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. You may read it free via this link through April 15.

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.

Growing in Faith

From the time I was 2 ½ until I was 18, my church was St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Laguna Beach, California. Naturally, I thought all churches were like my church. I remember the smell of incense and the sound of Sanctus bells and the sight of people coming down the aisle in shorts, tee shirts and flip-flops.

At St. Mary’s, we had Christmas pageants and pancake suppers, we stopped eating green grapes in support of Cesar Chávez and the migrant farmworkers, and boycotted Nestlé over marketing baby formula in underdeveloped countries. We helped ready the rectory to become home to a succession of Vietnamese boat families. Until I was old enough to know better, I thought every church had gay and lesbian families. Faith in action formed me.

When I was 10, I was paid to help Miss Gigi with the babies and toddlers in the nursery, 50 cents an hour. It was my job to help them feel God’s love, and we did that by playing with them, reading to them, giving a bottle to a baby, even changing the occasional diaper.

At 11, I was confirmed and awestruck that the adults who taught us encouraged us to wrestle with ideas like transubstantiation and consubstantiation. I remember my first taste of the bread and wine made holy. The new prayer book wasn’t out yet, but we had the green book, and my imagination was caught by the will of God creating “the vast expanse of interstellar space, the galaxies, suns and planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home.”

At 14, I started teaching Sunday School. It was before I’d ever heard of Godly Play, but Brad Karelius, who had been our seminarian and then became our curate, baptized my baby doll, Elizabeth Anne, for my class of 4-and 5-year-olds, because I was teaching a lesson on baptism and I asked him to. I sang in the choir, directed by my high school humanities teacher, and on the same Sunday it might be Mozart and music from Godspell and “Wade in the Water.”

At that point, I was also the youngest member of the Christian Education committee, led by my beloved Mrs. Mudge, who was not only our Director of Religious Education, but had been my social studies teacher in 4th, 5th, and 6th grade as well as my drama director and the person who oversaw my work as editor of the school newspaper. The Christian Education Committee met after church on Sunday afternoons, which meant I could actually go to the meetings. During my freshman year of high school, my parents separated, and for a period of months, my mother stopped going to church. I got on the bus and went by myself, because I was pretty sure they couldn’t have church without me.

God is a mystery, but how children and youth grow into an adult faith is not: we now have 40 years of longitudinal research from across the country and across denominations. Here’s what the data supports: Children whose parents were active in their congregations, who practiced their faith and talked about matters of faith at home, are far more likely to be religiously active as young adults. Participation in Sunday School and youth group are not indicators of children and youth who grow into an adult faith. Active participation in worship and connection to other adults in the faith community are stronger predictors, as well as integrating faith into all aspects of our lives, and modeling that doubt and questions are aspects of faith, not its opposites.

I am so grateful to have been raised in a church that took my gifts as a child and teenager seriously enough to use them every week. I long for children and youth to be incorporated into the full life of the congregation. We have much to learn about following Jesus, but that’s best and most authentically done in community, growing together in faith as people of God.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents and is currently at work on a book about this very subject: how churches become intergenerational, and why it’s essential.

St. Francis of Assisi

One of the most beloved saints of the Middle Ages and now is Francis of Assisi, patron of animals and the environment. Here’s his story to share with your children:

Francis was born in Italy in the twelfth century to a wealthy
family. He loved parties and fine things like the beautiful brocade and silk fabrics his father bought and sold, and he dreamed of adventure. He became a knight and went off to fight, but he was captured and put in prison. After a year, his father paid a ransom and he was freed. Francis knew then that he would not become a cloth merchant like his father. He
found himself in a church that was falling down, and as he prayed, Francis heard God tell him to rebuild it. He sold a bale of his father’s silk to pay for the repairs, which made his father very angry. The bishop told Francis that God would give him what he needed, so Francis gave his father his purse of gold coins—and all the fine clothes Francis was wearing! From that time on,
Francis wore only rough burlap and gave up all his belongings to live among and serve the poor and the sick. Francis followed Jesus in his actions, not just his words, and soon he had followers of his own who wanted to live simply and serve God and others as he did. He took special notice and care of God’s creation. He helped people and animals live together peacefully. One of the stories told about him is that he helped a village make friends with a wolf that had been attacking their animals. Even the birds flocked around him as he told them of God’s love. Some churches hold a blessing of the animals on his feast day, October 4. Francis may even have staged the first Christmas pageant, with real animals to warm the Christ child in the stable. Francis died in the same little church that he rebuilt with his own hands. He still inspires others with his generosity, his joy in God’s creation, and his simple, peaceful ways.

In honor of Francis, your family could make dog biscuits or cat toys to give away in your neighborhood or donate to a local animal shelter. Even toddlers can string Cheerios onto chenille stems that can be fastened into circles and hung on a tree branch to feed the birds. You can also make a bird feeder by spreading peanut or soy butter onto a pinecone or ice cream cone and rolling it in birdseed.

Here’s a fun short video to watch, a simple recipe for dog treats, and my favorite picture book about Francis.

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

Pentecost

It’s almost Pentecost, the Feast of the Holy Spirit, the birthday of the church. Fifty days after Easter, ten days after Jesus ascended to heaven, we remember the day that the Holy Spirit came to Jesus’s disciples, setting their hearts ablaze and turning their lives upside-down. There they sat, trying to figure out what they were supposed to do next, now that Jesus had truly left them, when a rushing wind filled the room. Tongues of fire danced above their heads, and they were given the sudden ability to speak in other languages—apparently it was such a scene that some onlookers thought the disciples were drunk, at 9 am. This is how the church comes into being. What a story!

At our church, we do Pentecost up right, with baptisms and a bishop, confirmations of those baptismal promises made by teenagers and adults after a period of study, receptions for those becoming Episcopalians, and reaffirmations for those who wish to strengthen their commitment to following Jesus. There will be readings in other languages (of course), we’ll wear red, munch on birthday cupcakes (red velvet), strawberries, and watermelon. Some years, we’ve handed out pinwheels, or wooden rings with flame -colored ribbons. It will be a glorious day, and then we’ll all go back to our busy lives. That’s exactly what is supposed to happen. The church isn’t a building; it never has been—it’s the people of God, filled with the Holy Spirit given to us in baptism, going out into the world, bringing light to dark places, mending and making, healing and helping, one conversation or small act of love at a time.

Here’s a great children’s book on Pentecost: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23214224-the-day-when-god-made-church

Here are some simple ideas for celebrating Pentecost at home: https://www.growchristians.org/2017/05/30/thinking-ahead-to-pentecost-five-ways-to-celebrate/

And here’s a video about Pentecost to share: https://www.trinitywallstreet.org/video/episcopal-explained-day-pentecost

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

Cindy Wang Brandt’s Parenting Forward—Review

One of my favorite things is curating resources to help parents navigate Christian faith—for their children and themselves—with a progressive understanding, and to help Christian formation leaders provide both best practices and excellent resources to their congregations. I’m in my thirtieth year doing this for families (and, as my son just pointed out, in my seventeenth year of parenting). Unlike Cindy Wang Brandt, I never knew anything but progressive values in the Christianity I grew up in and around. Still, my exposure to and experience with Cindy and the online, worldwide community she convenes, Raising Children Unfundamentalist, has made me a both a better Christian educator and a better parent.

Cindy is a leading voice in the progressive Christian space as a writer, speaker, podcaster, and activist. Her book, Parenting Forward: How to Raise Children with Justice, Kindness and Mercy, with a warm and encouraging forward by her friend Rachel Held Evans, is a thoughtful, compassionate, and clearly written guide for a new generation of parents as well as anyone wanting to take a progressive path with their children and partners.

Parenting Forward offers an approach to parenting that’s both gentle and fierce: gentle in the ways Cindy focuses on love and respect for children and other vulnerable people; fierce in the ways she advocates taking on such challenges as dismantling racism, sexism, and homophobia in family life. Cindy’s stories of herself as both a child and a parent, stories of other children and parents, and stories from today’s headlines provide fertile ground for this exploration of parenting as and for social change. When Jesus put a small child in the center of his grumbling disciples and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” I imagine Cindy there, taking this in, seeing the children as Jesus did, fully themselves, bearers of their own wisdom, with gifts to offer all of us, as we help to bring about the realm of God, here and now.

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