Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Feng Shui of the Worship Space

Feng Shui is the ancient art of creating a spiritual space in one's living space. I have no understanding of it whatsoever but I like the word. It sounds really cool to say and whether or not I can explain it here is beside the point of this post. What is important, I believe, is creating a worship space that is inviting to worshippers. There can be so many distractions in worship already, such as shuffling papers, cell phones going off unexpectedly, fussing children or fussing adults, microphones screeching and so forth, that the space we occupy for worship ought to be as distraction free as possible. Not only that, it ought to relax us to the point of being able to settle down and breathe in the Spirit.

Almost two years ago we decided it was time to paint the sanctuary. The white paint that had been on the walls for many years had become like a grungy ivory color. It had no life to it. It inspired only sadness and sterility rather than the warmth and inviting feeling that we longed for. The character of the 100+ year old sanctuary was lost in a sea of graying white paint.

We decided it was time to do something about the paint. . . you know, every now and then walls do need to be painted. We had three color palettes to choose from and we got together and had a sort of straw vote about it. It was a hard choice because we had to use our imaginations, the white was all we could envision because it was what was right in front of us. 

Once we chose the colors, all three warm and inviting we took a huge leap and decided to paint the back wall a darker color. As the painter was painting that wall I would go in and look and I was scared we had made a wrong choice. But alas, when it was all finished, the worship space looked amazing. How can color make a person feel so welcome? How can colors make such a difference in the mood of the space? When we worship in our sanctuary now it is such a different feeling. I cannot explain it to you exactly but it is so much easier to settle in to the Holy that surrounds us, that was always there before but now seems more prominent. 

This may sound silly but I write this because I think there are things we can do in our worship spaces to help disciples WORSHIP. We can set the mood of worship by the lighting, paint, flowers,  candles, artwork, banners and more.  Everything about worship is to be evaluated, even the paint on the walls. It is the most important thing we do as a community of faith and we are responsible to help the faithful clear their hearts and minds of as many distractions as we can so they might enter into the holy and experience the divine. 

What do you think? How have you changed your worship space to facilitate more meaningful worship? Do you think the two are related or do you think I am off base here? Join in the conversation here.

Have a blessed Christmas season!

Pastor Amy Little

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Worship Wednesday: Kyrie Eleison

I have a confession to make. Are you ready? I am a cradle Lutheran. My mother faithfully took me to Sunday School and worship without fail, each week, where I would fidget in our pew, scribble pictures, accept bribes of candy bars in order to keep quiet during the sermon, and generally was disengaged with the whole process. A foundation was built somewhere along the line though, and as a 22 year old who had just graduated from college with a degree in biology and nowhere to use it I began my search for the God of my Lutheran heritage. The good news is that he found me and I have never been the same since.

It was then that I realized that I had not learned a darn thing about what it meant to be Lutheran. I had no clue about the liturgy. All that I remember from catechism was memorizing the Apostles' Creed. I had no idea that there was such a booklet as the "Small Catechism" by Martin Luther which contains explanations to things like the Creed, the Ten Commandment and the Lord's Prayer. As for the sacraments, all I knew was that I had to wait to be confirmed to partake of the Lord's Supper so I dutifully attended and appropriately wore a white dress to my confirmation service (with bright hot pink tights though!)

Why am I telling you this? Certainly not to criticize the pastors and teachers that I had in my childhood. Perhaps I was just zoned out and missed the whole catechetical experience. But on the other hand. . . perhaps the church as a whole had failed to understand the need to teach the faith to her youngest, those who be growing up and needing their faith, those who would eventually have their own children who needed their faith. So at 22 I began to devour scripture and a few years later off I went to seminary to learn more about who I was as a Lutheran and what this faith of ours is all about.

I want to share my passion with you as I have with my own congregation. I want to share with you all the things I never knew about our Lutheran identity and theology as a young person. I want to help you put some handles on the things that I never understood and frankly never had the audacity to even inquire about. That's what you will find here on Wednesdays. My hope is that it will as good for you as it has been for me.  So with that. . . the Kyrie!

Kurios in Greek means "Lord." In English we say Kyrie Eleison, "Lord have mercy." The biggest impression of my childhood around these words was a song that hit the Billboard Charts called  Kyrie by Mr. Mister. I never even put the two together; each week we chanted back and forth with the pastor, "Lord have mercy." Think about the impact of this sung prayer. . . first of all I teach my catechism kids that this piece of our liturgy is a SUNG PRAYER. What do we do when we are at the end of our proverbial rope? What shall we say when we have no answers, only more questions? What have human beings said since the beginning of creation in times of desperation, despair, sorrow and confusion? Kyrie Eleison. Lord, have mercy. 

This prayer is one that the church prays for all creation: for the peace of the world, for the unity of all Christians, for help, for salvation, for hope. Knowing that we can come into God's presence with intention and faith simply by uttering Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison, Kyrie Eleison, such a deep comfort. Let these words be your mantra on the journey, when you want to be in touch with God but haven't the words. . . these simply words say it all: LORD, have mercy! Amen.

Pastor Amy Little

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Activity C3 - Lesson 2: Fish Tank Window Ornament

Sunday Schoolhouse Series Activity - Green Unit C3
Lesson 2: Jesus Calls Some Fisherman (Luke 5:1 - 11)

Create a Fish Tank Window Ornament - Materials Needed:
- Colored tissue paper - various colors
- Wax paper - two pieces per student
- Iron and travel ironing board or safe flat surface to iron on
- Scissors - one per student
- Permanent Markers

Plug in the iron and let it heat up being sure it is away from the children. Give each student several pieces of colored tissue paper and a pair of scissors. Draw a fish outline on the board as an example of a fish shape for the children. Have the children cut 5 - 10 fish out of their tissue paper. Next, give each child 2 pieces of wax paper. Tell students to lay their fish shapes on one piece of wax paper. The shapes may overlap slightly. Ask kids to place the second piece of wax paper on top of the fish. The teacher can iron over the top piece of wax paper; sealing the fish in place. Trim any ragged edges. The children can use permanent marker to writ the memory verse at the bottom of the ornament.
Option: If time allows have construction paper and glue available for the kids to make a frame for their ornament.

Activity - Caught in God's Net!
You will need a large area in which to run around. Choose two kids to be the "fishing net", and ask them to link arms. All the other kids will be "fish". In this tag game the fishing net will try to tag as many fish as possible. Any fish that is tagged will link an arm adding to the net. People on each end of the net will continue to tag other fish until everyone is caught!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Worship Wednesday: Nativity Scenes

Young children are fascinated by Nativity Scenes. (Even the not so young are as well!) How can you incorporate Nativity Scenes into your community's worship life? This is a photo of the altar at Trinity Lutheran Church, Monroeville, Ohio. Eleven Christmas ago I bought this nativity scene and first used it as a children's sermon.  It has become a tradition over the past number of years to place this white porcelain nativity scene on the altar during Advent and Christmas. Any added imagery that is tastefully placed within the worshipping context can aid worshippers to be drawn into the good news of Christ. Think of the icons in the Orthodox and Catholic churches. These images invite us into the scene so that Christ might meet us there in ever powerful ways. 

What about in the home? Do you have a nativity scene in your home for the children and grandchildren to look at, touch or even play with? My son's first nativity was from Fisher Price Little People and he played with those figures and we chatted about the story of Jesus' birth. As he got older his grandmother had a set of music box nativity figurines. Each one played a different Christmas carol. He would play with those for hours and what happened was that the story of Christ's incarnation became more and more real to him. 

I have several nativity scenes that I leave out all year long. One is on the children's piano. Every time they sit down to practice it is right in front of them, reminding them of their faith. What can you do to help remind your children of their faith and of God's love for them this season? The more you make it real for them, the stronger a faith foundation that is being laid. They will take notice of what is important to you and embrace that themselves on their faith journey. . . so if you like nativity scenes, put them out! If you have some that are particularly special, leave them out.

Share your ideas here of ways that you have used nativity scenes in the home and in the church. Be creative! Your creativity helps others experience the joy of Christ's incarnation!

Have a blessed day,

Pr. Amy Little

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Activity C3 - Lesson 1: Some Things Don't Mix

Sunday Schoolhouse Series Activity - Green Unit C3
Lesson 1: Jesus' Temptation by the Devil (Matthew 4:1 - 11)

Experiment - Some Things Don't Mix - Materials Needed:
- Empty water bottle with cap and an extra cup
- Measuring cup
- Food coloring
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- funnel

Using the funnel, carefully pour 1/4 cup vegetable oil into the water bottle. In a cup mix the 1/4 cup water with several drops of food coloring. Pour the colored water into the water bottle. Screw the lid on the bottle and shake vigorously. Point out how the oil and water seem to blend together. Tell the children to keep watching - the oil and water will begin to separate because the two elements do not mix. Some things just do not blend together, like oil and water, Jesus and the devil, truth and lies. At times, a lie may confuse us. But if we trust God to guide us, and if we turn to his Word for help, things will soon become clear.

Activity: Biblical Game of Truth
Prior to class look up nine facts from the Bible and invent three lies. Write them all on note cards.  Read the children two facts and one lie. Ask the kids to vote which "fact" was false. Repeat with the other facts and lies. Explain that sometimes things seem confusing, and it can be hard to know what's true. Today's Bible story tells about a time when Jesus, himself, had to figure out what was true and what wasn't. It was God's Word he relied on to show him the truth!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Activity C2 - Lesson 7: Giant Greeting Card

Sunday Schoolhouse Series Activity - Green Unit C2
Lesson 7: Job's Suffering (Job 1 & 2)

Create a Giant Greeting Card - Materials Needed:
- Poster Board
- Markers or crayons
- Glitter glue, stickers, etc.

When Job suffered loss after loss, he felt very alone. Think of someone (or more than one person) in your congregation who is suffering right now. It could be a hospitalized person, a family grieving a recent death, etc. Ask your pastor for some suggestions. Tell the students that when people are suffering, it can help to know that others are praying for them. Make a giant class card for that very purpose! Fold the poster board in half. Write, "God is with you!" or "Your are in our thoughts and prayers." on the front of the card. Ask older kids to write uplifting Bible verses on the inside. Some suggestions include: Psalm 46:1; Isaiah 41:10; 1 Peter 5:7: Psalm 34:8; Proverbs 3:5; and Nahum 1:7. Younger kids can draw pictures and help decorate the card with stickers or glitter glue. Be sure everyone signs the card. As a class, say a prayer for the person who will receive the card.

Activity: Lost and Found
Bring in one "snack sized" bag of M&Ms (or similar treat) per student. Invite students to hold out their hands, palms up. Put one M&M in each person's hand, telling them not to eat it. Ask what they like best about the treat (it's sweet, it's chocolatey, etc.) Then collect everyone's treat and toss them in the trash. Ask kids how they feel about losing their candy before getting to eat it. Today's story is about a man named Job who lost much more than candy; he lost everything! But Job continued to trust God. Then hand out the remaining candy for the kids to enjoy.

Worship Wednesdays

Good Wednesday. . . I am so happy to have the honor of posting on Sola Publishing now on Wednesdays. The theme for Wednesday's posts will be one of the most important aspects of our Christian life together (if not THE most important), worship. We worship God because he is worthy of our praise and thanksgiving!

So, it's ADVENT now. That time of anticipation for the church of Christ, as we wait and watch for Christ to come again. It is a wonderful opportunity for us as disciples to slow down the hectic pace of our journey, which is always easier said than done! The days are getting shorter, evening comes quicker, we have a tendency to want to hibernate. In the north the temperatures are getting much colder which means there is no grass to mow at least. What if we took this opportunity in Advent to focus ourselves on Christ's coming. . . during worship, but also at home? An Advent wreath for the family table would be a nice addition to the season's decor. Before dinner you could add a special prayer to your table blessing about waiting and watching and then light the candle(s) on the Advent wreath.  You might even incorporate singing a verse of "Light One Candle to Watch for Messiah" into your evening ritual. Think of the memories you will create for your children!

Here are four evening prayers you could add to your family time:

Week One: Gracious, holy God, bless our family as we gather around this meal. May we be ever diligent to wait and watch for Christ's return. In the meantime, help us to see Jesus in our neighbor, in the injured and ill, in the lonely and distraught.  We pray for all those who do not have food this night and those who are suffering. Grant them peace and provide for their needs. We light the first candle and give you thanks for the hope you bring to us through our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Week Two: God of light and life, we give you thanks for all the good gifts you have given us. Be with us in our waiting and give us patience. Be with us in our watching and give us eyes to see. Be with us in our longing and fill our hearts with your never-failing love. Bless and strengthen our family so that we might be your faithful servants in the world. We light two candles and give you thanks for the love of Christ, who came to this earth to reunite humanity to you. In his name we pray, Amen.

Week Three: Holy One, we come before you this night in joy, knowing that you hear us, see us and attend to all our needs. By your mercy grant us grace to continue the journey to the manger, where we would meet Christ and he would live and reign in our hearts forever. We thank you for the great joy you give us and ask your care and protection over our family this night. We light three candles and recall the great gift you have given us, Jesus Christ who promised to come again and who continues to make all things new. Amen.

Week Four: God of peace, as we near the birth of our Lord, we ask that you would make your holy presence fully known to us. Be with us in our waking and in our daily work, be with us as we eat together, and be with us as we retire for the night. We are truly grateful for the peace you offer us through your dear Son, Jesus. We light all four candles on the Advent wreath and bask in the glow of the light of Christ. Amen.

May this season of Advent find you filled with hope, love, joy and peace as Christ Jesus draws you ever nearer to the divine heart.


Pastor Amy Little