Congregation Close-up: Prince of Peace, Salem

Congregation Close-up: Prince of Peace, Salem

Prince of Peace summer program builds faith brick by brick

By Barbara Ross, Godly Play coordinator at Prince of Peace

Last year the Godly Play program at Prince of Peace in West Salem was going through a time of transition. Our most regular attenders were elementary-aged boys who had experienced and enjoyed the core and enrichment Godly Play presentations over the years but were ready for a change.

We found an answer in a book called Building Faith Brick by Brick: An Imaginative Way to Explore the Bible with Children written by gifted Episcopal educator Emily Slichter Given and published by Morehouse. Emily is an experienced Godly Play leader who ran into a similar situation in her church in Texas. She did significant research on what she calls “boy faith” and ended up writing this guide to 53 short action-packed Bible stories that can be shared in the Godly Play tradition but have been selected so the children’s response can be created with LEGO style building bricks. As many people know, LEGOS have developed a language and culture of their own that seems to speak to people of all ages. Using them in church gives children the opportunity to respond to what they are hearing in an engaging and familiar way.

After conversation with our Godly Play leaders and Vicar Margaret McMurren and with the permission of our Bishop’s Advisory Committee, we decided to give the new program a trial run by introducing it in the summer. Our thought was that rather than doing it in our traditional Godly Play room, we would offer it in the Parish Hall and continue through Coffee Hour as a way to create a more informal atmosphere where we could readily engage members of the congregation and welcome grandchildren and other summer visitors to join in.

We began by following the suggestions in Emily’s book. In the spring of 2018, we let the congregation know of our plans and invited them to donate any used bricks they might have at home and to be on the look-out for bricks at garage sales, etc. We also visited our local used brick outlets with a special eye towards purchasing bases and mini-figures that would be appropriate for telling Bible stories. Response from the congregation was strong and when we began sharing the Old Testament stories in June of last year, our cart was loaded with ample supplies for our children.

The Building Faith Brick by Brick program was well-received. Families who were not regular summer attenders came week after week. And because the presentation style is straight- forward, we were able to expand our pool of volunteers to include people who didn’t have previous Godly Play experience. Members of the congregation engaged with the children and showed interest in their creations during the Coffee Hour each Sunday. Also, we were able to easily welcome and incorporate grandchildren and other summer visitors. In fact, the Brick by Brick program was going so well we decided to continue using its Old Testament stories through the fall and didn’t switch back to our traditional Godly Play program until Advent.

This summer we began sharing the Brick by Brick New Testament presentations and our children are enjoying hearing familiar stories (as well as some that are not included in the traditional Godly Play program) and responding by building wonderful faith-filled creations with their bricks.

Visit the Prince of Peace website.

Congregation Close-up: Church of the Resurrection, Eugene

From the Rev. Brent Was

I’ve been thinking a lot about our children’s ministry lately.  What is going on there?  Why is there so much growth?  Why do those children look so happy?

If there were a single answer we could write a book and save the Church.  I want to share a few reflections on it, because we are on to something and it could really shape the future of this parish.

The starting point of everything we do here with our children is the children.  Revolutionary!  This is the great gift that Tina Heidrick brings us as the leader of this ministry.  A guiding principal of one of the major schools of home schooling is that you follow the children’s lead.  Discern their interests, needs, gifts and limitations, and put the education in that path.  If you can harness the natural learning momentum that every child has, they will pull the train themselves because they want to learn.  They want to grow.  They want to be in relationship with each other, with those teaching them, and most importantly, with God.

The COR Youth Ministry viewed the Barberini Tapestries with Professor James Harper.

Tina, with the able assistance of Hilary, Aria, and the wonderful classroom volunteers follow the children.  And where are the children leading us?  Community.  I think that the center of gravity of our children’s programs are that the children love to be together.  It is a vital and vibrant circle of friends.  And it is an open circle, meaning that our children are very good at welcoming others into that circle.  I have never seen such inclusivity amongst children (and rarely among adults).  Not perfect, but they are coming from a lot of different kinds of families with a lot of different experiences of the world and the peals of laughter as the run around the back of the church (and the absence of much tweeny drama) attests to how well it usually goes.

Families, children, are hungry for positive, wholesome community.  That has been formed by following the children’s lead, by sending monthly newsletters addressed to each child at home (always an exciting day at our post office box), by sending birthday cards, by giving parents a break and relying on non-parents as volunteers, by special seasonal programs and liturgies like the brilliant Ash Wednesday service.

If children are hungry for wholesome community, they are starving for wholesome community with a purpose.  That we offer, too.  The cloud of relationships is an end, and a means to an end.  Educationally, there are three goals we have.

  • First, is to cultivate the naturally occurring relationship that all children have with God.  Jesus is very clear about this fact.  We emphasize that God is not just found in church, but in every minute of every day of their lives.  And we work on ways to keep that in front of them: prayer, religious practice, grace before meal times, being reverent here at church.
  • Second, is to teach them the Christian story.  Scripture, the Church, seasons and the Mass, saints and songs.  Christianity is a heritage and it is being passed on.  Godly Play is especially good at this.
  • Finally, our goal is to help form moral human beings in this complicated world.  Relationship is the best teacher.  Well, truly, love is.  From our lectionary this week we read, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”  Our children are loved, and are asked to love each other, and love is the very perfect teacher.

Staffing a lemonade stand to raise funds for Hospitality Village.

Our children are hungry for this.  Our world is starving for this.  All of our futures depend on it.

So that is what I think we are on to.  Why is it blossoming right now?  My guess is critical mass.  No one wants to teach, be in, or leave their child in a classroom with one other student.  How gloomy is that!  But three or four, or nine or ten smiling, lively faces with smiling and lively teachers and it becomes a place that anyone would want to be, and the children do!  (And reports are that the kids are dragging their parents to church!)  I know in our family, after a late Egan night or the weeds in the garden calling on a gorgeous spring day, Windy can never skip church because the girls wouldn’t have it.

That is my take on the state of our children’s ministry.  It is very good and if we are able to direct our resources, it can grow into something simply amazing!

Visit Church of the Resurrection’s website.

Congregation Close-up: St. David of Wales, Portland

At St. David of Wales in southeast Portland, worship is a unique blend of tradition and informality, a high church liturgy in a relaxed atmosphere. Many Sundays, the services close with a small dance party of children filling the central aisle as music director Ben Landsverk leads the congregation in singing anything from “Be Thou My Vision” from the 1982 Hymnal to “Purple Rain” by Prince. As the Rev. Kerlin Richter puts it, “We are a church focused on worshipping God. Especially in a liturgical church, it’s important that we’re not idolizing the way we worship.”

Senior Warden Barbara Brecht shares a recent experience of this: “For one child, the dancing has become a very authentic form of worship, where she is really moved by the Spirit. During ‘Precious Lord, take my hand,’ she slowly danced up the aisle, and then up the steps at the front, and as the song ended, she bowed to the altar. It was so dear to see this child open to the Spirit, and that this parish and our service will allow this to happen without anyone getting cranky.”

This generationally diverse but deeply committed membership is one of St. David’s primary strengths. In the pews and in leadership (vestry members range from their 20s to their 70s), people of all ages experience what it means to have their voices heard and respected. This is not always easy, but Kerlin+ observes that there is a unique beauty that blooms as the people stay engaged in the inevitable places of tension. “It is neither glorious nor awful; it’s just how we do things.”

Visit the St. David’s website.

Congregation Close-up: St. Aidan’s, Gresham

Set amid beautiful sprawling grounds next to Nadaka Nature Park, St. Aidan’s is embracing its identity by loving God and loving neighbor, and by living into the Celtic ethos of spreading the Good News of the Gospel through compassionate outreach, generosity of spirit, beauty in nature, music and the arts. St. Aidan’s is growing into a vision for the future, taking on new ministries that hold promise in our current environment and letting go of ministries that no longer serve that vision. Among these are:

  • The Great thou Art Camp, a children’s art camp for those children whose economic circumstances would not allow them access to professional artists and a camp experience. St. Aidan’s is seeding money to ensure the success of the camp and the church has received a grant for $1,500 from the City of Gresham to support its effort to bring the arts to those less economically secure.
  • Music and Meditation is an hour of music and poetry with St. Aidan’s musicians and friends, with open-mic time for others who would like to bring their own poetry or music. Music and Meditation is held five times a year, in celebration of the changing seasons, and is open to and embraces all faith traditions, cultures, and expressions of the seasons.
  • St. Aidan’s Celtic Festival Day and Mass on the Grass. Our celebration of St. Aidan’s Day includes a Celtic Mass, home-made pies, jewelry, art, music and more.
  • The Cuthbert Community is an on-going study of The Rule of Benedict, proving that at St. Aidan’s the words contemplative and lively belong together.
  • A very small but active Youth Group who have formed their own church and play their own music: The Church of Rock (Hard C. o. R.). They are “led from behind” by adult musicians experienced with Episcopalian theology and rock bands! It is our hope that through music, and a safe place to express themselves, the Church of Rock will attract other young people to explore a relationship with God.
  • Beautification of our sanctuary and our grounds. The new Garden Design Committee is working to create a destination of beauty in our grounds. A sub-committee is working on a new labyrinth design to be installed on the campus grounds in 2018.

The congregation of St. Aidan’s is steadfast in its welcome, loyal to its past and bold in its determination to grow into the needs of the community it serves.