God Has Spoken to God’s People: Engaging with the Broad Story of Scripture

Open your ears, O Faithful People…

“Creation, Covenant, Shekinah, Kingdom” from the St. John’s Bible

This morning, Christian Formation ministers from around the diocese met by phone to talk about Scripture.  Below, you’ll find a reprise of our conversation for folks who weren’t able to join in the call.

We wondered,

How can we nurture a love for Scripture in members of our parish?

How can we encourage children, youth, adults to enjoy Scripture, to engage God’s word with delight?

How can we encourage a spirit of respect for the Word of God in our midst?

How can we be patient with Scripture when we don’t understand it?  

 The Big Picture:

Several months ago when we discussed objectives for Christian Formation,  we mentioned two foundational objectives relating to the big story of scripture:

  • Children and youth will articulate the biblical narrative with particular focus on the identity of God, self, and neighbor.
  • Children and youth will understand the motions of Christian life together as the enactment of the faith and of the biblical narrative.

[We’ll talk more on connecting scripture to experience during our next phone call.]

Today, we talked about how we might engage children, youth, and adults in the story of Scripture.  But, before we proceed, a word from St. Augustine:

Whoever, therefore, thinks that he understands the divine Scriptures or any part of them so that it does not build the double love of God and of our neighbor does not understand it at all.  Whoever finds a lesson there useful to the building of charity, even though he has not said what the author may be shown to have intended in that place, has not been deceived, nor is he lying in any way…” (Augustine, On Christian Doctrine)

We heard, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest Scripture in order to grow in love for God and neighbor.  Scripture leads us into God’s kingdom.

How might we begin to tell and cherish the broad story of Scripture in our communities of faith?

“Pentecost” from the St. John’s Bible

The Duke Youth Academy uses the 7 “C’S” as touchstones for teaching the “Bible’s basic plotline:”

Creation • Crisis • Covenant • Christ •Church • Calling • Coming Reign of God

 The seven C’s are one way to return again and again to the broad Scriptural story, and to offer children a context for the individual stories of scripture.

We shared ideas about how we might these touchstones in parish ministry:

  •   Work one of the “C’s” into the learning objectives for each Sunday School session with older children or youth.  Each week, invite youth to take time to reflect on how the relates to its “C” theme.
  •    Make a Bible timeline to display in a multi-use space in the parish.  Use biblical art to illuminate stories along the timeline.  A few resources for art & the biblical story:  Vanderbilt’s Art and the Christian Tradition database, Christopher Brewer’s Art That Tells the Story, Textweek – Art Index
  •        Invite children and youth to make art for each “C” and display it around the church building.
  •        Assign a month and a newsletter spot (or blog spot) each month to exploring a “C” theme. Which biblical stories find themselves side-by-side under each theme?  For example, “Where – in addition to Genesis 1-2 do themes of ‘Creation’ appear in Scripture?”
  •       Photocopy and distribute “table cards” for each C theme with a scripture on each card, and a few questions for families to reflect on over a meal.  (These “God’s Big Story” cards are one take on this.)
  •    Organize a “Passport to the Bible” workshop or “Walk through the Bible Day” each year:  Take a day and set up a station for each of the seven C’s with dramatic storytelling and activities relating to that theme.

 Other resources for telling the broad Scriptural story:

Godly Play and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones and Jago (for young children)

Echo the Story  an Augsburg-Fortress curriculum (for older children and young teens)

Ideas for parishes and families from the Mennonite Year of the Bible Network

A caveat:  Today, we noted several times that there are pitfalls to painting the Scriptural story with an overly-broad brush, and it is important to balance our telling of the larger biblical narrative with faithful reading of the whole Bible in its (sometimes overwhelming) detail.  Telling the broad Scriptural story is one part of growing to learn and love Scripture, but certainly not the whole.

During our conversation this morning, we repeatedly wondered how we can invite and encourage adults (parents, godparents, grandparents) who may be unfamiliar with or intimidated by Scripture to engage with it at home.  And that is a topic for my next post.  Stay tuned!

 

 

Back to the Prayerbook: The Litany of Thanksgiving

photo-7

When asked to choose a prayer with which to close their Sunday School class each week, a group of fifth graders surprised and delighted me by choosing to pray the “Litany of Thanksgiving” (BCP 836-837).  We don’t say it in church often:  usually on Thanksgiving itself, and perhaps on a major parish anniversary or milestone.  On the cold morning last year when I heard a group of nine and ten year olds take turns with the call and response of the litany, I was taken aback.

“For the beauty and wonder of your creation, in earth and sky and sea,” they said.

We thank you, Lord.

….

“For minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve,

We thank you, Lord.”

The Prayerbook invites us to use “A Litany of Thanksgiving” in place of the Prayers of the People during Eucharistic worship.  It works well in a devotional setting, too.  As the days remain cold and the wind remains biting, the litany is as encouraging as any prayer I know.  If it rings hollow when I pray it by myself, I just might find a group of nine and ten year olds, and pray it along with them.

Back to the Prayerbook: Thanksgiving for a Child

On the first day of this month we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, and until recently, I hadn’t thought much about it.  But this year I was struck.  For thousands of years we have stopped each year to celebrate, and still we stop.  We hold a feast, we celebrate the way that Jesus’ community named, circumcised, received, and upheld him at eight days old. The scriptures don’t tell us much about how it happened.  Luke tells us only that, “after eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb”(Luke 2:21).  We imagine that faithful Jews gathered around Jesus on that day to receive him, and to celebrate the ways that Jesus’ given name would be a sign of the life that Jesus brought to the world. 

GraceduringworshipWe baptize children and adults, and at baptism we celebrate their initiation into the family of God.  Even before baptism, we receive children into our common life with the same joy, hope, and gratitude with which Jesus’ community received him.  Often, this hope and gratitude begins with the gathered community’s prayers for the Blessing of a Pregnant woman (Book of Occasional Services 157).  “As soon as is convenient after the birth [or adoption] of a child,” the prayerbook tells us, “the parents, with other members of the family should come to the church to be welcomed by the congregation and to give thanks to Almighty God.  It is desirable that this take place at a Sunday service.”  The “Thanksgiving for a Child” (BCP 439) gives us a way to receive, give thanks for, and uphold for every child that enters our common life, just as Jesus was received and upheld by his community.  We give thanks with Mary’s own song, finding her words fit to welcome a new child into the life of the church, because “whoever receives a little child in the name of Christ receives Christ himself”(BCP 443).

 

The first Sunday after my premature son was released from the neonatal ICU, I took him to church in a tiny outfit, and cradled his four pound body on my shoulder.  I was surprised to see after the peace, that the priest was approaching me.  She took his tiny frame from me, and carefully held him high, walking around the nave for each member of the community to see him.  (It was a little bit like the closing scene in The Lion King, except that it was…you know…not a Disney cartoon.)  Her bold physical gesture in  holding him high, in upholding his tiny body on behalf of the gathered community remains imprinted in my memory.  As the priest held Isaac high in the air, the congregation prayed for and received him.  I knew, as I watched him held high, that he belonged to that small, gathered community of believers.   And I knew that I belonged too.

As I travel around our diocese, members of parishes speak their worry to me about not having enough young people in their midst.  It is a worrying thing.  And I know that babies don’t come to church every day.  But when babies do come to church, we’ve been called, equipped, and charged to give thanks in public, possibly gratuitous ways. We are called to receive every baby that enters our communities, and to celebrate the gifts those babies bring to God’s world with the same joy with which Jesus was received and celebrated  so long ago.  When babies are upheld in our parishes with publicly joyful hope and expectation, young parents are reminded that  in the stressful, sleepless months and years ahead, there remains a place for (even the noisy, smelly, defiant members of) their family at God’s table.  The Thanksgiving is, of course, just the beginning.  But it is a beautiful beginning indeed.

“Persevere in Prayer…”

Last month, a group of Christian formation ministers from around our diocese met to pray together, and to talk about prayer.  Over the course of our time together, a question emerged:  how can we encourage and provide opportunities members of our parishes (individuals of all ages) to pray with and for one another?

Two simple ideas were offered in response to the question:

(1.)  “This Little Light of Mine:”  A Candlemas Tradition –  One lay minister shared that in her parish on Candlemas, each child is given a candle to color during the liturgy of the word.  (The candle is printed on card stock, using a template like this.)  After the candle is decorated, it is marked with its artist’s name, and a sticky magnet is affixed to the reverse side of the candle.  During the offertory on candlemas, the candles are offered along with the gifts of bread, wine, money, and any actual candles that the parish may use.  After the candles are blessed, each adult household in the parish takes home a  child’s candle to place on their refrigerator, as a reminder to pray for the child.  The candle is a visual cue to recall the light we receive at baptism, and the promise the assembly makes to, “do all in our power to support [the baptismal candidate] in her life in Christ” (BCP 303).

zcbaptism

(2.) “Faith Interviews”:   An opportunity to nurture relationships of prayer and encouragement.

This activity facilitated an opportunity for each member of a 4th & 5th grade Sunday School class to spend two Sunday mornings in conversation with an adult in the parish that had been selected as a interview partner for him/her.  Prior to the meetings, the children came up worked together to identify questions to ask.  During the interviews, we asked the kids to spend the first Sunday learning about his/her partner and writing down the adult’s answers to the interview questions.  Writing down the answers allowed everyone to slow down in the conversation and gave the kids something to return to when we reflected on the conversations as a larger group.  (It also helped them feel like investigative reporters, a fun role to play!)  Children spent the second Sunday answering questions for the adult, then reflecting on the process with the larger group.  During reflection time, they discussed which questions were hard to answer, which were easy to answer, what surprised them about the adults’ answers, what they had in common with their adult partner, how their adult partner helped them imagine living faithfully in God’s world. 

Interview questions: 
  • What is your earliest memory related to faith, or to church?
  • Why do you go to church?  Did you grow up going to church?
  • Do you have a favorite Bible story or passage of scripture?
  • Do you have a favorite hymn or song of faith?
  • How do you pray?  Where do you pray?
  • Were your parents Christians?  Did you ever disagree with your parents over what it means to follow Jesus?
  • Do you pray every day?
  • Do you find it difficult to be a Christian in this world?
  • Tell me about someone who has helped you to trust in God.
  • Tell me about a time when you changed your life in some way out of love for God.
Template invitation for adult participants:
 
“Dear James,
I am writing to invite you to join our 4th & 5th grade Sunday School class on the coming two Sundays [dates].  On this coming Sunday,we will enjoy some breakfast treats and an icebreaker, then will ask adults and youth to pair off for “faith interviews.”  This is an opportunity for students to invite you into an honest conversation about what faith looks like in our lives, how we grow in love for God and for God’s world, and how we sometimes struggle to have (or keep) faith.  On the next Sunday, you’ll have the opportunity to interview your partner, and can help them begin to imagine how they might tell the story of their life of faith so far.
Below, I’ve listed a few questions that our children thought up.  (Don’t worry, we’ll make sure the conversation isn’t too painful!)  The elementary-school students  will be prepared to ask questions on Sunday, and your patience and generosity in answering will help give them confidence to begin to answer some of the questions they ask you…”

Blessing in homes at Epiphany

Isaiah 60:1,

(http://suntreeriverdesign.blogspot.com/2011/12/epiphany-arise-shine.html)

On Epiphany, the wise men were led by the great star to a baby in Bethlehem.  They opened their treasure chests to worship him, to offer gifts to him there.  This Sunday, we celebrate the way in which God manifested God’s only Son to the peoples of the earth by the leading of a star (see BCP 214).  The Book of Occasional Services (2003) reminds us of the traditional blessing of the family home that has long been  celebrated in the week around Epiphany, recalling the hospitality that Mary and Joseph extended to the three kings “in a stable rude.”   Mary and Joseph made space for the three kings to worship the King of the Universe.  Gertrud Mueller Nelson notes that often as a part of a family Epiphany celebration, “the initials of the legendary names of the Magi,  Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar are written with chalk on or over the main doors of the house and framed by the numbers of the new year:”

20C+M+B+14

Nelson notes that some people suggest that CMB stands for “Christe, Mansionem Benedica,” that is, “Christ, bless this house.”  [See Gertrud Mueller Nelson.  To Dance with God:  Family Ritual and Community Celebration.  (New York:  Paulist Press, 120).]

As Epiphany approaches, a prayer from The Book of Occasional Services “Blessing at Epiphany:”

Visit, O blessed Lord, this home with the gladness of your presence, Bless all who live here with the gift of your love and grant that they may manifest your love to each other and to all whose lives they touch.  May they grow in grace and in the knowledge and love of you; guide, comfort, and strengthen them; and preserve them in peace, O Jesus Christ, now and forever.  Amen.