Easter Conversations With Kids

Easter Conversations With Kids

mother and child

By Melinda Shunk

Children's Ministry Coordinator

Hopefully, you have had a thoughtful Lenten season with your family. As Holy Week and Easter quickly approach, adults who have children in their life may receive some questions from children that cause them to pause before answering. Jesus’ death and resurrection can create some pretty big questions for anyone.

Before I share some question scenarios with you, I want to remind you of the number one response to a child after asking a question. “Well, what do you think?” should always be the first response to most questions a child asks. That adult response has the three-fold benefit. First, it requires them to think harder about what they asked. Second, it is also showing them respect. You are respecting them by wanting to hear what they have to say.

But most importantly, it tells you what they already know! When you understand what they know or the source of their questions, you, as the adult, are better equipped to answer appropriately. The information they give you with their reply can help you gauge the age-appropriate answer and amount of details.

So let’s apply this to questions about Good Friday and Easter. I have prepared some common questions I have received from children over the years about Holy Week and Easter:

Child: Why do they call Good Friday good?
Adult: Why do you think they call Good Friday good?
Child: I don’t think Jesus dying is good. Dying is sad.
Adult: You are correct; dying is sad. What happened to Jesus was terrible. However, the people who wrote the stories of Jesus’s dying wrote them after Jesus’s resurrection on Easter, so the writer knew that when Jesus died, although it was sad, it brought us to Easter, which was good. 

Child: Why did Jesus die?
Adult: Why do you think Jesus died?
Child: I think there were some mean people.
Adult: You are right; there were several groups of mean people. Those people were mean because they thought Jesus was a threat to their leadership. They said untrue things about Jesus. They lied to get Jesus in trouble with the government. Those jealous lies caused Jesus to be arrested and put to death.

Child: Why is Jesus’s resurrection a big deal?
Adult: Why do you think Jesus’s resurrection was so special?
Child: Well, I have read stories about Jesus healing the sick and bringing people who have died back to life. I don’t understand why the disciples were so surprised that he came back. He said he would come back.
Adult: You are right; he did heal others from death, and they went on to live old age and then die. Jesus’ resurrection was three days after he had died, and then he had a special visit with many of his disciples. Then they watched him return to heaven alive to always live with God. That is different than any of the miracles you read.

Did you note that you can take what they answered and add a little more to it? You may have a child that presses the answer you gave—repeat, asking them what they think and continue to add more details. More times than not, the facts are all they need. Don’t get into extensive long-winded explanations about sacrifice and the sin of the world with younger children right now. Young children need the facts, and as they grow, their faith develops.

Lenten Faith Formation at your Fingertips

Lenten Faith Formation at your Fingertips

calendar

By Melinda Shunk

Children's Ministry Coordinator

During the last year, we have worked hard to try new things and reach out to families in new and safe ways, during the pandemic.

Thanks to technology, we have some new tools to do just that. I am not talking about a video or social media live. I am not talking about a bag of goodies that appear on a doorstep or gets picked up. Those are all wonderful new approaches, but what I would like to share with you is an online calendar called www.myadvent.net.

I know you hear Advent and you think we have moved past it and are heading into the new season of Lent. Exactly! This is a website that lets anyone create a countdown that is customized to whatever you are preparing to celebrate. So even though its original creation was for Advent and Christmas, I have customized the countdown that allows parents and their children to take a small moment each day to click the numbered door and look behind the Lenten Countdown door to experience just a few minutes of faith formation.

The UMC Lenten Countdown calendar is an easy way for parents along with their children to learn just a “spoonful.” I use the word spoonful to convey the image of spoon-feeding just a little bit of faith formation each day. This is nothing tasking, nor does it give a parent another to-do task, unless they want to make it bigger.

The link created allows the family to access it on their personal electronic device whenever it works for their family. That time could be while sitting in a drive-through waiting for their carry-out dinner. It is really that simple.

The calendar starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday. The first four doors explain common Lenten spiritual practices. The second week shares different approaches to prayer. The third week teaches parents and children how important play is when we learn stories from the Bible. In the fourth week, families are given simple opportunities to create together. The fifth week brings light to Jesus’ teaching about how to serve others. The sixth week is a week of listening for God’s love. Holy Week is a combination of all six weeks.

Of course, you can go to the link above and create your very own countdown for Lent/Easter or any other fun event in the life of the church. I could even see this being used during the week of Vacation Bible School as a way for families to review what was learned each day.

You may be thinking, “I’m currently overwhelmed and think this sounds great for another time but yesterday was Ash Wednesday so I don’t have time!” Don’t lament; the Lenten Calendar is here for you to use.

Just copy and paste the link below into any email or text group for your church members. You can also include a quick note that describes its purpose, such as “This is a Lenten Countdown Calendar link for your family. You click on the link and it takes you to numbered doors. Click on the doors in numerical order with your child each day from your device. You will receive a quick and easy faith formation opportunity in less than three minutes.”

https://calendar.myadvent.net/?id=459a2747b3924f1d4123d4c942fdc1cd

Beyond 2021 Moves OnlineConference Will Focus on Dismantling Racism

Beyond 2021 Moves Online
Conference Will Focus on Dismantling Racism

By Melinda Shunk

Children's Ministry Coordinator

Next year’s Beyond Conference will take place entirely online, Jan. 22 – 23, 2021. The two-day event will focus on the Arkansas Conference’s mission of dismantling racism in our church and society, with the Bible verse Micah 6:8 as the main biblical focus.

The Beyond Conference is unique to the Arkansas Children’s Ministry. Very few UMC conferences offer professional development for faith formation staff and volunteers. Even fewer have a conference coordinator dedicated only to the ministry to children and their families. ARUMC has a history of investing in early faith formation.

More than eight years ago, a group of children’s ministers wanted to combine the two-state locations with limited training and pool their resources. They wanted to bring everyone together and share ideas and learn new tools for ministering to children and their families. I was not living in this state eight years ago, so I had to go back to one of the original planning team members, Karen Swales. 

Karen currently sits on our Conference Children’s Ministry team. She shared with me that they did a lot of research and found that there were few to no workshops for Children’s Ministers at the end of January, so they quickly chose what has become the traditional date. It also worked out to be a slower time for people to step away from church work for two days since it was after Christmas and before Lent.

The first four Beyond conferences were alternately held retreat-style at Tanako and Mt. Sequoyah, but in 2018 it was brought to Philander Smith College in Little Rock. Bringing Beyond into Little Rock allowed for it to become more of a professional training rather than a getaway.  Bringing children’s ministers to the Conference office connected them with ARUMC staff as well letting them see what the city had to offer in entertainment during their stay. No matter the location of the Beyond Conference the planning team has always looked for keynote speakers that shed new light on how we can best minister to children. Faith formation training is the continual focus at every Beyond training.

Beyond 2021 is no different, except of course the location has changed once again. Planning quality keynote speakers for Beyond usually takes six months to a year to book. In June of 2020, the CCM planning team had to decide if we would be able to plan for an in-person conference. We looked at the Bishop’s Task Force guidelines and thought about how we could hold in-person within the safety guidelines.

We have 10 members of our team plus special speakers, so under the guidelines for in-person, we would be able to have less than 35 attendees. In January of 2020, we had 90 attendees with five different states represented. We couldn’t plan a conference that would leave out half of our attendees in 2021!

I had Zoom conferences with our chosen keynote speakers to ask if they felt comfortable adapting their presentations to a webinar/Zoom format. They overwhelmingly agreed to the new format. I put in a webinar request with our award-winning ARUMC Communications director to see if Director Amy Ezell could supply the technical support we would need to go to an all-virtual format. Director Amy Ezell was in full agreement that Beyond 2021 could be offered in a virtual format with her team’s expertise in bringing it together.

If you have been to Beyond in the past you will note that the format has changed to two half-days of learning. In our research, we have found that all-day webinars/Zooms do not allow for the best learning. However, our theme for this year follows the Bishop’s proclamation that this would be a year of study and reflection for Dismantling Racism across our Arkansas UMC Conference. 

The CCM team chose our focus verse to be Micah 6:8 with a focus on Justice, Mercy and Humility. Our keynote speaker is the Rev. Dr. Y. Joy Harris from New York who just co-authored the book the ABC’s of Diversity. Click here to take a closer look at the speaker and break-out sessions. The virtual option allowed for more authors in our break-out sessions. 

Join us on both days or just one. Beyond 2021 is an affordable training for all in the comfort of your own home. Arkansas Conference attendees will also receive books and materials in the mail the last week of January, so please register before the deadlines. We hope to see you and your pastor on January 22-23, 2021!

Parks, Porches, Parking Lots, and Breezeways!How Children's Ministers Have Stepped Up During COVID

Parks, Porches, Parking Lots, and Breezeways!
How Children's Ministers Have Stepped Up During COVID

By Melinda Shunk

Children's Ministry Coordinator

Have you seen pictures on social media? Have you received text reminders? Opened emails with an announcement of what we can do safely together? Have you received a hand-written note from someone in Children’s Ministry?

Even if you don’t have kids in the children’s program at church, I bet you have seen some type of outreach to children and their families. Volunteers and staff in Children’s Ministry have a servant’s heart when it comes to their job. They are in that position because they feel so-called to serve children and their families that they will not let even a global pandemic stop ministry from happening!

As the Conference Children’s Ministry Coordinator, I am lucky because I get to witness their miraculous, creative, energy-filled, Spirit-led work.

social 1

Thanks to technology, I get to see around 50 or more posts on social media a day from different churches in our state. I get invited to Zoom meetings with passionate children’s ministers whose hearts are aching to be with their church family. I receive text messages sharing how they just had the most amazing porch visit with a family. I get emails telling me that they just tried storytime in the park with parents and toddlers on physically spaced blankets. I see video footage of teams handing out the next four-week activity packets in the church breezeway. My phone blinks on Wednesday and Sundays with a Facebook Live alert that another exciting Bible story is about to be shared for anyone to listen to. I get e-vites to parking lot fellowship events or, better yet, how a family can pull up and get a backpack of blessings placed in their car during a Unity in the Community outreach.

I have been in awe of their creativity to still be connectional in a time in our lives where we must have separation in order to stay safe.

The ARUMC Conference has been blessed by God with such outstanding ministry to children and their families. If there was a time to read professional books, clean cabinets, and wait for this all to pass so that we could bring everyone back in the building, this would have been the approved time.

However, I have witnessed great ministry to families that involved parks, porches, parking lots, and breezeways. As Jesus has taught them, children’s ministers have gone to the people and created space for all to hear the love of God.

A Letter to Early Childhood Education Directors

A Letter to Early Childhood Education Directors

School Work

Dear Early Childhood Education Directors,

We know this has not been an easy time to navigate. We appreciate all of the responses to our requests as it helps the ARUMC Conference team know how we can support you in the years to come. The partnership between ARUMC and its Early Childhood Education programs is so valuable to families and employers in our communities. We want to continue to grow this partnership with you and your feedback has helped us develop these beginning stages of support.

The ARUMC Conference recognizes the value of having a voice representing ECE directors on a Conference level, and we have asked Kris Mickna to be that person. Kris is from Central Rogers UMC where she serves as the executive director of their ECE programs. She has been serving on the Bishop’s COVID19 Task force for reopening churches safely. The Bishop’s Cabinet and the Conference Council of Children’s Ministry have asked Kris to continue her service on the Children’s Council so that she can represent the needs of ECE directors and programs as we move forward together in church ministry. Kris will attend CCCM meetings, access the ARUMC ECE database created, receive your feedback from emails and social media, and with the help of Karen Swales will create an online Facebook community specific to your needs. Karen Swales will admin the creative posts that would be most helpful to your programming.

Here is what we can offer to support you at this time:

Kris and Karen are looking forward to connecting with you on social media so please be sure to click on the link and join the page. Your teachers are welcome to join as well so please share the page with them. Our hope is that you all will use this group to share your good ideas and best practice with one another.

Grace and Peace,

Melinda Shunk
Conference Children’s Ministry Coordinator