When the word fall is mentioned, even if the temperature is still hovering around the 80’s in the city where I am located, I imagine gorgeous red and orange maple leaves on trees, yellow mums on front porches, the smell of pumpkin pie, and I long for crisp, cool, sweater weather. That cozy feeling of fall makes this one of my favorite times of the year. Not only do I love fall family traditions of apple picking, pumpkin carving, fall festivals, leaf raking (and jumping in!), I also love the traditions of churches during this season, especially in Children’s Ministry. For fall 2020, churches are navigating how to make these traditions safe and just as meaningful as in years past.
BIBLE PRESENTATION SUNDAY
Many churches have a designated Sunday each fall where they present Bibles to their elementary-aged children, typically third graders. For churches who have not resumed in-person worship, the question becomes, “How do we best honor the children, make the day special and uphold this sacred tradition all at the same time?” There are many creative ways to do this.
- Clergy and/or Children’s Ministry team members could personally deliver the Bibles to children’s homes and a prayer could be offered over each child (with masks and distancing, of course). This presentation could be videotaped at each home and edited into a video to be shown in worship.
- A curb-side pick-up and prayer over children and Bibles could be done at the church, which could also be shown as a video in worship.
What worked well for our particular congregation was to offer a small presentation outside on the lawn in front of the sanctuary. In keeping with pandemic precautions, immediate family members were scheduled to arrive in small groups, they wore masks and remained at a safe distance from each other.
The senior pastor and I led children and families through a liturgy. Children were then called forward one at a time for their Bible presentation near the church steps. Floral wreaths hung on the sanctuary doors behind the table of Bibles, further enhancing this special occasion.
In an effort to make this day even more special than usual, church members of all ages were invited to write personal notes to the third graders. Each child, upon opening his or her Bible, discovered a handwritten note from someone detailing memories of getting their own Bibles, sharing their favorite Bible verse, and other sweet messages.
Pictures were taken of the outdoor presentation as well as individual pictures of the children holding their Bibles. A video of these will be shown in worship on what would have been the traditional Bible Sunday.
Does your church have a special way of acknowledging some of the big school-age milestones? Moving from preschool to kindergarten and fifth grade to sixth grade are big milestones where I live. Our preschoolers move “up” to the top floor in our children’s building for Sunday school as well as start “big school” in the public and private school system. Our fifth graders move from Children’s Ministries and building to the Youth Ministries and building. We like to make a big deal about it! We were a bit worried about how we could make a big deal this year since we typically do this in worship two Sundays prior to the start of public schools opening and we are still not open.
The Youth Ministries team and Children’s Ministries team decided to partner and offer a Rising Kindergarten and a Rising Sixth Grade Transition Drive-Thru at the same time on opposite sides of the church building. We ended up enjoying it so much we are going to continue offering it this way in the future. One huge blessing from this pandemic! We found by doing it this way, we got better attendance, more interaction with the students and parents, took it up a notch, and the students LOVED it!
We had a two-hour drive-up option on a Sunday afternoon with pre-registration so we were prepared with enough goodie bags. For the goodie bags, each Kindergarten child received a special hand-painted stone with a cross to signify this special milestone in their life to remind them that God loves them and so does their church, a bookmark with scripture, a Children’s Ministry brochure for parents of what’s now available for Kindergarten age, and a cute Back to School prayer using colorful types of candy we found on Pinterest. All the Children’s Ministry staff was there, we had balloons, and it was a big hit with the children and parents! You can make this type of event as simple or as elaborate as you want.
FALL CELEBRATION IDEAS
Many churches that previously offered an annual fall festival or Trunk-or-Treat are trying to decide what to do this year. There are concerns regarding anticipated crowds, how to have a large enough space with at least 15 feet of distance in every direction for activities, booths, vehicles, etc. as well as the risks of planning a large-scale event and having to cancel if another shut-down should occur. Here are some alternative suggestions.
There are many versions of how this fun drive-thru style of trick-or-treating can be offered. Encourage families to decorate their cars. Have children (and parents too!) wear costumes, as they drive through to get a little treat. Offer prizes for best group, individual costume, and best-decorated car.
The idea here is for each family to drive through and stop at various booths to play games from their car. Some suggestions are: Go Fish Wall, Corn Hole, Bottle Ring Toss, Skee Ball, Dart Balloon Pop, Duck Pond, Carnival Prize Wheel, Dunk the Pastor/Pie in the Face, etc. This could be a great joint project between Children’s and Youth ministries.
Many churches are finding movie night on the lawn or in the church parking lot is working well. A portable movie screen and speakers are needed. If able to watch outside on the lawn, one idea is to spray paint circles on the grass for social distancing, or chalk can be used for parking lots, and there are a variety of social distance markers online. Families can be given pre-packaged popcorn, water bottles, candy, and glow necklaces, or consider bringing in a food truck, ice cream truck, or have families bring their own picnic meal. Be aware that when serving food at your event, the masks are not being worn the entire time.
Have children bring their bikes for a parking lot bike night. Block off the parking lot and allow children to safely ride with their friends. Parents bring lawn chairs, wear their masks, and visit socially distanced with one another while watching their children.
Many outdoor activity options are available if the original ones envisioned no longer seem viable. I find this challenging time of switching from Plan A to Plan B to be a time of innovation and excitement for our Children’s Ministries team. There is also comfort in doing something new with those you know and trust. We recently wore our pajamas to work and took videos of each of us reading parts of the children’s book Corduroy by Don Freeman for a Bedtime Stories Series we’re kicking off soon to be featured each Tuesday and Thursday evenings on Facebook. In this series, families will be encouraged to share their own favorite bedtime stories via video. I can’t wait to grab my blanket and a cup of apple cider, get comfy, and see the faces of the children and parents curled up for storytime in their own homes. I’m sure it will add to that cozy fall feeling that I love so well!
Amy Jo Alspaugh Harriman
Myers Park UMC Children’s Ministry