A Family Advent

Family Advent

Advent is a beautiful gift of the liturgical calendar. In the midst of our busy lives, it is a season of time devoted to helping us slow down, talk and listen, and prepare ourselves for the birth of Christ. I created “A Family Advent” to equip families with devotionals and hands-on activities to celebrate the season at home.

The kit reflects upon the traditional themes of the season: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. It combines weekly family devotional with a Scripture reading, lesson, music and reflection questions with (nearly) all the materials needed to do an activity together. My hope is that “A Family Advent” may help families carve out a special time each week of Advent to spend time in reflection and preparation for the many gifts God has given to us through the birth of Jesus Christ. 

Music Selections

Advent 1: Hope – O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” performed by BYU Vocal Point

Advent 2: Peace – Child of Peace” performed by Sandi Patty

Advent 3: Joy – “Sing Joy” performed by Peter Meyer

Advent 4: Love – “They Will Know We are Christians” performed by Jars of Clay

Peace of Christ,

Rev. Danyelle Ditmer
Epworth United Methodist Church, Indianapolis
Advent 2015

A Family Advent, Letter Size Pages

A Family Advent, Book Print

A Family Advent, Instructions & Materials

A Family Advent, Printable Tags

Forever Family: A Liturgy for Adoption

Forever Family

He also says, I will rely on him. And also, here I am with the children whom God has given to me
Hebrews 2:13

Just over a year ago, it was my privilege to write and officiate a ceremony for a forever family. In case that’s a new phrase for you, a “forever family” is a family brought together through adoption. Like all families, each forever family is uniquely made through love, trust, and grace. This particular family was stuck in the red tape of the system but with two children who deeply needed to know they were loved and belonged to this family forever. Even though it took the state another year to legally certify the adoption, we pressed on with a covenant ceremony binding them together in the sight of God and the assembled congregation.

In honor of Adoption Awareness Month, I want to share the liturgy I wrote for this covenant ceremony. It was adapted from various covenant services, including the United Methodist Church’s Service of Christian Marriage. My hope is that church leaders may use it to bless and encourage families brought together through adoption.

Peace of Christ,


Download Forever Family: A Liturgy of Adoption

Pastor Danyelle with Forever Siblings, Fall 2015

Pastor Danyelle with Forever Siblings, Fall 2015

Handful of Thanks


 I will appoint shepherds with whom I’m pleased, and they will lead you with knowledge and understanding. Jeremiah 3:15

Pastors have a very special calling on their lives, and they need to be appreciated, cherished and encouraged as much as possible. Sunday, October 11 is designated in the United Methodist Church as clergy appreciation day. Help children celebrate their pastor(s) by creating a special bloom made of thankful hands to put on the pastor’s door.


  • white construction paper
  • hand washing supplies
  • jumbo ink pads, various colors
  • scissors
  • clear tape
  • green construction paper
  • yellow construction paper
  • markers


  • have each child make one handprint per pastor/minister of staff
  • write the child’s first name on the palm or under the handprint
  • cut out the handprints (for sturdiness, don’t cut between fingers)
  • cut a circle from yellow construction paper large enough to place the handprints around without too much overlap
  • have children help tape the handprints onto the front of the circle, be sure the first name of each child is displayed
  • cut a chunky stem from a piece of green construction paper
  • attach the green stem to the back of the yellow circle
  • use a black marker to write “Thank You Pastor name
  • attach the flower where the pastor/ministers can see them first thing on Sunday morning

Placed with Joy


You must rise in the presence of an old person and respect the elderly. Leviticus 19:32a

Serve: elder care facilities

Connect: children won’t have a heard time imagining a time they have felt bored, encourage them to think of something that would have made that time more joyful (reading a book, playing a game, drawing a picture, etc.); explain that at many elder care facilities, older adults eat together and often wait quite awhile before being served, which we might imagine can get boring; challenge children to think of how something as simple as a placemat could make waiting more enjoyable — what can they do to turn an ordinary placemat into something an elder may enjoy?



  • give each child white placemats to decorate
  • if close to a holiday, challenge kids to decorate the holiday theme

UMCOR Health Kits

Health Kit_Infopic

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2

Serve: refugees and others in desperate need

Connect: the safety of home is something many children can wonderfully take for granted, but not all children experience this blessing; help children connect with the refugees by imagining being made to flee from their homes with only what they can carry to a strange place where they are hungry, tired, and dirty; ask what feelings come to mind (fear, sadness, anger)

UMCOR stands for the United Methodist Commission on Relief. It is the outreach branch of the global United Methodist Church dedicated to alleviating human suffering around the world. UMCOR’s work includes programs and projects in disaster response, health, sustainable agriculture, food security, relief supplies, and more. By supporting UMCOR’s work with refugees, children are joining UMCOR as the hands and feet of Christ serve those in need.


  • 1 bath hand towel
    no kitchen, cleaning and microfiber towels
  • 1 washcloth
  • 1 comb comb
    needs to be sturdy and longer than 6″
    no pocket combs or picks, please
  • 1 metal nail file or clipper
    no emery boards, please
  • 1 bath-size soap
    3 oz. and larger sizes only
    no Ivory or Jergens soap due to moisture content
    do not remove from original packaging
  • 1 toothbrush
    adult size only
    do not remove from original packaging
  • 6 adhesive bandages
    ¾” to 1″ size
    common household Band-Aids
  • 1 plastic bag one-gallon size sealable bags only
  • $1 donation for toothpaste
    purchased at time of shipping due to expiration


  • assemble all materials into the one-gallon bag
  • squeeze as much air as possible out of the bag before sealing it closed
  • mail completed kits to:
    UMCOR Sager Brown Depot
    PO Box 850 131 Sager Brown Road
    Baldwin, LA 70514-0850

Central Command


“For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned.” – Benjamin Franklin

As I start a new appointment in Family Ministries, the need to develop a system to organize volunteers, forms, calendars, and program publicity seemed overwhelming, but I knew it was time well spent. An added challenge was having only one bulletin board to work with (in a perfect world, I would split this into two distinct boards with “Helping Hands” separate from the rest) to display everything. But I’m very pleased with the way my “Central Command” turned out and I think it will be an effective way to meet the needs on hand.


For organizing volunteers, I developed a “Helping Hands” area. You can get all the details and materials from a previous post. Even though it takes up a good portion of the space, it’s well worth it and helps get a wide variety of people involved.

A good calendar is both helpful to keep myself organized for planning and help others know what’s happening. I publish a new calendar about every four months (fall, spring, and summer semesters). I’ve found that by giving families early notice of events, they are more likely to save the date and attend programs. My calendars also include other vital information, like my contact info, links to stay involved via social media and online signups, as well as save the dates. But of course, a calendar is only helpful if it gets in the hands of others! So, I created a designated space at Central Command for copies of the current calendar. They are stored in a pocket made by cutting a file folder to the desired size and using clear tape to close the sides. The pocket is attached with staples on the inside.

Using the same kind of pocket, Central Command is the place for volunteers and families to pickup necessary forms. Though event forms may rotate in and out, I keep two forms there at all times: Authorization for a Criminal Background Check and Family Information Form. We use Trak-1 to run all background checks for volunteers serving with children and youth, which only requires one form for authorization. Printed in a different color, potential volunteers can easily grab a form, complete it, and return it to the church office. The same is true of the Family Information Form, which captures all the vital information I may need for families. These forms are updated yearly and only one form per family is needed.

Central Command is also the place for flyers about upcoming program events. Because I think social media is vital to communications, I adapted my paper flyers to fit social media standards. By using Instagram, the choice for shape was determined for me and then it was simply a matter of creating a template in Mac Pages to easily produce square flyers that I could export as a JPG to share. Also, by sharing through Instagram, I can  post to my Facebook and Twitter accounts at the same time. And I often share these images via email and text messages. One size really does fit all with this system of communications!

And that’s my Central Command bulletin board! I hope it inspires you to get organized in ways that make your life easier as a leader in ministry.


Back to School Blessing


As kids head back to school in the fall (or late-summer, as it happens to be in Indiana), it’s important for congregations to be attentive to the spiritual needs of children and their families as well as our hard working educators. A “Back to School Blessing” as part of worship at the start of the school year can offer encouragement to the excited, comfort to the anxious, and gratitude to the tireless. There are a lot of variations on this growing tradition and at Epworth UMC we incorporated a backpack blessing and small gift for teachers into a moment of prayer during Sunday worship.



Two weeks before, we encouraged everyone to bring their school bags to church for a blessing. By blessing school bags, we offered students and educators a tangible sign of God’s presence with them every day. We gave everyone a Blessing Tag (United Methodist Specific Tag) to attach to their bag. The tags are simple to make and hold up very well. I printed the tags directly onto Avery Business Cards. Then, I used Scotch Laminating Luggage Tag Pouches and my trusty laminator to create one of a kind blessing tags.



We wanted to give each educator something special to convey our gratitude for their tireless work with students. Because every person who serves in education – teachers, administrators, cafeteria, janitors, bus drivers, etc. – is vital, I picked something everyone can use: Scissors! Combined with a cute tag that reads “Educators are a Cut Above the Rest,” the scissors were an inexpensive yet meaningful gesture to thank educators. I printed circle-shaped tags onto white card stock and used a scalloped edge circle paper punch to create a festive look and punched a hole at the top to string onto the scissors. I bought the scissors, along with clear treat bags and colorful ribbon for packaging, at the Dollar Tree. Another approach is to use the same Avery business cards for tags, punch a hole, and attach them to the scissors with ribbon.

We had a great Sunday celebrating the back to school season and I hope you do too!


Helping Hands


Whatever you do, do it from the heart for the Lord  – Colossians 3:23

Anyone in ministry with children knows there is always a lot to do and many needs! To help get the whole congregation involved, I developed a “Helping Hands” area on my central bulletin board. It covers three major needs: preparation, special materials, and volunteers.

To brand the area, I created a logo using the same colors and Original Surfer font used in the logo for Epworth United Methodist Church Family Ministries (did I mentioned I started a new position this summer?!). In the center of the Helping Hands area is a brief and easy to follow explanation to help adults choose a way to serve: help at home, help by giving, and onsite help.

In my experience, people want to help in ministry with children, but don’t necessarily have the time or ability to help directly with programs. Thankfully, helping with preparation can be done by just about anyone and happen anywhere, which inspired “Help from Home.” Instead of signing up for some nebulous project, I print direction cards onto 4×6 blank index cards so volunteers know exactly what to expect from the project. Each card is labeled with a specific work bag, which are conveniently located for pickup. Inside the work bag (I use heavy duty storage bags 3/$1 from the dollar tree, which are a sturdy plastic with a ziplock close and handles and have held up wonderfully through multiple uses) are all the materials needed to complete the prep project. And, I do mean, ALL the materials right down to scissors or pencils, or whatever else is needed. I also include a sample inside the work bag to accompany the step by step directions.

For special materials (you know, all those things not covered in the budget!), I created “Help by Giving.” By using a circle shape, these tags stand out from the others. After printing onto card stock, I use my 2.5″ circle paper punch (probably one of the best investments I ever made!) to make quick work of the cutting. On each tag I include the item and quantity needed. If the item is specific to an online retailer, like Oriental Trading or Amazon, then I include the product number and retailer as well. In my experience, church members love to donate items to help supplement and support programs. Another tip to encourage donations is to display the price range so folks know what to expect – I rarely ask for anything over $10 and usually the items are closer to $5.

And of course, the need for adult volunteers. There are so many ways to get volunteers signed up and organized. I love using Signup Genius but I’ve found that some congregations, especially those still developing digital communications, need paper and pen. To meet this need, I use a spreadsheet titled “Onsite Help.” I try to give the most needed information (role, time commitment, and a brief description) and request back the information I need (name and email — I really prefer email to phone numbers for ease of sending one blanket message to every volunteer). I attach the spreadsheet to a clipboard, which hangs on the bulletin board via a small binder ring on a large push pin.

That is my “Helping Hands” system! I hope it inspires you to think of a way to get others involved in ministry with children and families and keep everything running smoothly.


Welcome Kids *Special Tip for New Appointments*


When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Romans 12:13

Serve: children visiting church for the first time

Connect: help children imagine going to a new place filled with strangers and how they may feel, even if the place is a church; invite them to share ideas about welcoming first time visitors to your church; then challenge children to think about a special welcome for other children to help kids feel extra special when they visit

Take the next step: encourage children to serve as greeters to help welcome all guests to church


  • cello bags with twist ties (available online)
  • stickers
  • sharpened pencils
  • dumdum lollipops
  • thin markers for writing
  • “One Thing” card, 4 per page (printable)


  • before class, print the “One Thing” card onto heavy paper and cut to create four cards
  • give each child a “One Thing” and a thin marker
  • read children the question “What is one thing about God’s love you want another kid to know?”
  • encourage children to think about things they enjoy at church to help them learn and grow in God’s love
  • ask children to neatly write their answer in the space provided
  • combine the following in a cello bag
    • “One Thing” card from child
    • 4-5 stickers
    • one sharpened pencils
    • one dumdum lollipop
  • close each bag using the provided twist ties

Tip: If your church gives first time visitors welcome materials (like a bag or mug, etc.), then be sure to show those to the kids and explain that every guest receives a welcome gift.

Special Tip: As United Methodist pastors begin new appointments, this is an excellent way to introduce themselves to children. Make one of these simple bags for each child and present it during the children’s sermon or as you visit with children in other settings. After you introduce yourself, explain that you hope to teach them a lot about God’s amazing love and the first thing you want them to know is written no the card inside.

Simple Bird Feeder


Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops into barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Matthew 6:26

Serve: birds (and squirrels!)

Connect: most children don’t need too much help to notice the changes spring brings with it’s longer and warmer days, and in many areas of the world, the reappearance of birds after the winter; help children consider ways we can care for birds just as God has cared for all animals by creating a simple bird feeder; challenge children to especially think about ways it may be difficult for birds to find food in more areas where nature has been overrun by urban development


  • toasted oat cereal
  • pipe cleaners


  • thread toasted oat cereal onto pipe cleaners, leaving a little space at each end
  • carefully bend the pipe cleaner into the shape of a circle and twist the ends to create the first loop
  • repeat the threading process with a second pipe cleaner
  • connect the shapes by looping them inside one another and twist the ends of the second loop closed
  • repeat until you have a nice chain to hang outside