How dinner church changed my life

Next week, Emily M.D. Scott‘s book, For All Who Hunger will be out in the world, and I haven’t been more excited about a book birthday since my own. In it, Emily tells the story of founding and pastoring St. Lydia’s, a dinner church in Brooklyn. You need this book as much as you need fresh warm bread or a glass of wine or the company of a good friend right now.

The first time we went to St. Lydia’s, my son and I had already spent six hours in church–me, because I was the director of children, youth and family ministries, and my son Peter, almost 9, because he was a chorister, at a large and formal Episcopal church in midtown Manhattan.

By Sunday evening, I was tired, and so was my kid, but our friend Donald invited us, and so we went. From the moment we walked in the door, St. Lydia’s felt like home. The entire liturgy is set within the context of a meal, and those who gather for it make the dinner, set the tables, light the candles, sing the prayers. For the next five years, St. Lydia’s fed us when we were hungry, held us when we were sad, strengthened us when we faltered, emboldened us when we hesitated, brought us joy and laughter and so many good people. It was messy and beautiful and holy.

We didn’t need more church in our lives; we needed more people in our lives, people with whom we could sit and eat. You get to know people at a different level around the table, especially when they’re not people you yourself invited. This is how strangers become friends. I met my husband at dinner church.

Emily says that in the breaking of the bread something happens: we catch a glimpse of Jesus in the stranger next to us at the table. “In that moment, heaven and earth overlap and God builds a bridge between the world as it is and the world as it should be.” The meals we share, the conversations we have, give us what we need to strengthen that bridge, to confront our own prejudices, to fight injustice and inequality, to work for a greener, more peaceful neighborhood and planet.

I am so grateful to Emily, for the sacred stories she tells and the sacred spaces she creates, for helping me be a better bridge-builder, and for helping to build my family.

Emily Scott and I had a wonderful conversation about liturgy as formation at the Rooted in Jesus conference in January. You can watch it here.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

Doing good at home

Some families on their social-distancing walks look for hearts or rainbows.

Every night at 7 pm, New York City erupts into two full minutes of cheering, bell ringing, pot-banging clamor in support of all who are working on the front lines: health care professionals, delivery people, grocery store employees. It makes me teary just writing about it. Briefly, we are connected to our neighbors in a heartfelt expression of gratitude for those who are working to keep us healthy and safe.

Some of us, maybe most of us, are busy and tired right now, balancing work, our children’s remote learning, and household chores in ways we didn’t even imagine two months ago. Let me be clear: you do not need to do more. Really, truly, you don’t. I promise. You are, in fact, already doing good at home. You can stop reading right now. If, however, you find some time and energy, there are ways you and your kids can make a difference in the lives of others from your kitchen table.

Doing Good Together is a national non-profit founded in 2004 “on the belief that when parents engage with their children in community service, they pass along [to them] the spirit of giving and goodness, strengthen their families, and create a new generation of volunteers, philanthropists, and kind, caring adults.” As a response to the Coronavirus pandemic, they have all kinds of ideas and activities for families to reach out to others and to volunteer from a distance, to share from our abundance, and to advocate for justice.

We can only do so much. But as long as you’re still reading, science and experience show that helping others helps us. Strengthening bonds with family, friends and neighbors, renewing our sense of purpose, and looking to that which is bigger than ourselves actually can reduce anxiety and stress. It’s also how we join with God in helping bring about the realm of God, with one small act of kindness at a time.

Please read Catherine Newman’s exquisite post about the transformative power of these small acts. It’s the most true thing I’ve read in a long while.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents. One of the chapters relevant to this topic explores the importance of Meeting God in Others.

Sacred space at home

Then my people will live in a peaceful dwelling, in secure homes, in carefree resting places.

Isaiah 32:18

For your child, home is already holy, and you are the one who makes it so. You are modeling God’s love and care by making your child feel safe and secure, nurtured and supported. Everything else is just window dressing. The rhythms of the day, the year, and the seasons of our lives are full of opportunities to find and create sacred moments, ways of making meaning and memories, and all of them can be simple.

Start tonight, with dinner. Can you all sit down together? What you’re eating isn’t important. Light candles. Hold hands around the table and let the youngest child choose when to squeeze. No cellphones, no television. Music might be nice, without lyrics.

I aspire to cloth napkins every night, but that adds to the laundry load. My father remembers that his grandfather insisted on cloth napkins for every meal. There were silver napkin rings for special occasions and wooden clothespins with people’s names on them, even guests, for everyday use, so the napkins could be reused. This led to my family collecting napkin rings. Whoever set the table on Friday could choose the napkin rings, and we had lots of fun choices: olive wood from Jerusalem, a hand-painted folk art set from Austria, enameled ones from India. If you don’t have any, your kids can twist pipe cleaners into circles. If they want to get fancy, cut a cardboard tube into pieces and let them wrap each ring in a different color ribbon, one for each member of the family.

Do you have a bit more time? Ask your kids to find an object with meaning to set on a small plate and use as a centerpiece. It could be a baseball, or a baby cup, or a postcard from Nana. Let them tell about why they chose it. You can be directive: bring something that makes you feel proud, something that reminds you of when you were tiny, or something that’s beautiful.

What will you talk about tonight? Conversation cards are fun. Make your own. Ask questions you’d like to respond to yourself, or ones you don’t know the answer to: What is your favorite memory? If you could have one superpower, what would it be? Where would you go if you could go anywhere in the world? Describe your perfect day. Tell about an act of kindness you saw or heard about today. How would you spend $100 (or $100,000) on other people? Throw in a God question, maybe not right away: When do you feel closest to God?

Homes are as holy as churches. Some families have a table or a shelf that’s set apart as sacred space, with a cross, candles, a Bible, a prayer book, fresh flowers or a small green plant. Place photos of loved ones here, or prayers you’ve written or drawn on scraps of paper and tucked inside a small box or jar.

We live in a Brooklyn apartment: three full-sized human beings and a double bass in approximately 650 square feet. Instead of a home altar, we have a blessing bowl. You could make something like this yourself. Choose any bowl you really like, although a shallow one will display the items you choose to put in it well. Then, collect some small items to put in it. We use a small beautiful bowl painted gold on the inside that was a wedding present from Peter’s godparents. Here is what is in our bowl right now:

•           a marble painted like the earth, for travel, for those we love who are far from us, for being mindful of world events

•           a heart-shaped stone, for acts of love and generosity

•           an acorn, for growth

•           a shell, to remind us of our baptisms

•           an angel token, for acts of caring and kindness

•           a LEGO piece, for play, fun and creativity

•           a silk rainbow ribbon for promises made and kept

•           a pottery pebble that says “peace”, for when we find it or need it

•           an olive wood cross, to notice where Jesus has been with us that day

These tiny treasures are meant to spark meaningful conversation, prayers, remembrances, and gratitude.

“We don’t remember days, we remember moments,” says the Italian poet Cesare Pavese. Parents know this best.  The warmth and love we create in our families may not be something that feels consistently present, but it is what we hope our children carry with them and learn to create for themselves and others. These moments of sacred connection can sustain us for a lifetime.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents, from which this post is adapted.

How to have Holy Week and Easter at home

In my previous life directing formation programs for children, youth and families at Episcopal churches, this has long been my busiest time of year, with countless hours spent preparing for the liturgies of Holy Week and Easter and all the special activities that go along with them. Even though I knew this year would be different, having left parish ministry at the beginning of March, I did not understand how different this Holy Week and Easter would be, for all of us.

To that end, I’ve written a series of posts with some ideas for households with or without children, with simple ideas for the next week. In spite of everything, and just when we need it most, the stone will be rolled away from the tomb, Easter will come, and it is possible, perhaps even likely, that this year we will feel the mystery of the resurrection even more powerfully.

Maundy Thursday, with a simple foot-washing service

Good Friday, with some good theology and a recipe for hot cross buns

Holy Saturday, with ideas for the waiting

Easter, with butterflies and an invitation to new life

May we know that God is with us in this holy and tender time.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

Family resources for Holy Week are available as a free download from Church Publishing.

Easter at home

Detail from Alleluia Banner made by the children of Trinity Church Wall Street

It has been a very long Lent. Today, the stone has been rolled away from the tomb. Wake your household up in the morning with the ages-old acclamation, “Alleluia, Christ is risen!” They will soon learn the response: “The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!” Your earliest riser could do this for the family, given a bell to ring through the house. Before breakfast, light a candle and read from the Gospel according to John:

Early in the morning of the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. She ran to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put him.” Peter and the other disciple left to go to the tomb. They were running together, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and was the first to arrive at the tomb. Bending down to take a look, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he didn’t go in. Following him, Simon Peter entered the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there. He also saw the face cloth that had been on Jesus’ head. It wasn’t with the other clothes but was folded up in its own place. Then the other disciple, the one who arrived at the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. They didn’t yet understand the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to the place where they were staying.

Mary stood outside near the tomb, crying. As she cried, she bent down to look into the tomb. She saw two angels dressed in white, seated where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and one at the foot. The angels asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

She replied, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.” As soon as she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t know it was Jesus.

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabbouni” (which means Teacher).

Jesus said to her, “Don’t hold on to me, for I haven’t yet gone up to my Father. Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene left and announced to the disciples, “I’ve seen the Lord.” Then she told them what he said to her.

John 20:1-18, Common English Bible

This is a quirky story we tell, the resurrection of our Lord. Resurrection means, “to cause to stand up.” Easter is an even greater mystery than Christmas. My understanding of the hows and whys is imperfect. What I do believe is that our God is a God of love, grace and mercy.

Easter isn’t a day, it’s a season, a full fifty days. How will you celebrate? You could raise butterflies, even in an apartment. My most personal experience of resurrection was the year we brought home a caterpillar from the children’s museum, when Peter was four. Our tiny friend ate food from a tub they provided, and we painted the inside of a shoebox to look garden-like. A stick wedged at an angle provided a place for the chrysalis to hang from, and sure enough, one day our friend began to change. Covered with clear cellophane, the shoebox sat on the baker’s rack in our kitchen. For weeks, nothing happened. I was sure we had a dud. I even stopped bringing Peter’s attention to it, but I hadn’t the heart to throw it out. And then one day, we came home to to what we thought might be a small earthquake. (We lived in Southern California; it wasn’t unlikely.) Peter quickly realized it was just the baker’s rack that was shaking. The chrysalis had finally burst and our butterfly was beating its wings against the cellophane! We ran outside and released it. You can well imagine our surprise and joy! It was Easter all over again.

If you are able, start a butterfly garden, growing what butterflies need to flourish. Today, though, make some butterflies to decorate your windows, so that everyone who walks by will see signs of new life.

Illustrated Ministry has a lovely Alleluia Butterfly coloring page, as well as a mosaic tile poster the whole household can work on together. If you can bear to part with some coffee filters, this is my favorite butterfly craft. Here’s a short video that will show you how to make origami butterflies. A butterfly template might be all you need.

Later, you can watch a sweet animated version of Eric Carle’s classic storybook, The Very Hungry Caterpillar or National Geographic’s Monarch butterfly lifecycle video.

We are Easter people, and it’s our work and our privilege to point out and create signs of new life. Alleluia! The Lord is risen indeed.

Through Jesus, God’s love claimed victory over death, and opened for us the gate of new life forever. Lead us, risen Christ, into the mystery of Easter and fill us with your Holy Spirit so we can join you in building your kingdom of justice and love.

From Common Prayer for Children and Families by Jenifer Gamber and Timothy J. S. Seamans, p. 63

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents, from which this post is adapted.

Holy Saturday at home

Holy Saturday is a time of waiting. Good Friday has come and gone, and Easter has not yet arrived. There is quiet, and sadness, and a sense of strangeness that suits the present moment. Today, Jesus is between earth and heaven. You can almost hear the earth breathe.

It would be good to go for a walk early. Find some stones to put in your pocket. You’ll need them later. Look for signs of spring. You will find them. Aslan is on the move.

In our Brooklyn neighborhood we can walk to Prospect Park and still keep the required distance from others, but that’s another reason to go early. We can walk to the corner near the hospital, too, and pray for all those within.

When you arrive home, fish the stones from your pocket, wash them, dry them, and stack them, one on another, with a prayer for each stone. In the Book of Genesis, Jacob ran away in fear and spent the night in the desert. He took a stone and put it under his head for a pillow, and dreamed of angels moving up and down a ladder. When he woke, he said, “Surely God is in this place, and I did not know it! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” He anointed the stone with oil and left it there as a reminder.

God was in that place.

The women who stood at the foot of the cross on Friday waited at home on Saturday, the Sabbath, in quiet and sadness and strangeness. Did they know God was in that place?

A good song to sing or listen to is “There are Angels Hovering ‘Round.” Even if we cannot see them. Earth and heaven touch today.

In Celtic spirituality, there is a term for places where heaven and earth touch, where the veil between them is so thin it becomes translucent.  Minister and poet Sharlande Sledge gives this description:

‘Thin places’, the Celts call this space,
Both seen and unseen,
Where the door between the world
And the next is cracked open for a moment
And the light is not all on the other side.
God shaped space. Holy.”

Holy Saturday is thin, I think.

In the afternoon, you might read from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe or even watch it. There is deeper magic at work today, and come this evening, our waiting will be over.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

This is the third in a series of posts about observing Holy Week at home. Read about Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

Maundy Thursday at home

On this day, Thursday in Holy Week, we remember the last supper Jesus shared with his disciples, which may or may not have been a Passover meal. Only John’s gospel, however, tells how, after dinner, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, guys who wore sandals on unpaved dirt roads all the time, whose feet must have been filthy. This was a servant’s work, and Jesus gave his friends a new commandment (“mandatum” in Latin):

Love one another as I have loved you.

John 13:34

For this reason we churchy people do a strange thing: we wash one another’s feet. It’s awkward, it’s uncomfortable, and I know lots of people who get pedicures first. It’s humbling and touching, too.

This year, we won’t be doing this in our churches, but it’s simple enough to do at home.

A Maundy Thursday Foot-Washing Service for Households

Ideally, this service takes place after the evening meal, and bed or quiet activity follows. If there are enough readers, please divide the parts into three as indicated. Have a basin of warm water and clean towels ready. Light a candle before you begin.

Reader: On the first Day of Passover, Jesus’s disciples said to him,

Peter: Where do you want us to go and get ready for the Passover meal?

Reader: So, Jesus sent Peter and John off, saying to them,

Jesus: When you go into the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house he enters, and say to the owner of the house, “The teacher asks, “Do you have a guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. It is there you are to prepare.

Reader: As it grew dark, Jesus arrived with the twelve. During supper, Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Peter, who said to him,

Peter: Lord, are you going to wash my feet?

Jesus: You don’t understand what I am doing now, but you will understand later.

Reader: After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and returned to the table, Jesus said to them,

Jesus: Do you know what I have done to you? You call me “Teacher” and Lord, and you are right, because I am. If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you, too, must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example: just as I have done, you also must do.

The washing of feet takes place now. An adult could first wash the feet of a child. Together, you might sing or listen to the Taizé chant, Ubi Caritas.

Jesus: I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.

Prayers and thanksgivings may be offered now, for ourselves and others. Conclude with the following prayer:

Reader: Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and in the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of your love. Amen. (from The Book of Common Prayer, p. 139)

Extinguish the candle. End the evening quietly.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

What you need this week in quarantine

Advice on how to support youth and young adults during this crisis, from psychologists at Child-Mind Institute ((in English and Spanish).

Help for adults talking with kids about the Coronavirus, also from the experts at Child-Mind Institute (in English and Spanish).

From National Geographic Kids, facts about COVID-19.

Warm and wise words for faith leaders and everyone else from Emily Scott.

And so we can take our minds off Coronavirus for just a bit:

Something simple and delicious to make for dinner that kids and adults will love.

Guided MeditOcean (meditation) at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, with jellies, or the kelp forest, or the rocky shore, or the open sea.

I hope you can get out for a walk, breathe air that’s clean, and be among the trees. At least, you can hear Mary Oliver’s poem, “When I am among the trees.”

And listen to a virtual orchestra playing Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring.

Take good care, lovies. This is hard.

A peaceful night: Bedtime

As we find ourselves in the midst of a stressful and confusing time, we need rituals, routines, and reminders of God’s peace and presence more than ever. Start simply, start tonight, with bedtime. Bedtime is the first threshold experience we remember, I think. We close our eyes and prepare to enter another world vastly different from the one we live in during our waking hours. No wonder kids (and some adults) often have such a hard time with it. How do we make a bedtime routine calming and soothing?

You could begin with a bath. A drop or two of essential oil such as lavender is enough. My friend Brook Packard writes, “Some children respond well to calm, peaceful touching. You can use almond, coconut, or jojoba oil, gently massaging feet, or the back of the neck, or even the child’s hands. There is an acupressure point on your child’s forehead, just above the eyebrows, that when stroked for half a minute, will calm your child down.”

If you have little ones, then bedtime stories are already a part of your routine, but even if—or perhaps especially if—you don’t have little ones, this might be a great time to start reading or telling stories or listening to them. My friend Linnae Peterson started a Facebook Page called Tucked In where you can listen to a bedtime story online, read by Episcopalians and others who have chosen their favorite stories with messages we all need right now. She was inspired by this elementary school principal who reads bedtime stories to her students. Operation Storytime is also a wonderful resource, with authors and actors sharing their favorite picture books.

Bedtime prayers are a beloved ritual in many homes, easing the transition from day into night and giving children and parents a chance to reflect together on past events and present needs. Young children may want to name those they love and be reminded of those who love them. When my son Peter was tiny, I sang a version of the spiritual “Seek and ye shall find” to him before sleep, even naps, adding names to the chorus that included family and eventually classmates, teachers and neighbors:

Peter, Jesus loves you, Peter, Mommy loves you, Peter, we all love you, and love, love, love comes trickling down.

Older children may take the opportunity to pray for their own needs and those of others.

Pastor and author Traci Smith’s newest book, Prayers for Faithful Families, includes sweet and simple bedtime prayers as well as bedtime blessings for parents to give their children. I especially love this one:

The day is done.

It’s time for sleep.

We say goodbye to the day.

We say hello to the night.

We breathe in love and peace.

May you have rest and peace

From the top of your head

To the bottom of your feet.

Love, rest, and peace to you.

Good night.

Traci Smith, Prayers for Faithful Families, p. 20

One form of prayer that lends itself well to the close of day is the Examen, a reflective practice developed by the 16th century saint, Ignatius of Loyola. This can be done with the whole family, with a parent and child, or by a teen in private, especially if you model this as a family practice first. The Examen begins with an invitation to notice God’s presence. You could light a candle. Next, take turns recalling something that made you grateful today. Then name your sorrows and your joys or lows and highs—just a few—from the day. Wonder together where you found God in them. Think ahead to tomorrow. What are you looking forward to? Ask God to be present in that, too. Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer or any words of your own to bring these thoughts together. That’s it, the Examen at its simplest.

Peter, who long had trouble falling asleep (he still does), learned a technique from my husband Phil’s own practice of centering prayer, using the imagery of letting thoughts float down a stream. One of Brook’s meditations uses the same imagery. It reminds me of a poetic Examen:

“With your eyes closed, see that you are standing

 in tall yellow grass near a gentle stream.

The stream bubbles along, over pebbles and stones.

You look around and see a long twig with several branches on it.

You pick up the twig and swirl it in the water.

The water of the stream flows around the twig.

Now think back on your day….”

At each prompt, the child in her imagination breaks off a piece of the twig and lets it float down the stream along with the pleasures and distractions of the day.

For many nights during middle school, the bedtime prayer that most resonated with Peter was this “Prayer for Anxiety” from the excellent collection Call on Me: A Prayer Book for Young People:

Calm me.

Release everything that’s making me anxious, especially

(name whatever is pressing in upon you).

Fill every cell of my body with your presence.

Help me feel your love everywhere:

in my body, in my brain and in my soul.

Hold me in your arms

so I can let this tension go.

Your love is stronger than anything.

Jenifer Gamber and Sharon Pearson, Call on Me, p.60

We tweaked it slightly it to include that which brought him comfort. 

Compline is the ancient service of night prayers dating to at least the sixth century, the last of the monastic “hours,” traditionally said or sung just before bed—the Church’s bedtime prayers. It begins on page 127 of The Book of Common Prayer. For several years, Peter and I said Compline together sitting at the foot of his bed almost every night; we said Compline together over the phone when I was traveling. We have begun to say Compline together again as a family this week, by candlelight, just before bed.

It doesn’t always start off that way, but invariably, in those moments in the dark when we finally pray together, we let go of our anxieties of the day and our tensions with each other, too.

Trinity Church Wall Street, where I worship, has a particularly beautiful sung Compline you can listen to or watch online. Karen Holsinger Sherman has written and illustrated a lovely picture book, Candle Walk: A Bedtime Prayer to God that gently introduces Compline in a walk through the woods.

This prayer, which comes near the conclusion of Compline, is dear to my heart:

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work or watch or weep this night and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ, give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, shield the joyous, and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

Attributed to St. Augustine of Hippo

My husband’s favorite night prayer is from A New Zealand Prayer Book:

Lord,
it is night.

The night is for stillness.
Let us be still in the presence of God.

It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done;
what has not been done has not been done;
let it be.

The night is dark.
Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives
rest in you.

The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us,
all dear to us,
and all who have no peace.

The night heralds the dawn.
Let us look expectantly to a new day,
new joys,
new possibilities.

In your name we pray.
Amen.

ANZPB Liturgies of the Word, p. 184

These are long days, dear ones. May we find rest and peace.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

Brook Packard is the creator of Sleepytime Club, bedtime kits for families.

Faithful parenting in a pandemic

Last week I did not imagine writing a blogpost on this subject, but here we are. I’m grateful that my days of parenting alone are over, and equally grateful that my son Peter is now a teenager who doesn’t need quite as much from me as he did a few years ago, and very grateful that I can work from home, though frankly, that’s rarely my preference. All the same, I’m grateful.

Still, there are three of us in roughly 650 square feet here in Brooklyn, and my husband, who always works from home, is having to make significant accommodations. Our son is a junior in high school; remote learning is set to begin for him next Monday. I have just begun a new job (this is week 3!) and the rhythms of my day are still being set and informed by this unprecedented (in my lifetime) event, and how we continue to be the Church, even when, or especially when we cannot gather.

As I write, the four-year-old in the apartment upstairs is racing back and forth across the hardwood floors. At the moment, the rhythm of his footfall makes me smile, but ask me again tomorrow, or even later this afternoon. It’s sunny and cold today; we are pledged to go outside for a neighborhood walk later no matter the weather or our inclination. It’s part of how we will take care of ourselves and be aware of God around us. By next week we’ll have graduated to a family schedule, but for now, having mealtimes and bedtimes and time outside feels like an accomplishment.

Previously, I’ve written about Finding God in Difficult Times, and some of what I shared in that post for families with younger children will be helpful in this context:

  • Comfort your children, assure them, be with them.
  • Be clear that God did not cause this illness–or any other crisis, accident, or disaster. In times of trouble, we remember God is with us. As God has throughout human history, God acts through those who are doing God’s work in the world. God acts through us.
  • Tell them that it’s okay to feel whatever it is that they are feeling. Help them name what they are feeling. Tell them what you are feeling, too, and don’t be afraid to show your emotions.
  • Make sure they understand nothing that has happened is their fault.
  • Tell them what they need to know as clearly and simply as you can. The facts surrounding traumatic events are far better coming from you than from any other source.
  • Limit their exposure to the news and/or adult conversation.
  • Listen to their questions. What they are actually asking is not necessarily what we think they are asking.
  • You are allowed to say that you don’t know or that you don’t understand either. It’s healthy and helpful to let your children know that you don’t have all the answers.
  • Try to maintain as normal a routine as possible. This will help you as well as your children, if some things in an otherwise chaotic time can remain the same.

I am mindful that even now, with a teenager, I need to be careful how we share information about the pandemic, about changes to our daily routines, about my own fears. My son overheard me tell a colleague over the phone that I was brought to tears listening to the mayor of New York City discuss the closing of schools here for at least a month and possibly through the end of the school year. That to do so seems less of a risk to the health and safety of vulnerable students than keeping schools open brought this public health emergency to a whole new level for me. Peter asked me later to unpack my reaction with him. It’s important that I can feel what I feel and not hide it from my family; it’s also important that my son doesn’t take on my anxiety as his own. This recent New York Times article has five helpful suggestions for parents of anxious teens in the age of coronavirus.

Prayer, of course, is a way of giving over to God what we can’t hold by ourselves. We could use the uncertainty of these days as an opportunity to become intentional about prayer, or to simply remember that with intention, anything can become prayer. In that neighborhood walk, we can pause and bring to mind those whose lives touch ours. We can make and send or drop off cards for those we can’t now visit. We can doodle our prayers. If saying grace is something you usually reserve for Thanksgiving dinner, try a mealtime prayer. There’s a wonderful new book by Episcopal priests and school chaplains Jenifer Gamber and Timothy Seamans called Common Prayer for Children and Families with prayers for all occasions, including a short set of devotions for morning, noontime, and evening that are ideal for right now. Illustrated Ministry has special resources for families to download weekly here.

Preteens and teenagers might enjoy making a playlist of music that comforts and inspires them to share with family and friends. In the books we are reading aloud or together, and in the TV shows or movies we are watching as a family, we can ask, “Where is God in this?” And whether or not we actually mention God, the big questions of how we should live are present in almost everything worth watching these days, from Brooklyn 99 to The Good Place, Frozen 2 , The Mandalorian, and Knives Out. Let’s ask the big questions, and listen to what our kids have to say in response.

Please do get outside! Fresh air and sunshine are good for us, and bad for this virus. Many people find God in nature more easily than in church. The word quarantine means forty, and this season of Lent began with the story of Jesus’s forty days in the wilderness. Lent means lengthen, and in these lengthening days for those of us in the Western Hemisphere, signs of spring make us aware of God’s presence and bring us hope. The seasons and the liturgical year are gifts right now, giving us a different way to measure our days.

What are you doing that’s working for your family in this challenging time? What resources would be most helpful to you at home or in your ministry? Please let me know in the comments, or feel free to email me.

God of the present moment,
God who in Jesus stills the storm
and soothes the frantic heart;
bring hope and courage to all
who wait or work in uncertainty.

Bring hope that you will make them the equal
of whatever lies ahead.

Bring them courage to endure what cannot be avoided,
for your will is health and wholeness;
you are God, and we need you.

-Adapted from A New Zealand Prayer Book, p. 765

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.