Category Archives: church year

Ordinary Time

A continuing series on celebrating the church year.

Ordinary Time is the rest of the church year, from Trinity Sunday just after Pentecost to Christ the King Sunday, which precedes the first Sunday in Advent. It gets it’s name from the word “ordinal” and refers to the counting of weeks, not the commonness of the season. I love how the Circle of the Church Year Godly Play materials refer to this long stretch of liturgical green as growing time. After we have been immersed in the seasons of Advent, Epiphany, Lent and Easter, each with a distinct focus, we have this large chunk of time that is not focused. This is a time when individuals, families and churches can discern where they need to grow and devote themselves to that.

If you take some time to prayerfully consider how you ought to use ordinary time in your family life, I’d encourage you to include your children as much as appropriate. Some brainstorming questions might include, “In what ways can we grow to be more like Jesus?” “What fruit of the Spirit seems to come to you least naturally?” “Are there any habits (spiritual disciplines) of Christians you’d like to learn more about and practice?” “What parts of the Bible do you feel least familiar with?” Obviously, as a parent one has some insight into this and you can use the time to focus on what you find important.

In the rhythm of the church year, ordinary time is a rest. Because of the length of time, you can be leisurely and not as intense with any goals you set. Also feel encouraged to take a break and reevaluate some of the spiritual habits of your family. If you are participating in a church summer activity (like scripture or catechism memorization) that may fall later in the season.

Ascension and Pentecost At Home

A continuing series on celebrating the church year.

Forty days after Easter (so, this Thursday, June 2nd in 2011) is the day we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord. Most churches celebrate it on Sunday, so feel free to be flexible with the day. The following Sunday (10 days after Ascension) we celebrate Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, the birth of the church and the end of the season of Easter. Ascension and Pentecost remind us that we are part of a continuing story that did not end with Christ’s resurrection, and by celebrating at home, we connect our lives, churches and stories with the narrative of the church.

The most critical element of Ascension Day is helping kids to understand what happened. Reading the account in Acts 1 (verses 1-11) is a good way to remind them. Jesus rose from the dead, appeared to his disciples several times, and then ascended into heaven where he remains, sitting at the right hand of God the Father, serving as our advocate.

Good hymns to sing would be “A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing” originally in Latin by the Venerable Bede, which can be set to the same tune as “All Creatures of Our God and King” and “On Christ’s Ascension I Now Build” which has a familiar Lutheran/Bach tune.

Many people take hikes up to the top of a hill near their city to commemorate the Ascension. I have seen it suggested several places to use helium filled balloons, such as releasing a group of white balloons with one colored balloon (green could represent everlasting life). Watching them drift onward and upward is a way to remember the Ascension.

Looking at paintings of the Ascension (like this one) are good conversation starters. What would it have been like to be there? On Ascension day there was one last promise of the Holy Spirit. You could wrap a small gift for the family to leave out until Pentecost. Any food that reminds one of clouds, from marshmallows to anything cut in a cloud shape, would be very festive. There is an old Anglican tradition of beating the bounds of the parish that would be cool for neighborhood oriented churches or small groups to use as a creative launch pad, such as walking around the bounds of your area together and praying for all who live there.

The account of Pentecost is found in Acts 2. It is equally important for children to hear and understand, a critical piece of the story of Christianity. Be sure to make a connection so that they understand the Holy Spirit that descended like fire is still here with us today.

It is traditional in many churches to wear red on Pentecost. It is a feast day, so it would be appropriate to gather and share a meal with members of your church. Some people take the fire theme to heart and grill out!

As it is the birth of the church, and fire is a huge part of the imagery of the story, a cake with candles could be very appropriate. You could decorate with candles and red streamers. I think we are going to bust out some sparklers if I can find them. We will also paint some pictures of the imagery of the story. It’s easy and fun to do crafts that represent flames. It might be neat to make different flames and label them with the fruits of the spirit.

Appropriate hymns include “Come Holy Ghost, Creator Blest” and “Spirit of God Descend Upon My Heart.” You can download mp3s with the tunes we use at our current church from Cardiphonia and check out some more Pentecost hymns.

Do you have any ideas for celebrating Ascension or Pentecost?

Holy Week and Easter at Home

A continuing series on celebrating the church year.

In Holy Week we have a unique entry point into the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and good church services have made memorable impressions on me over the years. Certainly utilize whatever your congregation is doing and ask friends how their church is celebrating as well.

Here are a few Good Friday printables I made you may want to decorate with. If you click on them you should be able to save and print them in high resolution.

Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday. Your church service may incorporate all of these elements but if it doesn’t, you can observe by reading the account (from Matthew 21 or Mark 11), singing an appropriate hymn such as “All Glory Laud and Honor” and waving palm branches (call around to florist wholesalers if you need to find them.) Save your palm branches for making crosses sometime during Holy Week.

The lectionary is always appropriate, and Gospel of Mark would make a good family devotion for Holy Week, reading 2 or 3 chapters a day. Also, the Lenten Lights devotional can be used for Holy Week, but you need to start the Saturday before Palm Sunday for it to line up. Families with young children might use resurrection eggs (google, there are some variations) for a nightly devotion, opening 1 or 2 each day and reading / discussing the appropriate scripture.

More protestant churches are offering stations of the cross or labyrinth prayer during Holy Week. You can also use the world-wide labyrinth locator to find one yourself. If you have school aged children, this might provide a good opportunity for quiet contemplation and prayer as you prepare for Good Friday.

Holy Week increases in intensity on Maundy Thursday. If you don’t have the opportunity to attend a service that night, you can read the story together from Luke 21:1-13, John 13:1-20, John 13:31-35 and Luke 22:14-62. You can enter the story by breaking up your reading by participating in some of the events such as washing each others feet, sharing bread and wine and going out into the darkness. Some families also use this night to have a Passover celebration. I’ve found that my Good Friday seems much more “real” after following Jesus through Maundy Thursday.

Crucifixion is not an easy topic to talk to children about, but without the cross, we don’t have the hope of Easter. Reading the Jesus Storybook Bible account would be a great start with a younger child. As your children get older, you can sing hymns like “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and read the account from one of the gospels (Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, John 19) and talk about it. What was it like for Jesus? How do you think the disciples felt? How does it make you feel? It might also be helpful to cultivate an atmosphere of quiet and darkness (close the drapes and keep lighting low) for Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

You can make an Easter garden with moss and found objects as a beautiful centerpiece, complete with a tomb to find empty Easter morning. I like this one. If you start early enough, you can also grow one with grass seed, like this blogger did.

Traditionally, Hot Cross Buns are made and consumed on Good Friday. There are other bread traditions such as Kulich which is served in Russia as part of the Easter meal, it would be fun to ask your grandparents if there are any special things they grew up making together during Holy Week and incorporating it into your Easter as well.

In the midst of family obligations and bustling activity, punctuate your Easter with joy. Borrowing from the Easter Vigil service in the Anglican tradition (an awesome liturgy, but long and often very late…) you could give each member of your family a bell and the first one to wake up after sunrise (or whatever time you deem appropriate) can run from room to room ringing it and shouting “Christ is risen!” as everyone else gets up to join them. Read a resurrection Sunday account while you eat your chocolate (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20) and sing something triumphant and appropriate together (“This Joyful Eastertide,” “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.”) Since our church meets in the evening, our tradition is to share lunch with other friends who have out-of-town family, and the feasting and fellowship is a huge part of Easter for our family.

Easter is not a day, but a season of resurrection that lasts for forty days. Doing something as simple as a small dessert every night (dark chocolate squares, fruit, store-bought treats…) could help to remind children of the joy of salvation. A special “Easter only” weekly tradition particular to your family would also be fun.

Here are some free Easter printables as well.

Feel free to share your traditions for making Holy Week and Easter meaningful and memorable in your home, there’s obviously much more than I can possibly mention.

Lent at Home

A Continuing Series on Celebrating the Church Year.

Lent is a season of repentance in preparation for Easter, which begins Ash Wednesday (February 22nd in 2012) and continues to Holy Week. It has been marked traditionally by fasting, prayer and acts of charity. In Lent, we reflect on such questions as: what routine sins are estranging me from God and other people? In what ways has my heart grown cold to the gospel? What idols of my heart are distorting my love for God?

Because the Lenten season is more somber in tone, it can be hard to know how to observe it at home with children. This post is a collection of ideas, certainly not a prescriptive list we are doing in full this year (or any year!) I’d love to hear what you’ve done in the past or plan to do in the future.

Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, is the day preceding Ash Wednesday. Traditionally, people used up butter, eggs, sugar and other things they might be giving up for Lent by making pancakes. I am planning to make these gingerbread pancakes to eat as we talk about our plans for Lent over dinner.

For me, Ash Wednesday services set the tone for Lent, the liturgy is powerful. They tend to have short homilies that are child-friendly at the Episcopal and Anglican parishes we’ve visited, and we’ve always felt very welcome even with wiggly toddlers or noisy babies. Sometimes less-liturgical churches will have Ash Wednesday services without the imposition of ashes, if you like the idea but not the ashes.

Make a commitment to confess your sins together as a family. With smaller children, this would be done orally, but you could write them out if you have teens and feel that would work better.

Memorize one of the Psalms of repentance that are traditional to the season of Lent: 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 or 143.

Use prayers of confession like the familiar general confession from the episcopal church or this one from St. Ambrose at home.

After confession, you can foreshadow Easter by using hopeful affirmations of assurance of pardon and union with Christ, like this one from the Syrian Orthodox tradition: “How fair and lovely is the hope which the Lord gave to the dead when he lay down like them beside them. Rise up and come forth and sing praise to Him who has raised you from destruction.”

Fast from something: dessert, TV or another distraction. Perhaps introduce a few meatless days into your meal rotation. Don’t forget that Sundays are for feasting and remembering a resurrected Christ, even during lent. Break your fast and enjoy whatever you’ve given up.

Use meditative, breath prayers like: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Read scripture! You can use the lectionary to guide scripture reading as a family. Decide how much time you can spend daily and plan accordingly (e.g. one psalm, the OT and the gospel.) If that’s too much, just read through one of the gospels together. If you aim to finish before holy week, you’d end up needing to read less than a chapter a day.

Pray throughout the day. You could make a commitment to the daily Morning, Evening and Night prayers (with the daily lectionary readings) from the Book of Common Prayer or use a resource like Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours.

Learn the verses of a hymn of confession you sing in church. “Nothing But the Blood” is particularly good for pre-readers.

Here’s a playlist on Spotify of appropriate songs for lent.

Contemplate acts of service you can do as a family or individually. Consider giving to a ministry that serves the poor by freeing up money you might have spent on something else.

Make pretzels, a traditional lenten bread and reminder to pray.

Remind yourselves of how lent is a time of growth by planting seeds for your spring garden. Starting seedlings depends on your climate, germination times, etc. But it could line up well to plant the week after Easter if you don’t live in the frigid north.

Simplify your schedule or your possessions. Clear out things you don’t need, and give them to a local thrift store.

Do a devotional together. Noel Piper’s Lenten Lights is a weekly devotional that includes a candle component, we’ve not used it but it may be a good fit if you have smaller children and don’t want to make a daily commitment. If you have teens, Henri Nouwen’s Show Me the Way is a classic. Bread and Wine is a collection of readings from great writers for Lent and Easter. City Church, Philadelphia (PCA) has a good guide with scripture readings and prayer for each day during lent.

I made a few printables, for those of you who like to rotate seasonal decor with the church calendar. (If you click on them, they will open large enough to print at 8×10.)

Epiphany at Home

A Continuing Series on Celebrating the Church Year.

Epiphany is the day we celebrate the wise men finding Jesus, but it’s more than that. In Epiphany, our savior is revealed, first to the wise men, then through his baptism, his first miracle. Jesus did not remain hidden, rather Christ showed himself to us. Epiphany is an extension of our meditation on the incarnation that began in Advent. He dwelt in the world, not in secret, but with public words and deeds in a variety of places, that all may see him and worship, just as the wise men did when they found him.

Celebrating at home may be as simple as reading the story. You can find the text in Matthew 2:1-12 and a corresponding story in the Jesus Storybook Bible called “The King of all kings.” Continue reading

Why Celebrate the Church Year?

I plan to share some ideas for celebrating the church year at home in the coming months, and perhaps the best place to start is with this question. Why should we celebrate the church year at all?

From a theological perspective, the church calendar brings a balance to teaching. Jesus’ life and work, his death and resurrection, are given due time each year. The various seasons and holy days also remind us of different postures and states we have as God’s people. First, the longing of Advent, when we remember the wait for a savior, reminds us of our wait for a new heaven and a new earth. Then we share in the joy of the incarnation, a God who loved us enough to dwell among us, followed by the grace of Epiphany, and how Jesus was made known to the world, a light to all. In the penitence of Lent, we are reminded of our sin and need for a savior. And then we experience the joy of Easter, weeks and weeks to remember the resurrection before the mystery of Pentecost, when we remember the Holy Spirit descended and dwells within us. Sometimes, we can fall into the habit of focusing too much on just one aspect of redemptive history, and the calendar serves as a corrective to that impulse.

As humans, we long for rituals and love traditions. Everybody has them. Shaping family life and memories around the church is a good thing for our children. It’s a way to show them that Christ is important to us. If your church celebrates the church year, it’s another way you can show the way your life intersects with the church. There’s nothing wrong with non-church related traditions! We have plenty of those as well. But marking the year with different ways of celebrating God’s work in the world is a way of reinforcing redemptive history for our children.

There are a lot of traditions for celebrating the church year around the world, and I’d love to hear some you’ve participated in and enjoyed.

Advent at Home
Christmas at Home
Epiphany and Blessing Your Home
Lent at Home
Holy Week and Easter at Home
Ascension and Pentecost at Home
Ordinary Time
Reformation, All Saints & Christ the King at Home


I’m making King Cake today, and thinking about Epiphany. In the children’s hymn about the church year, we sing “In Epiphany we trace / all the glory of his grace.” We discover his glory revealed, first to the wise men, then through his baptism, his first miracle. He did not remain hidden, rather Christ showed himself to us. Epiphany is an extension of our meditation on the incarnation that began in Advent. He dwelt among us, not in secret, but with public words and deeds that all may see him and worship.

May Christ bless you and your house today, and throughout this season.

He Shows Up

Advent, of course, means coming. It is good and right that we have a time to remember the longing for Christ’s incarnation, remember that we are longing for his second coming when he will put the world to rights. One thing that struck me this week in a new way is how much Christ’s coming is not just a past and future event, but something that is happening continually.

When a friend drops everything to be with me when I need a friend, Christ is near. When our hearts break with those in sorrow, when we fight for the oppressed, Christ shows up. When we gather at his table, Jesus comes and meets us there. He has come and will come again, but He IS risen. And that has present implications.

I am still longing for the new heavens and the new earth, for all things to be made new. But I am comforted as I see the ways that he is near, even now.

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday ranks in my top three favorite liturgies in the Christian year. It’s the closest we come to Yom Kippur, a day of repentance. In protestantism, we feast often and fast little, which is good and right for a community defined by forgiveness and grace. But without an understanding of why we need forgiveness, grace is cheapened. Ash Wednesday reminds us of our sinfulness and frailty, of our need for Christ.

Historically, the ashes were for those who were especially sinful, a shaming tool for those who needed to be extra-penitent. To me, receiving the ashes is to say, “I have grieved God with my sin, I have a need for repentance” standing among sinners with humility and equality, knowing that our belonging to Christ has nothing to do with our merit. And when we do, we make those ashes a sign not of shame, but of community. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. When you do, I hope that you see beauty in the ashes, and a place for you beneath the cross of Jesus.