|Addison, 5, and Sam, 3, share their ideas about God with their mother Melanie Gryzenia Johnson, center. -Photos by Suzanne McGovern|
The church not only welcomes families with young children, but it also hosts worship workshops, like this summer’s “Prayers, Pajamas and Preschoolers Party.”
“A lot of our members are families with young children,” founding pastor Brian Johnson said. “Many are coming back to church after having children of their own. We are trying to make it easy for them to talk with their children about their faith.”
As the name implies, the church invited preschoolers and their parents to wear pajamas to the weeknight party at the Summerport Clubhouse in Windermere. Inside, children and parents rotated among eight separate stations that were designed to teach children how to talk to God.
At station one, they were instructed to draw a “bubble map” with God’s name in the middle of a circle and descriptive names for God in floating bubbles surrounding the center. Children were asked to write whatever words they knew that described God, such as loving and kind, or brave, or smart and so on.
At station two, children learned how to make a “thank-you jar.”
They wrote something they were thankful for on a slip of paper and placed it inside a jar. When the jar is filled, they are encouraged to read it at home with their families.
|At prayer station three, Alice and her mom, Ariel Ivey, draw something they want to be forgiven in orange or purple sand.|
Station three focused on saying, “I’m sorry.” At this station, children worked with baking trays filled with colored sand. They could write or draw something they were sorry for in the sand. Then, they could erase it and feel God’s forgiveness.
Station four was a “help me station.” The children used play dough to make the shape of something with which God can help them. Then, they wait to see how God answers prayers.
Station five was called the “calm down” station. Volunteers set up a play camper in which children could sit and be alone with God.
Inside was a “calming jar” filled with glitter and water and a little bit of glitter glue or liquid soap. Children were instructed to shake the jar and pray for God to help them calm down as they watched the glitter settle down inside the jar.
At station six, each child was instructed to hold a piece of rough sandpaper, learning that all people go through rough times; but when God is with us, and when we share our feelings with God, rough times become smoother.
At station seven, each child held a piece of bubble wrap. Then, they thought of something they were worried about. They asked God to take away their worries. Then, they popped a bubble to show the worry was gone.
At the final station, children learned about praying for others.
|Jennie Clarke, right, helps Sam Ibenez, 5, and Jackson Clarke, 4, make a bracelet of pipe cleaners and beads for someone they are praying for.|
Using a pipe cleaner, they formed the initial of someone for whom they were praying. The children said a prayer for that person, then, made a bracelet with pipe cleaners and beads they could wear to remind themselves to continue praying for that person.
Finally, the children were encouraged to give the bracelet to the person they are praying for so that person will know how much they care.
In addition to completing the stations, children and their parents were treated to story time and rewarded with milk and cookies and take-home gifts to remind them of what they had learned.
Parents received a prayer idea book made up of tips from the workshop session, and children received a white pillowcase with their name on it that they could decorate with permanent markers to remind them to pray every night.
Children’s Ministry Intern Magen Andrasko, an incoming senior at Central College in Pella, Iowa, reminded children and parents of favorite “rhyming prayers” that families have used over the years.
They included such favorites as “I see the moon, the moon sees me, God made the moon, and God made me,” the “Johnny Appleseed song,” also known as “The Lord’s been Good to Me.”
Andrasko also shared a children’s book entitled “Maybe God is Like That Too,” in which a child asks his grandmother about the nature of God.
Parent Angela Kuhn, who attended the workshop with her 4-year-old daughter Callie, said that the church has “amazing events” for families.
“We have been praying with Callie from the beginning,” she said, “but this really reinforces our efforts at home.”
Kuhn said that her family usually prays about what has happened during the day, but that the prayer idea book will help her decide what other approaches to incorporate into their prayer time.
Pastor Johnson was quick to point out that the “Prayers and PJ’s” workshop wasn’t original with Citrus Church and was patterned after a program introduced by Monique McBride, an ordained deacon and director of children’s ministry at Christ Church in Fort Lauderdale.
Johnson said this is the first time his church has used the program, which was limited to children ages three to five. They plan to do a similar program for elementary-age children and their parents in August before school starts.
—Suzanne McGovern is a freelance writer based in Orlando.