattle. March has been a wild ride, as Seattle started reacting to public health recommendations around COVID-19 on March 3. The rest is (rapidly-changing) history. And March, not to mention the pandemic, is not even over. Churches (little “c”) and The Church (Big “C”) have had to adapt to technology usage, theologizing about illness/crisis/pandemic/faith/loss, and pastoral care in the absence of being able to be physically present with each other. #SocialDistancing is hard for churches that share communion regularly, that pass the offering plate, that share signs of peace with each other and shake hands and hug and drink coffee together and snuggle kids and make food for each other…so, like, everyone, right? But we know that #SocialDistancing is pretty much the main line of defense we have against #COVID-19 in the USA, and so we have to do our part as faith leaders to model good and healthy behavior. Phillippians 2:4 says something about that: “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (NRSV).

I have seen folks altering the language about #SocialDistancing, encouraging things like #CompassionateDistancing instead, because right now, staying home and away from people (especially vulnerable folks) is the compassionate thing to do. And #PhysicalDistancing, because though we cannot be physically close at this time, we still have the capability to be social. (Thanks, technology!) And churchfolk (should) know that we can maintain spiritual closeness even though we are not physically present in the same location…this is where the impact of our “cloud of witnesses” gains even more meaning for me. Now, I am not only thinking of those witnesses who surround me who have transitioned on from this life, but I also have my churchfolk with me as I pastor in this time. These churchfolk might be a block away or a couple miles away, but while we can’t meet in person, their faces and life situations are front and center in my brain and my heart.

So, wow. There’s a lot to consider when churches transition from meeting in person to doing virtual ministry to offering programs and worship online. I have compiled some ideas for different age groups and situations that I have used/will use in my ministry in this time of Physical Distancing. Feel free to use these ideas, ask questions, or share your best practices as well! We are all truly in this together, and we need each other. We are many members, but we are one body (1 Corinthians 12).

Things to Consider

  • access to technology and facility with technology
    • how can you help folks access the needed apps/websites/programs; how can you help them learn
  • class differences: who is working from home, who is working in essential locations in the community (grocery store, banks, gas stations, hospitals), who might need childcare
  • how you’re getting the word out about your church’s programs:
    • voicemail message on church phone line
    • messages on pastor email/auto responses
    • social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) and website
    • email communication with church family

Children’s Ministry

  • Include a children’s time in the worship service. 
    • Read from a storybook Bible (recommendation: Growing in God’s Love)
    • Utilize Godly Play or Young Children in Worship stories
    • Talk directly to children (speak into the camera and make it obvious that this time is for them).
    • For object lessons, pick something easily accessible to kids at home. 
    • Use the time to talk about the feelings kids might be having relating to the current situation and life in quarantine. Acknowledge anxiety, fear, confusion, worry, grief and loss. (The adults overhearing this need this message too!)
  • Kid Kits.
    • Share via email. Include things like word searches, printable coloring pages, crossword puzzles, poems, writing and drawing challenges, links to songs and videos to watch. 
    • Drop off kits at their houses. Include things like bubbles, small puzzles, coloring pages, Bible verse cards, small stuffed animals, hand sanitizer, teabags, a small individually-wrapped snack.
  • Hold “Kid Chat” office hours. 
  • Make “Kid Chat” videos to post. Talk about how God welcomes all feelings, even and especially the tougher ones like fear, anger, grief, anxiety, confusion and depression. Back this up with Bible verses and stories. Invite them to respond to you. 
  • Storytime. Read to children, whether it is from a Bible storybook or from a picturebook you love. 
  • Craft time. Find a craft that has common household items and invite kids to a Zoom meeting where you all craft “together.”
  • Zoom Dance Party. Share kid-friendly songs to dance to. Challenge the kids to follow your dance moves, or follow theirs!
  • Scavenger Hunt at Home. Make a list of things that anyone could find in their homes. Or do a Nature Walk Scavenger Hunt.
  • Treasure Hunt. Make clues that lead to other clues and end in a prize. See this for ideas. 
  • Invite families to send photos of their children’s artwork and other creativity to you. Invite them to share with other church members. 

Youth Ministry

  • Text message youth group. Set aside the same time each week to check in with the youth group via text message. Facilitate by asking check-in questions. Lay ground rules at the beginning of your youth group message chain. 
    • Use Examen-style questions, like naming a “rose,” “thorn,” and “bud” for the day. 
  • Invite them to “gif their day” by sharing a gif that expresses how they feel. 
  • Puzzle Party. Either drop off or mail a puzzle to each youth. Then schedule a time when you all can videochat and do the puzzles simultaneously. 
  • Digital Scavenger Hunt. Invite youth to grab a screenshot of the found items. 
  • Cooking challenge. Set a weekly theme for the youth to cook, then have them send you photos of the items!

Young Adults

  • YAs are usually more experienced with technology so can probably easily meet using Zoom, Google Hangouts, Slack, Discord or another platform. 
  • Pray together. 
  • Check in with them individually via texting, emailing, calling and social media. 
  • Do a book study. The Millennial Narrative was a powerful study for my young adult group to do, as it explored the book of Joel and themes of grief and transition. For such a time as this, right? 
  • Use videoconferencing to share a meal together. Invite Young Adults to Happy Hour. 
  • Invite Young Adults to share their technology aptitude with others who need it. 
  • Assign Young Adults buddies with older congregants to check in regularly. 
  • Use Jackbox to play games together. 
  • Netflix Party. Download this Google Chrome extension and host a movie night for young adults where you can watch a movie together and chat at the same time. Or, watch a movie everyone has access to, and Zoom during the movie. 

Parents/ People Providing Childcare

  • Work with them to find out what times they most need something to offer to kids. Plan your program for that time. (For example: a parent made lunch while the kids joined me in a virtual dance party the other day!)
  • Be available for “office hours” for kid chats. Kids need a place to process what’s going on in the world, and people in children’s ministry should be safe places to be heard and have their experiences validated. This can also be helpful for parents, to support them in talking with their kids. 
  • Be available and in close communication with parents! Ask them what they need and how you can help them. Pray with them. 

Intergenerational

  • Prayer Time
    • Gather for a short prayer during the lunch hour. Have a pastor facilitate if possible. Keep this meeting over Zoom and confidential. 
  • Bible Study
    • Use Zoom to continue a Bible study. For preachers, consider Zooming with congregants to gain ideas for your sermon on Sunday. #collaborativepreaching
  • Trivia Night
    • Make a PowerPoint of the questions then use the Share Screen function in Zoom to show participants. 
    • You can also use Zoom then stream it to Facebook Live to provide people multiple ways to participate. 
  • Virtual Potluck
    • Invite people to share dinner via Zoom. Depending on how many people join, invite folks to share what they are eating for dinner or tell a story about a special memory with food they have. 
    • Check out Dinner Church for ideas on liturgies to use. Marcia McFee also has a liturgy that may be useful. 
  • Talent Show
    • Give people a week or two to prepare something for a Talent Show. Set parameters for this, like it must be 2 minutes or less. Have people email you to sign up for a slot. Use Zoom (and stream to Facebook Live, if desired).
  • Happy Hour
    • Invite people to join a Zoom meeting for an hour. This can be open, unstructured time where folks can hang out with no agenda. 
  • Facilitate technology access.
    • Share tutorials for whatever technology your church is using. 
    • Have an open time when you can accompany folks through the process of downloading and using programs like Zoom. 
    • Be generous with your patience. 
  • Collaborative Spotify playlist. Invite people of all ages to share (church-appropriate) songs to this playlist. 
  • Shared photos on a GooglePhotos page, a shared Facebook album, a Flickr page. Have people upload photos of themselves #stayingathome. 

Sunday Worship. There are LOTS of options out there. Find the one that works best for your congregation.

  • Facebook Live. This worked well for a couple weeks for my congregation, but it has become clear that the amount of traffic at 11am PDT is just too much. This caused us some difficulty in posting our videos.
  • Zoom. This is cool because your church members can see you and each other. However, you would need a Pro account to accommodate more than 3 participants for more than 40 minutes.
  • Worship leaders on Zoom, livestream to Facebook or website. Be aware of the busiest times that Zoom will be trying to connect to Facebook (like, when all other churches are doing this). The connection between Zoom and Facebook Live can be unstable and it can be frustrating for viewers.
  • Vimeo video streaming
  • Youtube Livestream
  • Record ahead of time and post. This is probably where my church will go, as we continue to realize the challenges of technology. We are learning as we go, and that’s ok! If you record and post, you can still host a Watch Party on Facebook when your video is posted, then church members can continue chatting in the comments.

For Communion Sundays

For Holy Week and Easter:

  • Offer a Holy Week kit. Shout out to Laura and Southminster Presbyterian for this one!
  • Hold a Good Friday service just for children. See my guide for this here
  • Offer an “In Remembrance of Her” service honoring the woman who anointed Jesus. 
  • Hold a “dinner church” meal for Maundy Thursday for your congregation, complete with a short liturgy and pastoral prayers. 
  • Easter baskets
    • Abide by public health guidelines when putting together Easter baskets and distributing them. 
    • Include some pre-filled eggs to help parents make an egg hunt for their kids happen. 
  • “Egg” a yard
    • Place already-filled eggs in the yard of church families. Of course, let them know you will be doing that before you actually go and drop off a bunch of eggs. This is one way to share the love while social distancing!

I will keep adding to this list as we go on and as I try these ideas. Add yours to the comments!

Let’s help each other flourish.

Love,

Pastor Anita

Posted in Uncategorized, Writing

It Started With the Children

This week, I’ve been blessed to participate in the 2016 Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference for Child Advocacy hosted by the Children’s Defense Fund at the Alex Haley Farm in Clinton, TN. As a seminarian, I joined with over 60 other students from seminaries and divinity schools all over the country to read, study, think, discuss and share together about race and racial justice in the United States of America; ministry with marginalized communities, particularly folks of color; prophetic preaching; economic justice; and advocacy for children who are consistently overlooked and shut out of a prosperous future in our nation.

On the first day, Rev. Dr. Eileen Lindner asked the seminarians the “EMT Questions” that have since framed my week:

  1. What is your name?
  2. Do you know where you are?
  3. Do you know what time it is?
  4. Do you know what just happened?

And though none of us seminarians was lying on the floor after suffering a medical emergency, we have been working together to process what just happened, a certain type of heart attack that has gripped our country for the past two weeks.

No, the past two years.

No, the past two hundred years.

The books that primed me for the conference, including Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God by Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas; Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Prophetic Tasks by Dr. Walter Brueggemann; Cut Dead But Still Alive by Dr. Gregory Ellison; The Third Reconstruction by Rev. William Barber; and Faith and Ferguson by Dr. Leah Gunning Francis, each prepared me to think about the construction of modern USAmerican society by bringing up pieces of this country’s history that may seem coincidental or of no consequence, but that are actually each a part of the myth of American exceptionalism that we continue to spoon feed each other.

Basically, the USAmerican society was built on the backs of enslaved people of color, who were seen as less-than due to the creation of specific theologies and hierarchies that value people by the color of their complexion, and is sustained through the exercise of commerce that to this day commodifies non-white, non-male bodies (the descendants of those enslaved peoples) in various kinds of labor that do not receive just compensation due to the glorification of profit. If you want to read more about this, I suggest reading Dr. Brown Douglas’ most recent text or this shorter article.

So entering into this week and these questions about things like Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism, American individualism, white supremacy, unequal labor, and violence against black and brown bodies–another question entered into my consciousness, voiced by Rev. Dr. Lindner again:

How did I get here, to this place of ultimately questioning how USAmerican culture treats children?

How did I get here?

For me, it started with the children.

When I graduated from college, I started teaching gardening at a preschool. These preschoolers, with their small hands covered in dirt and picking through worms and juggling seeds for coneflower and cabbage and carrots, lift me up with their beautiful faces upturned in awe; with their questions and doubts; and with their sheer joy at observing their world, still so fresh when they are four years old.

But before that, I volleyed balloons on Easter morning at my college church with a three-year-old who cried, “Come play with me, friend!” while the congregation sang, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!” Over my time in college, I got to know his family and his story and his struggles at school and his emotional patterns and the foods he likes to eat. After six years of playing “chopsticks” (a game played with two friends facing each other and bumping fingers together in math formations), I recently visited him at the church. He ran up to me and said, “Hi! I don’t remember your name, but we played together.” That meant the world to me. Yes, we played together. Yes, I’ll eat my picnic lunch with you. Your people are my people.

And even before that, I was in seventh grade and two older women who taught my preschool Sunday School classes asked me to be their assistant. I was twelve, wasn’t really interested in going to church because my dad didn’t go to church and mom taught Sunday school so I was kinda over it. I didn’t know really what “believing” meant, and I was bound up in this cycle of hearing evangelical voices in the dominant culture questioning whether I was “saved enough.” But then I started going to three-year-old Sunday school. I started doing crafts. I started reading the Bible stories (with all the different character voices). I started creating skits and leading songs and hugging children and playing the donkey entering Bethlehem or Jerusalem. I became invested in my church community through the children. And that spring of my seventh grade year, when I would get baptized by some holy sprinkling on Easter morning, I would realize that I didn’t know what the heck I was doing being a Christian.

But I thought about the children, and I thought, “Ok, Lord. Teach me. If the kids are here, I’m here.”

I’m still here, Lord. Help me learn more about how to love children better and stronger and with more truth. Help me learn how to see and respond to and reinforce the dignity of each child as a beautiful and unique creation of God, no matter their life situation or circumstance or experience. Help me learn to be an advocate for better education, better health care, better schools, better churches, for these little ones.

Isaiah 11 says, “A little child shall lead them.” And lead me, the children have. They led me to church. They led me to finding and fostering a family in my college years. They led me to a garden, to learning about the environment and where my food comes from. They led me to eating better and creating stronger community around the table. They led me to rediscover how to play. They led me to value my own sense of wonder.

If we let them, the children can lead us to imagining a way forward through this world that is so scary. You see, when children are young, they do not hate. They do not fear difference. They ask shameless questions and laugh when they are surprised or learn something new and they love with complete abandon. The children see that another world is possible, and they are willing to live in it before we tell them that they can’t. As bell hooks writes, “Most children are amazing critical thinkers before we silence them.” Let’s get out of the way, and let the children lead us.