Last night my neighborhood sponsored a hayride for our neighborhood trick-or-treaters who, like children all over the country, raked in the treats, sorted and traded, then ate themselves sick and bounced off the ceiling all night on a Halloween-induced sugar high that unofficially proclaimed the beginning of an annual holiday season packed to the gills with parties, shopping, gifts, food, travel, family gatherings, and… oh yeah, lest we forget… religious observances when we can manage to fit them in.
If we’re not careful, our children’s ministries can reinforce a frantic pace in this mad dash to the manger, when what is needed is a more thoughtful, reflective, intentional, purposeful pilgrimage through a time of giving thanks to a quiet stable on a starlit night.
Help By Establishing a Reasonable Pace
The last church I served had a wonderful tradition – a very artful, life-sized, progressively “moving” (done by volunteers) nativity presentation that captured the heart of the community. It began on the first Sunday of Advent with the appearance of Joseph and Mary (on a donkey) on the outer reaches of the church’s very large lawn, their journey over the four week period leading them to a stable at the church’s entry. Over the four weeks, sheep and shepherds would appear, even occasionally get lost, and on Christmas night they all converged on the stable, as magi appeared to the east and began their own journey culminating on the Day of Epiphany. Children of the church anticipated every movement and eagerly tracked the progression of the greatest story ever told on a daily basis in a slow, deliberate unfolding of the nativity narrative.
So what’s the rush?! We do our people a disservice when we set a torrid pace during the holidays, eliciting a huge sigh of relief from church goers, volunteers, and staff when it’s all over. Now that the Halloween sugar high is over, maybe we can go about setting a less frantic pace through November’s thankfulness, the anticipations of Advent, and the reverent celebration of a starry Christmas night.
Maybe now is a good time to check your church’s calendar (and the intentions of people around you) to make sure that the calendar isn’t overcrowded for any particular age group, particularly children. The holidays are a time when everybody in their lives seems to want a party, and their little lives can get overrun just as much as their parents’.
Help By Resourcing the Family
While your church will have its own set of traditions, why not help the families of your church establish some of their own. Show children how to express their thankfulness through a mission offering collected at home. Help families make their own Advent Wreath to mark the passage of time in anticipation of Christmas. Solicit devotions written by congregation members to compile into an Advent devotional book that can be used at home. You don’t have to do everything. Just pick one idea and help them accomplish it.
The whole idea is to increase church family devotions while decreasing the number of trips to the church. Your church families/members will thank you!
Help By Setting an Example
Start with yourself. Don’t let the holidays become the season that you sacrifice your own Sabbath time. If you will protect your own Sabbath, you will enable those around you to do the same. They will appreciate your own reasonable pace, as well as the permission that you give them to slow down.
At the same time you can encourage staff members and volunteers to carve out space for time with their families. As you set your church holiday schedule, make sure that staff and volunteers around you have plenty of time to travel as needed, to celebrate their own family traditions, and to stay nourished in body, mind, and spirit.
Face it! No one will do this for you, for the children in your ministry, or for your church. It starts with you. You can bring the solution to an age-old problem – being renewed and refreshed instead of being exhausted at the end of what should be the most joyous time of the year.
Slow down… take a breath… and let the joy of the holiday season creep up on you… and the children in your ministry…