Baptism Box

This is what I use when preparing children age 3-10 (ish) for baptism. These are children who are going to be ‘answering for themselves’ – ie. making their own baptismal vows – but will also usually have Godparents who will make those promises with (not for) the child. I usually do baptism preparation 1:1 with the child’s parent(s) present as well. 

This is my baptism box:

baptism box.jpg

It is brightly coloured and a bit shiny – it certainly looks like something special. I only use it for this purpose, so children won’t have seen it before. It is about 25cm square.

In my baptism box are:

  • white cloth
  • bowl
  • jug
  • flask of water
  • doll
  • candle
  • matches
  • oil stock containing oil
  • Bible (age-appropriate)
  • book about baptism (age-appropriate)
  • photo of a baptism (preferably of similar-aged child)

I explain that the baptism box contains special things to help us think about this special occasion. I get them out a few at a time, speak to the child about the part of the service they relate to, and invite them to ‘wonder’ with me about what the various objects and words might mean or remind us of.

First, I spread the cloth on the floor/table and get out the water, jug and bowl. I pour the water into the jug, and invite the child to pour it into the bowl. We discuss what we can use water for (washing, drinking, growing plants, etc). Many children will comment that water is necessary for life. Then we discuss bible stories with water in them – creation, flood, exodus, baptism of Christ, wedding at Cana, walking on water, etc.

Next I introduce the doll and invite the child to choose a name for him/her. We discuss the importance of names. The child might know something about their own name – what it means, or who they are named after. Then I demonstrate baptising the doll, and invite the child to have a go. I often ask the child how they think the doll feels about being baptised – this is often an opportunity for them to talk safely about how they themselves feel.

Then I get out the candle and matches. We talk a bit about light and fire, and what they might mean or do or be for, touching on the idea of the Holy Spirit being represented by fire, and Jesus being the Light of the World. I light the candle and give it to the child to hold. There is usually a bit of silence at this point. Then I introduce the words “shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father” and we discuss what that might mean. The child blows out the candle, and we talk about the idea that the light of Christ cannot be blown out.

Next we get out the oil stock. The child might try to guess what is inside. Then I invite them to open the stock, touch the oil, and guess again. I demonstrate making the sign of the cross on the doll’s forehead, and invite the child to do the same. Again, I ask how the child thinks the doll feels.

Then I explain that there are some special things about baptism that we can’t see – these are the special words we use. We look together at the key words used and the promises made at baptism. We discuss what promises the child will make at their baptism, and what promises God makes to them.

Finally I get out the books – a bible and a book about baptism, both appropriate to the child’s age and/or reading ability. We might read the book about baptism (or part of it) together. I will leave the books for the child and their family to borrow (or, if there seem to be not many books in the house, to keep).

I then invite any questions from the child and their parents(s) which often leads to more discussion.

By the end of the session, the set-up looks something like this:

baptism-box-contents

Then I invite the child to help me pack everything back into the box, remembering what each thing is for as we put it away.

This session is supplemented by a rehearsal on the day before the baptism, at which  we will recap the key words and symbols, as we walk through exactly what will happen on the day of the baptism. This includes another opportunity to ask any questions. 

“Our Father…”: Exploring the Lord’s Prayer through prayer stations

I used these prayer stations with young people (aged 10-13). They could also be used with adults, younger children, or a mixed-age group.

Each prayer station had a phrase from the Lord’s Prayer and brief instructions, which are reproduced below, together with a list of the equipment I used for each prayer station and some brief reflections on each one, including quotes from the young people.

I briefly introduced the session, led the young people around the prayer stations, pointing out what was available at each one. They then had time to explore the prayer stations (in any order) for around 40 minutes and we came back together to discuss and reflect on the experience for around 20 minutes. The time for exploration felt about right, but the discussion could have been substantially longer if time had allowed.

 

Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name

I wonder what God is like? I wonder what heaven is like? Draw or write your ideas.

  • large piece of paper with “God” written in the centre
  • large piece of paper with “heaven” written in the centre
  • box of pens

before 1

Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name

after 1

A table full of ideas about God and heaven.

This station provoked a lot of discussion, both around the table during the exploration time, and in the discussion afterwards.

“Heaven is where all are always already forgiven.”

“I don’t think heaven is a place, but it is real.”

“God is bigger than anything.”

“God is everywhere, but I don’t know how.”

 

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven

Add markers to the map to pray for places in the world to become more like God’s kingdom.

  • large world map
  • small post-it notes or other sticky markers

before 2

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven

after 2

Praying for world event, for friends and family, for the environment…

The young people prayed for a very wide range of situations: events that have been in the news, places they have been learning about at school, friends and family around the world, etc.

“I want to pray for people who don’t have enough to eat, but I don’t know where to stick it – it could be lots of places.”

“I’m praying for my Dad who’s working in a dangerous country. And for the people who make it dangerous, so they can stop.”

“I wanted to pray for someone who is in heaven, but heaven isn’t on the map… so I stuck the marker on my head.”

 

Give us today our daily bread

Take a piece of bread and chew it slowly. Thank God for giving us things we need. Pray for people who don’t have things they need. 

  • a loaf of bread

before 3

Give us today our daily bread

after 3

A lot of bread eaten… and a lot of prayers prayed!

This was a prayer station which many of the young people returned to several times. When we discussed it, many of them said this was because they kept thinking of something else to pray about. Several of them sat for a long time chewing the bread, and it was a station where people largely chose to be silent.

“I like that it was doing, not just writing.”

“The taste made me think about good things, but also the times I’ve been hungry.”

[After a young person asked how much bread they could take, and I said “As much as you want.”] “Some people never get to have as much as they want. I’m praying for them.”

 

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us

Take a stone. As you hold it, think of something you need to ask forgiveness for. Place the stone in the water. Take another stone. Think of something you need to forgive someone else for. Ask God to help you forgive. Place that stone in the water too.

  • stones
  • bowl of water

before 4

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us

after 4

Weights held… and put down.

The young people engaged slowly and thoughtfully with this activity. Many of them said it was the one that had most impact on them. It was hard for most to articulate what was going on, but they sensed it was something significant.

“I didn’t exactly like it… but I think it was the most important because it made something change.”

 

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil

We all face choices. How do you choose which path to take? If you have a choice to make at the moment, or a question to ask, put it in the box and ask God to help you see the way ahead.

  • picture(s) of junctions in roads, paths, etc
  • box with a slot
  • paper
  • pencils/pens

before 5

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil

after 5

A box full of question, wonderings, possibilities…

It was very important to some young people that what they put in the box would not be read by anybody – it was just between them and God. Others wanted to share the questions and choices that are on their minds. There were some interesting conversations when young people discovered that they were facing similar choices to each other.

“I asked how I can know if I’m choosing the right thing.”

“I asked about what I can do to help people. There are lots of things I could do, but what is the right one that God wants me to do?”

 

For the kingdom the power and the glory are yours, now and forever.

What words can we use to praise God? How can we describe God? Add a word to the board to create a prayer of praise.

  • display board [or other large surface]
  • post-it notes
  • pens

before 6

For the kingdom the power and the glory are yours, now and forever

after 6

A prayer of praise

This station generated a wide range of ideas about God and, in the discussion time afterwards, led to some deep conversations about the nature of God and of belief. It also generated our topic for our next session as, right at the end of the discussion, one young person asked “What is God?”

“I like that everyone put different things. It shows how many different things there are about God.”

“I didn’t understand all the words people put. But I don’t understand everything about God either, so that’s ok.”

“It’s good that we did praising God together. It’s better than on my own.”

 

 

AMEN

We used a circle of floor cushions as our “Amen” area, but any comfortable seating would be fine. It was where everyone returned to at the end of the exploration time, and also provided a quiet space for young people to take time out to reflect during their exploration of the prayer stations.

 

 

Christingle talk

This is a fairly straight-forward Christingle talk. For a more interactive option, see http://www.becausegodislove.wordpress.com/2014/01/11/christingle-acrostic-talk/

Did you realise, today we’re doing several things at once?  We’re making some beautiful Christingles, but we’re also telling a story.  It’s an amazing story, the most amazing story of all, and it starts at the very beginning of time, and goes all the way up to right this very minute, and into the future too.  And what’s more, we’re all in it.  Every single one of us is included in this amazing story.  And the Christingles help us to remember and tell the story.

[orange]

Right back at the very beginning of time, there was nothing.  Nothing at all except God.  And then God created the world, and everything in it.

[cocktail sticks with sweets]

And God filled the world with all sorts of good things: plants and animals, and mountains and rivers, and the sea and the sun and the moon, and people as well.  And God saw that everything he had made was good.

But it didn’t stay good.  People did things that they shouldn’t do, and bad things started to happen in the world.  And God saw that all was not well with his world, which he loved very much.  People were doing bad things, and they didn’t look after God’s world, and they didn’t look after each other.  Now, if you’ve done something bad, you might expect to be told off, or punished in some way, mightn’t you?  But instead of punishing people for the bad things they had done, God chose to give them – to give us – a gift.   God chose to give us the best, most special, most precious, most extravagant gift he could possibly give, better than any Christmas present you could possibly imagine.

That gift was God’s own son, Jesus.  At the very first Christmas, God gave us his one and only precious son, Jesus Christ.  And God didn’t just give that special gift to Mary and Joseph and the Shepherds and Wise Men, he gave it to everyone, forever.  God gave his son to you, and you, and you, and me, and everybody.

[candle]

Jesus came to be a light to the world, like we heard about in our bible reading just now: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”  Before Jesus came into the world, people were walking in the darkness of all the bad things they were doing, all the bad things that were happening, and most of all the darkness of not knowing God in their lives.  When Jesus came into the world, he was the light that took away that darkness, and helped people to come to know God.

But Jesus wasn’t only a light for the people who were around when he was alive on earth.  He is a light for all of us today.  Jesus is the light which shines in our world, and in our lives and in our hearts, and drives away the darkness of all the bad things in our lives.  And no matter how bad something might seem, there is never anything too dark for the light of Jesus to overcome.

Jesus Christ came down to earth at the first Christmas, a gift from God our father, and a light to the world forever, but that isn’t the end of the story.  Even as we celebrate Jesus’ birth at Christmas, we are looking ahead to Easter, when he died for us on the cross, and rose again to give us eternal life.  And that’s another chapter in the same story of God’s love for us.

[ribbon]

The red ribbon on our oranges represents God’s love for us, and it’s red to remind us of Jesus’ blood, poured out for us on the cross.  To remind us of that great act of love, Jesus Christ, God himself, dying for each one of us.  For you, and for you, and for you, and for me, and for everyone.  That great outpouring of God’s love for us, which encompasses the whole world, the whole of God’s creation.

And so the Christingles we’re making today represent the whole story of God’s love for us, from the very beginning of the world, right up to this very minute, and on into the future.  And at the centre of it all is Jesus.

[candle]

Jesus Christ, God’s only son, who came down to earth at Christmas as a tiny baby, out of love for us.

Jesus Christ, the light of the world, a light so big that it lights up the whole world, and everything that’s in it.

[orange and sweets]

A light that chases away the darkness.

Inside each one of us is a little piece of that great light.  Inside you, and you, and you, and me, and everybody.  Each of us carries the light of Christ in our hearts.  Each of us can shine like lights in the darkness.  We shine when we help people, when we’re kind to people, when we love people, like God loves us.  Then we drive the darkness out, and let in the light of God’s love.

When we leave this service today, we will take three things with us.  We will take our Christingles, which will last a little while, until we eat them or the orange goes a bit mouldy.  We will take the memory of the story we’ve shared and the songs we’ve sung, and hopefully that will last a bit longer.  And we’ll take the light of Christ in our hearts, which will last forever, a light that can never be put out.

In our bible reading from Isaiah, we heard that Jesus came to be a light to those who walk in darkness.  Elsewhere in the bible, at the start of John’s telling of the Christmas story, we read this: “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it”.  At the end of our service today, we will blow out the light of the candles in our Christingles.  But nothing can ever blow out the light of Christ within us.

This Christmas, may we remember the story of God’s love for us; may we live out the truth of that story in our own lives; and may we shine as lights in the darkness, to the glory of God.  Amen.

Christmas prayers for school services

I came across a couple of sets of prayers which I’ve used at school Christmas services in the past, and thought I’d post them in case they’re any use to anyone. Feel free to use and adapt.

Here’s a short prayer and blessing:

Loving God,
You sent Jesus into the world to bring us peace,
May we know your peace in our hearts;
You sent Jesus into the world to bring us joy,
May we rejoice in the coming of the saviour;
You sent Jesus into the world to bring us hope,
May we live as people of hope.

Eternal God,
You sent Jesus into the world to live among us,
To shine as a light in the darkness,
To be a sign of your love for each one of us;
May we know your love in our hearts and in our homes,
And may the blessing of God Almighty,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Be with us all and those whom we love,
This Christmas and always.
Amen.

And here’s a longer set of prayers:

Lord Jesus Christ you came to bring us peace; may your peace rule in our hearts and in the world. We pray for those places in the world where there is no peace: for countries torn apart by war and unrest; for homes and families where there is conflict; for friendships and relationships which are not as they should be. Lord God, breathe your peace into these situations, that this Christmas may be a season of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Lord Jesus Christ you came to bring us joy; may we rejoice at the coming of the Saviour. We pray for all who will celebrate the birth of Christ this Christmas, for all churches, schools and Christian communities around the world. Lord God, fill us afresh with the awe and wonder of your coming among us as a tiny child.

Lord Jesus Christ you came to bring us hope; may we live as people of hope. We pray for all those for whom hope seems far off: for those who are ill or anxious, for those in prison, for those who are homeless, for refugees. We pray particularly for those for whom Christmas is a stressful, lonely or difficult time. Lord God, shine your light in their darkness, and light up their path with your hope.

Lord Jesus Christ you came to show us the love of God for each one of us; may we know that love in our hearts this Christmas and always. You came to show us how to share that love with one another; may we be ready to love, help and serve other people in your name.

All this we pray in the name of our Saviour, Jesus Christ,

Amen.  

All Age sermon for Proper 1 (Year A): Isaiah 58.6-10 Matthew 5.13-16

NB. the readings used are shorter than those given by the lectionary.

For this sermon you will need:

  • 2 packets of salt ‘n’ shake crisps
  • a torch
  • a large piece of white paper (or a screen, if you have one)

In today’s gospel Jesus gives us two quite different images: salt and light. And he tells us this is what we should be like: salt and light in the world. I wonder what he means by that?

Let’s think about salt first. I’ve brought some crisps. [get children to add both lots of salt to one packet and shake] What difference does the salt make? Let’s see. [ask children if crisps look the same or different, then let children taste and ask if they taste the same or different]

Salt makes a difference to the crisps. We can’t see the salt, unless we look very closely, but we can tell it’s there because of what the crisps are like. What difference do we make in the world as followers of Jesus? How can people tell that we’re here, that there are followers of Christ in this place?

Perhaps by the way we treat one another. Perhaps by the way we treat the least among us, the marginalised and unloved.

And now let’s think about light. When a light shines, we don’t just see the light itself, we see all sorts of other things by the light. [two children to hold up large piece of paper and one to hold torch, invite children to make shadow puppets]

Light changes how we see things. An ordinary hand becomes a crocodile or a dog or a butterfly. Dark places become light. Hidden things become clear. When Jesus says that we shouldn’t hide our light, he means that we should show people how God is at work in the world, by what we do and say and how we relate to the world around us.        

Salt and light. They make a difference to the world around them. And that’s what Jesus calls us to do too. To make a difference in the world. To be the difference in the world. To change what is around us, not by drawing attention to ourselves and what we are doing, but by bringing in God’s kingdom.

Part of that kingdom is justice. I read recently that the richest 85 people in the world own between them the same amount as the poorest 3.5 billion people in the world. The numbers are almost too big to grasp, but let’s look at how that would work with the crisps we were using just now. If I give this packet of crisps to Jackie and Hugh to share, and say that this other packet is for everyone else at church to share between us, is that ok?

No? What should Jackie and Hugh do with their crisps? [hopefully someone will suggest sharing] Yes, when we see that something is unjust we should do something about it. Something to bring God’s justice to whatever situation we find ourselves in.

Because whoever we are, and whatever we’re doing, it’s up to us to make a difference. To quote one of my favourite children’s books, The Lorax by Dr Seuss, “unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not”. We are the instruments God uses to bring in the justice of his kingdom. We are the salt and light that makes the difference.

We make a difference when we treat people justly, when we value people as children of God, when we take whatever action we can to put right what is wrong in the world. It might be something as small as sharing our crisps, or putting a tin in the One Can Trust bin at the back of church. Challenging what is wrong in the world, reaching out to those in need – this is what Isaiah speaks of as being the offering God demands of us.           

Some situations seem too big for us to make a difference, too complicated, too hopeless. And yet we can always do something. Again our reading from Isaiah has the answer: we can pray and God will hear us. Perhaps that sounds a bit trite. But think how many millions of people prayed for justice in South Africa during apartheid, or for peace in Northern Ireland during the troubles. And many of you will remember how long those prayers went on – for years, for longer than some of you have been alive – in what seemed like a hopeless situation. But things changed. Because of people standing up for what is right. Because of people making whatever small difference they can. Because of people like you, praying and going on praying.

Perhaps you feel like you can’t make much of a difference in the world. Perhaps you think you are not old enough or not clever enough or not big enough. But think how tiny a grain of salt is, almost invisible, and yet it makes a difference to everything it comes in contact with.

We can be like that. If we live faithfully and follow Jesus and do whatever small things we can to God’s glory, we will be the salt of the earth. And slowly, one grain at a time, we will transform that earth into heaven.

And If we do nothing else, let us pray this daily: Lord, may your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Christingle Acrostic Talk

I see from my Twitter feed that some people are looking for ideas for Christingle talks for tomorrow, so thought I’d share mine in case it’s any help. Feel free to borrow and adapt!

I write each of the letters of “CHRISTINGLE” on a piece of paper and put them under chairs in advance. At the start of the talk I ask everyone to look under their seat and bring up their letter if they’ve got one (or, for shy grown-ups, give it to a nearby child to bring up). With the letters held up in random order I ask the congregation to guess what it spells.

Then arrange the letters into the right order, and speak about each in turn. I’ve never written down what I say, so it’s up to you how you make the links and how much emphasis you place on each. But the basic idea is and introduction to what Christmas/Christingle is all about (CH), an outline of the story (RIST) and then the “so what” – what does the story mean for us? (INGLE) The words I use for each letter are:

C – child

H – holy

R – riding on a donkey

I – in a manger

S – shepherds

T – three wise men

I – incarnation

N – nativity

G – God

L – light

E – Emmanuel

A couple of practical notes (from experience!):

1. bear in mind that if you’re aiming for about 7 minutes then, once you’ve done the letter-finding and word-guessing, you’ve only got 30 seconds or so per letter.

2. if, like me, you do it without using notes, writing the word on the back of each letter is helpful, but make sure you’ve got your two ‘I’s the right way round.

3. try not to miss out any letters which have been run off with and/or eaten before you get to them!

Whatever you do, have fun!

A Very Quiet Nativity

In previous years I have enjoyed using Pat Rapp’s excellent “Noisy Nativity” as the basis of an improvised nativity. An adult narrates the story and the children join in with various noises as you go along. It’s great fun, and was my first thought when I found myself planning a session at short notice for an unknown number of children, of unknown ages, for tomorrow’s service.

But then I remembered that the session, which takes places during the sermon, is happening in an area which, though somewhat removed from the main body of the church, is not separated from it by anything even vaguely soundproof. So anything with “noisy” in the title is obviously out! This inspired me to devised a Very Quiet Nativity, with actions for the children to join in with (silently!) instead of noises. Here it is, in case it’s any use to anyone else:

 

Actions:

Angel – flap hands like wings

Donkey – hands on head like ears

Stable – form roof shape with hands

Shepherds – looking, hand above eyes

Wise men – crowns, hands sticking up each side of head

Star – as for Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

Baby – as if rocking a baby

 

Script:

One day Mary was amazed because suddenly an ANGEL appeared and told her she was going to have a BABY called Jesus.

Mary and her husband Joseph set of to Bethlehem on their DONKEY. Mary was very tired because it was nearly time for her to have her BABY.

There was no room at the inn, so Mary and Joseph had to stay in a STABLE and that’s where BABY Jesus was born.

Near Bethlehem were some SHEPHERDS looking after their sheep. Suddenly the SHEPHERDS saw some ANGELS who told them about BABY Jesus. The ANGELS sang a beautiful song praising God and then the SHEPHERDS hurried off to the STABLE to see BABY Jesus.

A long way away were some WISE MEN who saw a special STAR in the sky. The WISE MEN decided to follow the STAR, which led them to the STABLE where they gave some special presents to BABY Jesus.

And so everyone gathered in the STABLE: Mary and Joseph and their DONKEY, the SHEPHERDS and their sheep, the WISE MEN with their presents. Above the STABLE the STAR shone and the ANGELS sang. And in the middle of everything, most important of all, was the little BABY, Jesus.

 

Having practiced it in front of the mirror, I suspect it may lead to quite a lot of (rather loud!) laughter, but it should be fun! Feel free to use and/or adapt if useful.