Kids in the pews

What do we do with our kids when we return to in-person worship? This has been the question so many of us have been asking. For so many of our communities a return to in-person worship doesn’t mean worship as it was before. Even if restrictions loosen up in our communities we want to be cautious as we plan how we worship together. With vaccinations levels rising, but no vaccine for those under 12 just yet, and concerning variants found across Canada, we want to be safe.

That said, I find myself more and more attracted to something I was resistant to before! The church Busy Bag.

Hear me out. I know that busy bags have been used in the past as a way of silencing children in church. As you can imagine that just doesn’t jive with our theology here at JG&G! We believe children were beautifully and wonderfully made by God, that their noisiness is a way the Spirit sometimes breaks through to us, and that just by being their messy excitable selves they are worshipping God.

But, if we know anything, it’s that sharing items is where we often get into trouble during COVID (or flu season, or with pink eye if we’re honest!). So, an activity bag offers us an opportunity to provide families (and adults, if they’re interested) with items that can enhance their worship experience and also help us be cautious with viral/bacterial transmission.

You can have bags set aside for each of your kids with their name on them, or have a rotating selection of slightly different bags they can pick from each week, since leaving the bags untouched for 6 days helps with concerns around transmission.

Here’s my top suggestions for worship-enhancing busy bags

These suggestions come from surveying other families and congregation’s “pew bags”, “busy bags”, “activity bags”, as well as speaking with parents about what they would find helpful. I’ve also added in some items that, to me, would enhance anyone’s worship experience. (Let’s make liturgical streamers cool again!)

Streamers and or musical instruments – One great way to reinforce that these bags aren’t about silencing our kids is to give them something they can use to engage more fully in our worship time together. Putting a ribbon streamer, jingle bells, shaker or tambourine in the bag invites them to participate–especially when communal singing may still be prohibited by your health authority. Think adults will find it annoying? Maybe it’s time to talk about ways we can all participate more actively in worship together! Worship isn’t an armchair sport!

Children’s worship bulletins or colouring pages – This is one I think adults also secretly enjoy! There are lots of printable bulletins available for children, like those from Illustrated Ministry. They use puzzles and images to draw kids deeper into the text for that week. I’m developing a companion worship booklet for our families following the Narrative Lectionary this fall–we’ll send them home with families for now and then they can bring them to church when we finally return to in-person. It will cover the months of September-November. I’ve heard of one church in Southern Ontario had communal sketch books you could grab each week to contribute to!

Books! – Churches often have a wealth of reading material on hand. Add an age-appropriate book to the bag, or have a box of books kids can pick from before the service beginnings. Here are some favourites of ours that reinforce life-giving theologies.

A Children’s Bible – Help kids read along with your scripture readers, or explore other bible stories during the service. As always, we highly recommend the Spark Story Bible (toddler to gr. 2), and I love my Tiny Truths Illustrated Bible because of its comic-book style, humour and choice of character skin-tones (check-out these free bible worksheets they offer which each story, there are 35 in total). For those following the Revised Common Lectionary you can also checkout the Lectionary Story Bible from Woodlake Publishing, or the Whirl Story Bible: Lectionary Edition (pre-k to gr. 2) from Sparkhouse.

Crayons, coloured pencils, or markers! – This is a must. You can pair it with a sketchpad or a mini-clipboard and paper.

Small Toys – There’s lots to choose from.

Prayer Cards or Meditation Sheets – Remember that rainbow meditation sheet we shared on our Pride page? Add a laminated copy of it. Or why not add a prayer card for kids to try out? I made this printable sheet for Pope Francis’ five-fingered prayer.


Hopefully you found some of these suggestions helpful! And, if you end-up making your own activity bags for your church please let us know how it goes. Maybe you even want to send along a photo to share.

Celebrating the Seasons of the Church

Shanna and I have been developing our resource based on the liturgical year as celebrated by the United Church of Canada. Though ministry personnel and members of worship committees are generally in tune with it, it’s not surprising many folks don’t realize that the life of the church follows this cycle year after year.

Seasons of the Spirit Curriculum from Woodlake Publishing

Sure, we know the big ones: Advent, Christmas, Lent. But many of us have forgotten that Easter is a season, or understand just what Ordinary Time might be!

We watch as the banners change colours, we are used to singing different songs at different times of the year but it can be hard to keep track of just where we are in the year.

Personally, I have a liturgical wall calendar above my desk that helps me keep track of each season, with some beautiful art (produced by University Hill Congregation). We try to wait to put up our Christmas decorations until just before Christmas and leave them up until Epiphany. We make a big deal of Easter and Pentecost, and try to find something to do together as a family to mark the Lenten season.

By backing the blank Liturgical Calendar on cardboard, and using a clothes pin, I made a prop for use during worship

One way we can engage families in marking the church seasons together is with a little DIY liturgical calendar. This activity can be used as a basic colouring sheet, or as a sturdy calendar families can use to mark each season.

I’ve even seen some folks make wooden ones with candles for use during children’s church, but that kind of handicrafting is definitely over my head!

I ended up needing to make a United Church friendly calendar. There are many available online from our sibling denominations, but not all use the same language or seasons that most UCCan churches do. The above illustrated calendar (artist unknown) being the exception!

Feel free to use these pages at home or with your communities.

Labelled Liturgical Calendar Colouring Page
Blank Liturgical Calendar Colouring Page

What are some ideas you have for engaging your families in the liturgical year?

In Our Own Words

In the Hebrew Bible we hear about how God’s words is to be written on our hearts (Exodus 13:9, Deuteronomy 11:18, Proverbs 3:3, Proverbs 6:21, Proverbs 7:3). This means we’re called to learn and internalize God’s story. This is something we hope to achieve over a lifetime, but there is a real gift we can give our littlest members as we invite them to begin this spiritual practice.

How often when you’ve struggled has a piece of God’s word bubbled up for you? Either through a song, an image or a scriptural quote?

One of my favourite activities to do with kids is to retell our stories in our own words, for me this is the essence of learning to write God’s word on our hearts.

This exercise could inspire a video like this one from St. Paul’s Auckland.

It could look like this awesome set of ground rules from Cedar Park United in Montreal.

We can invite our candidates for baptism and confirmation to write their vows in their own words, to retell the Lord’s Prayer using their own experience, or to work on a new (new) creed together!

Being able to articulate, in our own language, God’s word (our faith stories) is a significant part of making our faith truly our own. Spiritual formation isn’t just about learning and remembering details, it’s about making connections, figuring out what we can trust in and what makes us doubt. We want to nurture thoughtful young people who live out their faith authentically. Finding our own words is a big step on that journey. A step we, even as adults, need to keep making again and again.

Family Game Night

A favourite community building activity for congregations is to host a family game night. Now, I’ll confess that I have a bit of an issue with the term “family” game night. Mainly because I think community members often self-select out of these events because they don’t see themselves as “a family”. But families come in all shapes and sizes. There are families of one, chosen families, intergenerational and blended families. And, when we use the phrase “family” game night we often mean to say our church family, or community. So be sure to make it clear who the event is for when you advertise. There you go! That’s my caution about what you name your game night, but let’s get to the really fun stuff (i.e. the games).

Here is a list of games our families love, and suggested by our friends who are total game enthusiasts. We’re focusing on games that are fun to play for a variety of ages. We’ll give you the game, some suggestions for what groups they’d best suit, and hopefully you’ll feel inspired to play them with your household or church family.

Great Games for our Littlest Members

Acorn Soup by Peaceable Kingdom

Two year-olds are just beginning to discover game-play, and following multiple rules can be a challenge. Here’s a simple cooperative game that is fun for adults to play with toddlers (appropriate for ages 2+), Acorn Soup. It uses recognition and counting skills, and might inspire you to do some mud-kitchen cooking outdoors! You can have conversations about what sort of “ingredients” you find in your own backyard. As well as your favourite kind of soup to eat. And don’t forget to “taste” your creation before moving on to the next recipe card.

Hisss by Peaceable Kingdom

Hisss is a great game for those 4+, it’s quick, doesn’t require reading skills, and is a mix of cooperative and competitive. Similar to dominoes, you match colours together to form long colourful snakes. You could pair this game with a conversation with the beauty of creation, of how God made and loves all creatures, and how every created being is unique! In fact, maybe you want to add it to a Creation Time activity table?

Hoot Owl Hoot by Peaceable Kingdom

Hoot Owl Hoot is for 4+ that is reminiscent of Candy Land but (in my opinion) much more enjoyable. The goal is to work to return the owlets to their nest before the sun rises! This game uses colour matching to move the pieces around the board. It also pairs well with the biblical image of God gathering her chicks under her wing (Psalm 36:7; Psalm 57:1; Psalm 63:7; Psalm 91:4; Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34; Ruth 2:12).

Mermaid island by Peaceable Kingdom

Similar to Hoot Owl Hoot, Mermaid Island is a cooperative game for those 5+ and uses counting instead of colouring matching to move the pieces. In this game, you want to help the mermaids swim home before the Sea Witch gets them! (Can you say DRAMA!) It makes me want to rewrite the Psalm to say, “Even though I swim through the reef of shadows, I will fear no evil!”

Bed Bugs & Stink Bugs by Hasbro

Who doesn’t love stinky bugs? Well, if you do and you’re 4+ then you’ll probably like Bed Bugs & Stink Bugs. À la Operation, this game invites us to try our fine motor skills as we tweeze away colourful bugs from poor Howard’s bed! But be careful, as Howard shakes his blanket it makes it especially hard to catch the little buggers. This is a pretty silly game, but it is centred on the idea of working together to care for Howard, the bug-ridden sleeper. This is a great way to connect with stories on compassion and community care.

Animal Upon Animal by HABA

Animal Upon Animal is quite literally an animal stacking game. Best for those 4+ it’s pretty fun to try and figure out the best way to stack the irregular wooden pieces. The die adds an additional element as it decides whether you must place one or two animals, or skip your turn. Now, I’ve never met a kid who didn’t love animals, and there are so many great biblical stories you can connect it to. Not just Noah and the Ark, but Jesus’ teaching on God’s care for the animals, the Creation Story, and countless Psalms.

Games adults will love just as much as the kids

Dobble by Zygomatic

Dobble is a family of games that has versions for players as young as 3. It’s a speedy “I Spy” game where you have to match image on two different cards. I’d recommend their 4+ kid’s version that focuses on animals! But be sure to check-out all their different versions. Just like Animal Upon Animal this game is perfect for talking about biblical stories that feature animals, or during Creation Time.

Some art cards from Dixit by Libellud

Love storytelling and art? Dixit is a fantastic game for players 8+, and it’s genuinely enjoyable for those 8-108! Using fantastical art cards you get to compete with other players to tell the best story. These cards are also great for doing Visio Divina (similar to Lectio Divina but with images instead of words, see this article for more details).

Just One by Repose Production

Just One is a word association game that’s perfect for in-person AND online play (ages 8+)! Players work together to give clues and lead the guesser to name the correct word or phrase. But be careful, if someone gives the same clue as you then that clue is tossed out! If you can’t find a good game for your next Virtual Social than look no further, it can be played at a distance with just pieces of paper and pens. The premise is simple and can be adapted for almost any theme or holiday.

Codenames by Czech Games Edition

The main reason this game gets a mention, besides the fact that it’s super fun, is that it has different accessible versions. Codenames can be bought for team play, for just two players, in XXL size for those with visual impairments, and in an image based version for those who might struggle with literacy. All of their versions are 10+, and I’ve never played a game without it dissolving into giggling at some point. The premise is espionage and codenames, and uses word associations as its basis. It would be interesting to pair this game with a conversation about the Early Church, when Rome persecuted the fledgling house churches and their believers.

Best Classic Games

You know what never goes out of style? These beloved favourites.

Uno for ages 7+, also available in large print for small hands and those with visual impairments.

Mad Libs is one of those games you can purchase, make your own, or find a free template for. Fun to do with groups, you can adjust it for any theme or holiday you might be celebrating.

Skip-Bo for ages 7+.

Could it get cheesier than a bible-based version of Settlers of Catan? they call it Settlers of Canaan (so cheesy). We all love Catan but why not make it even dorkier by adding the Prophet Deborah!

Dutch Blitz–the Mennonite original–for ages 8+. Don’t forget to remove rings before playing this speed game!!!

Crokinold, the ultimate church-basement game. Not many folks have a board hanging around anymore but lots of churches do (this is also a favourite with rambunctious tweens/teens).

Now that you’ve seen some of our favourites, what games would you add?

Indigenous Day of Prayer

The Medicine Wheel representing the four directions is featured in the United Church crest. Where else have you seen this symbol of Indigenous spirituality?

Many of our United Churches are settler churches, and this blog post was created by white settlers. We want to honour and celebrate our Indigenous siblings, and the Indigenous church, on June 20th–the Indigenous Day of Prayer–but we need to do so with sensitivity and respect. So, what are some all-ages activities settler faith communities can do to celebrate? Here are a few suggestions from two white-settlers to you.

Discover whose land you are a guest on

Do you know the name of the traditional caretakers of where you live? Take the time to look it up and learn their names. You can start by visiting native-land.ca and using their interactive map.

Learn about the history of Residential Schools

Check-out some of these books for children which tell stories about the residential school experience.

Find the nearest residential school in your area with this interactive map.

Visit the National Residential School Memorial Register from the National Center for Truth & Reconciliation (University of Manitoba). You can search for students by school or name.

A nurse checking a girl’s throat at the segregated Frobisher Bay Federal Hospital in Iqaluit, Nunavut, in a 1959 archive photo. Photo colourized by Sharla Lawyer-Lawrence.

Advocate for the investigation of former residential schools for unmarked graves,

Support the United Church of Canada’s Healing Fund supports healing initiatives for survivors of the residential school system and its ongoing intergenerational impacts. You can support their work by holding a fundraiser or sharing stories about their work.

Learn about Traditional Medicines

Go on an Outdoor Plant Scavenger Hunt! This activity was designed by Cheryl Graham, Indigenous Support Worker, Brooklyn.

You can also purchase traditional plant knowledge trading cards to take with you on your hikes from Strong Nations Publishing.

Look at the world differently by learning about different Indigenous teachings

Read The Elders are Watching by David Bouchard. This book shares a message from Indigenous elders about caring for the earth.

Learn about the Seven Sacred Teachings, or the Seven Grandfather Teachings by checking-out this brochure about the 7 Sacred Teachings from the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways, The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan.

Or check-out this wonderful colouring book based on the Seven Sacred Teachings by Gloria Hope.

Celebrate Indigenous Creators

Check-out Indigenous musicians, writers, performers and artists on YouTube, Tiktok, Spotify and more. Share in the comments some of your favourite artists and books!

More great activities

From twitter.

The Government of Canada is the colonizer so sharing resources from them is a struggle for us. However, we do want to encourage Canada to continue to put Indigenous peoples, history and issues at the forefront. That said, check-out this activity booklet for kids full of information about First Nations, Métis and Innuit peoples for Indigenous Peoples Day (June 21) produced by the Government of Canada.

Create a pin for Orange Shirt Day (September 20th)! You can cut it out of felt and use a safety pin, you can make one with perler beads, or bead it.

Check-out these Orange Shirt Day colouring pages by artist Hawlii Pichette.

Support Indigenous Issues

Read your local news sources to hear what’s happening in your area. You may find it helpful to look at news sources from an Indigenous perspective to discover local issues (check-out APTN, CBC Indigenous, Anishinabek News, or Indigenews).

Spirit Bear from the Caring Society.

Learn about Spirit Bear and the Caring Society‘s fight to end inequalities in public services for First Nations children, youth and families. February 14th Spirit Bear invites us to participate in Have A Heart Day to ask Canadian leaders to have a heart for Indigenous kids/teens and families.

You can also join other United Churches a they urge the Government of Canada to adopt Bill C-15 / UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Faith in the Declaration is a coalition of Canadian faith houses and faith organizations working together to support the implementation of UNDRIP. Learn more about what you can do to support the work of Faith in the Declaration and the implementation of Declaration Legislation in Canada by visiting faithinthedeclaration.ca.

A Prideful Feltboard

Did you know each of the colours in the rainbow flag are symbolic?

I wrote a small script to use for our Theme Time on Pride Sunday (June 6th) to help explore how these symbolic colours can connect us to our faith story. These colours come from the 1978 pride flag designed by Gilbert Baker and friends.

From CBC.ca.

Check-out my felt board creation and short script. Maybe it will inspire you to do something similar!

– Selina


The Pride flag we use at church has lots of colours in it. We have black and brown for siblings who are Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. We have white, pink and blue for our transgender siblings too.

But, did you know all of the colours in the rainbow flag have a special meaning? When we think of rainbows we think of rainstorms and the story of Noah’s Ark, but the person who designed this flag had some ideas too. I want to share them with you, and talk a little bit about how we can use this flag to think about our faith story.

Red is for Life – we believe life is given by God, and that God gives it in abundance

Orange is for Healing – many LGBTQ+ folks have been hurt, by family who don’t understand their sexuality or gender, by a world that often rejects folks who are different, and by the church who has a history of rejecting these children of God – BUT we also believe that God offers healing

Yellow is for Sunlight – we believe that God intended for all of her children to live out in the open, to not need to hide away who they are

Green is for Nature – we believe God does not make mistakes, that she formed each of us with care, that she shaped our different sexualities and genders and loves us as she made us

Blue is Serenity – we believe that peace can be found in God, in knowing that we are children of God, in knowing God made us and loves us just as we are

Purple is for Spirit – a spirit that connects all of us, a spirit that helps us survive and thrive, a spirit that binds the human family together in love

We give thanks for this beautiful rainbow, We give for God’s love and care in creating each of us. We give thanks that humanity is as diverse as there are colours in this world. We give thanks knowing, when God made us, she said, “Wow! This is good!”

Jesus as Healer

Our four Gospel accounts are filled with stories of Jesus living out his kin-dom vision through healing. These stories invite us to explore just what healing looks like (interesting how it is often paired with reconnection and reconciliation with the community) and the power Jesus carries with him.

As adults we struggle with these stories. Did this really happen? Why this person and not another? Could this happen for me or someone I love? Children, I find, are able to enter into the story–not with less questions, mind you–but a willingness to be present, to listen and wonder.

Maybe your lectionary reading for this week has a healing story, or you’re working through some healing stories as a community. Maybe you’ve got a child who anxious and fascinated by all things medical right now, especially with coronavirus and conversations around vaccination.

Well, as we wonder about what it means to see Jesus as Healer, and to welcome the healing presence of the Spirit into our lives, why not get creative by making yourself a DIY medical kit!

Here’s what you’ll need

  • Felt
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Markers
  • Adhesive velcro dots
  • A box or bag
  • Paper
  • Printer
  • Liquid medicine syringe
  • Rubber suction bulb
  • Make a jumbo popsicle stick thermometer by marking measurements on each side of your popsicle stick. Selina added a low temperature on one side and high temperature on the other. These are great for pretending to put in a stuffies’ mouth or armpit.

    You can make bandages by cutting our felt. You can even use a large bandaid as a template! Add some adhesive velcro dots to the back of the bandaids to help them adhere to themselves (to wrap around) or the the soft material of a stuffie. We used different coloured felt for ours instead of “nude” (i.e. pink) as an intentional nod to anti-racism. Strips of white felt make the perfect bandage/cast to wrap around a broken leg or arm.

    This is our editable Check-upChecklist

    Does your doctor or nurse have a hard time remembering all the steps of their pretend medical exam? Print off our editable Check-up Checklist, which you customize with your kid’s name or name of their pretend clinic! (This is 8.5×11 PDF but by printing 4-to-a-page you can save on paper!)

    If you have any old infant care items around like liquid medicine syringes or rubber suction bulb add those as well! The medicine syringes make great pretend needles.

    Bringing it back to Scripture

    The Story of Jesus' Teaching and Healing: A Spark Bible Story (Spark Bible Stories) by [Martina Smith, Peter Grosshauser, Ed Temple]

    You can combine this kit with biblical stories like the healing of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:21–43Matthew 9:18–26 and Luke 8:40–56). This is a great example because it talks about Jesus healing a little girl, and doesn’t mention sin or demon possession which can be complicated to discuss with younger children. For other ideas and child-appropriate retellings check-out compilations like The Story of Jesus’ Teaching and Healing: A Spark Bible Story.

    Connect the story with your community

    This is a great opportunity to ask children about their experience with illness. Do they have an illness, or have they ever been sick before? Selina is very intentional in the mornings when she has to take medication to talk with her toddler about what it means to be sick, to get help for that sickness. Is there an example from your own life you could use?

    Name healers in your community! Not just doctors and nurses, but pharmacists, counsellors, massage therapists, physiotherapists and chiropractor…. Can you think of any more? What about those who care for their sick neighbour by bringing over groceries and food, those who visits with and pray for those who are unwell?

    Healing as ministry

    To “minister” means to “care for”. As a church our ministry is one of healing. Healing doesn’t always mean “cure”, that the problem is fixed, it’s much bigger than that. God desires abundant life for all of us. Abundant life is possible for all, those living with chronic illness, those who are disabled, those who “healthy”. The earlier we begin to talk with our kids about what healthy looks like, what healing looks like, the better. We have a chance to discuss what a good life looks like, and how God desires only good things for them.

    So, when you use examples of healing, make sure you’re pay attention to whether your stories and examples include a diverse array of people. Talk about how healing that honours the lives and experiences of those whose illness changed them permanently, those whose bodies look different from what we usually call “normal”, and those who’ve found God’s peace and healing when cure was not possible.

    Remind yourself, and your kids, that a ministry of healing is about care for others. God has gifted and invited all of us into this ministry including them! And ask… What are ways they can live out their call to the ministry of healing?

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