The Invisible String

Less than a week ago we celebrated the life of my mother-in-law after her unexpected death. Our grief is made less only in knowing she lived a good life filled with the richness of family and faith and in dying she went without pain or suffering to be with our Savior in Heaven. Even still, this will be the first Mother’s Day we will celebrate without her here with us. The pain and grief are real. This is a story many endure on the second Sunday in May. As others gear up to celebrate, many struggle with deep grief and heartache for the death of a mother or child this Mother’s Day. For them, we pray.

There are no easy answers to offer in the wake of death and loss. There is some measure of comfort to be found in knowing we never walk alone through these struggles because God is always with us. We find throughout the Bible an active, always present God who genuinely seeks to be in relationship with us. In Matthew, Jesus promises to be with us until the end of time. He also promised to send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit to guide us and be with us. In the wake of such human loss and pain as the death of a mother or child, may we know God is with us.

Though comforting, such an abstract idea can be very difficult for children to grasp, especially young kids who are such concrete thinkers. Whenever I am with a child who is struggling through grief, who needs the comforting word that they are not alone, I am reminded of the book The Invisible String by Patrice Karst.

In this story, told by a mother to her two children, an invisible string keeps them connected to one another no matter how far apart they find themselves. So, they are never alone. Children can imagine a string connecting two people in two different places — even a string to God. Like the invisible string, it’s the Holy Spirit who connects us to God who loves us and is with us always and forever.

And when a child — or an adult — is particularly sad for all he or she has lost to death, that string is there to tug on for a little extra comfort when it’s most needed.

Peace my friends.
Danyelle

Honoring All Mothers: Resources for Worship

As leaders in ministry with children and family, it often falls to us to help plan and visualize worship celebrations for Mother’s Day. I hope the prayers and resources below will help you discern what might work best for your congregation or spark a new and creative idea for you. First, a few thoughts on celebrating Mother’s Day in worship.

Growing up Mother’s Day was a special day to celebrate my mom with a bouquet of dandelions from our field, a cup of her favorite tea, and a new something special handmade at school. When I moved away from home, I expanded my understanding to include the women who mothered me through college, seminary, and early adulthood. Then, I became a mom — now the recipient of dandelion bouquets and handmade masterpieces. Along the way, I was blessed to meet women who became like sisters and loved me enough to “mother” me through tough times. Not to mention the many women I’ve encountered in my ministry who have showed me different ways women mother in the world. Today, Mother’s Day has such a broader and wider meaning in my life than it did when I was a little girl.

This ever growing sense of the greater scope of what it means to be a mother influences how I plan worship on Mother’s Day. I also keep close at heart the need to approach this day with great care and sensitivity. Paul reminds us in First Corinthians that as members of the community of Christ we are to care for one another. On Mother’s Day, this means we must both celebrate the joy and acknowledge the pain of being a woman on this day. It means honoring a woman’s worth is not tied to being a mother. And it means remembering many women long for motherhood but as of yet remain childless. It means recognizing some are grieving the death of their mothers and some mothers grieve the death of their children. As a community formed in the light and love of Christ, to care for one another means we must honor the wide spectrum of mothering.

And to all the moms out there who are planning Mother’s Day for others, thank you for all you do to lead in ministry, I see you and I give thanks for you.

Peace, 

Danyelle

Resources for Mother’s Day Worship: 

  • I’ve written a special children’s sermon to celebrate the gift of love and to acknowledge all church mothers who train up the next generation with love.
    Children’s Sermon

  • These prayers honor female imagery of God found throughout the Bible and lift up prayers of celebration and concern for women on this day.
    Prayers for Worship

  • This powerful testimony leaves no woman left out on Mother’s Day and acknowledges both the joy and pain of mothering.
    Wide Spectrum of Mothering Handout

  • This is a beautiful story of the Biblical creation story retold to break down traditional assumptions that God is male, allowing young girls of all ethnicities to see themselves in the divine. The link takes you to Storypath, a site dedicated to sharing the rich theological resource of children’s books for Christian education; it is part of a project at Union Theological Seminary.
    Children’s Book, When God Was a Little Girl
    To purchase the book, click here

Worship Bags

Worship is a time for families to draw closer in their relationship with God and grow together in faith. But sitting through a full worship service with young children isn’t without its challenges. We all have restless days and fussy moments, and sometimes the sermon does go on a little too long, but when prepared, children can rise to the occasion. One of my favorite tools for church with children is a worship bag.

Just about any bag will work to create worship bags for your congregation but canvas bags offer durability and they come in fun colors. Children’s worship bulletins are a great foundation for worship bags. They engage children with age appropriate activities that teach basic Scripture truths. The rest of the bag includes a memo-size clip board, several sheets of scrap paper, crayons, pencil, and pipe cleaner. The latter is one of my favorite things to include because it’s a cheap and fun fidget that kids love! On special occasions and holy days, it’s fun to include simple crafts in the bags. 

It’s important to find a creative way to make the worship bags accessible to kids, like a children’s coat stand or a basket on the floor. This is a tangible sign of genuinely welcoming children in worship, even to the point that they are able to get their own materials.

A tip on crayons: Ditch the box. The dollar tree sells two-pack, lock top, snack containers that perfectly fit a 24-pack of crayons. The lock tops are easy for little hands to open and close and the crayons get back in the container rather than all over the bottom of the bag.

Worship bags for children are a small way congregations can come alongside families to support them in growing together in faith.

easy access & 24 crayons neatly stored

The Church’s Got Talent

Summer is an amazing time in ministry with children to offer something new during Sunday school. This summer, why not combine learning about the Bible with building intergenerational relationships? It’s called “The Church’s Got Talent.”

This fun, faith-based, friendship-building program invites adults in the congregation to share with children their hobbies and talents. Each week adults will:

    • share a little about themselves
    • read a Scripture verse related to their hobby or talent
    • tell kids about their hobby or talent
    • share a story, examples, or demonstration
    • lead a related activity with children

The beauty of “The Church’s Got Talent” is that new friendships are formed as adults, especially older adults, serve in ministry with children. By sharing about themselves and inviting children into their lives through their hobby and talent, these adults are forming important, life-giving, faith-building relationships.

“The Church’s Got Talent” is a program for everyone in your congregation. You will find great joy in discovering the hidden hobbies and talents within your church and using those as a springboard to build friendships between young and old.

If you get stuck on a Scripture reference, please reach out to your pastor for ideas. Also, try looking at it from a different perspective, like how does this hobby or talent serve God or bring joy to others, or does it requires qualities like discipline, knowledge, and creativity, and then search the Scriptures for verses reflective of those aspects. For example, connecting golf with Colossians 3:23 because the adult leader often played in golf fundraisers for missions — playing golf with a heart for the Lord. 

You can download a sample list of ideas for “The Church’s Got Talent” complete with Scripture verses and activities, but please don’t let this curb your congregation’s creativity! Activity instructions can be found on my Pinterest Board.

I hope this program blesses your congregation this summer!

Volunteer Handbook

Volunteer Handbook

One of the most needed resources in ministry with children is a go-to handbook for volunteers. Though each church will have its own unique way of doing things, the basic points remain pretty consistent across the board.

This particular version of a volunteer handbook was developed for a congregation with about 30 active children and 10 regular volunteers for Sunday school. It covers our standards for Safe Sanctuaries as well as procedures for lesson plans and materials. My recommendation is to give every volunteer a copy of this handbook during a startup orientation at the beginning of a new year of Sunday school.

Click Here for The Volunteer Handbook

Click Here for a Word Version of The Volunteer Handbook

One Form to Rule Them All

lord of the rings

I hate filling out forms. And if you’re being honest, you do too. When someone hands us a form to fill out, he or she might as well be stabbing us in the heart. And we’re left there wondering, “Why do I have to fill this out?” It just feels like needless work.

Yet, we all know in ministry with children and families, forms are necessary. They are one of the only opportunities to gain updated family contact information, like new email addresses and cell phone numbers, not to mention legal releases for things like transportation and pictures.

But, how many forms do we really need? My suggestion: One. One form developed with care and consultation can do the work of all those other forms clogging up your time in ministry with families.

The one form is designed for a whole family. It includes information for each child as well as legal releases and medical information. It is kept on file in the church office and additional copies are kept with the staff or lay leaders for events and trips.

I’ve uploaded this form as a Word document for you to easily adapt to your congregation. Be sure to check with your legal folks before using it to ensure it complies with your context’s needs.

May this one form to rule them all free you from the labor of administration to joyfully serve God’s kingdom!

Peace of Christ,

Danyelle

click here to download the form

 

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Gospel According to Dr. Seuss

Summer of Seuss_Poster

While I was at Duke Divinity School, I studied the great theologians of the Christian faith —  Augustine, Aquinas, Luther and Wesley. But when I started to reread beloved books from my childhood like Horton Hears a Who and Green Eggs and Ham to my children, I discovered another great theologian — Theodor Geisel better known, perhaps, as Dr. Seuss!

And, I’m not alone. James Kemp is a United Methodist pastor and author who wrote an adult study that finds parallels between the actions of cats in hats, Grinches, Snitches, Sneetches, and other Creachas and lessons found in Scripture. I loved his book The Gospel According to Dr. SeussI wanted to create a similar study for children to help them see this beloved children’s author as a teacher of faith, too.

This 13-week, children will explore several Dr. Seuss favorites to learn a lesson about following the way of Jesus Christ. This series is written for a one-room schoolhouse model with children between the 1st and 5th grade.

I hope you enjoy this new series. It’s completely free to use in local churches. If you want a few extra activity sheets, check out Random House Publishing’s website.

Peace,

Danyelle

Gospel According to Dr. Seuss Lesson Plans

Week 1_All About Me

Week 1_Hats Off To You

Week 4_Pants Pattern

Week 12_Earth Stewardship Pledge

Week 13_Mancala

Week 13_Senet Board

Week 13_Tangram Puzzles

Week 13_Tangram Template

Week 14_Seuss Book List

12 Days of Christmas Kindness Elf

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This year I wanted to start a simple yet heartwarming tradition with my children to help us celebrate the 12 days of Christmas — the days between Christmas and Epiphany. I wasn’t entirely sure how I wanted to do this until my five year old came home from school talking about “The Elf on the Shelf.” I can’t imagine adding one more thing before Christmas and I’m hesitant about the message of this popular elf, yet I liked the idea of a special elf visitor my kids could look forward to finding each morning. A little crowdsourcing later, and my own version of the Kindness Elf was created!

The Kindness Elf arrives on Christmas Day with the first of 12 acts of kindness. Each day, the elf moves to a new place in the house and has a new daily act of kindness. The activities are kid-friendly, simple, and almost no cost. My hope is children will delight in finding the elf each morning and discovering a new activity to spread kindness.

Peace,

Danyelle

Printable 12 Days of Kindness Activities

Online Option for an Elf

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Our Syrian Neighbors

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One of the legal experts heard their dispute and saw how well Jesus answered them. He came over and asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus replied, “The most important one is Israel, listen! Our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” – Mark 12:28-31

Last week, I had the honor of  helping to organize an interfaith vigil to support and extend traditional Hoosier hospitality to three Syrian refugee families living in Indiana. It was a moving time together with prayer and candle-lighting in the sanctuary followed by fellowship with refreshments made by the refugee families (and oh my, it was also so yummy!). Click here to see coverage from one of the local news channels who reported on the gathering.

We knew many families would attend and I wanted to create an opportunity for children to welcome the refugees. A dozen or so clipboards, white construction paper, and packets of crayons were made ready for children to create welcome cards. Each one is precious and full of love proving yet again that little hands have big hearts to serve all!

If your church wants to join in making cards, please contact the Syrian American Council to get in touch with a local chapter who can help you send cards to refugee families.

Peace,
Danyelle Ditmer

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Nativity Bracelets

Nativity Bracelets

The first Christmas with a new congregation is always exciting as we work together to learn, share, and blend traditions to create a meaningful worship for all. For my part, I wanted to help create special aspects of the worship service that were child friendly. I decided to create a nativity bracelet kit to give to children to work on during the sermon.

The bracelet proclaims the good news of Jesus the Christ’s birth. Each bead on the bracelet represents a part of the story with a printed card that tells a poetic version of the story. All the pieces are packaged in sandwich size ziplock bags with simple instructions to thread the beads onto the pipe cleaner, and twist the ends to create a bracelet.

I hope children will delight in their own special gift during Christmas Eve worship to remember and celebrate the greatest gift of all — Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior!

Peace,
Danyelle

 

Materials

  • downloadable poem printed four to page onto heavy paper
  • sandwich size ziplock bags
  • brown or black pipe cleaner
  • pony beads
  • star beads
  • jungle bells
  • propeller beads (or any other style than pony beads)

Directions

  • cut the cards printed four to page
  • put a card into a sandwich size resealable bag
  • add the following to each:
    • 1 white pony bead
    • 1 blue pony bead
    • 1 brown pony bead
    • 1 grey pony bead
    • 1 green pony bead
    • 1 purple pony bead
    • 3  propeller beads
    • 1 jingle bell
    • 1 star bead
    • 1 pipe cleaner
  • close the bag tightly

 

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