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

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

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,

Danyelle

Download Forever Family: A Liturgy of Adoption

Pastor Danyelle with Forever Siblings, Fall 2015

Pastor Danyelle with Forever Siblings, Fall 2015

Handful of Thanks

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 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.

Materials

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

Directions

  • 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

Central Command

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“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.

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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.

Peace.

Back to School Blessing

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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!

Peace.

Helping Hands

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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.

Peace.