Milestones are the significant cultural and developmental markers that we experience throughout our years of life. They are our firsts. There are ordinary firsts of steps and teeth, walking and talking. There are also firsts of our faith life: baptism, beginning Sunday School, receiving a Bible, our first retreat, making decisions for Christ, and more.
Faith Milestones are those firsts as we grow in our faith experiences because we know it doesn’t happen just on Sunday mornings. It’s part of all we are and all we do as God’s beloved people. Attending a CEF (Christian Educator’s Fellowship) national conference last year gave me the jumping off point to identify intentional firsts, presented as Faith Milestones, for our little people journeying through children’s ministries. A huge thanks goes to Donna Draeger, Minister of Disciple Formation at Centennial UMC in Roseville, Minnesota and Deb Johnson, Children, Youth, and Family Minister at Spirit of Hope UMC in Golden Valley, Minnesota for leading the workshop that got this ball rolling around in my head.
It was important these Faith Milestones were in partnership and shared with the whole family as we sought to help families find ways to grow in their faith together. We wanted shared spiritual experiences for our families and decided to put a few ages together just in case a family missed it the first time. I calendared throughout the year based on our church’s rhythm of activities and wanted to introduce as much faith-filled vocabulary as possible for these firsts.
I put out a brochure (old school, I know, but it has all the dates on it for the year and that seems to work best for my parents to be able to keep up with it, especially those with more than one child.) I also put it in the monthly newsletters, bulletins, and sent a personal invite as well as a personal email a few weeks out inviting families to preregister if a meal was involved.
Ages 3 & 4 and any new rising kindergartner students: Welcome to Sunday School – Scheduled the Sunday before fall’s promotion Sunday from 12:15-1pm. Program: What does Sunday School mean? What do we do there? Through story, song, and hands-on activities, learn what a fun place Sunday School is! I invite a couple of the Sunday School teachers to participate so the families meet & greet and learn the routines. We play some songs, tour the children’s hallway, decorate a cookie, and we give out a copy of The Berenstain Bears Go to Sunday School to each student. The following week, I send a personal, handwritten post card as follow up inviting them to Sunday School.
Age 5/Kindergartners and 1st Grade: I Can Pray – Scheduled on an October Sunday from 12:15-1:30 and includes a snack lunch – Children and parents/grandparents learn the parts of prayer and when and how to pray through word and song. We’ll have prayer stations the families can share similar to the Praying On The Go Bags that are prepared each month. We’ll make a prayer list and trace hands in a prayer journal for the family to share together…to be left on the kitchen counter for everyone in the family to write blessings or prayer requests and read throughout the comings and goings of their family. Their take-aways will be the family prayer journal and a glory bell…something to place in the home to ring when they want to praise the Lord! We hit it and shout, “Glory!”
1st & 2nd Grades: Touch & See My Church – Scheduled on a Spring Sunday from 12:15-1:30 and includes a snack lunch – A chance to explore the sanctuary ‘behind the scenes’ and learn more about worship. The students and their families will go on a scavenger hunt in the Sanctuary (What is the name of our pastor? How many pews are in the Sanctuary? What’s in the baptismal font? What’s bigger…the pastor’s office or church library?, What’s the color of the Sanctuary doors?, etc) I invite the worship leader, a musician, our senior pastor, a worship singer, an acolyte, and the church secretary to be a ‘station’ where the children ask each of 3 questions: What do you do? How did you get to do what you do? Where do you do what you do? Students receive a sticker at the end of each station because little people like stickers. Their take-away is a search book of bible stories. This milestone is more involved, so I’ll post about this one next week.
3rd & 4th Grades: Acolyte Training – Scheduled on a Sunday before Advent/November an hour before our CLUB345 gathering and led by our Senior Pastor. The students learn how they can ‘help’ in the worship service and practice communion, lighting and extinguishing candles, get a tour of the chancel/stage area, etc. The students also get their first hands-on teaching on the sacraments of baptism and holy communion. This is also a very specific time when our students spend time with their pastor. Anytime I can build their relationships with our pastor, I’m all in!
3rd – 5th Grades: A Bible of My Own – A student late night 6pm-9:30pm to learn about the bible and how to use it in daily living. I’m in the process of writing this one now, so check out the blog later. Our church gives Early Reader Bibles to students entering 1st grade and NIV Red Letter edition bibles to those entering 3rd grade (they’ll use these for CLUB345) on the Sunday during worship before the first CLUB345.
4th – 5th Grades: A Day Away At Ms. DeDe’s Retreat – Scheduled on a Tuesday in July practicing personal spiritual disciplines which help grow our focus and love for the Lord. Deep & Wide Retreat
The scriptures share that Moses prepared the people of Israel to enter the Good Land by asking them to remember and tell the ways that they had experienced God’s love and care. In this way, he knew that faith in the God of Israel would live on. These shared spiritual memories are special and we have sought to set them apart as such.
Deuteronomy 6:6 “Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them…”