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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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

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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.

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.

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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: 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.

Prayers and Stones

Holy Family’s Children’s Liturgy is offered on the first and third Sunday of every month. We begin by gathering together at the font. One of the children serves as our crucifer, carefully carrying the cross as the other children trail behind. Many of our children consider carrying the cross to be a task of utmost importance. They are reminded to carry it with two hands and to hold it high enough that everyone can see it clearly and follow in a straight line.

When we arrive downstairs in the commons the children have several tasks: the crucifer sets the cross in a visible place at the front of the room, another child lays out our underlay (a cloth in the appropriate liturgical color), and another selects a place on the cloth to place our good shepherd cross. Our time and work together involves intentionally gathering and preparing to respond to God together.

We sit in a circle on the floor, share our names, and if we have visitors, something else about ourselves. Then, the fun begins. We pray together in many different ways. We form clay into prayers for the church, world, and someone we love on large sheets of brown craft paper. Or, we make signs for the World (arms above our heads in a circle), Church (arms in the shape of a cross), and someone we love (arms crossed over our chest). Each child shares their prayers.

Yesterday, we gathered together around our underlay, cross, and a pile of rocks. We talked about all of the stories involving rocks we know from the Bible. The children each shared and did not disappoint. Among their favorites: Moses receives the gift of water from a rock in the desert, Abraham and Jacob leave stones peppering the desert landscape, Israel leaves 12 stones on the bed of the Jordan river as they enter the land God gives to them, “the stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” Jesus says: “On this rock I will build my church,” a heavy stone rolls away exposing the empty tomb on that first Easter morning, stones make the church’s first martyr, Saint Stephen. The stories kept coming!

We remembered the promises of God and the many times people cried out to God and God answered. Then, each child took a smooth stone of their own. They offered thanksgivings and concerns from their own hearts, remembering to mention the Church, world, and people they loved. I started, laying the center stone. Each a child offered a prayer, slowly arranging the stones into the shape of a cross right next to our Good Shepherd cross.

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When we were finished, we turned over the stone in the middle, “God is in this place.” We remembered that when two or more people gather together and offer their prayers, God is in the midst of them.

We closed with our feast. One child passes out napkins, another distributes cookies. We wait until everyone is served before we stand, sing a short doxology (with gestures), and eat together. As each is ready, a child gathers up the feast materials and children line up to return upstairs for the real feast, bread and wine with the gathered community.
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VCS 2014: In the Desert!

At VCS 2014, we had a wonderful week of sharing meals, praising God through song, and responding to the stories of God’s faithfulness during Israel’s 40 years of wilderness wanderings.

Our stories for the week of VCS began and ended with water–God brought the people of Israel out of slavery by way of the Red Sea and into the Promised Land through the Jordan River. After remembering God’s miraculous opening of the Red Sea, we spent the first day learning about Israel’s encounter with God at Mount Sinai, complete with the golden calf.

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In the days that followed, we heard of God’s faithfulness to all the people as they wandered for so many years, complaining as they went because there was little water or food (and then, the food got tiresome!).  We also heard of the times the people remembered God’s saving works. Wherever the people went, God went with them, in the Tabernacle made by divine order and human hands.

Israel’s time in the desert was a time of wrestling–trying to figure out what it meant to be God’s people, what it meant that God was their God. Throughout our time at VCS we asked these same questions: who is God? What does it mean to be God’s people? How can we be faithful to being called God’s people.

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We closed with a feast–a joyous celebration of the Eucharist and a community meal–remembering that whatever it means to be God’s faithful people has something (or everything) to do with gathering, hearing the story of God, proclaiming who God is and who we are, and sharing the bread of heaven.