It’s the first weekend of December! If you want an engaging experience for your whole family, come to our Hanging of the Greens service on Saturday (Dec 1) at 4 pm, followed by a community meal. Walk the labyrinth in our sanctuary. Create a craft for your home. Work with your child on the boughs of greens. We end by singing “Deck the Hall” as we bring the greens into the sanctuary. Reserve your place at the table here.
Now, let’s talk about sermons and kids. That’s what you’ve been waiting for, right?
In the Book of Acts from the Christian scriptures, we learn about the story of young Eutychus, the patron saint of all who have fallen asleep during a sermon. He is sitting on a window sill (why, we don’t know) listening to Paul talk on and on and on. His voice lulls Eutychus to sleep, and the boy falls out of the window and to the ground (but he’s okay!). The take away lesson for parents is please don’t sit your children on window sills or the balcony ledge.
That said, we parents aren’t fearful about our children falling asleep (that’s more of a fear for us). We are worried about their vast amounts of energy, their ability to pay attention, and their noise level in service. How do we help make it a meaningful experience, especially during the “long part” of the service? Both for them and for us? Robbie Castleman says, “Helping children listen to and learn from the sermon take persistence, creativity and time.”
The take away lesson for preachers is don’t lull your congregation, no matter their age, to sleep. Robbie also says, “It also helps to have a pastor who thinks of children as well as adults as the sermon is being prepared.” Luckily, Robin and I try to always be mindful of the fullness of our audience when preparing a sermon. (When we don’t, rest assured, our kids let us know.)
Our sermons, not to mention the whole service, are centered in stories. There’s a reason that Jesus told parables. We all love a good story. Recently, I attended a workshop with The Very Rev Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas (Episcopalian) and Rev. angel Kyodo williams (Zen priest). They both talked about the power of stories in their young lives. As a child, Douglas went to church every Sunday because she loved the stories and their ability to help her make meaning of her young life. She remembered riding in the car one day and seeing two children her age walking out in the cold, wet rain. It was the season of Advent, where Christians are anticipating the birth of Jesus. That week at church Douglas heard the Christmas story, listening closely to the preacher say that there was no place for the baby Jesus to sleep. She thought about those two children, wondering if there was somewhere for them to sleep. As she sang “Away in the Manger,” tears streamed down her face, and Douglas made a vow, then and there, to make the world a place where all children would have a safe, dry place to sleep. That story helped her make meaning of her experience and gave her a life calling. She was seven.
We don’t tell stories for the sake of stories, as compelling as they may be. We tell stories to help understand our lives. We underestimate our children’s need to make meaning of their young lives. But Dr. Douglas’s story reminds us to think again.
Tools for Sermons: Help children listen to the stories being told.
- Prepare them the days before: What stories do you think we’ll hear at Beacon this week? Tell your children the theme and invite them to consider what stories they would tell. Share your own. This activity helps build anticipation. (Send us your story ideas! We’re always looking for favorites.)
- As you are getting ready to leave for Beacon, say: “Let’s see if we guessed the story!” It’s like preparing for a scavenger hunt.
- During the service, give them a journal to draw images or write words from the stories they hear.
- After the service, ask them: So, what was your favorite story? What story made you laugh? Or feel sad, angry? Don’t be afraid to ask them about their emotions.
- Then, tell them your favorite story in the service. And why? Children want to hear how their parents are making meaning. Tell them how the stories affect you.
Next week we continue talking about sermons!