"'Suffer the little children to come unto me,' says Jesus to his disciples. Is there any congregation in Christendom which doesn't take Jesus' admonition seriously? But from the comments I have heard from friends and colleagues over the years, it would seem that the King James verb was well chosen!
Though most clergy are better at preaching to children than they think they are, it is nevertheless the case that preparing to teach or preach to the youngest members of their congregations strikes more fear into the hearts of ordained men and women than just about anything else. 'The Worship committee and the Sunday School committee think it would be a good idea if we had a regular children's sermon,' we hear, and we nod our heads because there are a couple of cute illustrations that we've cooked up, or interesting angles that might open up the Gospel to young people (and maybe even their parents!) in ways that our regular preaching doesn't. But after a while our clever ideas get used up, and the sermons we have borrowed from colleagues get used up, and even the ones we remember from when we were eager-eared Sunday scholars get used up.
"Here we discover that seminary didn't offer us much. The typical seminary course on Christian Education raises important theoretical questions on the development and growth of faith. It may also include a survey of curriculum material available in print, film, audio and video formats. However, the great majority of clergy will end up being called to serve in congregations without the abundance of resources (either human or financial) to take advantage of such learning. Not many will minister to congregations conveniently close to a well stocked seminary or denominational resource center. And not many will have the time to create their own interesting and effective material amid the press of other pastoral and liturgical and administrative responsibilities. And so on Saturday night we pray for inspiration.
"If this description comes close to your experience, rejoice! Janet Lloyd has the answer to your prayers. This book represents the intersection of Janet's faith as a Christian and her vocation as a children's librarian. As a Christian, her experience runs the gamut from small rural congregations and in an urban cathedral. She has taken her turn at singing, Bible study, teaching, leading worship, praying, and participating in her share of the countless meetings whose aim is to coordinate our common life. As a librarian, she is in the resource business -- helping parents and teachers to find books that will interest and challenge children of every possible description, introducing young travelers to their first link to the information superhighway, creating programs which will stimulate her audience to try new things, and juggling what she wants to do with what local bureaucracy can afford to let her do.
"What this crossroads has inspired is nothing less than an essential work for every parish and clergy person's bookshelf. Janet's working assumption is that, regardless of whatever other resources are available to a congregation or its ministers, there is somewhere nearby at least a modest public library. And though not every library can afford every book, nearly every one is linked to an interlibrary loan system so that books can (with fair notice) be brought in from elsewhere for your use. She has taken popular and widely available children's books and matched them up with the lessons from one of the most widely used lectionaries, with a few comments at beginning and end -- comments which Janet has outlined for each selection -- the reading of one of these stories becomes a homily which is both effective and easy to prepare.
"There are several benefits from such a program, for both children and adults alike. First, it comes in a format that works. Children love to hear stories read to them, love to watch the pictures as the pages turn. Beginning in preschool they are taught in school how to behave during a story and this training in attentive listening continues through the elementary grades. Using an illustrated book as the heart of a homily takes full advantage of these skills. Second, because the stories come from the local library, they are available long after the sermon is done. Every time a child sees the book or hears the story again (and they will!), the message will sink in just a little deeper. Third, hearing stories read in the context of worship, in their own church, helps to open up the possibility that God doesn't just communicate to us through scripture alone. God is present in relationships and in events that happen in everyday places as well as far away places. As parents get used to seeing how books can be used to illustrate Gospel lessons, they will find it easier to make connections themselves, bringing Christian education back into the home. And finally, for the clergy person who makes use of this book there is no little comfort in having a resource of over 150 lessons covering the whole range of themes our Bible offers. There need not be any "suffering" as the little children come to us!
"Needless to say, Sunday school teachers, Vacation Bible School teachers, and parents will find this to be an invaluable resource. The Scripture Index (included in Year A) will assist those who are not following the order of the lectionary to find stories that match up with particular Bible lessons that they are interested in presenting. As with any such resource, its highest and best use will not come from the slavish application of the selected stories to any particular set of Sunday readings. Rather, it is to be hoped that the matchings suggested here will in turn inspire new possibilities for creative preaching, or that the stories will suggest scenarios that can be played out in ways that apply to your specific congregation and context.
"What Janet has done is to pick a book or a story to match the themes of each Sunday lesson in the cycle (that is, Old Testament, Epistle & Gospel). So, a quick trip to the public library should give you a good choice of material to use to hook the kids. Each suggestion comes with a paragraph or two homily that makes the connection explicit. Janet's research was widespread, and the stories she has chosen come from many places and cultures. There is also material that is useable for very young listeners (mostly picture books) as well as a range of selections that keep middle schoolers' attention.
"Most kids are quite used to gathering around a teacher's chair to hear a story and look at the pictures, so this methodology makes use of a skill they already have. And it is easy and natural to get them to think about how God is present in stories and contexts beyond those that they hear in church — a valuable lesson, I think!
"I do a children's homily every Sunday for a 9:00 AM service geared for young children, and I can attest to their value. We use them especially during the summertime, when I let parents sign up to do the stories. It gives me a break, and the parents almost always bring extra props or some some inexpensive giveaway to go along." - from the Introduction and personal email message.
The Reverend Mark Gatza, Rector
Rock Spring Parish, Maryland
(Comments or questions may be sent to Mark at email@example.com.)