On The Way

Exploring the Stories of the Saints or #CHFSaints

Church School is off to a great start! Three weeks down and we have already worked with the words of Psalm 1, creating a communal illumination that will soon grace the walls in the Commons. Two weeks ago, we began a six week series on the lives and witness of the Saints. In view is All Saints (on a Sunday this year!) as well as two other feast days that land on Sundays, Saint Francis (October 4) and Saint Luke the Evangelist (October 18).

Working with Saints and Art
Some of our 4th and 5th grade students work with images of Mary Magdalene, identifying key symbols and themes from Christian art and iconography.

Our Saint series began with an overview. In their Church School classes children worked with Christian art and iconography in order to identify the symbols of particular saints (Mary Magdalene, Francis and Clare, Luke, Augustine and Monica, Dietrich Bonhoeffer). After working through these saints, each student created a flat version of their favorite.

Mary Magdalene
Here’s a flat Mary Magdalene. She is shown with a jar of perfume, a cross, and a red egg. Want to know why? Come back soon, over the next six weeks, we will post on each of the saints our students are covering.

Saints were laminated and students were given an activity book encouraging them to research their saint in different ways–Checking out a book from the Christian Education library (in the Commons), visiting the North Carolina Museum of Art to look for their and other saints among the religious art in the permanent collection, and coming back to this blog throughout the month as each of the saints is featured.

Our activity also involves taking pictures with the saint throughout the month as families learn different things about their saints, then engaging on Facebook (or Instagram) by posting photos with #CHFSaints. Let’s see how much we can learn about these saints, and more importantly, recognize how their lives point us to the person and work of Christ!

The Way of the Cross

Stations Bags
Every Friday during Lent, members of Holy Family gather in the Nave to walk the Way of the Cross.  The custom of walking the Stations of the Cross has long been observed by pilgrims to Jerusalem who want to walk in the footsteps of Christ on his journey to the Cross. Since pilgrimage to Jerusalem isn’t a possibility for everyone, stations based on the Scriptural and pietistic accounts of Jesus’ journey to the cross, have been compiled andadapted to local custom in a variety of ways over centuries of Christian practice. At times there have been as many as twenty stations and at others as few as five or six. The stations we walk every week at CHF come from the Book of Occasional Services and may be used, as we do, in a public service, or for private devotion, particularly on Fridays during Lent.

The Way of the Cross invites us to reflect together on the suffering of Christ as we journey with him to the cross. Usually, when we pray the stations together, we do so without images. The language of the prayers and readings provides rich imagery of their own. As a way of inviting our Parish’s youngest members to join this practice, last Friday, we met to pray using an interactive set of Stations. Our readings remained the same and we didn’t use images, but we explored key moments in the story through objects gathered over the course of our journey to the cross.

We began our journey at the altar, then moved to the first station “Jesus is condemned to death” at which participants received a burlap bag. Burlap, aside from it’s connections to simplicity and sackcloth and ashes, is a symbol that we use for Lent in Christian Education. The stories we work on in Lent, like burlap, are rough. On the one hand, they are often difficult or sad stories. On the other hand, Lent is a season during which we ask God to smooth out the rough places in our lives, places where various sins have taken hold.

Arriving at each subsequent Station, participants collected a symbol, holding it as the words for the Station were read. Some of the items, whose meaning was initially obscure (a toothpick), became apparent as we listened (Simeon’s words to Mary in Luke 2:35: “a sword will pierce your own soul also”). Some stations entailed a movement. At the tenth station, Jesus is stripped of his garments and “offered wine to drink, mingled with gall.” In the versicle and response which follow participants repeat the words of Psalm 69: 21, “and when I was thirsty they gave me vinegar to drink.” At this station, participants received vinegar on a sponge. At Station thirteen, “The body of Jesus is place in the arms of his mother” participants marked their burlap bags with ashes in the shape of a cross.

Moving through the stations, each item was placed in the burlap bag as we chanted the Trisagion–Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, Have mercy upon us–during walking transitions.

At four stations, all three times Jesus falls and the station at which Simon of Cyrene takes up the cross, there were no symbols for participants to gather. Rather, we took note of the increasing weight of the story we carried as we approached Golgotha.

We concluded at the altar: Savior of the world, by your cross and precious blood you have redeemed us.

Save us, and help us, we humbly beseech you, O Lord.

——

Interested in reflecting further? Come back during Holy Week for reflections on several of the symbols explored in our interactive Stations.

At Home Formation: Remembering the Font

This post is part three of a three part series on reflecting on baptism during Epiphany. Find part 1 on creating a baptismal remembrance box here, and part two on exploring the mystery of Jesus’ baptism here.

……………………………………..

Every Sunday morning offers opportunities for reflecting with your children on the story of God’s work in and among us. One thing that can help the children around you reflect on the significance of worship, baptism, and the story of God is teaching them to Notice Sacred Space. After the liturgy on a Sunday, tour the Baptismal font in the Nave with your children. Ask them to take note of the shape of the font, the words engraved in the stone (readers and early writers might want to write it down for reference later), the font’s location in the in the Nave, the location of the bowl of water, Paschal candle, and cross (perhaps even the cross that is used for the children’s liturgy).  The children’s book, A Walk Through our Church, which may be borrowed from our Christian Education Library (under the Christian Life category), is a wonderful guide to the Church’s holy things (pages 1-11 discuss baptism and the font).

photo (1)

When you return home, invite your children to make an artistic depiction of the Holy Family font. Use crayons, colored pencils, lead pencils, or watercolors to depict the font (You can see my watercolor example above).

Just as baptism and identity are important themes in Epiphany, so these themes continue into the Lenten season. Indeed, as we begin to turn our minds and hearts to reflecting on the cross and later the resurrection, our baptism–living into Christ’s death and resurrection–are natural extensions of Lenten reflection. Sharing stories about baptism can help our families prepare for the Lenten season ahead. Your family may like to work on a table centerpiece for Lent. One feature of such a piece might be small, clay Baptismal Bowls (sculpey clay can be baked and hardened enough to hold small amounts of water). Provide each member of your family with a lump of clay (any color works, blue and green look quite a bit like water once they are marbled together) to make a small (palm-sized) bowl. Carve a cross or other symbol on the side of the bowls and bake them. Fill them with a small amount of water and add them to your family’s Lenten centerpiece or their use to your Lenten devotionals.

You  may want to remind your children that there is a bowl containing water which sits at the edge of our font in the Nave. These smaller bowls will help remind us of our baptism at home just like the bowl at church reminds us of our baptism.

………………..

To conclude this short series:

Remembering our baptism is no small or insignificant task, but is of utmost importance. On this matter, Laurence Stookey  in Baptism: Christ’s Act in the Church writes: “As the formation of the human personality rests on the ability to remember one’s identity, so it is through knowing who we are in God’s sight that we become what we are intended to be.” In our baptism we are incorporated into the Church and begin the journey of becoming who is it that God has asked the Church to be, a sign for the world. Understanding what it means to belong to God and to one another is a lifelong task which depends on our practices of remembering for and with one another.

 

Remembering Baptism at Home: Exploring the Mystery of Jesus’ Baptism

This is the second post in a three-part series on sharing baptismal stories during Epiphanytide. You can find the first post, on creating a baptismal remembrance box, here.

…………………………

Just over a year ago, our Church School classes heard the story of Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan. Each class responded to the story in different ways but common to all responses was a moment at the end of class for each student to “remember” their baptism. Every student was invited to dip three fingers into a basin of water and make the sign of the cross upon their forehead. As the classes were letting out, I stationed myself in the commons near a small basin of water and a white candle to greet the children as they left for the week. One child boldly approached the basin, dipped his fingers one-by-one into the water, before pausing, and submerging his entire hand. He grinned, smearing his now dripping hand over his whole face in the sign of the cross. Once. twice. three times. As it turns out, droplets of water on a few fingers weren’t enough!

IMG_1406

At Holy Family, our children have witnessed baptism many times, and even if they don’t remember or recall the day of their own, they are constantly reminded that in the abundant waters of the font, God has claimed them as God’s own. As the children in our parish grow, they will continue to uncover the richness of the gift that is their baptism. Layer upon layer will be added until they come to see the entire life of discipleship as an attempt to live faithfully into their baptismal vows. A seminary professor of mine, Dr. Fred Edie, was fond of calling this life-long process: “learning to swim in baptismal waters.”

Part of this life-long process of living into our baptism, is learning about Jesus own baptism. This story, like all of our Epiphany stories is about Jesus’ identity, it shows who Jesus is.

Here are two ideas for working with this story at home:

Compare the accounts of Jesus’ baptism: All four Gospel writers share the story of Jesus’ baptism. On a given week, spend time as a family reading through each of the Gospel writers showings (they can be found in Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22, and John 1:29-34). Together, make a list of what happens in each story, paying special attention to the details. At the end of the week, compare the lists from each story. What details are similar to all of the stories and what details are different? What does each Gospel writer highlight? Which is your favorite of the accounts? Do you think each writer is making a different point? Or, the same point in different ways? Are there any details in the story that are surprising? unexpected? confusing? Do any of the stories challenge or shape the way that we tell the story in the future? What do you think is the most important detail? What could be left out and the story would still be the same?

Working with Watercolor: After clearing the dinner table, engage in a silent family reflection and prayer about baptism. Read one of the stories of Jesus’ baptism (above) out loud and give and watercolor paper to each member of your family. Before passing out the paper, you can write in white crayon “You are my son, the Beloved” or “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.” Ask each person to paint water, a baptismal symbol, or a scene from Matthew or Luke (playing music in the background can help fidgety children stay calm). Each person will uncover the message as they paint. Alternatively, your family can make a list of all of the recent baptisms that have happened at our church. Then, in a short time of silence, pray for each person and their life as you remember and paint together.

 

At Home Formation: Practices of Remembering Baptism

Baptism Holy Family

Epiphany is a wonderful time to remember our baptisms together. Aside from the Baptism of our Lord, which the Church remembered yesterday, Epiphany is about the identity of Jesus. What does it mean to say that Jesus Christ is Lord? In his life and ministry, how do we come to know that this is the case? Remembering the Baptism of our Lord also invites reflection on our own baptism, our own identity in light of who God in Christ is. In the next several posts, I will discuss several ways we can reflect on the baptism of Christ, the significance of the ritual of baptism in Church, and practices for remembering our own baptism.

One way of talking about baptism at home is to create a baptismal remembrance box or book with your child(ren). Purchase, make, or re-purpose an old wooden box. Search for a box in the shape of a cross or a rectangular box on which you and your child can paint a cross (or other baptismal symbols). With your child, go through items you have saved from their baptism–photos, bulletin from the liturgy, candle, a copy of the liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer, etc. Tell them about each of the objects. How does each object help them remember their baptism and the people who were a part of it even if they have no memory of the occasion? Read through the questions that were asked of the gathered congregation at your child’s baptism. Talk with them about how their baptism made them a part of a family that is larger than your own. Put the box in a location that is accessible to them, ideally on a low shelf, near some children’s books about baptism.

Children who are baptized as babies may not remember their own baptism. It is up to their community to remember their baptism for and with them! These stories become significant to the individual child as well as those who fondly remember this particular child’s entry into the household of God. Remember your conversations next time there is a baptism at Holy Family. Help the children point out the various objects they have in their own box at home. Remind them that their baptism was just as wonderful and celebratory as this one.

The Eve (of the Eve) of Epiphany

This evening, The Eve (of the Eve) of Epiphany, members of our parish gathered for a festive celebration including a spaghetti dinner, Epiphany carols, and king cake (of course!). Holy Family’s parish hall was decked out in symbols of the season. Wooden statues of the three Magi from our parish creche reminded us of the travelers who sought a king at the beckoning of a star. Candles signified the growing light of Christ. Chalk (which would later be blessed and sent out into the world along with our parish families) reminded us that our homes are places of blessing, hospitality, and witness to the light of Christ.

FullSizeRender (4)

In a dramatic reading of T.S. Eliot’s, The Journey of the Magi we were confronted with the questions of what Christ’s birth means and what difference it makes for the world. Eliot offers a conflicted picture of the Magi’s own encounter with Jesus, at once hopeful  and full of doubt and uncertainty. Eliot writes:

There was a birth, certainly. We had evidence and no doubts.

A few lines later:

This birth was hard and bitter agony for us, like death, our death.

Our reader suggested that Epiphany may in fact remind us not just of death, but of the new life we receive in Christ. This encounter with Christ, like our baptism, is not only death, but life and new birth.

In Matthew’s account of the Magi’s journey, we catch the first glimpse of Christ’s identity, a strong theme in Epiphanytide. Christ’s identity in this story was most succinctly summed up by our Rector in his presentation about the gifts of the Magi: Jesus is given gold because he is a king; frankincense because he is a priest, and myrrh because he is going to die.

Overall, the night was wonderful and we couldn’t have had more fun if we tried.

FullSizeRender (3)

…………………………………….

Stay tuned this season. Next week, after we hear the story of the baptism of Jesus, look out for several “faith formation at home” posts on exploring and remembering baptism with your children.

Observing Advent at Home: Experiencing the Mystery Anew

This post is Part five in a series on Observing the Advent Season at Home. You may find the previous four posts at the following links: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV.

1476532_10100133682756050_1090446297_n

Advent is a rich time for experiencing the miracle and mystery of God with us anew. In Advent we remember and retell the story of the radical lengths to which our God goes to know us and be known by us. Inhabiting these mysteries involves disciplines and practices that help us make these connections. Below, as in all of the previous posts in this series (linked above) you will find some suggestions for activities that help foster these connections.

Noticing Sacred Space: One of the amazing features of our tradition is how much the physical worship spaces, practices, and movements of our body in the liturgy reflect the theological themes of the season. Tomorrow the church will change its colors from the growing green of Ordinary Time to penitential and prince-ly purple that characterizes Advent. This is a wonderful thing to point out to your children; they might even point it out to you. Ask members of your family to share what they notice about our sacred space. What is the same? Always present, for example, are the cross, font, and altar; these are permanent fixtures in our building. What is different? The altar arrangements and vestments change,  our Advent wreath hangs on the right side of the Nave, the Magi from our Parish creche hide throughout the sanctuary, and as we approach Christmas our Nave is covered in greens and on Christmas Eve our Altar rails are removed from the chancel. What do these changes say about what happens in Advent? What do we proclaim with our space?

Advent Wreath: As is traditional for our parish, we will gather tomorrow to make Advent wreaths together. Decorating the Advent wreath is a wonderful time to talk about how the wreath helps us move closer to the mystery of Christmas. The wreath is not just a countdown method, but a way of watching the light gather toward the birth of the Messiah. The gradual, growing light might remind us of the words of the prophet Isaiah:

The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light–Those who live in the land of darkness, on them the light has shined. […] For a child has been born for us, a Son given to us; authority rests on his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

The growing light of our Advent wreaths brings us closer and closer to this mystery. Three purple candles remind us of the penitential nature of the season and one rose-colored candle lit on the third week reminds us of the coming joy. As your family gathers together each evening (or each week) and lights the candles round the Advent wreath, reflect on how the light draws us closer to the mystery of the incarnation.

Handmade Progressive Nativity: We already discussed how we might “search for the Baby Jesus” during the Advent Season in Part II of this series. Alternatively, your family (especially if you have older children) might enjoy watching the story unfold over the weeks by making and placing each character of the nativity, one at a time. Using clothespins (or wooden pegs) make one character at a time. Begin with Mary and Joseph, the animals and shepherds. On Christmas Eve you can make the Baby Jesus and place him in his manger. Once Christmas day has passed, make one Wiseman at a time, until all three are placed around the baby Jesus on Epiphany (January 6).

Observing Advent at Home: Countdowns and Calendars

This post is part four on a series about observing the season of Advent at home. You can find the other posts in this series at the following links: exploring the Magnificatsearching for the baby Jesus, and The Season of the Nativity.

—–

Walk into any retail store over the past two months and it’s clear that preparations for Christmas started weeks before the Church celebrated All Saints. Retail establishments start the fun as quickly as possible. More people have more time to buy more things. Then, when it is over–December 26–it’s over, Christmas is on clearance and it’s back to the daily grind as though the world has not been entirely changed.

Try the suggestions below to help your family ease into the season, dwell in it, and savor the celebration when it arrives.

Beginning in October, Advent Calendars are ubiquitous, but most are covered with Santa and stockings, Christmas trees and reindeer. Most retail “Advent calendars,” moreover, countdown 25 days (the number of days in December leading up to and including Christmas, but not necessarily the number of days the Church spends anticipating the birth of the Savior); these can hardly be considered “Advent” calendars.

Try an Interactive Prayer calendar: You can find a printable for a praying in color Advent calendar here or here. Print a copy for each person in your family. Each night when your family gathers for devotions, read a part of the nativity story. Then, give everyone 5-10 minutes to reflect on and fill in the day with prayers and colorful illustrations of the story. Your calenders might look like some of these.

Advent Paper Chain Countdown: Use purple paper to create a paper Advent chain. Write a good deed, prayer, or part of the Christmas story (from Luke 1 and 2) on the back of each strip of paper. When your family gathers for a meal or evening Advent devotionals, read the paper strip. Use white or gold paper for Christmas Eve and Christmas when we proclaim the best part of the story: the long awaited Messiah has come!

Disciplines of Waiting: Wait to put up the tree and lights until November 30. You may even put up purple lights for Advent and change them to white for the Christmas season. When the first day of Christmas has come to a close, wait to take your tree down until after the first day of Epiphany on January 6.

Are there certain cultural Christmas traditions your family loves–decorating a gingerbread house, listening to Christmas carols, hosting a Christmas party? This year, brainstorm together which of these things you can put “on hold” for the Christmas season. Wait until after December 24th to do these fun activities and fill Advent with preparations and waiting.

Observing Advent at Home: The Season of the Nativity

This post is part three on a series about observing the season of Advent at home. The first post in this series explored the Magnificat, and the second encouraged families to spend Advent searching for the baby Jesus.

Over the past several years, I have followed Sybil MacBeth’s blog on Praying in Color. In seminary, I was introduced to the practice of praying in color and, never one to sit still for long, found it helpful in focusing on the task at hand–thanksgiving, intercession, and praise. Ever since, I have enjoyed the opportunity to share this approach, most recently with our Middle School Church School group or as one option for teachers to choose in Elementary Church School classes.

Recently, while perusing MacBeth’s blog in search of some Advent ideas, I learned that she was releasing a book, The Season of the Nativity: Confessions and Practices of an Advent, Christmas & Epiphany Extremist, just in time for Advent. Last month when the book was released, I purchased a copy. When it arrived, I was immediately captivated. Written accessibly with a colorful, magazine-style layout, the book is packed with reflections about and ideas for how to observe the Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany seasons. Some of the activities–a good deeds manger, Advent wreath, or Advent calendar–will be familiar to most readers, while offering a fresh take. Other suggestions–selecting Advent words for family prayer, bringing the words of Scripture to life through body movements, or filling a tree with purple lights–are less likely in a family’s traditional repertoire, and provide reflective, fun ways to focus the season on the gift of Christ.

The ideas in this book seem endless and do-able, without overwhelming the few hours of free-time families have together.

I finished reading the book in one evening and found it so enjoyable that I purchased five copies for parish families to borrow. This Sunday, they will be available at the Advent Wreath Intergenerational event. Afterward, they will find a permanent home on the “parent resources” shelf of the Christian Education Library (located in the while cabinet in the commons) available for check-out alongside our children’s titles. Go here for a closer look at the book. Also check out an interview with Sybil MacBeth from the Patheos Book Club and her corresponding article, “Five Ways to Experience an Extreme Advent.”

Come back later this week for more ideas on Observing the Advent season at home.

Observing Advent at Home: Searching for the Baby Jesus

This is part II in a series of posts scheduled through the first week of December about practicing and observing the Advent season at home. Part I on the Magnificat may be found here. These posts offer ideas and suggestions for inhabiting Advent as we learn to look for and expect the miracle of the Messiah’s birth.

The days before Advent are a perfect time to begin sharing stories about waiting. Children may love to hear the stories of those who long ago waited, prayed, and searched for God’s Messiah, one who ultimately appears in a small stable in the corner of an ancient town far from our own. In Advent, we look and wait for Jesus, anticipating the birth of a child whose birth was announced by angels to shepherds and by stars to Magi from far places.

Spend the Advent season looking for the baby Jesus. When you are putting your family Nativity together, leave out the baby Jesus. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, hide him around the house. Whoever finds him can hide him next (without telling anyone). On Christmas, search far and wide, and upon finding him, place him in the manger and invite your children to share the story of the Nativity.

Here is a sermon from the Reverend Canon Karen Schmidt, “On Searching for Christ during Advent.” You may find her sermon and others from a Cohort of Anglican Churches in the U.K., here.