Epiphany – ideas for children’s groups

This one works well with older children – maybe primary age.  Not so good with toddlers. But can be done well by family groups. It uses a simple origami star craft activity – a video demonstration of this part of it is linked below.

1. Talk about what everyone’s favourite Christmas presents were – what made them just right? What would be the best presents for a baby?

2. Talk about the gifts that the magi brought, and why there were just right, even though they look a little unusual at first.
Gold is precious – it’s expensive, and it lasts, so we use it for things that mean a lot to us, such as wedding rings.  The gold was given as a symbol of our offering of the most important things that we have.  The gold is a sign of something important about Jesus, like a wedding ring is a sign of love.
Frankincense makes the most wonderful-smelling smoke – it’s as if we can see our prayers and songs rising up for God to breathe in and enjoy. All our hearts’ longings, our joys and sorrows, our hopes and dreams, breathed in by God in our prayer and worship.
Myrrh is harsh, but healing  – like the antiseptic that stings as it we put it on, but helps a wound to heal.  It reminds us of hard times – illness, grief – but also of God’s ability to bring healing and life.

3. Give out long strips of paper – maybe 2 feet long, by 3cm wide  (I cut mine from a roll of paper) and pens.  Ask the children or family groups to use just one end of their paper strip for this activity.
Remind them that God gave the magi something they needed – a star to follow. On one side of the paper, ask them to write down something that they still need as a gift, for the coming year.  This isn’t a ‘thing’ like a new toy, but a more personal gift, such as more patience when school work is a struggle, or when younger siblings are frustrating! Or more time to relax (particularly for parents!).  Or help with making new friends, if that’s been a challenge before. Or help making a big decision, or facing a big change.
Remind them that the magi also gave something to Jesus – their gifts of gold, incense and myrrh.  On the other side of the same end of the paper strip, ask them to write down a gift that they already have that they would like to offer to God – this might be just a lot of smiles that they can use to brighten up God’s world, it might be a certain amount of time each day just to be with God, or it might be a particular talent that can be offered.

4. Take one of the strips as an example, and follow the instructions in this video (https://youtu.be/FDDvYwb-D44) to make it into a 3D star. (These aren’t hard to make, but you will need to practice in advance – I don’t recommend trying to teach how to do it in your children’s session, as it can be frustrating when it doesn’t work first time!  If you have teenage or adult helpers, you might like to teach them how to do it in advance, so that they can help you make all the strips into stars on the day).
As you start to make the star:
– tie the knot in the end with the writing on, so that it will be hidden in the heart of the star by the time you have finished.
– as you tie the knot, explain that when something was important to remember, people used to tie a knot in a hanky to remind them.
– as you wrap the strip around the pentagon shape, say that when something really matters we want to protect it and keep it carefully, so we might wrap it up.  You might also like to compare it to wrapping a present, or even (going back to the myrrh and the healing) bandaging a sore finger etc.
It’s a good idea to get the children to decorate their stars to make them personalised – they’ll need to be a bit careful so they don’t squash them accidentally!

5. When everyone’s paper strips have been made into stars, encourage the children to hold their star in the palm of their hand, and remember what they wrote in the heart of it.  Ask them to think about what they need and what they have to offer this coming year, and ask God to bless those thoughts.

All age preaching: improvisation, interactivity, and enacted theology

In July this year I gave a paper at a preaching conference – the theme of the whole conference was ‘imagination’ and I was asked to speak on all age preaching. You can download a pdf version of my paper here: Improvisation and Enacting Theology in All Age Worship. Enjoy!

A fun game to while away those summer holiday afternoons…

To play this game you will need:

  • A paved area of garden, patio or path
  • some chalk
  • some bored children (you need at least two to play the game – the more you have the bigger your play area needs to be)


Here’s how to play:

When you’ve chosen your play area, draw a symbol, letter, number or other simple picture on each paving stone.  Symbols we have used include:

  • House, tent etc
  • Initial letter of each person’s name
  • Numbers (especially ages of participants)
  • stars, moon, sunshine
  • rocket, aircraft, van, car, lorry
  • shapes (square, triangle, circle)
  • maths symbols (infinity, =, +, x etc)
  • stripes, tick, cross, squiggle, heart, question mark
  • emoticons
  • anything else you like!
  • arrows

Take it in turns to shout out a move, indicating what kind of image the participants need to jump to next.  Some moves we have done include:

  • Jump to a face (or body part, if you included hands)
  • Jump to something in maths (could be a number or a symbol)
  • Jump to a vehicle
  • Jump to something you might see in the sky
  • Jump to something with only straight lines
  • Jump to something with only curved lines
  • Jump to something to do with you
  • Jump to something to do with the number three
  • Jump like a chess piece (specify which piece!)
  • Jump at random until the person says ‘now’
  • Jump to your favourite picture
  • Jump to one you’ve not jumped on before
  • Jump as far as you can (or hop as far as you can!)
  • Jump to an arrow
  • Jump in the direction of your arrow (for one, two or three spaces!)
  • Anything else you can think of!

This is a really fun game, and it can last as long as you want!  The summer rain will wash the pictures off every so often so you can draw a new play area next time.

Love Life Live Lent Wednesday of Week Four: say hello to your neighbours!

I was told once that as a vicar, if I didn’t have small children, I should get a dog, as I would need an excuse to be walking in the village without looking like I was just wandering around.  Probably good advice, though I’m not sure that I’ll want to replace the children with a dog when they get too old to be useful in casual pastoral ministry…

One of the joys of being a vicar is that I can smile and say hello to people I don’t know without them thinking I’m a nutter – or at least, if they do think I’m a nutter, it’s not because I smiled at them. This even sort of works in London (not that I go there very often, but I have tried it – smiling at people on the tube – and sometimes people even smile back).

One of the challenges of being a vicar is that when I do smile and say hello to people they often want to stop and talk, which is lovely, unless I’m in a hurry to get somewhere – so one allows time for these encounters.

And I suppose that’s the point, isn’t it?  Allowing time for your hello to become more than a hello is part of what makes the hello worth saying in the first place. It makes a walk down the street less predictable, getting anywhere takes longer and we may be drawn into conversations that are difficult or that demand more of us than we expected to give.  But on the other hand, we may make mew friends. make a difference (in a good way!) to someone’s day…

Saying hello may well be only step one but it could well be step one of a much longer, richer and more interesting journey.

What can we take with us?

Today I got the chance to spend part of the service with the Junior Church (one of the Readers was preaching, and there wasn’t anyone else from the rota to be with the children). It was great fun. First we tried crawling through a table while dragging a chair behind us (we were being camels going through the eye of a needle).  We began to think about what sort of things we can take with us into eternal life, and what sort of things we need to leave behind. Then we made two little paper pots, labeled one ‘Take’ and the other ‘Leave’.

So, what did the children put in the pots?

Well, it started with the obvious things. They put ‘money’ and ‘TV’ in the ‘Leave’ pot.  And they put ‘love’ and ‘friends’ in the ‘Take’ pot.

But after that it got more interesting.  They found that there were good things about our life now that still might not have a place in heaven – we weren’t sure about toys, for instance. But we were quite clear that there was fun and laughter in heaven nonetheless.

Then we got rid of some things like war and bullying and cruelty and lies. They all went in the ‘Leave’ pot, because there’s no room for them in heaven. And we put ‘soul’ and ‘good memories’ in the ‘Take’ pot.

We put ‘everything bad we’ve ever done’ and ‘guilt’ in the ‘Leave pot. And we put ‘everything good we’ve ever done’ and ‘good memories’ in the ‘Take’ pot.

At that point we spotted a big hairy spider on the wall, and there was heated debate about whether we would take it to heaven. Then we remembered that God loves it and God made it, so we drew a picture of a spider and put it in the ‘Take’ pot.

Then someone asked about whether we could put ‘People we don’t like’ in the ‘Leave’ pot, and we thought about that together. We had to conclude that, just like the spider, the people we find difficult have to be able to come with us. We thought that the gift of heaven might be that we would come to love them just as God loves them.

We realised, finally, that the eternal life that the rich young man in the story was asking about doesn’t start when we die, it starts right now, and that loving the people that God loves was part of how we start to live as if we are in heaven.