Christians Engaged in Faith Formation

Forming Faith: The Blog of Christians Engaged in Faith Formation

  • 03 Apr 2017 7:49 PM | Christine Hides

    Rev. Lynne Smith is a Deacon in Full Connection in the North Georgia Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. She serves as the Minister of Education of North Georgia Family Counseling Centers and works with churches to create ministries that influence family wellbeing. For more information about the Life Compass and Faithful Family Life Curriculum go to

    The church is the one place in our culture with the ability to address the entire family throughout the developmental life cycle. Think about it. We perform marriages. We baptize infants. We give Bibles to 2 year-olds and 3rd graders. We mentor adolescents through Confirmation as they learn about their faith and choose to accept the vows of membership for themselves. We stand with Seniors as they graduate from High School and send care packages while they’re away at college. We celebrate retirements, visit those in the hospital, and grieve our losses. Every major developmental milestone is recognized by the church in some way.  So what are you doing to equip your congregation to navigate these milestones in a healthy way?

                Maybe take a moment to reflect on your own experience. Personally, I knew everything there was to know about raising children…until I actually had children. When my firstborn turned two, I’m pretty sure I purchased every book on the market about how to raise a strong-willed child. It didn’t take long before I realized that she hadn’t read any of those books. When there was a workshop at church on parenting, I went. Turns out, she didn’t study that material either. 

    Fast-forward a few years to the start of high school, fourteen years old. My daughter was excited about everything. I was afraid of everything. In case you’re wondering, that’s not a good combination. Fear says “no” a lot. And when you say “no” to a strong-willed teenager, a lot… I’ll let you imagine what that might be like. This time, I was incredibly fortunate that the church wasn’t just offering a workshop of best practices, rather the church created a small group experience that explored why the teenage brain is excited about everything, and studied what is happening in my brain when I’m constantly afraid. This group also offered a safe environment in which to explore the origin of my fear so that I could move toward an attitude of courage to face the fear, and not act out of it.  I learned skills, proven by scientific research, to reduce reactivity and nurture connectivity. I learned how to establish healthy boundaries and how to clearly state those boundaries in ways that affirm and value the others in my home. Most of all I discovered that if one person learns healthy skills in a family system, the whole system becomes healthier.

                My daughter is an amazing person, as are her siblings. They are uniquely who God created them to be. I’m so grateful that the church saw fit to teach me the skills of healthy relationships, frameworks to help me understand developmental transitions, and methods to help me navigate the journey so that I have the skills to enjoy and appreciate the amazing people that they are. For me, this is and has been a spiritual journey, and I would be thrilled if all churches could become places in their communities where families could come to learn the skills of healthy relationships simply because it’s what we do – not because there’s a problem.

                The ability to do this work begins with awareness. In the Faithful Family Life Curriculum , awareness is part of the centering practice. It’s impossible to transform something if I don’t know about it in the first place. When I can focus my attention in the present moment without judgment, I can:

    • orient to the energy of God’s love at work in the world and choose how to participate in that energy;
    • safely explore and understand my thoughts, sensations, and feelings so that I respond to others with truth and love;
    • connect past memories to present behavior through story and sacrament;
    • value learning, and recognize that what I know (and what I do) is different from who I am.

    From this centered place, I can point my Life Compass to the reality of my life, and access skills, frameworks, and methods that connect me to my family, my church, my community, and the greater world with love, joy, kindness, and compassion. So can you. And together we can create a place where families can learn the skills of healthy relationships because that’s what love does.

  • 17 Mar 2017 3:19 PM | Christine Hides

    Members of the CEF Communities of Practice group on Ministries in Transition spent their conference sessions discussing change in the church. These are their top recommendations:

    Transitions, by William Bridges

    Whether it is chosen or thrust upon you, change brings both opportunities and turmoil. Since first published 25 years ago, Transitions has helped hundreds of thousands of readers cope with these issues by providing an elegantly simple yet profoundly insightful roadmap of the transition process.”

    Running through the Thistles: Terminating a Ministerial Relationship with the Parish ,  by Alban Institute books

     “Can how you leave a church affect your feelings about leaving or create baggage you take to your new congregation? Gain insight into termination styles and how they affect both you and your parishioners. Using real-life illustrations, Oswald guides you through Alban Institute research findings to help you prepare for a departure.

    I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church, by Paul Nixon

    God has called all leaders--lay and clergy--to lead healthy, GROWING congregations. In this best-selling, highly- readable book, church-growth expert Paul Nixon outlines six critical choices every congregation must make

    Christianity for the Rest of Us, by Diana Butler Bass

    For decades the accepted wisdom has been that America's mainline Protestant churches are in decline, eclipsed by evangelical mega-churches. Church and religion expert Diana Butler Bass wondered if this was true, and this book is the result of her extensive, three-year study of centrist and progressive churches across the country.

    Sacred Acts: How Churches are Working to Protect the Earth’s Climate, edited by Mallory McDuff

    From evangelicals to Episcopalians, people of faith are mobilizing to confront climate change. This unique anthology brings together stories from all over North America of contemporary church leaders, parishioners, and religious activists who are working to define a new environmental movement, where honoring the Creator means protecting the planet.

  • 08 Mar 2017 2:06 PM | Christine Hides

    I recently read What We Need is Here, Practicing the Heart of Christian Spirituality by L. Roger Owens, published by Upper Room Books.  Owens is an elder in The United Methodist Church who teaches at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

    The book is written in first person anecdotal format, which makes it an engaging easy read. While driving along I-40 in North Carolina one day he heard a voice say, “Let me be your Teacher…I have already given you everything you need.” I chuckled as I share Owens’ love of books, always looking for the next best way to deepen my relationship with God and share that with my students.

    In the process of his rediscovery of what God has given he identified seven “givens” of Christian spirituality. They aren’t new; they are things that we know so this book is a gentle reminder that we should:

    • Read the Gospels
    • Pray the Psalms
    • Sit in silence with God
    • Find Jesus in Church
    • Meet Jesus in Holy Communion
    • Receive and respond to Jesus with our bodies, minds and spirits
    • Spend time with the poor

    Owens is right. We have everything we need. We need to practice what we preach and teach. 

  • 08 Mar 2017 1:17 PM | Christine Hides

    Laura Hollinger Antonelli, an ordained minister in the Christian Church Disciples of Christ, serves as the Director of Student Ministries of First United Methodist Church of Glen Ellyn. She has previously served in a campus chapel setting, in a non-profit with Interfaith Youth Core, and in Religious Education at a Unitarian Universalist congregation. Though she has a love of ministering to God’s beloved of all ages, she takes particular delight in working with children and youth. 

    Children bring the baskets.At First United Methodist Church of Glen Ellyn, we had been discussing ways to more fully engage children in worship. When our Pastor planned a vacation for late January, we decided that was a great time to hold an Intergenerational Worship Service. Our concept was to use storytelling, rather than the preaching of a sermon, as the anchor point of the service.

    In my prior work at a Unitarian Universalist church, I had been accustomed to longer Time of All Ages messages and seasonal intergenerational worship services so my thoughts went to compelling stories that would still have some Biblical anchor. Rabbi Sandy Sasso’s books fit well in that they are beautifully written, are based on Judeo-Christian themes, and appeal to young and old alike. We decided to use Rabbi Sandy Sasso’s A Prayer for the Earth: The Story of Naamah: Noah’s Wife.

    We described the service as follows:

    A Prayer for the Earth: An Intergenerational Worship Service based on the story of Noah's Ark and the storybook A Prayer for the Earth: The Story of Naamah, Noah's Wife by Rabbi Sandy Sasso. The order of worship we used is available in the members section of the CEF website.

    Here are some tips we found helpful to keep in mind while planning this intergenerational worship service.

    • Plan ahead to prepare the order of worship, to invite people of all ages to participate in leadership roles, and to secure needed props. I was running around the days before the service gathering or buying the needed props. If I had planned further ahead, it would have helped to delegate some of this responsibility to our Children’s Ministry Team.
    • Use a story instead of a sermon. I served as the storyteller since I had some experience with this and could “tell” the story (rather than “read” it).
    • Read or tell scripture using a child-friendly Bible version. We used The Lion Storyteller Bible. There are some suggestions and discussion regarding child-friendly Bibles on the UMC Discipleship Ministries website.
    • Engage all ages in leadership opportunities. We invited youth to serve as prayer leaders and ushers, and children to help greet families as they arrived at church.
    • Embed interactive components into the service. We had visual images on the screen to accompany the themes of the story. I had youth lead groups of children up with props for the story (baskets of flowers, baskets of fruit, etc). I had also ‘hidden’ props(pieces of a plastic rainbow; ideally we would have had a Montessori-style wooden stacking rainbow but it ran too pricey) in the pews with a note asking children to bring the pieces up when I asked for them
    • Include some kind of call to action in the service. We passed out seed packets during the Offering. We also posted a graffiti wall in our coffee-hour hall; at the end of the service, we invited the congregation to write or draw one commitment they would make to care for the Earth. Unfortunately very few people participated in this component. Perhaps if we would have posted the graffiti wall immediately outside the sanctuary, we may have had more participation.
    • Use the opportunity to start a new ministry. We had a congregant who was interested in forming a children’s handbell choir so we started rehearsals in time for the new group to play for the intergenerational service. They debuted Jesus Loves Me at the intergenerational service and will play again on Mother’s Day.

    Overall, the intergenerational worship service was a fun, energizing experience for the congregation. They gave a standing ovation to our new children’s handbell choir and we’ve heard many comments requesting a similar service in the future.

  • 27 Feb 2017 4:56 PM | Christine Hides

    Chamus Burnside-Savazzini serves as the Director of Children’s Faith Formation at Grace United Methodist Church in Naperville, Illinois since July 2016. She describes this experience as “nothing short of an honor.” She joined the CEF Board of Directors in 2017.

    Since I began serving as the Director of Children’s Faith Formation in July of 2016, my goal has been to increase the number of faithful volunteers in the ministry.  I did various things to help communicate what was happening on the children’s hall and educate the congregation on how they could get involved.  Here is a list of steps I took, and I am still taking, to grow the volunteer pool in the ministry:

    1. First, I prayed for God to put the children’s ministry on the heart of those who were able to serve. 
    2. I learned what each volunteer did and how he or she served the ministry in the past.
    3. I took time to meet with and call current volunteers to determine if they would be willing to serve during the new academic year.
    4. Along with my youth Director and Administrative Pastor, we used the online registration system to get all of the children registered for programs.
    5. I send a weekly email to the volunteers on Monday, thanking them for their service and communicating what the topic for next Sunday will be and who will be serving with which age group.
    6. 6.       At special times during the year, I present the volunteers with a small token of appreciation.   I was amazed at how thankful every single one of them were to get such a humble gesture.
    7. I ask periodically what they think is going well or what we need to work on.  Thankfully, they give me productive feedback AND when appropriate, I implement anything that is possible.
    8. Each Sunday I try to engage the parents in short conversation just to hear what is going on or has been going on in the family.  This helps me to understand the children that come to Sunday school.
    9. I try to set up the classroom with everything the teachers will need so that they can focus on the lesson and not have to worry about the mechanics of running the class.
    10. For the teachers that have a routine process, I let them do it their way!  This has been wonderful for the children.
    11. I always check in on the volunteers and make sure all is well in their lives.
    12. I never forget to say THANK YOU! 
    I pray that God will continue to grow this ministry and continue to grow the faith of the children, volunteers and myself.  God is and always has been faithful!

  • 10 Feb 2017 4:32 PM | Christine Hides

    by Ellen Wehn. Ellen currently serves as Director of Children's Ministries at First United Methodist Church Owasso, Oklahoma.

    You are invited to Join the conversation about children in worship in one of our Communities of Practice.

    People have strong feelings about having children in worship. In my 20 years in Children's Ministry, I have seen many children, including my own, grow up in church. I am passionate about children being a part of worship, not just sitting in worship.

     Two of the most common arguments against including children in worship are: "children don't understand what is going on" and "worship is too long for children to sit through". Those arguments can be true, if children are just sitting in church not a part of worship.

    To be a part of worship, children need help from adults. As children's ministry leaders, we need to encourage parents to bring their children to worship and equip them to help their child be a part of worship. The first, most important thing parents can do is to allow their children to see them not only worshiping, but enjoy worshiping. Suggest that families with children sit close to the front so the child can see and hear.  Encourage parents to quietly explain the different parts of the service to their children.

     Here are a few first steps for having children be a part of worship:

    • Create a liturgical dance group for children. The dance does not always have to be to music; they can also present scripture through dance.
    • Invite children who take piano lessons or sing to do the special music in the service. They do not have to wait until they are adults bring special music.
    • Encourage children to use their gifts now.  In addition to being an acolyte, ask your pastor if some of the older children can read scriptures or help serve communion. Perhaps children could walk along with adults helping collect the offering.

     Constantly sending kids out of worship could tells them "church is boring. Here is something fun to do.” I have known children that have been in church their entire lives but never attended a worship service until they became youth. Attending worship and being expected to know and understand something they never learned how to participate in as a young child can be quite a culture shock. Many youth who have this experience stop coming to church altogether. It is no longer fun or entertaining.

     Don't get me wrong. I believe children need age appropriate activities. I believe our Sunday School and small groups should be as age appropriate as possible. But in our attempts keep it age appropriate and fun, we should not forget how seeing your parents worship God can influence a child.

     The message we send children about worship is very important. We want the message to be “It is a wonderful experience to worship the Lord!”

  • 01 Feb 2017 2:24 PM | Christine Hides

    Rev. Kathy Wadsley is a former CEF Board Member. She served most recently at St. Matthews UMC in Bowie, MD. We are thankful for this resource she has freely shared. If you would like to make a donation in her honor to continue to support CEF's efforts to make member created resources like these available, please use the donate tab on this website.

    Printable Lenten calendars in both English and Spanish may be printed at home, or inserted into church newsletters or emails. Each day includes a suggested activity a symbol to color.

    Download 2017 Lenten Calendar .pdf 

    Download 2017 Lenten Devotional - English

    Download 2017 Lenten Devotional- Spanish 

    Intro and Printing Instructions

    Adviento y Cuaresma Calendarios Devocionales en Inglés y en Español - Intro e Imprimir

    These calendars are part of an ecumenical three-year series of Advent – Christmas and Lenten calendars based on the new common lectionary scriptures. The calendars, available in English and Spanish, are designed to encourage families and individuals to take a few moments each day to focus on the meaning of these special seasons of the church year. Each day of Advent through Epiphany or each day of Lent though Easter Sunday has a scripture reference from the new common lectionary or a related activity and a symbol which children of all ages may enjoy coloring. 

    Suggestions for use: 

    † For Families at home. 

    † Use in Sunday School as a class or weekday ministries to learn about the seasons and the symbols. 

    † Classes could draw their own symbols, write the meaning on it and make a large calendar on classroom wall or bulletin board. 

    † Color symbols with magic markers or colored pencils. 

    † Use as daily family or individual devotional. 

    †Distribute at Worship or Sunday School, in church newsletter or other ways. 

    Printing Instructions The Lenten Calendars Year A are designed to be printed on legal (8.5” X 11”) paper and can be printed on ledger (11” X 17”) paper for larger print. The calendars are designed to be printed with calendar front on one side and calendar back on the other side using one sheet of paper. 

    Copyright These copyrighted calendars are designed by Kathryn (Kathy) L. Wadsley, Minister of Christian Education, The United Methodist Church. Churches have permission to copy and distribute the calendars for use. Calendars may only be freely given as a spiritual formation tool and may not be sold.

  • 28 Jan 2017 8:20 AM | Christine Hides

    Angelina Goldwell is the DRE for the First UMC of Olympia ( . She received her Masters of Divinity from the Claremont School of Theology in 2012. She has nearly a decade of experience doing ministry with all ages and is particularly focused on intergenerational ministries.

    I adore the church year. I grew up in a tradition of “smells and bells” and still firmly believe that the seasons of the church year invite us to engage all of our senses. Lent is my favorite season. As a child I looked forward pancakes on Tuesday night and to receiving ashes on Wednesday. I grew up enjoying the triple ritual of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. My favorite color is purple and I love the desert. I have a special place in my heart for the story of Jesus’ temptation: it is a story that emphasizes the power of knowledge, the value of commitment, the importance of choice, and being able to stand on your own two feet in your faith journey. The words of Matthew 6:1-18 shape my approach to my interior faith life. As someone who has experienced great seasons of spiritual drought, everything about this season speaks to me.

    In my time as a Christian educator I have had the opportunity teach about this season to elementary, middle school, high school and with adults in various life stages. Children and youth succeed when they have strong relationships with adults to whom they are not related.* At First Olympia we prepare for the beginning of each liturgical season with an all-ages event. These events take place either during the Discipleship Hour (between services) or are scheduled at alternate time for longer events. For Lent 2017 we have three events scheduled:

    All-Ages Lent Learning (Sunday February 26, 10am-11am)

    The Sunday morning prior to the start of Lent we will offer our intergenerational learning event. I believe in order for something to be intergenerational the structure and content of that event requires the input of multiple generations. The session outline was developed in conversation with members of our Children’s Council (which includes children and youth) and the Discipleship Ministries Team (who oversee faith formation for adults). A PDF is available here for church use.

    New Member Potluck & Ash Wednesday Service (March 1, 2017)

    Traditionally our church has done a Pancake Dinner on Tuesday night cooked and served by the staff.  We schedule quarterly potlucks for new members to meet long standing members (we have new members join on the 4th Sunday of the month and have a potluck on the first Wednesday of the second month of the quarter) and decided to combine the two. The potluck is welcome to all ages so in addition to dinner we will include some simple activities for children (coloring books, activity bags filled with different textured items, etc.). We cover the tables with butcher paper and put crayons on each table. On the butcher paper we write questions that the table group may choose to answer as a way to start a conversation. For the Ash Wednesday service itself we will invite children and youth to assist in the distribution of the ashes and in other worship roles such as greeters, ushers and readers.

    Throughout the Lenten Season

    During the six weeks of Lent the children and youth collaborate to create an entirely child/youth led worship service to take place following Easter. Each week they focus on a different component of the worship service with guidance from adults who specialize in those areas (ex: choir director helps the children select the songs, pastors help with the structure/writing of the sermon, experienced ushers teach the children host to usher, etc.).

    I hope these resources are helpful to you, reader, and hope that you will take the time to let me know how they have worked in your context.


    **Please do not sell this material or re-post it online without express written permission. 

  • 24 Jan 2017 8:44 PM | Christine Hides

    Rev. Victoria Rebeck is director of deacon ministry support, provisional membership development, and certification programs for the United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

    You’ve started a new job at a church as a Christian education director, children’s minister, minister to families, youth minister, or similar position. You’re excited, and during the first several months, everyone is so nice.

    Then after a few months, there are unpleasant surprises. You are expected to do many more things than were listed on the rather vague job description, and this is taking up many more hours than you were told to work (and you are not paid for this extra time). Everyone seems to think he or she is your boss—and they don’t all agree on their demands. The Staff-Parish Relations Committee reviews your performance and cites needs that were never expressed as essential when you were hired.

    Now you are stressed out and rarely have time to do the ministry you really enjoy, the ministry you were told would be your primary responsibility.

    This story is not unusual. Unfortunately, such problems are difficult to resolve if they were not anticipated at the start of employment.

    To clarify your role, the church’s expectations, lines of accountability, evaluation standards, compensation and benefits, hours, office space, and more, you will want to have an employment covenant with the church. (If you are appointed clergy, you may call this an appointment covenant.)

    Clarifying expectations benefits both the staff person and the hiring church.

    The purpose of an employment covenant is to state explicitly the staff person’s responsibilities and couch them in the church’s specific mission goals; to describe how the Staff-Parish Relations Committee (SPRC) or equivalent will support the staff person in accomplishing the mutually agreed-upon ministry goals; and to spell out reflection, feedback, benefits, and termination procedures.

    With a mutually agreed-upon covenant, it is more likely that performance concerns and successes can be addressed early through a transparent process. It also will decrease the amount of misunderstandings about responsibilities, process, and roles.

    By reducing anxiety, it also enhances the likelihood of successful ministry.

    A covenant is both biblical and Wesleyan. “A covenant is a mutually created commitment to ministry,” says Gwen Purushotham in Watching Over One Another in Love (General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, 2010). “It is grounded in our relationship with God, who created us and called us to ministry. .  .  . It says, ‘Here is what we will endeavor to do together and how we will hold one another accountable.’ It is a commitment to life and growth.”

    The covenant should be prepared with the collaboration of the staff person, the SPRC or equivalent church body, and the lead pastor. Before meeting, each of these parties should reflect upon the concerns listed below.

    The covenant should include (but not be limited) to the following:

    • The church’s mission statement and ministry goals. If the church does not have these and they are not expressed specifically and clearly, it will be difficult for any staff member to lead successful ministry in that setting.
    • The goals of this position and how they fit into the church’s mission and ministry context.
    • The specific areas of responsibility for the staff person.
    • Hours, pay, and benefits; continuing education financial support and leave time; vacation and holidays; leaves of absence for family care, illness, spiritual development, or other.
    • The lines of supervision and accountability for this staff position.
    • Office space, department budget and participation in budget development, access to support staff.
    • Provisions for periodic feedback (who convenes the meetings, how frequently will the staff person and SPRC meet, communication guidelines for giving and receiving feedback, etc.)
    • Confidentiality agreement.
    • The process for annual performance review, including a list of who receives feedback and evaluation reports.
    • ·         Statement of how the SPRC and supervisor will support the staff person in meeting agreed-upon goals.
    • ·         Other specific expectations related to ministry performance.
    • ·         A process for addressing grievances and conflicts.
    • ·         A process for remediation when the staff person does not meet performance expectations. For example: the process for discussing with the staff person the specific shortcoming; the possibility of including an advocate for the staff person in this conversation (who serves as a listener, asks clarifying questions, and supports and encourages the staff member in his or her efforts to improve); working out a plan to help the staff person build proficiency in the area of concern; how the church might help financially support the effort, if training is part of the plan; listing check-in dates to monitor improvement; describing how improvement will be measured and the standard of adequate improvement; describe the consequences that result when the plan is not achieved.
    • Termination procedures, including notice. (For deacons, the United Methodist Book of Discipline requires a 90-day minimum notice and termination must be preceded by consultation among the deacon, the district superintendent, and the bishop, because the bishop sets appointments.)

    Then these parties should set aside a couple of hours to meet and work together on a mutual covenant. It is a significant time investment, yes; but it will save a lot of time later.

    You can see examples of such covenants on General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s deacon web page. While these are shaped for the appointed deacon, much of it is applicable to lay staff and elders.

    Encourage your SPRC to read Watching Over One Another in Love, mentioned above. It is a very quick read, and it spells out supervision practices that include both support and accountability.

    It’s not too late to start this process, even if you’ve been in your position a while. You might encourage your supervisor and/or the lead pastor to read the book and discuss it with you, and then suggest that you together present the idea to the SPRC. (The clergy staff may also want to establish this practice for themselves as well!)

    Ministry has its joys, and these are more readily experienced when expectations are clear and lines of communication are regularly maintained. Take initiative in setting yourself up for success by preparing an employment covenant with your church.

    Rev. Victoria Rebeck is director of deacon ministry support, provisional membership development, and certification programs for the United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

  • 18 Nov 2016 5:38 PM | Christine Hides

    This post is by Hanna Schock, a CEF member and the creator of Picture Book Theology. She is also the writer of Manna & Mercy: An Elementary Curriculum based on Daniel Erlander’s popular book for adults.  Because of her training as a teacher and school psychologist, Hanna is passionate about Christian education that is easy to relate to, is rich with meaning, and leads to deep learning.

    Advent, a time of waiting, hope, and giving can also involve a journey and a surprise. These are themes in secular picture books that I feature on my blog and want to encourage you to use in ministry. “Why not use a picture book about an Advent story?”  Such picture books are hard to find and sometimes saccharine and shallow. Instead, give your faith family a well-written story that is relatable and has depth. Help them make connections to an Advent story and their own feelings. I believe such wider, deeper learning across these three contexts leads to more meaningful learning. Consider these 4 picture book possibilities:

    Brown Bear’s Wonderful Secret by Caroline Castle (illustrations by Tim McNaughton) is a silly story young children will love. Brown Bear’s wonderful secret is that she is pregnant, but this surprise isn’t revealed until the end. She tries to tell her animal friends, but they don’t listen. When spring comes, Brown Bear’s delight and surprise is revealed and all agree it is wonderful. Attach this story to Mary’s pregnancy and her journey from isolation to joy. Ask your children about having a secret or wanting to tell news but not being heard. Help explore, in age-appropriate ways, changes that pregnancy brings. Talk about Mary’s surprise. Likely, Mary will be more real to them during Advent because of this picture book and your conversation.

    Hope is an Open Heart by Lauren Thompson is a picture book that many people will enjoy. Here you have a photographic essay demonstrating the universality of hope by offering various inspiring photographs of children from around the world. Hope is one of those concepts that is difficult to define, but we know it when we see it. These photographs will give groups of all ages images to enjoy. Encourage them to explore this important Advent concept. Tie these photographs to the hopes that your faith community has during Advent or to the Messianic hope the Jews had at the time of Jesus’ birth until today. What might it mean to have an open heart? Have your listeners hypothetically imagine photos taken to demonstrate Advent hope. Then encourage them to talk about how Jesus’ story offers hope during the Advent season and beyond, for themselves and for others around the world.

    Shoebox Sam by Mary Brigid Barrett (illustrations by Frank Morrison) will be fun for elementary children. This story of generosity involves two children spending a Saturday with Sam in his shoe repair shop. Sam is known for welcoming those who are homeless and offering them food and new shoes. One elderly lady, who is likely homeless, surprises them all with a specific desire, the prized ballet shoes that are on display. At first reluctant, Sam gives in to her yearning. Her pleasure is his reward as she tenderly wraps her new treasure and exits. Help your children connect this delightful tale to the delight God must have when we are given just what we want. Then talk about Sam’s generosity and hospitality, spiritual practices that are most evident during Advent. Explore why giving is such an important aspect of our journeys toward Christmas.

    Going Home by Eve Bunting (illustrations by David Diaz) is a picture book about two Mexican children who have immigrated to America. Their parents take them back home to Mexico for the Christmas holidays but the children struggle because their very American expectations aren’t met. The little village doesn’t feel like home to them. As the visit progresses, the children expand their understanding of home since they’ve been lovingly welcomed and reminded that they are family. Initially connect this story to Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, their village of origin. They later became immigrants in Egypt. Explore the common feelings across stories, but also contrast these journeys. The Bethlehem journey was fraught with danger and hardship. Point out how people in both literary contexts made the travelers feel welcome and remind your listeners that home and family can be created anywhere if relationships are grounded in love. Wrap up by talking about feelings immigrants might have during Advent and Christmas.

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