Looking forward to your thoughts and ideas about how we're going to REKINDLE Sunday School commitment and attendance habits lost during the COVID quarantine.

I will be adding more suggestions as well.


Welcoming your thoughts about "the return" of our exiles to in-church Sunday School and fellowship groups (when the time is right).

If the experts are right, getting everyone back together or on the same page is going to take some time.

  • Rules and guidelines are constantly changing, and vary from place to place and between denominations. (Please always start your planning by looking at your local regulations.)
  • Some parents may be hesitant and take a "wait and see" attitude.
  • Many will want to know what your plans for "social distancing" are.
  • Some leaders may not want to be responsible for bringing people back together.
  • Some families will need their good attendance habits rekindled.
  • Sizes of groups will likely be smaller.
  • Some volunteers may be reluctant to come back.
  • Some volunteers and kids may resist safe-distancing or not be good at it.
  • Some types of activities should be restricted (such as singing, see post below).
  • We've got a lot of work to do to prepare for the "return" -- whether it be at church or in other spaces. 

"Returning" is an opportunity as well as a logistical challenge.

How are you planning to use this opportunity?

What message will be learned?

The story of Daniel, the Babylonian Exile, and the RETURN from Exile is instructive.

Daniel's story reminds us what was important, non-negotiable, worth risking your life for while in exile.

And when they were finally freed, they did not return to the "same old" 👀. Nehemiah and Ezra rebuilt, remodeled, and made Jerusalem better than ever.


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Original Post

Teaching and celebrating "The Return from Coronavirus Exile" 

As we start to see a "return to the new normal," it will be an opportunity to teach and celebrate where we have been, what we've learned (and didn't), and the new future we are moving into.

I always like to "ground" my teaching and program themes in actual scripture, and lucky for us we have a lot to draw upon in the stories and names of Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. 

The Ezra and Nehemiah lesson forums at Rotation.org have a number of great insights into the teaching ideas about "exile," "return," and "rebuild."  Not a lot -- because these aren't stories that we spend a lot of time on in Rotation or traditional Sunday School. But perhaps "just for a time such as this" there are enough good ideas to help frame "the return" with biblical images and insights.

Ezra came to rebuild "walls."  What kind of "walls" should we rebuild? and should we NOT rebuild? What has this exile taught us about keeping the distance and missing the closeness? How are we different? What do we build the Kingdom of God with? 

Nehemiah reinstituted the reading of The Law "to people who did not know it." What do we need to remind people of upon their return from "exile"?  What can we do to make their return full of gladness and anticipation? How like Nehemiah can we encourage the reestablishment of good habits and practices after all this "time off"?  



Their names alone are teachable insights and summaries of their stories:

Ezra's name means "Helper of Yahweh"  (Azra-yahu)  How can we help the return of the exiles? 

Nehemiah's name means "Yahweh Comforts"  ...comfort = rest, wholeness, no fear, salvation. What comforts do we need to extend to others. What fears do we need to put to rest? 

Daniel's name means "God is my judge" ...a nod to Daniel's defense of prayer and worship against the edicts of Nebuchadnezzar.  Perhaps "God is my judge, not you!" is the full teachable meaning.  What did you "give up doing" during your time of exile? ...and what do you need to get back to and faithful about upon your return?

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Our challenge is going to come from the timing of things. Our state's lockdown is until the end of May--unless our governor makes it even longer, again. We don't do Sunday School over the summer, so that means no Sunday School from mid-March when the lockdown started until September. That is 5 1/2 months! 

@CathyWalz posted:

Our challenge is going to come from the timing of things. Our state's lockdown is until the end of May--unless our governor makes it even longer, again. We don't do Sunday School over the summer, so that means no Sunday School from mid-March when the lockdown started until September. That is 5 1/2 months! 

@CathyWalz

I feel your pain about the effect of so long of a "lay off" from church, not only for the children, but for family habits, and church finances (among other things).  I know some churches have not done much so far. They seem to be in a holding pattern doing the minimum. I suspect they will be worse off the longer this thing continues.

"We are literally building the plane as we fly it right now."

-- a pastor in Geneva Illinois

Those who get creative and continue to adapt as things change will rebound more quickly (and win the respect and relevance of their members. To wit: See Amy's church photo of worship in their tent!)  

I was struck by the phrase "we don't do" in your reference to past practices of not doing summer Sunday School. There being nothing "normal" about this year, I would ask, "what do we NEED to do?" What will give hope? What will help people reconnect in some responsible way with their faith friends? (which to me seems to be the most important short-term need).

What could this look like?

I would begin the brainstorming by dropping the words "program" and "school" from our vocabulary and replace them with "reaching out" and "connecting."  There are some good ideas over here in the alternative-VBS discussion.

One of the things churches are discovering is that many of its people want to respond and serve. It is not only a Christian reflex, it a way of coping with our own sense of loss and anxiety. How can children serve?  The answers are probably LOCAL to where each of us lives.

In my community:

  • A church has been making and distributing home-sewn masks for children. Kids can help make and distribute to their friends.
  • A church on Main street put out a sign asking for canned goods, and there are cars there every time I drive by.  Kids can put on gloves and sort.
  • My granddaughter's best friend (and her mom) showed up on their doorstep last week with a cooler full of ice cream sandwiches in a wagon. They were wearing masks and gloves, stayed outside, and only stayed for 5 minutes because they had other neighbors to visit.
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Lifeway Resources, the educational publisher of the S. Baptist Convention, puts out some pretty good stuff even for Presbyterians like me. a wink

Read their "6 Considerations for Re-opening Your Kids Ministry"

One thing this resource doesn't address is how we can reach out to those who DO NOT initially heed the call to return. I suspect many parents will be from Missouri on this issue, i.e. "show me what you're doing and how many others think it's safe."  In this respect, we should be ready to post photos and videos of early gatherings (making sure they show good social practices).

  On a related subject, I found this very interesting blog asking "24 Questions Your Church Should Be Asking Before People Return."  Some of them pertain to children's ministry as well. 

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Experts advise us not to sing as usual
when we get back together

In brief:
Experts in both the mechanics of singing and science of epidemiology (infection) backed by a large body of research are warning that the "forceful mechanics" of singing turns those infected into "super-spreaders" -- projecting virus-containing droplets in larger quantities over greater distances in confined spaces such as sanctuaries and classrooms that normal social distancing practices and common masks are largely ineffective against. Their findings are being taken seriously by performing arts organizations, choral leaders, and a growing number of worship experts across the country, as should those of us who sing with children and adults. See the articles below for more info.

Simply put, when we get back together,
among other things we should NOT be singing as usual.

This is no joke or over-reaction. Ask the members of Living Spirit United Church or Mt Vernon Presbyterian choir practice. They practiced hand-washing and safe distancing at their gatherings, but nearly half got sick and in both churches, two people died. There are other examples where infection rates soared after singing together. These are facts.

While initial "worship guidelines" from major denominations have not been overly cautious about singing together in worship, updates are beginning to warn leaders. As well, Christian news outlets such as Christianity Today and the Religious News Service, are beginning to sound the warning about unguarded singing in confined spaces (such as a sanctuary or classroom). 

“Based on the science that we are learning about this week, we are urging and I am personally urging extreme caution,” said Rev. John Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“Singing together in congregations is a practice that we dearly love and are eager to promote, but loving our neighbor is job one here and so a time for fasting from this wonderful practice may be longer than any of us would like.” (RNS)

Here are two more additional articles about it. Be sure to read the suggestions at the end of this post and feel free to share your own in light of these important facts.

1) Singing, the Church, and COVID-19: A Caution for Moving Forward in Our Current Pandemic, written by Heather R. Nelson, Ph.D with numerous scientific citations and explanations about the "aerosol" effect of singing, concludes:

"For now, it is not safe to sing together." 

Dr. Nelson is church music director who also happens to be a vocologist and a voice teacher with a PhD in Vocal Pedagogy and Voice Science. 

What about masks? The cloth variety everyone is wearing are no more than 20-40% effective, and many homemade masks much less so. Even the "N95" masks used by first-responders are only 95% effective (that's what the "95" means).

2)  An expert panel assembled by the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), Chorus America, the Barbershop Harmony Society, and the Performing Arts Medical Association (PAMA) laid out a sobering vision for the future of public singing in America, concluding that "there is no safe way for choirs to rehearse together until there is a vaccine or 95% effective treatment in place."  (This quote comes from Dr. Lucinda Halstead, president of the Performing Arts Medical Association, and the medical director of the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of South Carolina.) 

"Singers are super-spreaders."

Singing emits about the same amount of particles as a cough, but unlike a cough, singing is constant and multiplied by the number of singers. 

This information needs to be shared with worship leaders and even solo singers -- who should all be wearing masks in gathering and enclosed spaces. In this season of COVID, angels speak and sing with muffled voices.

View more COVID & Singing related resources from that seminar.
Read the Washington Post's May 2020 article on the subject.

Posting this article hurts. I LOVE to sing. I love congregational singing and singing with kids. But I also try not to be stupid.

Dr. Nelson concludes with this note of hope that speaks to me as someone who sees problems as opportunities to learn something new:

I think it could actually be an amazingly instructional time for us as churches to dive more deeply into what worship means besides singing in our public gatherings. We can worship with preaching, testimony, prayer, contemplation…all things that are true worship that just happen to not be set to music.

I think it can also be a wonderful opportunity to take music out of the church building and put it back into homes. As a worship leader and a music educator, I have long wanted to empower people to use music in their home lives, making music on their own for worship and entertainment. Too long we’ve left the music to the professionals, and this could be a wonderful opportunity for the church to sing everywhere.

Children's ministry folks also know that not all joyful noises require an open mouth! "Singing" can be done using instruments, rhythm, body movement, and hand motions. Perhaps this is something adult worship leaders could take a page from.

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For children's ministry, here are several ways you could potentially lower the risk of "super-spreading by singing" while still be able to include the power and pleasure of "singing" God's praise when we're safely back together.

All of the following suggestions assume you have all your other safe-practice ducks in order.

1. Sing outside where the science of sunlight, air circulation, and increased distance can work for us.

Project or display lyrics.
See the non-singing suggestions below.
And... continue to wear masks.
And... continue to maintain appropriate distances,
And... continue to clean surfaces (including microphones)

2. Use Movement and Motion instead of voice to "sing."

Not only is this a technique many children's leaders are familiar with, it opens up learning opportunities when students discuss what movements best interpret the lyrics.

Not all joyful noises require an open mouth. 
 

3. Hum instead of sing, or use rhythm instruments

And... continue to wear masks.
And... continue to maintain appropriate distances.
And... continue to clean surfaces.

4. Quiet Your Singing and Speaking

Have kids whisper or sing softly (kids will like this) while continuing to wear masks and keep an appropriate distance. Make sure leaders don't have to shout.

Researchers warn that the constant and forceful expulsion of droplets during singing and speaking loudly in confined space risks "super spreading" (allows one infected person to infect others in mass by forcefully spraying droplets).

If you are the leader, song leader, or speaker, stand back from people, use your “inside voice” as our moms used to say, and use a microphone (and don't forget to clean it afterward).

5. Move singing to an online "sing-along" format.

Let's all pray for the day when these become "just" creative ideas instead of creative necessities.

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Another option for socially distanced singing in Sunday school: singing in the shower!  Take a look at this great lesson idea in the Jesus Feeds 5000 Writing Team lesson set. 

(It would have to be adapted to not allow children to sing with a friend in the shower.)  

Shower-Hampton-SM

This Writing Team lesson is open to our Supporting Members (a great bargain at $45/year!). Here is a link to the lesson summary that is open to all. 

 

And here is an article open to all that explains the technique

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Last edited by Neil MacQueen

I have been enjoying music and dance compilation videos that churches and other organizations have been putting together lately. Here is one of the Hallelujah Chorus that I find particularly uplifting and encouraging as well as fun:

The Hallelujah Chorus-2020 from Most Sacred Heart on Vimeo.

Producing a video like this is a safe way to enjoy music and be socially distant.

This music video reminded me of a writing team lesson that would work for a lesson incorporating music from a safe distance in the classroom, or that can be easily adapted into a Zoom family lesson with video clips sent from homes.  And, bonus points, it is the story of the exile Esther! Here is a video from board member Donna Grabert's church (Turning Pointe UMC):

The Writing Team's lesson is for a Music~Worship~Drama "Do Something" workshop. This special workshop features the wonderful music video of Matthew West's song, "Do Something," and instructions for how to make your own version of the video as a live performance in a worship setting or for classroom viewing.  (Consider having families at home read Esther's story in advance and start the online group lesson with a quick review of the story.) 

{The lesson plan is only open to Supporting Members who make this site and resources like this possible. Why not become a Supporting Member today? The lesson summary is open to all.}

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