Holy Week with Children

Several years ago, I was attending Holy Family’s Good Friday service. Behind me a precocious three year old was asking questions. Dad, what’s happening? Dad, did him die? Dad, is this sad? Dad, did Father Sarah die him? Is him going to be alive again? You could see the wheels turning and sense that the pieces were falling into place. Jesus–the one who died during the events of Holy Week–this is the Jesus who is alive again on Easter morning. This might seem obvious, but it isn’t always so. Indeed, some of the children in the parish had a lively debate going in the children’s liturgy last year: Did Jesus really die or did he only pretend to die? Was Jesus really raised from the dead or were people seeing a ghost?
Holy Week with children can seem daunting, but there is nothing like watching the children of the Parish witness and respond to the drama of Holy Week. There is more to the story than the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the Resurrection on Easter morning. When we walk with children through this time, we can answer their questions and share ours. What happened to Jesus and why? What does it have to do with the hope we share as Christians? Our hope is deeper and more real when the joyful Alleluias of Easter morning are put in the context of the events of Holy Week.

This year, join us for the services of Holy Week, and bring your children. There is a lot for them to seem. Join us to get it all started on Wednesday evening, when we will have a All Parish-friendly Stations of the Cross. This short service might be just the thing to help your family get ready for the Triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil). Nursery care will be available for all of the services except Wednesday evening.

  • Palm Sunday: In lieu of Sunday School, Join us today at 9am in the Parish Hall. We will fold palm fronds into crosses. Children and adults are also invited to walk a set of interactive Stations of the Cross in the Library.
  • Wednesday Stations of the Cross, 6pm in the Nave
  • Maundy Thursday, March 24th @7pm
  • Good Friday, March 25th @ noon
  • Easter Vigil, March 26th @ 8pm

Selecting a Bible Storybook

Every year, right around this time, folks ask me about storybook Bibles that they might purchase for the young people in their lives.  I’ll begin by stating what may be obvious: Storybook Bibles have their limit. They are not meant to replace an actual Bible, but for young children they offer access to stories that might otherwise be quite opaque. In doing so, however, they never remain neutral (there is no neutral reader of Scripture anyway) and each storybook Bible reflects the context and perspectives of those who wrote and compiled it. That said, here are a couple that I recommend for pre-school to first grade.

We use a selection of Bible storybooks in our Church School classes and I have three favorites which I describe and link below.
The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones: This book has wonderful illustrations and a very engaging layout. It begins by saying that the stories in the Bible are not about heroes and they aren’t about moral lessons; they are about God. Here is how the opening page of this storybook puts it: “Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing, It about God and what he has done.” I appreciate this approach to the Biblical stories and it is pretty unique in this respect.
Children of God Storybook Bible by Archbishop Desmond Tutu: This is another book with wonderful illustrations. Different stories are illustrated by different artists which gives the book a fun, unique feel. The stories are told in briefer fashion in this book than they are in the Jesus Storybook Bible and the layout makes it look more like a young children‘s book as opposed to a Bible. This book really tries to highlight God’s love for us and the command that we love one another. It does have the tendency to interpret the stories in light of moral lessons about faith, bravery, love, or the virtues, but in this it does a pretty decent job. The unique addition to this book is that each story ends in a short (7-10 word) prayer. I think this can be helpful for showing how we respond to the Biblical stories through prayer and celebration of who God is and what God has done. It can also be a nice way to introduce prayer to a young child.
The Children‘s Illustrated Bible by Selina Hastings: This book is probably for children on the older end of the ages I mentioned above and children through fourth or fifth grade might enjoy this storybook Bible. On the downside, the illustrations aren’t quite as engaging for small children, and the stories are a bit too wordy for them. The layout, is kind of like a history book with maps, text boxes with character descriptions, and quotations from Scripture. I like this book because it more directly cites Scripture and offers insight into historical context. For a child who is really interested in research (I had a children‘s Atlas and Medical Encyclopedia that I spent hours looking at as a child), likes to learn facts, or look at real photographs (as opposed to just illustrations). This could be a great next step or companion for the simpler and more colorful storybook Bibles.
Sometime around second or third grade, many children are ready to begin reading a study Bible in an accessible translation. It’s good practice to read Scripture together as a family. Indeed, in our Church School classes, this is when we begin to transition away from using Storybook Bibles, though these may still be enjoyable for children and easier for them to read aloud.


Observing a Quiet Advent

Today we hear from Sara Smith is a member of Holy Family’s Vestry and the Youth and Christian Education Commissions. Here, she offers a reflection on her family’s practice of marking the days of Advent with a simple reading of Scripture using an Advent calendar made with simple materials found around the home.  If you have a reflection about your family’s Advent practices and disciplines, let me know! We would love to hear your voice, too.


I love the season of Advent. Its quiet, contemplative pace offers a comforting contrast to the frantic and exhausting American December. I want to share the quiet and the story of Advent with my children, but it can be a struggle to drown out the December frenzy.

As I prepared for Advent last year, I wanted to mark this liturgical season in our home with practices my children could participate in fully. One of the ways we did this was by making our own Advent calendar together. I found excellent inspiration from other moms on Pinterest! I chose from projects that would allow us to mainly use items we had around the house. I especially liked the layout of this one, and the use of liturgical colors on this one, so I combined the two in our version.

The day we worked on the calendar was lovely outside, so the kids and I put on old clothes and smocks, and sat on the ground as we worked together. I found the activity a fun way to talk with them about why we mark this liturgical season; they always love a project and are eager to understand how we practice our faith.

Advent Calendar S. SmithSupplies:

  • Acrylic paint
  • Paint brushes
  • Paper towel tubes, cut in half
  • Ribbon/lace
  • Small clothes pins
  • Large stiff board (wood, poster board with foam—like the back of an old science project board 🙂
  • Bible verses: 1 for each day
  • Other small activities/odds and ends for stuffing pockets
  • Stapler

Before we painted, I cut the paper towel tubes in half. The kids and I painted a couple of coats on each tube–purple for the first two and the fourth weeks of Advent, and rose, the color of joy for the third, just like the candles on our Advent wreath–and after the paint dried, I stapled them at the bottom and marked a number on each tube “pocket”, starting with Advent 1. I stapled lace fabric scraps to the board, leaving space between staples for the clothespins.

For daily readings, I printed verses relating to birth of Christ from Matthew and Luke, and the first few verses from John. I divided and cut them up into sections that would allow one verse for each day. We folded and placed them into the pockets, and I added small odds and ends to some of the days, like Advent-themed coloring pages.

We placed the board and the wreath made at church on our dining room buffet, along with other Advent resources from Holy Family. On many nights in Advent, my oldest would (try to) read from that day’s verse, with help from one of us. I loved hearing her tiny voice tell the story of the Incarnation, and watching my youngest listen intently. We took down each day’s pocket to help the kids visualize the number of days that remained in the season. Honestly, this didn’t happen every day, or with all family members present each time. Hopefully, though, it happened enough for my kids to feel the quiet, contemplative pace of Advent at home as we waited for the birth of our Lord.


The Work of Retelling the Story: Nativity Pageant

Every parish has their own way of telling the story of the birth of Christ. Some, like the parish in which I was raised, develop or purchase elaborate plays, spending hours rehearsing the story of the nativity or an adaptation of it, presenting it in a series of shows. Others create videos. Still others choose a dramatic reading of the story. The aim of all is to invite the congregation into the story of God’s most magnificent work, dwelling among us in the person of Jesus, the Messiah of Israel and the world’s true and only hope.


As with many things at Holy Family, our method for retelling the story of the Nativity is one of a kind.  Every year the children of our parish gather on a weekend day sometime in the middle of November. They come in costumes determined by age or select costumes from among those we have on hand at the church. The youngest are barnyard animals. Children in the middle elementary years are angels, shepherds, and townspeople. Our fifth graders are assigned Mary, Joseph, Gabriel, soldiers, and the innkeeper. In a day full of logistical puzzles (naptimes, meals, children of all age groups running everywhere), the children act out scenes from the Nativity while several of our Parish’s skilled photographers take photos. Afterwards, several members of the parish select from among the photos, compiling them into a narrative slideshow of around fifteen minutes. This slideshow is timed manually to the reading of the Gospel of Luke woven with several hymns and carols at our Christmas Eve family service. The impact is pretty incredible and there’s always a wonderful buzz during the presentation.  The slideshow is not just a cool and cute way to tell the story.


While this story is shared in the context of a Christmas Eve Liturgy, it is not the only worshipful moment in the process. Members of our church gather intentionally, work together on various parts of the story, laugh together, keep children company as they make cards for members of our parish who are sick or shut-in. The whole day is marked out to focus on the work at hand: telling the story of God together. The word “work” is no accident here. Liturgy literally means “the work of the people.” All of our work is worship: whether we are taking photos, assembling costumes for a host of angels, acting out Gabriel’s proclamation to Mary, selecting photos, setting up projectors, timing slides, practicing the hymn music, hearing the words of the Gospel reading, or singing “Glory to God” together on Christmas Eve. All of our work is worship. All of our worship is work and it isn’t about us or the lovely children of our church.

Throughout the year, in the liturgy, in Church School, at VCS, we hear and share the story of God with one another. We respond in many and various ways to this story all year in worship, Christian education, outreach, in daily living and working together as community. The children who have been born and baptized in our congregation also participate in this. Indeed, there are always several adults who remark throughout the process of creating, practicing, and viewing the slideshow: “I remember when ______ was baptized” or “______ was the first baptism I witnessed here.” They have heard the wonderful stories of God and, once a year, they present this story–ancient and new–back to us. It is not only our children who receive the gift of God’s story on another’s lips, we do as well. In this way, the pageant photos are, as they should be, first and foremost about the God who became flesh and dwelt among us, the God we praise with our lives and work and the God who lives in the midst of the community that has been called to proclaim the good news of God in Christ to the ends of the earth.

Flat Saints: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

During our month of saints, we are hearing the stories of seven different saints from Scripture and tradition and learning about the saints in as many ways as possible. Check out some suggestions here. Come back all this month, for posts about our saints and remember to share what you and your family learn about the saints this month on Facebook with a photo of your flat saint out and about and #CHFSaints.

You can find all blog posts in this series at the following links: Mary Magdalene, Saint Luke the Evangelist, Clare and Francis of Assisi, Monica and Augustine, ideas of All Saints Saint potluck.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer (February 4, 1906—April 9, 1945)

Date remembered: April 9

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and theologian during the Second World War. He wrote many books that challenged the church in Germany and remain important to us now. All of his books focused on the person and work of Jesus Christ. When the activities of the church came under strict government control and Christians outside of the national church were limited in their ability to gather, Bonhoeffer ran an underground seminary that trained ministers. This seminary, called Finkenwalde, was eventually forced to close.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1939, Photographer unknown

We know a lot about Dietrich Bonhoeffer because he wrote quite a bit. His friend, Eberhard Bethge was the first to pen his biography. From what we know it is clear that Bonhoeffer was so resolved in his belief and trust in Christ, that Christ and cross were all that ultimately mattered. He died at the young age of 39 at the hands of the Nazis.

A timeline of Bonhoeffer’s life may be found here.

At Home Discussion

In Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community, Bonhoeffer writes of the practice of confession: “In confession the break-through of the community takes place. Sin demands to have a man by himself [sic]. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him […]. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light.” When we confess in the congregation, we acknowledge and bring our own sin to light.

Read the Prayer of Confession from the Book of Common Prayer together. Students may already have the prayer memorized from our saying it together in the weekly liturgy. If they do not, try to memorize a part of it: the first five lines, lines six through eight, or lines nine through the end.

Discuss the question:

Why do we confess our sins all together every week?

Saint Potluck

As we have worked through the lives of the saints, we have learned that saints always point beyond themselves to Jesus Christ. They show us how members of the Church led lives of holiness in various times and places. Whenever we read stories and legends about the saints, we should keep at the front of our minds the question: What does this person’s life show us about God and who God is in Christ?

This week we will take a break from Church School for an intergenerational celebration of All Saints at 9am (Brunch and Saint Inspired fare) and 11am (Cupcakes to celebrate baptism and activities in the commons).

Everything we have done and learned thus far has prepared us for the liturgy of All Saints by reminding us to listen closely for stories of faithfulness and giving us a sense of the great Cloud of Witnesses (Hebrews 12:1).

By now your children (and you!) have learned a great deal about the Saints–Clare and Francis, Augustine and Monica, Mary Magdalene, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Luke the Evangelist–and you may have a good idea of what their lives were all about. We have focused on these saints with our Flat Saint project, in Sunday School, children’s liturgy, and here on the blog. Now, we close out our unit on the Saints with a festal celebration.Read stories about your family’s favorite saints and check out the list of suggestions below. Be creative! Dishes can be inspired by a saint’s location, symbol, story, or a food traditionally made on their feast day. Breakfast and finger foods are welcome.

Looking for a Saint inspired dish to bring to this Sunday’s Potluck brunch at 9?

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Soul Cakes, a classic treat for All Saints’ Day (Here’s a short article about the tradition of Soul Cakes)
Mary, the Mother of Jesus: Baked Apple Roses
Mary Magdalene: Madeleines
Saint Francis: Tonsure cake
Saint Ambrose: Honey Cake
Saint Michael or Saint George: Dragon Bread
Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael (Archangels): Angel Food Cake
Saint Lucia: Saint Lucia Buns
Saint Nicholas: Saint Nicholas Spice Cookies (many recipes here)

Once you’ve selected a Saint and a recipe, members of your family can write something about your saint on one index card and illustrate a scene from your saint’s life on another. Bring your index cards on Sunday and put them down next to your dish. We will feast in the memorial gardens if the weather is nice and the commons if it isn’t.

Flat Saints: Saint Luke the Evangelist

During our month of saints, we are hearing the stories of seven different saints from Scripture and tradition and learning about the saints in as many ways as possible. Check out some suggestions here. Come back all this month, for posts about our saints and remember to share what you and your family learn about the saints this month on Facebook with a photo of your flat saint out and about and #CHFSaints.

Saint Luke Paints
A flat Saint Luke, created by one of our students. Here, he is pictured as a painter. Legend has it that Saint Luke, a real-life friend of Mary, the mother of Jesus, painted her first portrait. He is often pictured painting images of the Madonna and child.

Saint Luke the Evangelist (First Century)

Feast day: October 18

Symbols: Book, ox or winged ox, Madonna and child, paintbrushes, icons of Mary and Jesus, physician symbol (snake and rod).

Saint Luke is the writer of the Gospel according to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. Luke is thought to have been a physician and a painter. We don’t know a whole lot about each of the Gospel writers as there is little information about their lives that is considered historically reliable. We do know from Scripture that Luke was a doctor (Colossians 4:14), a travelling companion of Saint Paul (Philemon 1:24, 2 Timothy 4:11), the author of both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, and it is suggested that Luke was probably a Gentile, making him the only non-Jewish Evangelist. Some tradition has suggested that he was also a martyr, but no significant details of his death are known.

An At-home Activity

Icons of the Madonna and Child: Some traditions hold that Saint Luke was a friend of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and that he painted her first portrait. This is why images of Luke often show him painting Mary and Jesus. It is also why Luke is the patron saint of artists and iconographers. (When iconographers paint an icon it is called “writing” an icon.) Create your own image of Mary and Jesus.

Writing an icon is very serious work. It isn’t just painting, an iconographer prays with every stroke, reflecting on the life and work of the person, scene, or story that is depicted and how the story behind the icon points to God. Icons are holy. If you do this activity, do so with a sense of calm and quiet.

Flat Saints: Clare and Francis of Assisi

During our month of saints, we are hearing the stories of seven different saints from Scripture and tradition. We have already heard about Mary Magdalene, Monica and Augustine of Hippo. Aside from these posts, there are several other ways to learn about our Saints. Check out some suggestions here. Remember to share what you and your family learn about the saints this month on Facebook with a photo of your flat saint out and about and #CHFSaints.

Giotto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Poor Saints of Assisi: Clare and Francis

After returning to Assisi upon his release as a prisoner of war, Saint Francis found himself praying in a church: “God what do you want from me?” when Christ, from the crucifix on the wall responded: “Francis, rebuild my church; it is falling apart.” This is exactly what Francis began to do, earning one stone at a time as payment for singing, Francis carried stones to rebuild the dilapidated church in Assisi.

It is quite easy to sentimentalize the lives of Saint Francis and Saint Clare, at least hundreds of years after their lives. The potency of their witness to the church has seemingly lessened in their popularity. Though they had many followers in their lifetime, even in their own time, their rule of life, which required giving up ownership of any material possessions and living in poverty, was difficult for those who opted to follow their way of life. Before establishing the Order of the Friars Minor, the pope said that the requirements of their lives were far too stringent, and perhaps the standards might be relaxed. Clare and Francis both responded that this was the life God had required of them.

Following God, for Francis and Clare, was costly and the requirements of a holy life, extreme. In their lifetimes, they challenged and pushed the church to see God at work in poverty. In his lifetime, Francis built churches, cared for the poor, lived a poor and simple life, gave away all of his family’s wealth, and most amazingly received the stigmata (the markings of Jesus’ crucifixion) on his hands, feet, and side. Clare was the first woman to write a rule of life, which has already been said, was found difficult even for those in the church’s highest levels of leadership.

Francis of Assisi (1181-October 3, 1226): Remembered on October 4. His symbols are skull, stigmata, cross or crucifix, birds and other animals, friar’s robe.

Clare of Assisi (July 16, 1194 – August 11, 1253): Remembered on August 11. Her symbols are flowers (esp. roses and lilies), monstrance, book/Rule of life, cross, cloth.

Books in the Christian Education Cabinet: The books in our Christian Education resource cabinet are always available for check out. Please remember to fill out and leave the card that comes with the library book and remember to return it when your family is finished. We have many books about Francis and Clare in our Christian Education Library. Among them:

Saint Francis by Brian Wildsmith
Francis: The Poor Man of Assisi by Tomie de Paola
Clare and Francis by Guido Visconti
Brother Sun, Sister Moon by Katherine Patterson
Canticle of the Sun by Fiona French

Activity to do at home: 

On Saint Francis Day, parishioners at Church of the Holy Family painted birdhouses and read together Saint Francis' Sermon to the Birds.
On Saint Francis Day, parishioners at Church of the Holy Family painted birdhouses like churches and read together Saint Francis’ Sermon to the Birds, a lovely sermonette in which Saint Francis admonishes birds always to be grateful to God for all that God has done in caring for them. If you didn’t make it to our church-birdhouse painting intergenerational event, you can make a simple bird feeder by spreading crisco or peanut butter on a pinecone before rolling it in birdseed. Make a cross with found items for the top of the pinecone.

Canticle of the Sun (also called the Canticle of Creatures). We have several children’s books, in the Christian Education library in the Commons, illustrating the words of this hymn. The last verse, welcoming sister death is said to have been composed by Francis moments before his own death, and the song sung in its entirety for the first time by the community gathered around him on his deathbed.

Learn the Canticle of the Sun together and work on the art project below.

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Art Project: You can find a simple art project to do at home with young children (through third grade) that visually reflects the section of the song written above, here.

“Pick it up and Read”: Saints Monica and Augustine of Hippo

During our month of saints, we are hearing the stories of seven different saints from Scripture and tradition. There are many ways for our students to learn about their Saints (Check out some suggestions here). Come back all this month, for posts about our seven saints and remember to share what you and your family learn about the saints this month on Facebook with a photo of your flat saint out and about and #CHFSaints. We have already covered the story of Mary Magdalene here.

Saint Monica and Augustine of Hippo

“We are made for you, O God, and our hearts are restless until we find our rest in thee.”–Confessions

Augustine wrote more than a hundred books in his lifetime. Some of the most well known are City of God, On the Trinity, On Christian Teaching, and The Confessions.
Augustine wrote more than a hundred books in his lifetime. Some of the most well known are City of God, On the Trinity, On Christian Teaching, and The Confessions.

Monica of Hippo (c. 331-387)

Feast day: August 27

Monica is the mother of Saint Augustine, who writes about her in Confessions. Monica and her prayers were instrumental in Augustine’s religious training and conversion, making her responsible for the spiritual life of one of the Church’s most important theologians.

Symbols: Tears, symbols of prayer (esp. rosary and praying hands). She is sometimes pictured with a scroll that reads, “I cried to the Lord in my distress and he answered me,” from Psalm 120: 1.

Augustine of Hippo (November 13, 354 – August 28, 430)

Feast day: August 28

Saint Augustine was an early Christian theologian, philosopher, and Bishop. After many years of mother Monica’s fervent prayers, Augustine converts at the age of 32 when he hears the voice of a child saying “Pick it up and read,” right before picking up a Bible and reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans.Augustine’s writings remind us that we are made as creatures of desire and love, but fall into sin when our lives are not rightly ordered toward God. Desire and love are not bad; indeed, they are gifts, but desire and love have their proper end and goal in worship of God.

Symbols: He is often shown with a Bishop’s hat or staff, book, pen, pear, or heart. That fabulous hipster scarf? A Bishop’s vestment, called an Omophorion (Check out images of some other bishops, like Nicholas of Myra, here).

Why a pear? In Book II of The Confessions, Augustine discusses an incident in which he and friends stole pears from a neighbor’s tree even though there were better pears at home. He is very concerned with this particular sin, saying: “I loved my fall into sin.”


Young Children: Augustine wrote more than a hundred books in his lifetime and an unknown number of sermons. With small children, try to determine what a hundred books look like by making ten piles of ten books (Take a picture of your saint at the top of the stack and post it with the #CHFSaints).

Older Children: Write out a collect for Augustine’s Feast day from Holy Women, Holy Men (545) below. Then respond to the prayer by journaling ways we might love and serve God. Use the prayer several times over the next week continuing to add ways to love and serve God.

Lord God, the light of the minds that know you, the life of
the souls that love you, and the strength of the hearts that
serve you: Help us, following the example of your servant
Augustine of Hippo, so to know you that we may truly
love you, and so to love you that we may fully serve you,
whom to serve is perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our
Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.