Josie Ortega shares ideas for parents to set their families up for an enjoyable, nourishing church-at-home experience.
For those of us whose families attend weekly church services, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted yet another significant part of our lives. As if school, work, and health concerns weren’t enough, parents now face the pressure of figuring out how to engage with our faith communities, virtually, and how to create at-home Sunday school lessons!
Let’s take a deep breath, and put down the felt figures. (If you grew up in a church like mine, you know all about Bible stories on felt boards!)
The truth, of course, is that parents have always been the primary ones overseeing the spiritual care of our children. It’s perfectly normal to feel anxious right now, but in this particular area—doing church at home with kids—I think we can relax. Let’s ask God for the wisdom and energy we need. Then give it a little bit of thought, if we haven’t already. Then: just do our best!
Here are the ideas I’m thinking through to make-at-home and/or virtual church work for our family during this corona cocoon.
This falls under one of my favorite parenting advice categories: “Don’t reinvent the wheel.” In the best of times, parents often don’t have the energy to develop fresh, new, engaging projects for our young children, much less now, when our parental status—stay at home, working part-time, working full-time, homeschooling—is all rolled into one. To be strategic about energy use, take advantage of what your church is offering during COVID-19 social distancing. Maybe even—gasp—reach out to ask someone what’s available. If you’ve been away from church or looking for a place to connect, this might be the perfect time for some low-risk virtual church-hopping!
You might discover Spotify playlists, virtual storytimes, online worship services, or just a friendly pastor to be a resource to help keep you sane. Whatever the case, it’s valuable to keep up that connection, that sense of being part of something larger than our own individual family units. Thinking about how your family can jump on board with what’s already going on is a great place to start.
Taking a day to refrain from work, to rest, and set aside time for worship, family, and celebration feels challenging and countercultural during the course of “normal” life. During COVID-19, it may be even trickier to make Sunday feel any different from this seemingly endless stretch of days at home. That’s probably also why it’s important to put some effort into developing a life-giving Sunday rhythm now.
Sundays should have a different cadence: peaceful, easy (ish), worshipful. Fair warning: achieving that vibe takes forethought and some work ahead of time, and perhaps the most difficult work: making the choice to rest.
As opposed to multi-tasking beyond reason during the workweek, Sunday is a good time for parents to leave our phones docked in their chargers. It’s a good time to take a family nature walk, to take most of the morning cooking a leisurely pancake breakfast, to use fancy dishes, to task the kids with making a flower arrangement for the dining room table—which can do double duty as decor for the church service via zoom!
Practicing Sabbath may look different during this time of social distancing. It might look like having a cleanup/pick up/organizing/meal prep day, to restore order before the coming week, a taste of God’s promise to “make all things new.” Maybe it’s a break from Zoom calls and FaceTime. Or maybe it means unlimited FaceTime to chat and laugh and catch up with far-flung family and friends!
Thinking about my own family: during the week my husband and I are working hard to communicate. We're tag-teaming between hanging with the kids and getting our own work done. On Sundays, we could stand to plan for quality family time—all five of us together, with no agenda.
Our culture desperately needs the Sabbath tradition passed along from the Jewish people. May we let our kids, and ourselves, cease work and halt productivity. We are loved, we are worthwhile, not because of what we do, but because of who we are.
Sunday is not a stand-alone, make or break day. We might think about what simple steps we can take to incorporate faith in daily life.
As part of this exciting new homeschool opportunity (!), perhaps there's room to add in one of these:
Catherine Maresca, director of the Center for Children and Theology, writes beautifully about singing as prayer:
Music is a wonderful way for children to pray. Sing simple, beautiful songs with good theology. Let "Alleluia" ring in its many versions when Lent is over. Our children sang on the swing, in the car, while playing, and at the piano. Sometimes we heard fragments of songs they had learned at church or school, sometimes they were making up their songs. In every instance they were praying.
While it's lovely to leave things open to spontaneity, we all benefit from routine, the safety, and security of a structure that is known. We’re going for a balance of Order and Wonder, in which the structure creates space and opportunity for the Wonder to develop. Routine also prevents the burnout of having to decide whether and how to pray together.
Our church utilizes the Book of Common Prayer, full of scripture and outlines for many occasions, including daily family prayer. Even churches that aren’t as “liturgical” still have an order in which things are done. Your family liturgy might include prayer time at meals, or at the beginning or end of the day, or sweet sleepy bedtime prayers.
If your church meets online or streams the worship service, who knows how engaged the kids will be! They may love it! Kids may benefit from helping set up and having a short kid-friendly prayer before big church begins. Then, they're welcome to basically zone out from big church once their attention span is gone. We’ve set up art supplies and paper out on the dining room table in the next room for the kids to move to once the sermon starts, for example. (Or play-doh or pipe cleaners or books …) (Often the Psalm reading makes a nice art invitation.) (Also, great news for parents on zoom: we have the mute button!)
I hope we can set them up for success, which I define as kids enjoying church time and not disrupting it too badly for the family as a whole.
Each of us has limited bandwidth, so I think it’s probably wise to focus first on the spiritual nourishment of parents. Kids can observe what we’re doing, absorb, and engage as they’d like. For example, I’m planning to spend some time praying through the Stations of the Cross during Holy Week. If my kids are along, I may give them a notebook and pencil to sketch, give them a few words of orientation. Beyond that, they’ll learn on some level that it’s important for me to take that spiritually nourishing time for myself. Perhaps they’ll infer that this mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection is awe-inspiring even for adults. We may end up in a wonderful conversation about Jesus’ last days. I’m not saying NOT to engage with your kids about these things, but advising that parental health is incalculably valuable!
All of the above really have more to do with parents’ mindset and overall strategy. If any of these ideas sound appealing to you, choose one or two, and chat with your spouse about what seems do-able. Then take ‘em for a test drive! None of us has done this before, so it’s a great time to try new things.
In part two, I’ll share more specific ideas that we can use to pray and read the Bible at home with our kids.
What's been helping your family "do church" while we're sheltered together at home? Share in the comments, and connect with loved ones using FamilyApp!