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

Gospel According to Dr. Seuss

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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

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

UMCOR Health Kits

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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.

Materials

  • 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

Directions

  • 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

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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.

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.

Welcome Kids *Special Tip for New Appointments*

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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

Materials

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

Directions

  • 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

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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

Materials

  • toasted oat cereal
  • pipe cleaners

Directions

  • 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

Sundae School Party

Sundae School Party

There are natural times of transition in Sunday school when one period comes to an end and another starts. Sometimes this happens at the beginning or end of the school year and may be marked by a kind of promotion to the next age-level. At North Church Indianapolis, we move from age-level classes to a one-room Sunday school during the summer for elementary age children. It’s a great opportunity to bring together all children to build relationships across grade levels and to offer something unique (like learning with LEGO bricks or Dr. Seuss!) for a set period. To mark this transition, I wanted to do something creative and fun so I went to my best resource for ideas: A Facebook group for United Methodist in Ministry with Children. Another member gave me the idea for a sundae school party and I ran with it!

Of course the foundation for the idea of a “Sundae” school party is ice cream sundaes. I decided on a make your own sundae bar with a variety of toppings (all peanut allergy friendly!). We also played games — never underestimate the joy of a parachute and beach ball. And, we celebrated our teachers who serve for the whole year with a class with a theme related gift card to a local ice cream store.

The hallmark of the event, though, was the activity “Get the SCOOP.” After eating their sundaes, children wrote questions for the pastors to answer about God, the Bible, and church as well as “get to know you” type questions. Keeping with the theme, the questions were written on ice cream scoops, which were printed onto colored paper and cut out in advance. The questions were taken back to the pastors who answered each one. Some questions were trickier than others, a few were funny (like “How old is God?” answer: Infinity plus one), but most were really thoughtful and a great way to connect children and pastors. The finished project created a really amazing bulletin board under the heading “Get the SCOOP on God, the Bible, Church, and More!” with all the Q&A scoops piled on top of ice cream cones.

Download the materials:

Santiny Scrub

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Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Let her share in the results of her work; let her deeds praise her in the city gates. Proverbs 31:30-31

Serve: women’s shelter

Connect: whether a mother, grandmother, teacher or family friend, most children can think of at least one woman who has had a positive effect on their lives and the desire to show appreciation for that woman’s work; take the tradition of honoring mothers to a new level by challenging children to honor all women for their work through a simple gift of pampering

Materials

  • sugar
  • dawn hand renewal
  • 4oz plastic cups with lids 
  • instructions printed onto cardstock and cut out
  • bowls
  • plastic knives
  • measuring cup
  • plastic spoons
  • stickers (hearts, stars, smiley faces)
  • ribbon (optional)

Directions

  • give each child a bowl and plastic knife
  • add a 1/4 cup of sugar to the bowl
  • add a tablespoon of dawn hand renewal
  • have kids stir well
  • add a little dawn hand renewal a time until it’s a paste like consistency
  • scoop mixture into 4oz containers and secure lids
  • add stickers to decorate
  • secure the containers with ribbon (optional)