Category: children’s worship

Our Rockstar Nursery Staffers!

Dear St. Luke’s,

Happy new Advent season!

I have been noticing, of late, how gifted our current nursery staff is, and how connected they are with our parish children. We are so lucky to have them, and I thought it might be nice to introduce them to you with a bit more complexity. Here are brief bios on our current frequent staffers. I encourage you to say hello when you see them, and to ask questions about parts of the stories that interest you!

Danielle:

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Hello, I’m Danielle! I’m from the teeny tiny town of Bad Axe Michigan located in the thumb of the mitten. I grew up in one of the (at the time) 7 rural schools in our county. This experience of going to school with less than thirty kids between the grades of kindergarten through eighth grade was fairly unique, to me and has had a large impact on how I have grown. While I love working in groups, I prefer when the groups are tight knit and feel more like family than anything else. I think that’s why I love working at the nursery so much. Not only have I become close with my co-staffers, but I’ve become very close with the children and the church body. It feels wonderful to enter a place and feel so at home. Everyone smiles and greets you and only wishes the best for you. It makes me feel almost like I’m back in my rural school setting.

I’m attending Western Michigan University. I’m hustling through the final year of my undergrad as a double major in Sociology and Gender and Women’s Studies. I will be attending Western’s Graduate school next fall to achieve my Masters level in Sociology. I hope to work in the field of sexual assault as a prevention advocate, either working with a nonprofit or working with a research company on developing advocacy programs.

A few fun facts about me: My last name really is Snow. I love having this last name until the holiday seasons are over…come January a lot of people become sick of hearing my last name and I tend to change my introduction to just my first name at this time. I started my own organization on Western’s campus centered on intersectional feminist ideologies, and we have been around for almost 3 years now. I absolutely love films. I could watch movies all day every day if I had the opportunity to!

Haley:

HaleyBio

Background: I am the oldest of five kids, so, taking care of kids is just something I’ve always done! As soon as I became old enough, friends and family knew I had plenty of experience so I started babysitting. From there, I’ve held a range of positions, most involving childcare. I’ve taught Sunday School, art camp, figure skating lessons, and provided childcare at various events. Additionally, I have nannied for several families.

Education: I moved from Minot, ND to attend Kalamazoo College about three and a half years ago. I’m currently in my senior year, and I’m an English major with an American Studies concentration. I will be graduating in the spring. I plan to attend law school this fall (I am currently in the middle of the arduous application process) with hopes of becoming a family lawyer.

Quirky facts: I was a competitive synchronized figure skater at WMU my freshman and sophomore years. In my sophomore year, Nationals were held right here in Kalamazoo, and we ended up taking fourth with our best skate of the season! And I lived in Copenhagen, Denmark for six months where I studied European literature.

Why I love St. Luke’s: Working here allows me to engage with the community of Kalamazoo in a much different way than I usually do as a college student. I have a chance, every week for three hours, to hang out with the coolest little humans and not think about school or homework or grocery shopping or paying bills and for that, I am so truly thankful!

Kenzie: 

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Hi, I am Mackenzie Prill, but I prefer to go by Kenzie. I am a junior at Western Michigan University, and I am majoring in Psychology and dual minoring in Integrated Holistic Health and Social Work. I plan on going to Graduate School to become a psychologist and then go back to my hometown of Bad Axe, Michigan where I hope to open a practice there someday.  I am a native of Davison, Michigan, but moved to Bad Axe in the 5th grade. After high school graduation, I decided to attend WMU because of their renowned Psychology Program, and to be a part of the Bronco Marching Band. I knew I wanted to be a psychologist early on because I’ve always wanted an occupation where I could help people, just like my parents. I am a very family-oriented person and am thankful that my family has always been there for me. My family consists of my father, the Honorable Gerald Prill, my mother Yvonne, my two sisters Lauren and Sydney, and my little puppy princess Bella Marie. As you can tell, my father is drastically outnumbered by females, but that’s the way I like it. My ultimate goal as a psychologist is to be there for others who don’t have a strong support system and to listen to them when others will not.

An interesting fact about myself is that on the day that I was born my two great-grandfathers passed away that exact day just moments after I was born. My birthday, January 13, was also my great-grandma’s birthday. My great-grandparents are all gone now, but I know that they are my guardian angels.

I love working at St. Luke’s because of the wonderful atmosphere. Everyone here is so kind and always has a smile on their face. I love walking in and instantly feeling warmth, love, and genuine compassion. I am grateful for meeting such wonderful people and having had our paths cross. Thank you for the opportunity to be part of such an amazing community.

Taylor:

TaylorBio

Hi, I’m Taylor Raaymakers; I am the Nursery Supervisor at St. Luke’s.  I am the oldest of four girls and am incredibly close to my sisters and parents.  I am originally from Caledonia, Michigan; I graduated high school in 2014; and I am currently a student at Western Michigan University.  I am studying behavioral psychology.  My 5 year plan includes graduating from Western Michigan University next fall and then attending *hopefully* the University of Nevada Reno to receive a masters in behavior analysis. After that I hope to be working in a center for autism.  I enjoy working at St. Luke’s very much and love all the little kids and how there’s never a dull moment in the nursery!  Lastly, a fun fact about me is I play percussion.  I grew up around music, and actually my parents met at band camp, so you could say we are a very musical family.

 

 

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Connected to God

We all want our kids to know that they are connected to God. This year, the St. Luke’s children’s formation program is all about that.

Here are some ways we’re making it happen.

  1. We have a new children’s educator: Amy Hanson!

The details: We have grown and are ready to divide our children’s formation program into younger (3-5) and older (6-11) classes!

What won’t change: Children of all ages will still worship with us, receiving their own sermon during the liturgy. And the formation hour structure will remain the same: leaders from throughout the community will work with Renee to offer multi-week, in-depth studies of topics relating to our scriptures, tradition, history, doctrine, and liturgical practice.

But: While the older children work with an array of lead teachers, the younger kids will work with Amy for the whole program year! She will take the wider topics and help shape them for 3-5 year olds. There will be lots of art; more singing and dancing; more storytelling and imaginative play. And they’ll have her all year, the stability of which will be a gift to our littles!

About Amy: Amy Hanson and her husband, Randy, have been coming to St. Luke’s for 27 years! Their daughter, Aubrey, and son-in-law, Ben, were married at St. Luke’s and live in Kalamazoo. Their son, Mitch, was an acolyte at St. Luke’s and now lives and goes to school in Atlanta. Amy works in Parchment Elementary Schools substituting and providing teacher support, and her husband is an attorney in Kalamazoo. She says, “I am so looking forward to working with the 3 to 5 year olds this year. One of my favorite things to do with this age group is to sing! I will enjoy singing God’s praises and sharing our stories with them. I have served in many different capacities at St. Luke’s, but working with children is the highest honor, in my opinion.” If you see Amy, please welcome her and thank her for taking on this sacred work!

  1. We have a new youth leadership team: Fritz MacDonald and Amy Vliek!

The details: Fritz and Amy will lead our GROWING number of youth-aged parishioners, with both Donna and Renee serving as staff liaisons.

Our first meeting: Will be held at 5pm on the 24th of September, and will be a time for group pondering, imagination, and reflection. Oh and: there will be pizza! Youth and their families are asked to attend; the entire parish is invited! Come be a part of a conversation that will shape this new program year.

About Fritz: Frederick (Fritz) MacDonald PhD is originally from Middleport, New York.  He attended State University of New York at Fredonia, majoring in Music, Speech and Drama and graduated from Mannes College of Music in New York City in 1969 with a Bachelor of Science in Music, majoring in Voice Performance (bass-baritone).  As a professional musician, Fritz has performed in the United States, Canada and Germany.  Specializing in Family Studies and Family Therapy, he graduated from the University of Tennessee with a Masters Degree in Social Work in 1977 and earned his PHD from UT in 1986.  His research areas are insiders and outsiders in Central Appalachia, cultural competence, and rural social work.  He has been Associate Professor (Emeritus) in the Western Michigan University School of Social Work for 27 years where he served as Associate Director before his retirement in June of 2012.  His second home is in Sonneberg, Germany where he spends several months each year with his wife Linda.  He has taught as guest professor at the Universities of Applied Sciences in Coburg and Kiel, as well as the Alice Solomon School of Social Work in Berlin, Germany. His most recent passion is the tuba, an instrument he played enthusiastically as a teenager. After a fifty year hiatus, Fritz offers solo recitals and plays in several local concert bands and a brass jazz ensemble (The Brass Rail) in the Kalamazoo area.  He and Linda are grandparents to two lovely little girls, Elizabeth and Isla MacDonald and  four-week-old Ethan Folger MacDonald.

About Amy: Amy is a social worker (who will, as of this year, have earned a PhD in Social Work from Western Michigan University!) who lives on Westnedge Hill with her three kids, Grace (13), Alexandra (12), and Elijah (9), as well as her “family of choice” daughter Elli (20). She currently works at WMU and is on the board for Fire Historical and Arts Collaborative. She has a passion for middle and high school kids, ice cream, good books, and lots of other stuff. She is very excited to work with our youth this year!

If you see Amy or Fritz, please tell them how grateful and delighted we are to have them join our formation team.

More to come on the topics we’ll explore and who will lead them!

A Breathtaking Year of Children’s Formation  

This past Sunday was our first children’s sermon of the summer, and I had prepared a light offering of song and fellowship. I did so out of a sense that – having doubled the amount of time our parish children participate in religious formation this year – they deserved and would be ready for more playful and informal worship. I was wrong.

As I wrapped up the short words I had prepared about Sarah, her laughter, and the closeness God shares with her, I got questions. Questions from an eight-year-old about how many of our stories are about men and not women. About how even when they’re about women, they’re often about mothers. Questions from a ten-year-old about the Gospel reading, which we hadn’t even explored: how Jesus tells his disciples about the suffering they will endure – “he pretty much seems to say, ‘you will die for me’” she said – and whether or not our faith offers us enough to make that bearable. Real questions. Meaningful ones.

Their questions were a great privilege to encounter, and I answered them as thoughtfully as I could, making space both for the ways in which our scriptures do speak to their doubts, and the ways in which we’re left to wonder. More importantly, I promised them that I would take their questions seriously. That we would wrestle with them – those questions and the ones to come – in the months and years ahead. That I would be beside them as we took up this beautiful and challenging lifelong work of following Christ.

And I thanked them.

Though I had anticipated a lighter worship service, I wasn’t at all surprised to find them reaching for more. This past year has been a deep dive into gorgeous material, and our children soaked it all up. But rather than tell you about that myself, I’d like to offer you insights from this year’s generous team of children’s formation guides.

In the year’s first series, “Understanding The Book of Common Prayer,” the wise and thoughtful Dr. Elizabeth Kraatz introduced the book and its history; guided our youngest parishioners through the daily offices; taught them the structure of a Collect and helped them write their own; explored how our sacraments are outlined there; and moved through our Holy Eucharist, taking the time to dwell in the language that helps us remember those four holy actions: took, blessed, broke, gave.

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This led beautifully into our second series: Brian Lonberg’s rich and moving exploration of the Holy Eucharist. Of that series, Brian offers the following insights:

In the fall the wonderful children of St. Luke’s and I came together to talk about the Eucharist. We focused on three aspects of the sacrament: Community, God, and Forgiveness. In the first week we talked about what makes a community: who gets to be in, and who is excluded; what rules we place on membership; why community is important; and how the Eucharist creates and sustains our community. We each took a turn waiting to be invited to the table, being welcomed to the table, and inviting others. I saw the stress, joy, and generosity in turn from each of the kids, and it really opened them up to thinking about what limits we can place on things – especially precious things like a favorite group, toy, or the Eucharist itself – and where we have to let limits go for the sake of others.

The second week was spent looking around the back of the church, touching and seeing up-close the liturgical tools we use to, as Fr. Randall would say, “Make Eucharist.” We talked about sacramentals like incense and stained glass, and how we use those to heighten our senses and our experience sharing a space with God. And we talked about Covenants with God, as with the Eucharist – places we know God is, and where we can experience God. Our final week together we talked about forgiveness. We read the story “What if Nobody Forgave?” and talked about what forgiveness is, what it means, and how it felt both to forgive and to be forgiven. And we talked about forgiveness in conjunction with Jesus giving up His life, and by giving us this Sacrament. Then we spent time as our small community making the bread that we as a whole community would use for communion on the following Sunday.

I was amazed by the depth of our children. Growing up in the Roman church, I was used to the standard 2nd grade first communion. The idea that you had to “understand” what you were partaking in. After spending time with these kids – all but one of whom wouldn’t have been allowed to stand with the adults at communion in the Roman church – I could see that even when they lacked facts or history, they felt and understood the Eucharist in a place deep within their bones that not all adults can access. It showed me the importance of having this open table, and the importance of having all of our community welcomed.

The third series, “Home as a Family’s Spiritual Center,” was led by warm and gifted teacher-parishioner Amy Hanson. Amy writes:

It was my great privilege to work in children’s formation this past year. I loved sharing with the children how our family made our home a spiritual center in November. We talked about how home devotions can start when children are small and then change as children get older, incorporating bible reading and prayer. We made our own “prayer books.”

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This brought us to Advent, and many of you saw the fruits of Becky Edmonds’ work with the children that season. Having completed three rich fields of study, these weeks gave kids the space to use their hands, to make tiny nativities, to offer God their love by imagining and then recreating the Holy Family.

During Epiphanytide, Amy Hanson once again graced us with her kind and loving guidance, returning to teach the “The Story of Joseph,” the fruits of which have been visible all year in their new and clear understanding of the book of Genesis. Of this unit, Amy offers these words.

In January, I was happy to be invited back to delve into the story of Joseph. Renee provided wonderful materials: a beautiful robe, gorgeous story books, and other meaningful objects. We read the story, acted out the story, and talked about it. Joseph’s story is such a rich trove of biblical learning. Writing the Hebrew word for “dream” in clay as part of our response was a huge hit!

Dr. Fritz MacDonald led our next series: “Matthew & First-Century Nazareth Context.” Fritz is, of course, a life-force in the classroom. He writes,

It was fun for all of us and most enjoyable for me to work with the children.  Renee was always available for guidance and inspiration. Thank you Carrie for helping us learn the Hebrew song, “Shalom Chavarim.” The kids were quite curious when I brought my Euphonium to class to accompany them in song and dance. The “Beatitudes” are not simple to comprehend and our discussion with children and parents was very stimulating. Thank you everyone for your support.

We then carved out space, once more, for acts of creation, as Madeleine Roberts joined us to lead the Lenten Series:Exodus, Art, & Music.” We all saw the fruits of that series on display in the chapel for Eastertide.

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Of the work itself, Madeleine writes:

The story of Exodus in its dramatic telling of the power of God is arguably the most important to Jewish people, is remarkably easy to read, and children enjoy the dynamic storytelling. In Exodus, Art, & Music, the story was taught first, using a beautifully illustrated children’s book, then moving to the Bible. Painting five Chagall inspired canvases showcasing five scenes from Exodus allowed the children to interact with the story, solidify the plot to memory, and a chance to show creative prowess.

Comparisons were drawn between Moses as “The New King” and Jesus as the “New Moses.” For this lesson, only the second week of the unit, I fully expected the children to need some refreshing on the details of the story and of what they learned about Jesus in Matthew, so I made the activity a Bible scavenger hunt, marking helpful pages in a Bible and coming prepared to prompt their memories. To my surprise, the children remembered details from the week before (only having learned them once) and from other units to reach the ultimate comparison completely on their own.

After underscoring the importance of Moses to the Jewish people by comparing him to Jesus, we moved on to the story of the first Passover. We discussed traditions as taught in the Bible that are maybe not practiced today, such as the household slaughtering of the perfect lamb, and others that are, such as ridding the house of unleavened bread. Finally, we told the story of the Last Supper, one that they recognized from church, connecting our entire unit back to Lent.

In a special moment together, we recited the Shema prayer in English (and to my surprise, heard it in Hebrew from memory from two children). As the first prayer many Jewish children learn, this allowed our children to learn more about the traditions of their Jewish brothers and sisters, and fostered a sense of same-ness with the community outside our church walls.

I had the privilege of leading our penultimate field of study, which was an in-depth look at the Acts of the Apostles. Together we explored what that book tells us about being the church: the model it offers for following the apostles’ teachings, leaning in to fellowship, continuing in the practice of breaking bread, and committing to a life of communal prayer. For the final week, we gathered costumes and performed six Acts scenes, from Peter healing a disabled homeless man to the apostles’ persecution, arrest, and release; the conversion of Saul; and Paul’s dramatic shipwreck. Watching them perform these stories was joyful and heartening. They were silly and playful, all while engaging with reverence these accounts of our earliest Christian brothers and sisters. I wish you all could have seen them.

Finally, Dr. Jeremy Sabella led our last series, which mirrored the adult form series of “Ecclesiology, or ‘What is Church?’” Jeremy brought studious wonder to the program year, taking our children seriously and offering them whole new depths of knowledge. Of this final series, Jeremy writes the following.

I led the ecclesiology unit. I’ve long believed that, as complicated as the finer points of theology can get, virtually everyone is able to grasp the essential points of the Gospel. Figuring out how to explain the concept of the church to children as young as three years old certainly put this to the test!

The three sections took the form of an extended meditation on the Body of Christ.

For the opening section, we talked about the human body and how necessary every part of the body is. When we hurt even a small part of the body, like a finger or a toe, doing everyday things becomes a lot more difficult. We then talked about how groups of people function like a body and how Christians are Christ’s body on earth.  We thought through all the things that people needed to do to keep St. Luke’s running week in and week out (somebody needs to change the lightbulbs, buy the donuts, do Scripture readings, etc.). We also emphasized how children are an important part of the body. Jesus tells us that to enter the Kingdom of heaven, we must become as children. Children remind the adults of how to be childlike before God.

For section two, we examined how the “body of Christ” metaphor applies, not just to individual churches, but to the worldwide network of churches. We used photos of amazing churches on every continent, from underground, medieval-era churches in Ethiopia to a spectacularly colorful earthquake-resistant cardboard church in New Zealand.  The children would locate each church that we looked at on a giant inflatable globe.

For section three, we talked about what the Body of Christ looked like in action. Jesus’s ministry emphasized the importance of healing the body. We examined how early Christians followed in Jesus’s footsteps by starting the first hospitals, and how Christians have continued Jesus’s work by caring after the sickest and most vulnerable people in society. We also talked about how ministries such as soup kitchens, diaper drives, and shelters allow Christians showing the love of Jesus to others by caring for their practical needs.

Thank you all for the support you showed this program year. It was an enormous undertaking to move from holding children’s formation during church to keeping children in church, offering a sermon just for them, and then guiding them through an entirely new educational program during forum hour. Though the creation of such a year was challenging, it was likewise an incomparable joy.

My enormous gratitude, too, for the whole team of wise and generous guides. It was a pleasure to plan, research, write, and teach alongside you. The conversations that emerged have fed this parish in ways I cannot even begin to describe.

Finally, my love to all our parish children, who again and again brought their curiosity, growing knowledge, faith, doubts, insights, instincts, and wonder to the shared work of understanding our faith tradition, our history, our God, our community, and ourselves. It is a great privilege to do this work alongside each and every one of them.

Yours in Christ,
Renee

Our upcoming Program Year

As many of you know, our focus at St. Luke’s this year will be “Attending to the Presence of God,” and our formation offerings are a delightful invitation to do so. Here’s a brief sketch of the good things coming our way. To hear more, join us at a forum on September 18th. And take note: this year finds us rich with new volunteers, whose names and roles are bolded below. Also, we are still in need of volunteers who feel called to offer their gifts to this year’s powerful offerings. Please see Renee to talk through where and how you might join these new endeavors!

Children’s Sermons:

During the 9:30 Eucharist, we will continue with our summer structure: keeping kids in the pews for the Liturgy of the Word; having them join Deacon Greg for the Gospel Procession; offering them a sermon, music, and art in the library; and then returning to the church at the Peace. This will keep kids closely connected to our worship gathering, and will allow them to sit with us through the mystery, praise, and complexity that is our liturgy. Laura Mercadal will serve as an alternate in leading these sermons, and we’d love to have one more person who might take pleasure in guiding our children this way.  

Children’s Formation:

In addition, beginning September 18th we will kick off a new religious formation program. This program will run from 11am to 12N, will be held on the third floor, and will be divided into nine units based on the topics we want kids to explore this year (and the liturgical seasons in which those topics fit). Some of these sessions will be intergenerational (we’ll bring kids down to learn alongside adults, and once even to teach us!), but most will be designed for ages 4-10. Part of our goal this year is to widen the lens of our children’s religious formation: we don’t want to limit the voices they hear. This is important because we are gifted with a parish full of wise and experienced teachers, scholars, and leaders, which is an immense privilege, and one from which our kids should benefit. It likewise allows individuals to devote themselves deeply for a series of weeks, and then to return to their own formation practices.

The topics we’ll cover include:

  • The Book of Common Prayer
  • The Eucharist
  • Home as a Family’s Spiritual Center
  • Isaiah, Art, & Music
  • The Story of Joseph
  • Matthew & First-Century Nazareth Context
  • Exodus, Art, & Music
  • Acts of the Apostles
  • Ecclesiology (or “What is Church?”)

And I am thrilled to announce our team of volunteer teachers this year. Though we are still searching for two lead teachers and a number of assistants – should you be interested! – so far our spectacular line-up includes Elizabeth Kraatz, Brian Lonberg, Amy Hanson, Becky Edmonds, Jenny Sanderson, Fritz MacDonald, Madeleine Roberts, and Jeremy Sabella. 

Adult Formation:

Adult Formation will also gather from 11am to 12N, and as I mention above will include intergenerational days, as well as content crossover, which will make it exciting for kids and parents to share what they’ve learned. There will be two forums per week, the content for which is being carefully created and cultivated by both St. Luke’s staff and our new Adult Forum Team: Frankie LeClear, Linda Snyder, Caleb Molstad, and Jax Lee Gardner.

Topics will include (but are by no means limited to):

  • Attending to the Presence of God
  • The Rector’s Fall Class: The Eucharist
  • The Home as our Spiritual Center
  • Adult Art Series: Writing Christ Icons
  • Social Justice & Outreach
  • Prayer Practices
  • The Adult Lenten Study
  • Anti-Racism Work
  • Music & Drama
  • History & Community
  • Ecclesiology (or “What is Church?”)

Baptism:

We’ve spent joyful time this summer creating a new structure for baptismal formation. Baptismal candidates and/or their families will prepare via communal exploration of the sacrament’s scriptural precedence, the liturgy in which they’ll make their covenant, and the history of the sacrament itself. Then – in the weeks following their baptism – they’ll experience the fullness of the corporate life of the Church and the mystagogos or “mysteries” of faith as they begin to live into Christ’s death and resurrection. This formation structure, therefore, is designed to make clear that the invitation to baptism is available for all and need never be earned, and that the work baptism initiates is lifelong, mysterious, and communal. As a parish, we are privileged to witness this process, and to consider the catechumens as living examples of our common need to reexamine and reaffirm our baptismal covenant.

I’m also happy to announce that Carla Baublis and Dennis LeClear have joined our new Baptism Preparation Team!

Confirmation, Reaffirmation, & Reception:

We’ve likewise revolutionized our process for confirmation, reaffirmation, and reception.

Candidates will engage deeply with the following topics:

  • Scripture
  • The Anglican Communion
  • Liturgy
  • Rule of Life
  • Discernment
  • Prayer Practices
  • Sacramental Rites
  • Stewardship
  • Safeguarding
  • Social Justice
  • Outreach

Our intention is to offer a flexible program that need not be met in any particular way. Though rigorous, this process is a journey and not a destination. It is an invitation to cultivate an approach for sustaining a rich spirituality throughout one’s life. Please let us know if you might feel called to explore this sacrament with us.

Also, join me in welcoming John Tucker to our Confirmation Preparation Team, and please reach out if you have interest in lending your voice to this new program!  

Fellowship:

Please also join me in welcoming our new St. Luke’s Socializes Planning Team, which is comprised of Laurence Hawthorne, Stacey Marquee-Flentje, and Art McNabb. See these folks with ideas about food and fellowship!

Youth Group:

Finally, our youth group is growing, and we’re looking for an engaged volunteer leader. See Renee if you feel called to offer your gifts to this wonderful community of young parishioners.

The volunteer position will require:

  • 3-5 hours most weeks;
  • strong listening skills, creativity, empathy, and patience;
  • reliability and a talent for organization; experience with social media a plus;
  • the ability to work well with parents/caregivers, and to understand family dynamics;
  • the ability to connect with the interests and concerns of today’s youth;
  • engagement with our youth group principles of scripture, service, and solidarity, as well as our parish identity: “Spirituality in Action”;
  • flexible hours and energy for intensive fundraising endeavors;
  • summer flexibility, and a willingness to help plan and lead our yearly pilgrimage;
  • a likelihood of long-term (two-year) availability;
  • safeguarding certification (which can be completed before volunteer commencement);
  • a background check (completed by us);
  • experience working with youth and/or positive personal youth group history a plus;
  • enthusiasm for the opportunity to work with youth of diverse gender identity, sexuality, and background, and from a variety of family configurations.

scripture, creation, & calm

Last week – with dozens of volunteers and nearly a hundred Kalamazoo-area kids – we held our annual Bronson Park Vacation Bible School. It was an intense and exuberant week, marked overall by much singing, shouting, and joyful noise.

But one session each day – which I was inspired to create during last year’s VBS – sought to offer kids some insight into what to do with all that energy: how to move from enthusiasm to commitment to our scriptures; from excitement to comprehension of the Word; from creative energy to creation itself.

Each day – in groups of twenty – kids entered a small space replete with rich textiles, lamps for light, a small altar, prayer mats, and candles. Each day, I greeted them at the door, whispering hello and encouraging them to greet one another in whispered tones as well. They seemed to understand instantly that the space was different. In that room, they were remarkably still. It wasn’t what they expected to encounter at Vacation Bible School, and so they were watchful, full of curiosity and wonder.

Upon entering, they were invited to find a prayer mat and draw awareness to their breath. I was startled by how well they responded to the work of intentional breathing. Here are the five particular exercises we did to prepare our bodies and minds for each day’s Bible chapters. I encourage you to try them: for yourself or with your kids. They were wonderful for helping us receive the Word, but they would work well, too, in a myriad of other circumstances.

  1. Flower Breathing: Breathe in, imagining you’re smelling your favorite flower. Breathe out, imagining you’re blowing out birthday candles. Repeat slowly, and at least ten times. This technique will help you engage your imagination, become aware of your breath, and calm and awaken your body.
  2. Fire Breath: Interlace your fingers underneath your chin. Inhale and lift the elbows up to frame your face. Exhale, lifting your head up and making a whispered “hah” sound toward the sky, like a dragon breathing fire. At the same time, lower your elbows back down to meet at the bottom again by the end of the “hah” exhale. Do so slowly, and at least ten times. This technique builds strength and heat within, making it a good energizer. It also helps us feel brave when we might be nervous.
  3. Feather Dancing: Hold a feather (a peacock feather, if possible!) two to three inches in front of your mouth and exhale completely, seeing how long you can make it dance. Watch the feather carefully as it moves. Then breathe in slowly to the count of four, and hold your breath to the count of two. Then breathe out again, seeing how long you can push the air out of your lungs, how long you can make the feather dance. Repeat at least ten times. Notice how this feels. Notice any differences in your body or your thoughts.
  4. Sound & Attention: This exercise is particularly helpful for grounding you in the present moment. It is of use when your thoughts carry you into the past or the future. Begin by lying down comfortably with your hands at your sides and your eyes closed. Draw your attention to your breathing: simply notice as your breath enters and leaves your body. You can also place your hands on your soft, breathing belly, feeling it rise and fall. Do this for at least five breath cycles (five inhales and exhales). Then, when you feel ready, create or have someone else in the room create a sound that resonates. This could be a piano key, a meditation chime, a singing bowl, a rain stick, or another sound that will resonate and eventually evanesce. When you hear the sound, focus on it as it gets softer and softer. When you no longer hear the sound, move your hands from your sides to your heart, as if in prayer. Return to five breathing cycles. Repeat this a couple of times.
  5. Weather Report: First, sit up tall and do some breathing. Try one of the approaches above, or simply breathe in for four counts, hold for two, and breathe out slowly. Repeat for at least five cycles. Then close your eyes and ask your body what your weather is. What weather best describes your feelings at this moment? Do you feel sunny, rainy, stormy, calm, windy, like a tsunami? This exercise helps us to remember that just as we can’t change the weather outside, and the weather is not our planet, we can’t change our emotions either, and those emotions aren’t us.

Having finished the day’s breath work, students were handed their art notebooks, in which they created art all week – being artists in God’s image – while listening to each day’s scriptural reading.

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  1. The first day, when the theme was hope, kids drew their understanding of light while listening to Isaiah 9:2-7. Their depictions of light were stunning: some offered it coming in through windows; others drew candles; still others created bright, vibrant skies.
  2. On Tuesday, the theme was courage, and they were asked to draw something they wanted to do but were afraid to try. I was startled by how easy it was for nearly all of them to bring to mind some current fear: jumping off the swing like their older sister; taking the training wheels off their bike; holding their breath and going under water; climbing some structure at the playground. They drew while I read Matthew 14:22-32, in which Jesus commands Peter to walk across the water towards him, which Peter can do it until he remembers his fear, forgets to trust, and begins to sink. Jesus, of course, lifts him up again.
  3. On Wednesday, the reading was the Beatitudes; the theme was direction; and kids drew their own imagined door to God: a door only they would recognize. These were especially moving: some were enormous while others were tiny passageways. Some were full of color, others just space and light.
  4. On Thursday the theme was love. The reading was the resurrection according to Luke, and they created images of themselves offering a small act of love or kindness towards someone in their lives. What was amazing about these was how much they smiled while they drew.
  5. On Friday, the theme was power; the reading was Acts 1; and kids drew one moment of beautiful creation that they had been privileged to witness. They were incredibly precise about these: I saw a small red flower that no one else noticed. There was a moon in the sky even though it was morning. I wanted a baby brother for so long and then I got to hold him. 

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Each day, when their creations were finished, we talked through what they had felt called to draw, and why. Then, together, they would create a prayer that related to the reading and images. For hope, one group wrote: Dear God, we hope for happy children. And we thank you. Amen. For courage, another wrote: Dear Jesus, were you ever scared? We have been scared. Please give us courage. Amen. For direction, a third wrote God, please help us find the door to your house. Amen.

Given the children’s remarkably open, calm, present experience of this process, we will definitely incorporate mindfulness in other aspects of our formation offerings, including our upcoming Music Camp. And if you explore any of these techniques as a part of your spiritual formation at home, please let us know how it goes. Watching nearly a hundred children engage scripture both contemplatively and creatively was well worth the effort.

the covenant as written by our little ones

In preparation for the Pentecost baptisms, we spent some time in Children’s Chapel a few weeks back looking at the Baptismal Covenant. Because so many of our kiddos were baptized as babies, these occasions for renewal and recommitment feel especially rich. For each of us, even as adults, new depths of understanding come each time we make these promises. But especially for our children, the covenant has the potential to serve as an awakening. When they hear us speak these words, children are invited into a relationship with God, and with all of us in Christ. And when they begin not just to hear but to speak these words themselves, they set out on their own path towards God. They begin to grasp how behavior shapes belief. They become Christian not because we are, but because God is calling them into the practice of Christianity.

And so I offered our children only the questions of the covenant, and gave them space as a community to craft their own answers instead of teaching them our collective, scripted responses. They were delightfully thoughtful and engaged with one another throughout this process. Their answers – which I copied verbatim once they’d settled on language they all more or less agreed with – are endearing and witty, and not at all surprising given the vibrant community of children we have here at St. Luke’s. But they are also largely theologically sound, and have the potential – if we read beyond or perhaps into the many amusing barnyard references – to help us deepen our own understanding of this piece of our tradition.

To me, that’s the highest potential payoff of intergenerational spiritual practice: the opportunity that arises again and again to learn from one another. To be, from our birth to our death, at once students and teachers. So as we head into a summer of more shared intergenerational worship, I offer these covenant responses as an invitation. May we tune carefully in to the fruitful truth that our children have as much to teach us as we have to teach them. And may the promises we make to God be both illuminated by and illuminating for those of any age on this path alongside us.

Do you believe in God the Father?
I believe in God, who created us, pigs, chickens, and blankets.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the son of God?
I believe in Jesus the son of God, who lived and died and lived again. He heals people. 

Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
I believe in God the Holy Spirit, who comes like wind or like fire to help us understand the Word of God. 

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
I will keep doing prayers, receiving the body of God, and doing the chicken dance. 

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
I will return to God. 

Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?
I will proclaim that God is happy and loves us.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
I will eat chickens with others and try to see good in them.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?
I will be nice and a good listener, sharing what I have and doing the pig dance.

 

 

 

the fullness of a great program year

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Impossible as it is to believe, we’re only a handful of weeks away from Trinity Sunday, and thus from the end of this program year. Our time in Children’s Chapel has centered on worship, joy, and community. We made murals and prayed our Anglican Prayer Beads. We sang hymns in rounds and other canons. We learned about what we really need to worship in community – bread, wine, water, oil, scripture, people, and a bishop – and we tried to lend our care mostly to those elements. We studied the Books of the Bible in depth: learning their names, their structures, and a little about what they each offer. We carefully located the stories we explored within that sacred library: when we read from The Gospel According to John, for example, we found John in our gorgeous wooden Bible. We parsed the Lord’s Prayer phrase-by-phrase, exploring the meaning of each word, as well as the prayer’s scriptural origin. We moved through the lectionary in pace with you downstairs, reading at turns from the NSRV, a youth version of that translation, and various children’s Bibles. We told stories using Godly Play and a multitude of meditative approaches, with guides reading to children and children reading to one another. We offered context, history, insights, and lots of questions. We memorized psalms, prayed our own Prayers of the People, grappled with the events and emotions of the Triduum, and noticed God in both the snow and the sunshine out our third-floor windows. We worshiping together as a young but mighty community of Christ’s followers.

As individuals and as a community, our parish kiddos embraced the challenge of reverence. I hope the stories the children have to tell will give you a sense of the worship in which we engaged, and the mystery for which we made space. I want to thank everyone who took the time to gather with us upstairs this year: your presence was a gift to our children, and to our parish.

The Summer Ahead

Of course, our kids are not just their own community; they are a part of ours at large. Summer offers a nice opportunity to embrace the fullness of this fact. So beginning Sunday, May 29th, kids will start each liturgy with their family. They’ll be present for the opening hymn and acclamation, the collects, and the readings. Then they’ll join the deacon for the Gospel procession. They’ll follow the torch bearers, who will come down the side aisles and back up the center. This plan was born of our recognition that even before liturgy is words, it is movement. The Gospel procession is a celebration and enactment of Christ’s constant movement towards us.  We see this in Galatians 4:4-5:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.

God sent his Son so that we might receive adoption. As such, the Gospel procession is a celebration. Having our children join Deacon Greg is a way of making us more aware of this joy, and of recognizing the important message it communicates. Further, having the kiddos gathered around Deacon Greg as he reads the Gospel will help us – adults and children – stay aware that the Holy Gospel belongs to us all.

After the reading, the deacon will lead the kids out of the church and to the library, where I’ll offer a small children’s sermon, and Jan Tucker (with her guitar) will lead us in song. When there’s time, we’ll also do a little art, a prayer, or some movement. As has been our habit, we’ll return at the Exchange of Peace.

Having the children present for the start of church will no doubt be an adjustment, but it stands to offer a deepening of the spiritual formation they’ve undertaken all program year, and an opportunity for us to worship alongside them, witnessing their spiritual growth and sharing ours with them. I look joyfully forward to a summer’s worth of liturgy, fellowship, and light.

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