Brick by Brick

Re-building Time

As you may recall,  our church had a catastrophic fire on May 4, 2015. You can read a little of our fire story here and here. Since that day, we have been doing ministry with scotch tape and glue and bandaids (metaphorically speaking). Nearly ever part of our ministry has been tweaked and re-evaluated out of necessity. Today, I’m sharing a few strategies and lessons learned through this summer of re-building.

1. In a Crisis, We NEED to Have FUN!

The only thing I knew for sure when we started planning for VBS was that it had to be off the charts fun for the kids and the leaders. With all the emotions coming out of the fire, we needed to just get messy and silly and have fun with kids. We needed to laugh. We needed to throw cheeseballs at each other and dump water on each other’s heads and do the things we normally would never do for fear of the mess. Having fun with kids while teaching them to Trust God in All of Life’s Messes pushed the lessons deeper into their hearts. Fun is a balm to weary souls and a way to connect deeper than we ever think with the kids we serve. They won’t forget the lengths we went to and the messes we endured for them this summer- and NEITHER WILL WE. Fun and silliness matters.

2. Building Relationships Within the Community Matters

Our congregation has a history of being involved in our community.  We made sandwiches and handed out water bottles and flood buckets for flood victims in our area, we gave donuts, coffee and handwritten notes of appreciation to the teachers of our community as part of our Random Acts of Christmas Kindness campaign. We reach out to our community. Never in a million years did we do that strategically to get something back from the community- it was all about serving God and bringing him glory. But in serving Him and building relationships with the schools and community leaders, we have been overwhelmed with support and assistance from those same leaders. Susquehanna University offered us space to worship. Area churches held fundraisers or took up special offerings for us. We held meetings in the library and community rooms. The offers of help and support were so numerous it literally took weeks to sort through them all.  We may not see these community leaders in worship with us, but we know for certain the work we have done to love and serve them has made an impact. We need each other- churches, schools, city government and neighbors. Investing time and resources outside our church walls to serve our community is valuable and WORTH. EVERY. EFFORT.

3. Great Ministry Does Not Have to Be Expensive.

Mess-a-Palooza VBS ended up costing around $1,000. I realize that may seem expensive to some, but it is less than half what I expected to spend using the curriculum I had purchased (and we were going to be doing that really cheaply to make it happen). Remember, we had absolutely NOTHING to start with- every item in my supply closets and cabinets were thrown out in the clean up process. Every marker, paper and bucket was a new purchase. We held Mess-a-Palooza at a local park so a good portion of our budget was related to being there- donations for the use of the park, signage we probably wouldn’t have made if not at the park etc.

If we had run this same VBS at our church with the supplies we already had, I think we could have done it for a lot less. And here’s the kicker- WE HAD THE BEST VBS EVER! That’s not me bragging about my product- that is what I heard from team members and kids who attended. We had a blast getting messy and learning to Trust God. It was awesome and I can’t wait to do it again next summer.

4. Take Time for Rest and Sabbath 

This is a lesson learned from doing the opposite for much of the summer.  Summer is always a crazy time for me. But this summer was like any busy summer we’ve ever had on steroids. The demands of creating a VBS from scratch in 8 weeks, continuing to write each week’s Sunday School lessons (while taking into account our strange classroom space and limited classroom resources), unending inventory sheets to be completed with pricing information, continuing to edit and work on the behind the scenes of this website and keep up with the needs of my family was overwhelming. I didn’t always manage it well. By the beginning of August, the stress and anxiety were wreaking havoc on my whole being. I knew I had to make some changes.

My amazing husband helped me tremendously in finding space for rest. We took a last minute trip as a family to NYC to see some incredible theatre, making memories and sharing laughter that was sorely needed. But I also started reminding myself to settle down, to be gentle with myself and to make space for quiet, for study and for worship. I am still working on finding space each day and each week for the things that refresh my soul and draw me closer to God. What works for me isn’t going to work for everyone. I may share a little more of this later this week for those who need ideas.

5. TRUST GOD!

At every turn in this season of messiness and heartache, God has provided everything we need.  His leading has been so clear to me when I remember that he has this all under control. My worry or stress is not going to make a bit of difference (in fact it usually makes things worse). When I lean into God, he gives me what I need, far more abundantly than I can imagine.

All summer, two verses that I have loved have come to mind over and over again.  The first is the theme verse of Mess-a-Palooza VBS:

Do not fear for I am with you, do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

We talked all summer about how God is with us. He’s so strong and mighty he can hold us up in one hand (with one hand tied behind his back we sometimes joked). When it all got too much, I sang our favorite Seeds Family Worship song with this verse. (Here’s a great video by another kids ministry with that song)

The other verse I have remembered over and over was the theme verse from one of our previous capitol campaigns.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Ephesians 3:20-21

He has and will continue to do immeasurably more than I could ever ask or imagine. His power is at work within me and within our church and within all who call on his name. Any glory from the re-building process or anything we have done this summer goes fully and completely to HIM.

 

Coming Attractions and Behind the Scenes

Coming AttractionsI’m a person who loves movie previews and behind the scenes stories for TV and movies.  I love the peek at what’s coming up and what happens behind the scenes of my favorite media.  So today, I’m giving you a peek at what I’ve been working on, what’s coming up and how it’s all being put together.

Coming Attraction # 1- Sowing Seeds Sunday School Curriculum

This is the curriculum I’ve been writing since this site began.  We’ve piloted and edited all the lessons and are very excited that 4 units will be available in SEPTMEBER!  Sowing Seeds Sunday School Curriculum will be an ala carte curriculum- you buy the units you are interested in for the age levels you need.  There will be preschool, early elementary (Kindergarten-2nd grade) and upper elementary (3rd-5th grade) as well as an option for all ages.  Our first units will be: In the Beginning (a six week look at the early stories of Genesis), The E Squad (a 4 week journey with Elijah and Elisha focused on God’s power), Upside Down Jesus (5 weeks of exploring some of the upside down ways Jesus saw the world) and The Promised Family (a five week unit tracing the promises of God to Abraham and his descendants). I hope to have video tutorials and previews for these lessons posted in the weeks leading up to our grand opening.

Coming Attractions # 2- Simple Christmas Plays

Also in September, we will release several simple and adaptable Christmas plays for your ministry. Each play has flexible casting options, using children, youth or adult performers and can include congregational singing and special music. Staging, costuming and technical demands are simple and flexible.

Coming Attractions #3- Mess-a-Palooza VBS

Our VBS Leadership team has kicked around the idea of creating our own VBS curriculum for a long time, but it always seemed so daunting to even begin.  It’s amazing the clarity a little church fire can bring.  The curriculum I had purchased was completely unusable in our new portable/outdoor setting, so the idea of writing our own curriculum became more possible.  Our theme came from our real feelings that all of our church life is pretty messy right now. We used Gospel stories of Jesus entering into people’s messes to teach kids (and ourselves) to trust God with all of life’s messes. It was an amazing success.The curriculum and add on options will be available to you in our store in November 2015.

Behind the Scenes

Some of you might be wondering what children’s ministry looks like in our strange circumstances after the fire.  It looks a lot like your children’s ministry without the storage or equipment.  Sunday School re-started about a month after the fire in the basement of our temporary summer home-the chapel at our local university.  We’re in one room, which for our size class is not ideal, but it’s do-able. We are using a lot fewer supplies because we don’t have anything.  Literally every part of our children’s ministry equipment, supplies and library were thrown out in the post fire clean up.  In between writing VBS and Sunday School lessons, I priced our inventory of supplies for the insurance settlement. We have only begun purchasing replacement supplies in the last two weeks. For the most of the summer, we’ve used the basic supplies we have at home (construction paper, markers, crayons etc.)

This is all really, really messy.  The number of things that we can’t do like we usually do catches me by surprise all the time.  Sometimes it’s something simple, like the fact that we didn”t have a copy machine until the end of July, so I had to print everything at home, or not have copies. We have always shared space with the preschool, so decorations and clean up has always been intentionally simple, but this is taking simplicity to a whole new level. We are getting settled into another temporary (but more long term) space, which requires all new planning and logistical decisions. I think all of this experience will make me better able to serve all of you. It has been painful and frustrating, but I know that God will continue to use it for his purposes.

Later this week I will be sharing about what the rebuilding process has looked like for us. Hopefully it will give you some ideas for renovating and strengthening your own ministry.

To the Church in Crisis: Our Children are Watching

To the Church in crisis

As I’ve shared here and here and here, our church suffered a catastrophic fire early this week. Below is a message from me to the our church, but the overall message would apply to any church in any time of crisis.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

We are facing a greater trial as a Body of Christ than most of us ever anticipated.  The future is full of uncertainty.  Almost every plan we had in place for the coming months are on hold or even shelved permanently.  Things we held sacred may not make sense any more.  It is hard, my friends, so very hard.

In the midst of this season of questions, I want to remind you of something very dear to me: our children and youth are watching every bit of this crisisTheir faith is being shaped by the words we say, the decisions we make and the way we behave.  We have a great responsibility to the next generation of believers to do this well.

Several years ago, we spent five weeks repeating those words in worship and Vacation Bible School – No matter who you are- TRUST GOD!  No matter how you feel- TRUST GOD!  No matter what people do- TRUST GOD! No matter what happens- TRUST GOD! No matter where you are- TRUST GOD!  Are we prepared to live this out right now?  We have to be.  The stakes are too high.

As we move forward, there will be strong feelings and opinions.  By nature of being displaced, we will have to do church differently.  We have to trust that God is directing our decisions.  I am reminded of King Jehoshaphat’s prayer in facing three armies swarming around Judah, ready to attack in 2nd Chronicles 20.  In verse 12 the king prays “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are fixed on you.” Can we fix our eyes on God and trust him to lead the way?

Can we dig deep into the promises of Scripture that our God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble?  Do we trust that we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us and that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus?  These are words your children have memorized over the last several years.  Now is the time to show them that we believe them.

Every one of us will have times over the next several months when we aren’t completely on board with a decision being made by leaders within the church.  That will always be the case.  How we choose to express those feelings matters so much more now.  If we are full of love and grace for one another, trusting that we are all trying to follow God the best way we know how, our kids will see that.  They will see a body of Christ working hard to BE the body of Christ.

Ephesians 4:31-32 says “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.  Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”  May we tattoo these words across our foreheads and inside our hearts as we move forward.  There is no wound quite so deep as a child hearing bitterness or ugliness about their parent from an adult church member.  As a leader with children who serves the children of our other leaders, this is so dear to me.  Be kind to one another…tenderhearted…forgiving one another as we have been forgiven.  This is a season where grace has to be the ultimate goal in all things.

I love this church and its people so much.  May we be knitted together in Christ’s love today and always.

In Christ’s Love,

Amanda

Helping Elementary Kids Cope With Disaster

God is With Us

 

As many of you know, there was a catastrophic fire at Christ United Methodist Church last night.  Our hearts are breaking, but we are trusting and leaning on God’s grace and mercy to carry us through.

I wanted to reach out to all elementary parents with some words and tools to help you explain to your preschooler what has happened.

  1. While the building is lost, Christ United Methodist Church and Agapeland are not. Pastor Ryan, Ms. Jaime and all Sunday School and Children’s Ministry staff are safe. (Younger elementary children may still think we live at the church)
  2. God will take care of us through this hard thing. We are amazed at the many ways other churches and members of the community are rallying behind us already.
  3. The church will go on and so will Agapeland. Leaders are making plans for our temporary church and preschool home and will be in touch soon.

Ways to help your child process grief or fear because of the fire

  1. Talk about what has happened as simply as possible. Fewer words are better.  There was a fire and the building is broken.  The church was never about the building, but about the people and the love of Jesus we all share.
  2. Art or journalling are great outlets for children to express their feelings about the crisis. Make art supplies and journals (even a composition notebook) available for your child.  Take time as a family to draw or write about your feelings together.
  3. I have created a YouTube play list of some of the songs we have been singing with the children over the last few years that have Scripture that I have found encouraging. Dust off those Seeds Family Worship CDs and play them in the car.  These songs are comforting and the Words are true.  The same is true of old VBS CDs and Bible Points.
  4. Keep as much of your normal routine as possible. Worship may be different, but everything else should stay as normal as possible.
  5. There will be hard questions and sad moments for all of our families. It is okay to say I don’t know and it is ok for your child to see your sadness.  As parents, we think we need to keep it all together for our kids and have all the answers.  We don’t have to.  God will give us what we need. It’s actually a good, faith building thing for a child to discover that we don’t have all the answers.
  6. If you feel your child needs to see the building, stay as far away as you can. Standing in the alley or in the parking lot as far from the building is safest.  The building is not structurally sound and there is much broken glass and debris that would be dangerous for children.

“The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people!”

I will have some Scripture verses and devotional thoughts for this week soon.  Please know I love you all and am praying for us all in this crisis.

Helping Preschoolers Cope with Disaster


God is With UsAs many of you know, there was a catastrophic fire at Christ United Methodist Church last night.  Our hearts are breaking, but we are trusting and leaning on God’s grace and mercy to carry us through.

I wanted to reach out to all preschool parents with some words and tools to help you explain to your preschooler what has happened.  While these are specific to our crisis, most of these tips are valid for any crisis or traumatic event.

  • While the building is lost, Christ United Methodist Church and Agapeland are not. Pastor Ryan, Ms. Jaime, Ms. Michele, Ms. Amy, Ms. Wanda, Ms. Dawn, Ms. Isabel and all of the adults your child sees and loves at church and preschool are all safe.
  • God will take care of us through this hard thing. We are amazed at the many ways other churches and members of the community are rallying behind us.

Ways to help your preschooler process grief or fear because of the fire

  • Talk about what has happened as simply as possible. Fewer words are better.  There was a fire and the building is broken.  The church was never about the building, but about the people  and the love of Jesus we all share.
  •  Art is a wonderful way for preschoolers to express their feelings.  Give them paper and markers, paints or other supplies and let them create. They may not have words to express their fear or sadness.  Painting or drawing about it may help them express these feelings.
  • Do not be alarmed if your child pretends about the fire. This is a very healthy way for children to process a traumatic event.  Encourage this kind of play, even if it seems a little violent.  Children at this age sometimes need to “conquer” their scary things in pretend play to feel better.
  • Keep as much of your normal routine as possible. Preschool may be postponed and worship may be different, but everything else should stay as normal as possible.
  • If your child expresses worries that your house may burn down, talk about or even practice your family’s emergency plan.  This gives your child a sense of security and control over their surroundings that this fire may have upset.
  • If you feel your child needs to see the building, stay as far away as you can. Standing in the alley or in the parking lot as far from the building is safest.  The building is not structurally sound and there is much broken glass and debris that would be dangerous for children.

“The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people!” Praying for all of us in this storm.  God is bigger and greater than even this.