Diddy Disciples

Shortly before Christmas, a large, heavy envelope was delivered to our door, from Inter-Varsity Press, addressed to me, and proved to contain two hefty paperbound volumes, 8½ by 11½ inches, and a couple of cards from Inter-Varsity saying the books were sent “with our compliments.”  The books themselves bore the imprint of SPCK, the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge—a publishing arm of the Church of England—and because my daughter works in Christian formation in England, I recognized them as the documentation for a new curriculum for very young children that is becoming well known there.  So, “Diddy Disciples” is crossing the Atlantic, and I get to tell you about it.

Diddy Disciples: Worship and Storytelling Resources for Babies, Toddlers and Young Children, by Sharon Moughtin-Mumby.  London: SPCK, 2017.
Book 1: September to December, 262 pages + 20 pages of pattern outlines.
Book 2: January to August, 360 pages + 30 pages of pattern outlines (some of which duplicate the outlines in Book 1).

I’ll begin by getting this out of the way: I really, really don’t like the name.  I’m allergic to cute or twee names for church programs for children.  “Diddy,” according to Wiktionary, can mean “tiny” in British English—a discovery I was relieved to make after looking up the word in several reputable sources where the only definition listed was “Slang: a breast or nipple; var. of titty, diminutive of tit.”  Perhaps across the Pond it also means “pacifier” in some dialects?

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Who Do You Say That I Am?

In an era where religious identity and religious polarization are daily becoming more and more entangled with politics and culture, the traditional or “mainline” Christian churches in our nation have an identity crisis.

This season’s Editorial Page is only peripherally related to ministry with children, but everything the Church does has implications for ministry with children.  If we cannot find ways to keep our local churches alive, and to preach the actual Good News, how are we to raise up new generations of children to do God’s work in the world? 

How, indeed, can the followers of Christ carry out his mission unless our congregations have a certain number of active members, some buildings to which to invite our neighbors and feed the hungry and shelter the stranger, and opportunities to gather for the praise and prayer and sacrament that sustains our lives and strengthens us for God’s work?

The presidential campaign of Pete Buttigieg has confounded many observers—and not only because the candidate is young, gay, a Navy veteran with Harvard and Oxford degrees, who speaks several languages and plays the piano well enough to have accompanied the South Bend Symphony in “Rhapsody in Blue”.  No, what really seems to sow confusion in the minds of both pundits and the public is the fact that Buttigieg is an Episcopalian who often brings up his religious faith. As Ed Kilgore remarks in New York magazine,

Buttigieg [is] an observantly religious (Episcopalian) Democratic millennial, part of a party and a generation increasingly … prone to thinking of religious expression in a political contest as something those intolerant, Bible-thumping conservative Republicans do. That makes him an unusually effective scourge for politicized conservative Evangelicals who can’t begin to grasp the phenomenon of a married gay Christian who may go to church more often than they do.

Continue reading “Who Do You Say That I Am?”

Drawing on Faith

An overview of the (mostly serendipitous) observations and insights that I think may be my most significant contribution to the field of opening our faith story to children, and realizing how much of it all grew from one moment of ordinary parenthood.

Over thirty years ago, during the sermon at a dignified church service, I managed to quiet my restless not-quite-seven-year-old by giving her a service bulletin and a ballpoint pen. As I later described it:

She went instantly to work, and filled two bulletins, drawing not only the Good Shepherd [as I had suggested—it was Good Shepherd Sunday], but also the eucharist, a bride-and-groom scene where the groom is labeled “Jesus” and the bride “us”; two visions of the New Jerusalem; a flying bird; a crowned heart labeled “God”: a running horse; and rows and rows of hearts.  … Nearly every one of Margaret’s drawings was in keeping with [the theme of the sermon].  Her mind had been freed to listen.
(Gretchen Wolff Pritchard, Offering the Gospel to Children, Rowman & Littlefield, Cowley Publications, 1992, p. 66 )

I saved the bulletins with Margaret’s drawings, because they are so delightful; I had no idea at the time how much I would learn from them.

Above: The front and back of one bulletin …

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We’re Glad You’re Here

Ah, the Internet.  There is so much good stuff out there, on Forma (the Facebook group for church folks engaged in Christian formation of children and youth—if you’re not a member you should be), and sites like Building Faith from Virginia Theological Seminary, Grow Christians, Sharon Pearson’s Rows of Sharon, and many another blog or site. This post is a grab bag of thoughts from here and there, on the perennial topic of helping families and children feel welcome in church.

Getting in the door

Those of us for whom church is normal, routine, and familiar, may never have considered how difficult it can be, for those who have never been part of a church, or who are returning to church as young parents after having drifted away in their teens, simply to take the step of beginning to go to church.

My daughter, Margaret Pritchard Houston, the staff member for children and family ministries for the Diocese of St. Albans in the Church of England, recently wrote a lively and witty newsletter article full of striking insights into this pivotal moment for newcomers to the church.

Recently, I joined a gym. Those who know me will know this is out of character for me. But I’ve done it, I’m going to regular classes, and I’m not dead yet, so things are looking good.

However, one unexpected benefit of this is that I now have recent, hands-on experience of what it feels like to be really new to a place, and completely unfamiliar with its customs and culture. This is something many children and parents experience when they come to church – and church leaders, who are used to their church’s ways of doing things, can often forget how intimidating it is to be new, and how unfamiliar most children, and parents, are with what happens at church.

Margaret goes on to analyze the process by which she first resolved to join a gym and then actually did it—and examines the counterpart to each of these steps in the process of approaching church. Continue reading “We’re Glad You’re Here”

The Primal Story

I no longer remember exactly how I ran across this book a couple of years ago.  It is certainly not new—based on the title page verso and the introduction, it seems to have been originally published in 1992, apparently as a self-publishing project by the Order of Saints Martin and Teresa (“a national network of individuals and communities dedicated to peace, justice, and nonviolence”) and eventually, with the author’s retirement, it was taken up by the Lutheran publishing house Augsburg Fortress.   You can order it from Augsburg Fortress’s web site: https://www.augsburgfortress.org/store/product/9781506457017

Review – Manna and Mercy: A Brief History of God’s Unfolding Promise to Mend the Entire Universe, by Daniel Erlander (Augsburg Fortress, originally published 1992), graphic book, 77 pages + 16 pages of notes

I have a long history of engagement with the issue of the “distorted canon” of scripture, which is endemic to editions of the Bible intended for children but (partly as a result of childhood exposure to such collections of Bible stories) is also the concept of “the Bible” held by many adults in contemporary Western societies, whether raised as Christians or not.  As I wrote in my book Offering the Gospel to Children:

The standard children’s Bible is all narrative.  It moves slowly … through Genesis—creation and fall, Cain and Abel, Noah, the tower of Babel, and the Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph stories—and Exodus, dwelling with loving detail on the plagues of Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea.  But then the narrative begins to get skimpy.

Following a rehearsal of the Ten Commandments … the story flits through Joshua and Judges, … the stories of Samuel, Saul, and David, a brief mention of Solomon and the Temple, … the destruction of Jerusalem … [and] comes to rest with the Daniel stories, or possibly with Jonah or Esther.  Then … we jump into the more familiar New Testament world. The gospels … are merged into a single narrative … Many editions draw to a close somewhere between Easter and the conversion of Paul; others go on to narrate Paul’s journeys and struggles [and may include] a glance at the Book of Revelation. …

Offering the Gospel to Children (Cowley Publications / Rowman & Littlefield, 1992), p. 41-42

By selecting those parts of scripture that have come down to us in the genre of narrative, and omitting those that are couched in any other literary form—whether poetry, prophecy, prayer, law, exhortation, or lament—centuries of Bible compilations for children have recast the Hebrew scriptures as a loosely linked series of fabulous adventure stories, and the New Testament as the biography of a miraculous healer who went about fixing people’s problems, then died and went to heaven a long time ago but is somehow still supposed to be our friend, who “saves” us from … something—something terrible that we deserve because we are bad and are constantly messing up.

Continue reading “The Primal Story”

Basing Sunday School Curriculum on Hymns

Children sing 2

In response to a discussion thread in Forma about hymn-based Sunday school curriculum, I’m adapting here the relevant part of a Sunday Paper Editorial I wrote way back in 2001. The parish where I was then the Minister of Christian Nurture and Children’s Missioner was a small downtown congregation with a long history of activism and outreach—not typically the first choice of young middle-class families in search of a congregation to belong to for the sake of their children. As a result of outreach to children and families in nearby neighborhoods, the Sunday school, though small, was lively and diverse—and challenged by the need to accommodate a wide variation in ages, reading levels, and backgrounds.

Our efforts to use an age-graded curriculum foundered. Attendance was unpredictable, so continuity suffered; both teachers and children became frustrated. Crafts, designed as individual projects on a pre-ordained model, accentuated the differences in ability and attendance between the children. The younger, less regular, or less adept kids would begin a project and be unable to finish it in the short time available, or toss it out in frustration. The completed, or partially completed projects would be carried into church after Sunday school only to be abandoned in the pew or left lying in the parish hall after coffee hour.

A breakthrough came when we switched to a one-room-schoolhouse model for our Sunday school, and decided to choose crafts that would be communal in nature, extend over several weeks, and result in a permanent finished product that would be somehow shared with the congregation. The wide variation in children’s abilities and attendance would be far less conspicuous; children could each contribute, according to their ability, to a visible, tangible product for which all, together, would feel pride and ownership. Instead of abandoning their work at coffee hour, or taking it home only to see it, inevitably, end up in the trash, the children would all proudly present their project to the congregation and have it genuinely admired and appreciated. Continue reading “Basing Sunday School Curriculum on Hymns”

MORE books for sale!

Guess what, folks—there was another crate of books among the nine crates of books, toys and gifts remaindered from Beulah Enterprises … and it includes a dozen or so Christmas titles!! They are mostly large, hardcover picture books and therefore priced at $10.00 each. Act now!

To order, please call 203-624-2520, or send an email to sundaypaper@snet.net, with the church’s name, mailing address, phone number, the name of a contact person, and an email address, plus the title(s) you wish to order, and how many copies. Quantities are limited, and sold-out titles will not be re-stocked.

Prepayment is not required, and we do not take credit cards. We will send you an invoice.

For an update on availability from our previous book sale, see the previous post.

Continue reading “MORE books for sale!”

Check here for updates on our book sale

A couple of weeks ago I sent out to my subscribers a list of remaindered books that I was putting on sale. They have been going fast and I need a way to keep the list current, so that folks who are shopping for books don’t send me orders for which I have to reply, “sorry, that’s sold out.” So I will be posting an updated list here.  Please note that it will not be kept up to the minute; for that, you should check THE SUNDAY PAPER’S Facebook page, which will list the sold-out titles only, and be kept as current as humanly possible.

Non-subscribers are also welcome to order books. All proceeds will go to the Children’s Defense Fund, since these books came to me at no cost, from the remaining inventory of Beulah Enterprises, whose mission included supporting the now-defunct Children’s Mission of St. Paul and St. James.

To order, please call 203-624-2520, or send an email to sundaypaper@snet.net, with the church’s name, mailing address, phone number, the name of a contact person, and an email address, plus the title(s) you wish to order, and how many copies. Quantities are limited, and sold-out titles will not be re-stocked.

Prepayment is not required, and we do not take credit cards. We will send you an invoice. Continue reading “Check here for updates on our book sale”

I didn’t post here in October …

My usual reason for posting is to put up The Sunday Paper’s “Editorial Page” for the season, and in October I took the Editorial Page (with her permission of course) off my daughter Margaret’s blog, “Living in God’s Love,” that she writes as part of her work as children’s ministries staffer for the Diocese of St. Albans in the Church of England.

I did, in fact, intend to write a nice little piece linking to Margaret’s blog, rather than pasting her post here, complete with the illustrations that are integral to it.  And then I got entangled in another project with a deadline, and it got away from me.

Here, then, is a link to her piece, and it is, in fact, quite timely, since it describes a classroom technique (which could be used for any scriptural story or faith concept) using the Annunciation story as an example.

Using works of art as a way of helping children enter imaginatively into the story

Continue reading “I didn’t post here in October …”

Marching to Zion

Last spring in this space I described a new Vacation Bible School curriculum compiled by my daughter Grace Pritchard Burson, a priest currently living in New Hampshire.   A few months later, when our parish’s Sunday school director approached me with the idea of doing a VBS, we got the chance to field-test Grace’s program.  Here’s a report.

The parish where I am a member is currently in transition, awaiting a priest-in-charge and managing with Sunday-only supply clergy. Our vestry and other lay leaders are heavily committed to day-to-day management of parish affairs, and to frequent committee meetings of a task force for discerning our ministry and mission and planning for financial sustainability. It was from this task force that the initial impulse arose: Let’s do a Vacation Bible School. And let’s not wait till things settle down; let’s do it now.

Since we were doing something new, we didn’t want to get in over our heads. Despite the many demands on parishioners’ time, we found we had no shortage of adult and teen volunteers, but still, we intentionally did very little publicity, because we wanted to be sure not to overreach. . On Monday morning we found ourselves with fifteen children between 5 and 11 years old. Half of them were Sunday school kids, and the rest consisted of a family of siblings and cousins who have been coming regularly with their grandmother to our parish’s weekly community meal, Dinner for a Dollar. They in turn brought along a couple of friends.

By the end of the week, they had all blended into a single community of children, who were as eager to play hide-and-seek in the undercroft as to do the structured activities we had planned for them. And that was fine. Building community—making friends—breaking down barriers between “parish” activities and “outreach” activities—is integral to being the church. Next year (yes, we’ll definitely do it again next year!) with the benefit of experience, we will build in more structured activity early in the week, when the kids are shy and hesitant, and leave more time in the last few days for free play.


We had no desire to use one of the packaged curriculums from Group Publishing, with their typical core of one simplistic moral or doctrine per day, each one embedded in an isolated Bible story, and the whole works wrapped up in a packaging deliberately designed to resemble a TV show or a theme park. Full disclosure: we used a program developed by the Rev. Grace Pritchard Burson, who happens to be my daughter. The curriculum is called “God’s Garden, God’s City,” and the main thing about it is that instead of using Bible stories as packaging for “Single-Point Bible Learning,” and “Easy Bible Reinforcement,” it trusts the stories to stand on their own and stir the children’s hearts and imaginations. And it tells the them in sequence, making the week into a single story, stretching from the opening of the Bible to its last chapter, to convey a sense of the whole narrative arc of scripture.

Continue reading “Marching to Zion”