Christmas trees and puppets
Julie Ward | Chair, Anglican Children and Youth Ministries Commission
ACYMC has a vision of every parish having children and youth being discipled through engaging, age-appropriate faith-related activities. Great, but that doesn’t give you any idea of the ‘how’. And I don’t know the ‘how’ for you. I don’t know because I don’t know your community. Each community is different, and like everyone else, children and youth are just community members, except they are attached to parents, guardians, or grandparents.
If I think back to my childhood, activities like Sunday School, CEGS and CEBS, and special church services were packed and busy. This was what the community did, but life has changed. Churches are no longer the only option for weddings and funerals, and baptisms are not the must-do event they once were. However, experience tells me that many parents are still interested in their children seeing what churches have to offer; they just don’t want to commit the time that their parents or grandparents did in the past.
We must now look to engage with the community and provide opportunities for interaction and exposure to the Gospel in different ways.
I know the value of learning through doing or seeing someone else doing it, so here are some examples of ideas that may or may not work. These are not universal panaceas, just experiences.
- Nativity plays
Last Christmas, Kalamunda parish displayed Christmas Trees telling various stories about Christmas. Complementing the display was a limited number of performances of the Nativity story through large puppets. Big success. Grandparents brought their families; families told friends, etc. Several things made this possible. We have a vast hall. We have a successful and popular Op Shop in the hall complex so that people can flow from the Op Shop to the Hall. We have talented artists with the skills needed. The display was open every day for a couple of weeks leading up to Christmas. The final puppet performance was the prelude to the children’s Nativity Service on Christmas Eve. The display and the puppet play did not need children to attend to be a success.
- Weekly or Holiday programmes
These can work but take an extraordinary commitment and are very labour intensive. It helps to have a small base of families already linked into the parish to start. From there, it might grow.
- Sunday activities
Sunday school, Children’s church, Godly Play, Messy Church, and any others can, like the holiday programmes, be successful depending on the community outside the church and the work put in by the church members to support those running these activities. BUT, in some places, it is too hard to do. There are other options.
- Children’s stall at the fete
Who runs that? Can there be a stall providing activities for children to keep them busy while their parents look around the fete AND a stall run by children and young people selling things that adults might buy?
- Carols night
Taking part in a community organised event or running one if nothing exists.
- Quiz Night for a local organisation like the Toy Library or the football club.
Each of these suggestions fulfils the goal of discipleship of children and youth. It might not grow your congregation but will increase the community and church interaction and could lead to unexpected outcomes.
Your turn. What has worked for you? Can you help another parish with your ideas? Can you come up with a new vision for your parish? Make it as intergenerational as possible and don’t make it solely reliant on children to make it a success.