Each Sunday after online worship during the first four months of the pandemic, I placed the story prop I’d just used for the children’s message in a large, leather-bound box. That box started filling with things like an origami boat for the wind and the waves, paper butterflies for Easter, a walking stick for the road to Emmaus, and so on. My plan was to open the box when we returned to in-person worship in a few weeks, holding up each prop as a way to remember the stories we’d shared and how God was faithful.
My props outgrew the box by September. I stopped saving them in November. But I kept the butterfly. I’m still hanging onto the hope that one day, when it’s safe for everyone to return to worship in our sanctuary, I’ll bring those crayon-coloured paper wings as something to unfold and to hold as together we share our stories and we celebrate God’s faithfulness. Perhaps you’ve been longing for the same thing and wondering what that might look like in your context.
Whether your church has already fully returned to in-person worship, is waiting to return, or is currently somewhere in between, here are some intergenerational ideas for marking the milestone of returning to in-person worship.
Invite all ages to share photos of how they experienced or were reminded of God’s faithfulness during Covid. Some ideas:
- the porch that was used for dropped-off surprises
- the outdoor baptism of a baby
- the family photo featuring the grandparents who passed away
- a row of cloth masks clipped to a clothesline on laundry day
- the screen shot taken during a virtual graduation
- flower buds in the garden, and more.
Create a video of the images and play it during a time of remembering, thanksgiving, and celebration in worship.
Remember the Rainbows
Provide each person with paper and a pencil or crayons. Read the picture book Rain Before Rainbows. (If you aren’t familiar with this wonderful new book based on Psalm 30:5b, check out this video version.) Encourage people of all ages to think about the times they experienced both “rain” and “rainbows” since you were last all together. Using child-friendly language, you might phrase the question this way: “What were the hard parts?” and “When were you reminded of God’s rainbow promises to always love you?” Give people time to write words or to draw pictures as they reflect. Then, depending on your context, you might invite some of the following:
- Invite a few people to share their stories with the whole group.
- Provide a wall space for those who wish to do so to hang up their words or drawings.
- Give people time to share the story with someone nearby.
- Encourage everyone to take their papers home as a personal reminder of this time and God’s goodness.
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge is a picture book that tells the story of a small boy who befriends the residents of a nursing home. As a way to help one dear friend with her forgetfulness, he fills a basket with objects for remembering. The story could pair well with a message on Joshua 4; it could also stand on its own as a simple way to remember together.
Bring to worship a basket in which you’ve placed one or more objects that remind you of the ways you’ve experienced God’s faithfulness during the pandemic. After reading the book, show and tell about the object(s) in your basket. Ask: what might you place in your memory basket from this past year?
Depending upon your context, you might invite people to reflect quietly; provide all ages with paper and something to draw/write with, and then invite them to draw a picture or write words to represent the object they’d include; pass the basket and gather all the memories, perhaps inviting a few people to show and tell about their memory.
This idea could be extended over time by continuing to make space during worship for people to share their “God stories” as a way to add to your collective memory basket.
Make a Milestone Timeline
No doubt, since you stopped meeting with the whole church in person in 2020, people have marked milestones both big and small. Celebrating milestones is another way to remember God’s goodness!
Using mural paper, draw a timeline that stretches from March 2020 until the Sunday when you are able to worship at full capacity. Clearly mark either the months or the seasons. Note that while you were apart each person experienced milestone moments: completing a school year or a degree, starting or losing a job, retiring, getting married, the birth or adoption of a child, the death of a loved one, getting a driver’s licence, learning to ride a bike, learning to read, losing a tooth, and more. And through each of those milestones, God was there!
Make time for people of all ages to remember the significant things that happened in their lives while you were apart. Provide everyone with a small stack of sticky notes on which to draw or write their milestone memories. Then invite people to come forward and attach their “milestone moments” to the timeline.
Invite a few people to share their milestone moments or read some of what’s on the wall before offering a prayer of gratitude for God’s presence throughout the big and small moments of our lives during the pandemic.
Count your blessings
Do the math on some significant numbers from the congregation, and then make a PowerPoint presentation to show in worship or a postcard to take home afterwards. For example:
Between March 2020 and September 2021, our church family
- rejoiced at the birth of three children.
- donated $5,670.89 to the Food Bank.
- did 27 porch drop offs, held 75 virtual worship services.
- cooked meals for 108 hospital staff.
- mourned the loss and celebrated the lives of six beloved members.
Through it all, God was faithful.
How about you? What are some of the intergenerational ways your church has marked or plans to mark your return to full-capacity worship after the pandemic? We’d love to know! Please feel free to share your ideas in the comment box below.