Hot Dog Buns & Smushed Up Grapes

communion_class

This Sunday I got to do something very special. Something near and dear to my heart. I got to serve 3 children communion for the first time. It was icy and snowy Sunday and therefore had about half out normal size for the 11:00 service. We decided to gather around the table to serve communion. As we did the three siblings were brought by our Christian educator to stand in the circle with us.

After the prayer she started mouthing something to me. The elder next to me asked what was going on, I told her, “I have no idea.” Finally, I figured it out. The children had never taken communion before. Their parents were standing next to me, I asked them if they could, the mom asked me if they could. “Yes!” I quickly answered.

This family has been attending our church for about 6 months, I had noticed before that the kids hadn’t come forward during communion. The mom told me the kids had been baptized and I knew the kids had an understanding of God and faith.

It didn’t need to be me “the pastor” to give them their “first communion” that is not our faith about the table, but I wanted to do it. As the plate and cup made it’s way around the circle I knelt before the kids. “Mom won’t let us!” the middle one told me. “Mom said it was okay” I told him. All 3 of them leaned around me to look at their parents. Mom gave the head nod.

As the plate and cup approach I ask them if they believe in God, I tell them that the bread and cup are one of the many ways God reminds us that Jesus loves us and was God on earth. Do you believe that?

The older two shake their heads yes. The youngest looks at me and says, “I don’t want any juice!” I smile, “It’s just grape juice, you don’t like grape juice?” He shakes his head no. “Well, then just dip the very corner in and you’ll never know.” We talked about saying “amen” or “thanks be to God” afterward.

The plate and cup arrive. I stopped and turned to the circle, “everyone this is the [family name]’s first time taking communion. The organist stopped, they all watched with the pride of family. I said each of their names and “the body of Christ, broken for you.” “The cup of salvation, poured out for you”. The youngest dipped just the corner in the cup and smiled reluctantly.

The super quick version of my story goes like this: I was born to a Roman Catholic father and a Presbyterian mother. By the time I was 3 they were divorced and I split my time between the two churches, one week Catholic, one week Presbyterian. Mother remarried to a man  who was Methodist by his previous marriage, so one week Catholic, one week Methodist. After some time they left the Methodists and we went to the Southern Baptist Church (the church my step-father was raised in). You guessed it. One week Catholic, one week Southern baptist…

But not for long. I was 8 or 9 and my interest in church was waining. Dad had stopped taking us to the catholic church after he moved away and let’s just say the Southern Baptist church and I never really got along.

But some rituals of the churches stuck. Prayer, worship, reading of scripture, and surprising one… first communion.

Here’s what I remember about communion: It was off limits. I remember my grandmother (an life long Irish-Catholic) specifically telling me on Christmas Eve to “stay here” and how awkward it was to have people step around us to get out of the pew. I was in the nursery at The Presbyterian Church during communion and the Methodists went forward and knelt at the altar fence (sorry, I’m sure it’s called something great and awesome, but as a kid that’s what I thought it was!) and it seemed weird to me.

I was thinking about it this morning. I don’t EVER remember communion in the Southern Baptist Church. I really don’t. My family attended there over 10 years and not once do I remember having communion. Really not surprising, but interesting given people who put so much emphasis on the blood of Jesus.

ANYWAY…. time went on and I never took communion. I had never received my “first” and therefore wasn’t allowed.

My First Communion: At 16 I started attending the Presbyterian Church (again) by myself. I was just there to sing in the choir, but eventually I went to youth group. I was on a mission trip. We were working in a church in Eastern Kentucky, the Appalachian Mountains, the poorest part of the country and the Youth Pastor and I were discussing the whole communion thing.

“I don’t take communion” I explained. He went through a dissertation on why as Presbyterians we believe all who have been baptized and believe in God are allowed to participate in communion. It was the first time I heard the phrase “open table”.

I was not buying it.

I don’t know, I needed it to be special. Eventually, he figured this out. “What if we did it here, just us (meaning the youth group) just your friends, your adopted family, what if you let us make it special?” I reluctantly agreed, I saw my grandmother’s face telling me to “stay here.” I took a deep breath.

Everyone gathered in a circle and we waited, there was commotion in the kitchen, my youth pastor and one of our adult leaders argued a little. A few minutes later they come out, looking sheepish. The youth pastor prayed, prayed for me, for our group work, talked about the great things God had done, for the body and blood of Christ, for the spirit to descend.

That’s when we realized, all of us, what the commotion was about. “On the night of his arrest Jesus took the bread…” we giggled, the only bread they could find, the body of Christ in that moment, were hot dog buns. “…He blessed it and broke it and gave it to them saying…”

“In the same way when the meal was over he took the cup…” He held up a styrofoam cup, and poured the contents of the cup into another styrofoam cup. It clumped and splashed. It was strange.

He walked up to me and said, “Shannon, the body of Christ broken for you” I looked down and tore off a piece of hot dog bun, and dipped it into the cup. They had been unable to find grape juice, but they did have grapes, which they had quickly smushed with a fork. I smiled. It was exactly what it should have been.

It tasted terrible, but it was one of the most precious moments of my life. Jesus is the body and blood of this Holy Communion, even if the visible sign comes in the form of a child who doesn’t like grape juice, or comes in the form of hot dog buns and smushed up grapes. Thanks be to God, Amen.

Lenten Devotional 2015

IT’S FINALLY DONE!!!! And today I got an email from a group asking me to write one for them. I almost said no, but I’ll do it. Of course I will, because, you know, as hard as it was, it was fun too… So, if you so chose, here is my Lenten devotional on Wonder in the Wilderness. Enjoy.

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Ezekiel 37 Prayer Stations

Another Blog Post by our Guest Blogger Ashland’s Summer Intern Katie Jasa!

Prayer Station #1: Breath Prayer

Location: Classroom

ImageA breath prayer is a type of prayer that allows us to connect with God no matter where we are or what we’re doing. In a breath prayer, we pray to the rhythm of our own breathing, which we intentionally slow down. The breath prayer can be a prayer in itself, or it can lead into further prayer. By practicing breath prayers regularly, you allow a “spirit break” that becomes as natural as breathing.

Here’s how you do it: Close your eyes. Breathe in slowly; then breathe out slowly. Repeat this several times. Say the first line of the breath prayer (while breathing in). For example: Lord. Then, breathe out slowly, give the second line of the breath prayer, have mercy. Repeat the prayer several times (it could be a four or five or several minutes worth, allowing other thoughts to disappear and concentrating on your breathing, essentially, you are not “saying” the word but “breathing” it) and then allow time for silence.  Close this time of breath prayer with a simple prayer maybe “thank you Jesus for your love, Amen.” You may use one of the following breath prayers or create one of your own using a line of music, a poem, another Bible verse, and so on.

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.

Be still, and know God.

Create in me, a clean heart.

This is the day, the Lord has made.

Fear not, I am with thee.

Peace, be still.

God, is here.

 (Shannon wrote up the instructions for this station, and transformed one of our preschool classrooms into a quiet meditation space. There were beanbag and rocking chairs, as well as soft music playing. We put burlap over the preschool toys and added posters to the walls as well)

 

Prayer Station #2: Journaling

Location: Sanctuary

ImageThink about the times of drought in your faith.

·       When has your faith felt dry, or dead? When have you hoped for more? What dried you out? Write about these times.

Think about the times you longed for help from God.

·       What did you thirst for? How did you ask for new life? Write about those hopes.

Think about how you transitioned out of that dry valley, if you have already done so.

·       Was it a sudden change, or gradual? Was your faith renewed or enriched in some way? Write about these moments of change.

 For this station we put pictures of desserts around the sanctuary with the questions, so that people could sit in their pews and write.  This station worked well for people who were less mobile.


Prayer Station #3: Bare Bones

Location:  Back of Sanctuary

“As I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling,

and the bones came together, bone to its bone.” – Ezekiel 37:7

ImageThink about the things that have made you who you are. Who are the important people in your life? What places matter the most to you? Which events changed you? Consider the good and the bad things in your past. As you think about what defines you, trace the bones of your hand with paint. Look at the shape, and reflect on who you are in the present.

 Press your hand on a piece of paper, and see how your hand hides the marks of your bones. Remember that God sees every part of you, down to your bones, even the parts of you that nobody else can see. God loves you for exactly who you are, both inside and out. Reflect on God’s love for your entire self.

 We couldn’t really do prayer stations based on Ezekiel without doing something about bones. I got the idea for this station from http://almostunschoolers.blogspot.com/2010/10/ezekiel-and-dry-bones-x-ray-craft.html, and then wrote questions to turn the craft into a prayer.

 

Prayer Station #4: Community Blanket

Location: Communion Table

“Thus says the Lord God to these bones:

I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.

I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you,

and cover you with skin,

and put breath in you, and you shall live;

and you shall know that I am the LORD.’” – Ezekiel 37:5-6

God’s love has covered us with many blessings, and each one makes up part of who we are as a church. How does God build you up? What gives your life and hope? Draw or write something that you are thankful for on the fabric, making a blanket that reflects our community.

 For this prayer station we wanted to focus on how God covers each one of us. I’ll finish sewing the felt squares together soon so that we can use the blanket as a covering on the communion table in the upcoming weeks.


Prayer Station #5: Seeds of New Life

Location: Courtyard (out door of Sanctuary)

“We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.”

– 2 Corinthians 4:7

ImageThink about things in your life that you want to hide, or things that have marked you. Take a pot and write these things on the inside as a confession.

 Pour water into your pot, blurring your words and drenching the vessel. As the clay fills up with water, picture yourself being filled with the Holy Spirit. Just as these words are washed by the water, your sins have been washed away in the waters of baptism. Remember your own baptism, and know that you have been forever changed and claimed as one of God’s beloved children.

 Once the water has drained from your pot, fill it with soil. Think about the ways that you are ready for God’s call to flourish in your life. Open yourself to new life, and plant a seed into your pot. As the seedling grows in the next few days, remember that faith can transform our lives.

 

This was a much longer prayer station than the others, and unfortunately was also outside in the hot sun. We had been thinking about doing a confessional station as well as one that reminded people of their baptisms, and somehow ended up combining these ideas into a multi-part station.

The idea for the confessional writing and washing came from a prayer station at UNCO, which used stones and a bowl of water. I also incorporated some of the overflowing Spirit language from http://www.creativeprayer.com/water-and-spirit/.  I got the idea for the seed from http://www.creativeprayer.com/planting-hope/, although our version was a bit simpler. I liked the symbolism that the vessel which was first marked with sins was eventually filled with the potential for new growth, and it was nice for the congregants to take away something tangible.

 

Joseph Prayer Stations

Guest Blogger Today! Ashland‘s intern Katie Jasa put together prayer stations for yesterday’s service and did a great job.  More on the rest of the service soon.  Until then, here are the stations inspired by the Story of Joseph and his family.

Prayer Station #1: Woven Prayer

Location: Communion Table

Our church is woven from all of our lives. Together, our passions and our desires form the material of our community. When we worship, we bring all of ourselves forward to God; our joys, our fears, and our needs.

·      What has happened this week that you want to celebrate?

·      What has happened that you want to mourn?

·      What worries do you carry in your life?

Write a joy or concern to share with the church, and weave it into the communion table loom. Share what you write with someone around you; commit to pray for them this week.

 

ImageImageThis prayer station was inspired by this blog (http://theresaecho.com/2012/09/20/interactive-way-to-pray-in-worship-part-ii/). Our station served as a way to have written Prayers of the People. I was surprised how much of the makeshift loom got filled up – there were prayers filling the front and top, and also woven on the back of the communion table.

 

Prayer Station #2: Food for All

Location: Sanctuary

Hunger continues to be a problem in our world today. Bread for the World estimates that there are 925 million people in the world who don’t have enough food to eat, including 29 million Americans. Think of the people who live far away from good food, and the people who can’t afford healthy food. Look at the pictures taken by Peter Menzel of one week’s worth of groceries for families around the world also take time to read the scriptures throughout the sanctuary.

·      What does it mean to have enough food?

·      What does it look like to be hungry?

·      What does God call us to do about hunger?

Look at the list of products that Sarah’s Hope gives out to their clients. Choose an item to bring next week, and write a reminder for yourself.

ImageThis prayer station included pictures from Peter Menzel and Faith D’Alusio’s book Hungry Planet, which is absolutely fantastic. Hungry Planet has a large variety of photos, so I tried to include families of different sizes and incomes from around the world. The pictures were interspersed with scriptures about hunger and food, both from the Joseph story and elsewhere. Our church has an ongoing mission relationship with Sarah’s Hope, which provides temporary housing for homeless women and children. Having each person read the grocery list for Sarah’s Hope and volunteer to bring food next week helped to bring home the need for food justice in our community.

 

 

Prayer Station #3: Coats of Thankfulness

Location: Hallway

Jacob loved his son Joseph, so he gave Joseph a beautiful coat of many colors. Gen. 37:3

·      Who loves you?

·      Who takes care of you?

·      What are the wonderful things that people have done for you?

·      Think of all the people you are grateful for, and of all the gifts they have given you.

Glue pieces of tissue paper onto the picture of a coat, thanking God for something each time. 

 

ImageThis idea was on several blogs as a Sunday School craft. We printed out a coat outline from here (http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-1uo0DTsIL8M/UHDfnIVh1eI/AAAAAAAAAkI/x4MAlPrBTlc/s1600/coat.jpg) and then used the craft as a way to express thankfulness. This station was the only one specifically geared towards children, although we had plenty of children participating in the other stations as well.

 Prayer Station #4: Grains of Life

Location: Sanctuary

When Joseph’s brothers were starving, they went to Egypt to get grain for their families. Today we are nourished not only by food, but also by our faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus tells us in John 6:35 that “I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Touch the grain and think about what sustains you in your life.

·      What do you need?

·      Who do you depend on?

·      As you pour the grain into a pouch, reflect on how you are nourished. Take the pouch with you to remind you of Christ’s love.

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This station began as a general idea from this blog (http://flamecreativekids.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/hunger-prayer-station.html). I wanted to have a station about what feeds us emotionally, as well as one that focused on physical hunger in the world. Eventually the ideas about physical hunger became station two, and the grain became a tangible way to remember what nourishes us as individuals. We used a whole-grain hot cereal mix from an organic market.

 Prayer Station #5: Reflections

Location: Classroom #5 (across from restrooms)

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him. Gen. 37:3-4

 Think about the people you are jealous of in your life.

·      What about them makes you envious?

·      Is it a way they act, or things that they have?

·      Write about what makes you jealous.

Look at yourself in a mirror.

·      Where is that jealousy reflected in the way you live?

·      What fears and desires cause it?

·      Write where you see envy in your actions.

As you look at your reflection in the mirror, consider how God sees you. Think about how God sees the real you and loves you, petty thoughts and all. Let go of your jealousies, and accept that you are enough for God.

We wanted this station to focus on jealousy, and to serve as both a confession and a pardon. This post (http://flamecreativekids.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/reflecting-gods-love.html) had some great ideas about using mirrors to think about God’s love for us, which became part of the stations’ ending. Since this station was one of the most introspective, we put it in a separate classroom.

Peace and Reconciliation Prayer Stations

Last Sunday at Ashland we did prayer stations for the first time.  Overall, I think it went well, kids loved it, most adults were receptive.  Some people stayed in their pews, others a little of both.  Most walked around telling stories and praying.

We have been working our way through Ephesians in a summer sermon series “A Letter for a Privileged People”.  This week’s text Ephesians 2:11-22 focused us on Peace and Reconciliation.  The walls that divide us have been torn away, and we are created new in one body of Christ.  We spent 20 minutes at the stations, although 15 would probably have been adequate.

Here’s what we did:

Prayer Station #1: One in Christ

Location: Remain in the Pew

For those with mobility concerns or who wish to stay in their seats you are invited to reflect on our scripture Ephesians 2:11-22 using a prayer technique called Lectio Divina.

  1. Read Ephesians 2:11-22 through twice slowly, be attentive to a word or phrase that is particularly meaningful.
  2.  Read the passage again, this time asking yourself “Where does this reading touch my life today?” Answer with I see…I hear…
  3. Read the passage a final time, and reflect on this statement– “I believe that God wants me to…”

 We also invited them to read through the other prayer station questions and pray or discuss with others around them.

Prayer Station #2: Peacemakers

Location: Sanctuary Doors

Jesus wants us to be peacemakers. What does being a peacemaker mean to you? Can you think of a time when you fought with a friend or a brother or sister? How could you have practiced peace at that time? Choose a peace symbol to color or color symbols, words, or dreams of peace on the sidewalks outside. As you color, think of ways you can spread peace.

This was an idea that came from this blog.  We did both the coloring sheets and outside chalk, we lucked out with a nice day and everyone can see the chalk drawings as they drove away.

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Prayer Station #3: Built Together

Location: Back of Sanctuary

Ephesians says that the walls that divide have been torn down and now, with Christ as the cornerstone we are built together spiritually.  Writing on the sticks, create a structure with others that reflects being reconciled to God. Take a moment and reflect on the Maryland Dream Act and immigration reform just introduced by President Obama (allowing more rights for college and no threat of deportation for children). Offer prayers for those who you know who are alienated. Was there a time when you felt alienated or alone? Did someone help you through that time? How has your church and faith supported you? Write those names and prayers on the sticks, use glue to add them to the structure.

Here I built a structure out of square dowel rods and lad different size Popsicle sticks.  Craft glue worked well, they would have to hold it for a few moments but that gave time to pray.

Prayer Station #4: Tree of Peace

Location: Communion Table

Ephesians tells us that Christ is our Peace and hostility between us is gone. How do you live into the Peace of Christ in your everyday life? How do you practice loving those whom you feel opposition for? How do you contribute to a world in order for the Peace in Christ to prevail? Answer these questions silently or with others as you make an ornament for the Tree of Peace.

Prayer Station #5: Tree of Peace (kids version)

Location:  Choir Loft

Our hands are the best tools to spread peace. We can hug, touch, and help out using our hands. Have a parent trace your hand on the foil and decorate it to create an ornament for the Tree of Peace. Then using string and beads, hang it on the peace tree. You may pick up your hand as a reminder of peace after worship.

Again, these ideas came from Theresa Cho’s Blog.  I used Heavy Duty aluminum foil instead of copper sheets.  Seemed to work fine.  Also, I used pen tops for the imprints.  The only thing that went “wrong” was that I cut 4″ circles for the kids hands and they still seemed too small.  Also, I added the book “How does God Make Things Happen?” as it goes really well.

Prayer Station #6: Peace Malas

Location:  Courtyard- front Sanctuary Door

Peace malas are bracelets that symbolize friendship, peace, and respect. Wearing the bracelet is a promise to make the world we live in a better place. 1) Choose 14 colored beads for your bracelet. 2) String half of the beads on the string, then a white bead, then the rest of your colored beads. The central white bead represents you. 3) Take both ends of the string and string your final bead. This bead represents unity, harmony, and peace. 4) Knot the bracelet and put it on your wrist with a cross (if you choose) at the end to remind us to share the peace of Christ with all those we meet.

Again from Teresa’s Blog.  This was great, especially for the teens.  (Although the adults had fun too).  They were also easy to make and several people made bracelets for people who remained in the pews.