There’s plenty of help available to involve children in Lent

While the world is shouting that Wednesday is Valentine’s Day, in the Christian calendar there are actually some very important days happening this week as well!

Yesterday was Shrove Tuesday, otherwise known as Pancake Day. It exists not because the early church particularly enjoyed pancakes, but as an opportunity to use up all the food not allowed during the fasting period of Lent. Pancake day is always on a Tuesday, because Lent always begins the following day of Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent – a period of reflection and time to focus more on God, and less of the ‘stuff’ of the world around us. Ash Wednesday is a day to say sorry to God, and to mark that by making the sign of a cross on our foreheads using Ash- echoing back to the days of repenting in ‘sackcloth and ashes’, as we hear so often in the Old Testament.

While it’s easy to think of ways to include young people in Shrove Tuesday – cue pancake parties, races, and games – it can be more difficult to think of ways that young people can experience the rest of Lent. But it is an important part of the Christian year, and one that’s worth having a think about. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources for those who want to get involved!

Many churches hold an Ash Wednesday service including the imposition of ashes – that is, marking the forehead. The ashes are made from burning the previous years’ Palm crosses, a further reminder of the contrast between Jesus’ welcome on Palm Sunday, and his crucifixion on Good Friday. While the liturgy of many Ash Wednesday services may be a bit heavy for younger children, the act of saying sorry to God being followed by that marking with the cross, can be easily adapted to become more accessible to young people. Don’t be afraid to try and incorporate this act of repentance into your Sunday school or youth group. While older children particularly may rub the ash off before they walk out the door, giving them the opportunity to be part of this act that takes place across the church may be incredibly helpful.

As we move further into Lent, there are also resources that young people can use to set the 40 days apart as a time of reflection. Many of them will already be aware of the idea of ‘giving things up’ for Lent, particularly food; but may not be aware of the reasons why. Traditionally Lent was a time of fasting, taking away the distraction of having to prepare food to use the time to focus more fully on God.

This has become for many, Christians and non-Christians alike, an opportunity to give up chocolate, crisps, and other unhealthy food both for health reasons, and also as a form of self-discipline. For many teenagers, there first foray into Lent may well be trying to give up chocolate.

If this is something your young people, or adults, are considering, then why not encourage them to use the money they would have spent on their chosen food to give to charity instead.

The Bishop of Swansea and Brecon has nominated charities for his Lent appeal each year that you could consider supporting. Lent Appeal Charities this year will be Faith in Families, Kids for Kids (www.kidsforkids.org.uk), Carers Wales (www.carersuk.org/wales) and Hay, Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees (HBTSR.org.uk).

For some people, food itself isn’t a distraction, so a more worthwhile form of self-discipline could be giving up something that is a drain on time. For example, coming off social media for a month, giving up a particular game, or limiting time spent watching television. This time could be used instead to help out around the house, or to take up a Lent reflection. The Eastmoor resource centre has a number of books that could help with this. A Way of the Cross for Children by H.J. Richards is a book of images with a scriptural text and reflection to focus and reflect on Jesus journey to the cross. Off the Record: Jesus and Peter is a collection of dialogues from John Bell and Graham Maule between Jesus and Peter, to help older readers engage in a different way with the events of Easter.

If you have young people who like to be a bit more ‘hands-on’, then Paula Gooder’s Love Life Live Lent resource is the way to go. Each day there is a bible verse with a short reflection, and a suggestion of a simple action to live that out. For young people who want to go a bit further, they can sign up to the 40 Acts generosity challenge, and join a wider community online who are trying to undertake the same challenges. You can sign up to 40 Acts here: https://40acts.org.uk/

Many charities will also provide resources for praying or engaging with Lent as a family. Compassion have a Lent family planner with activities to do as a family each week, and further daily resources available online. Simply head over to the Compassion website to get involved: https://www.compassionuk.org/blogs/lent-2018/

If you are involved with leading ministry to children and young people in your church, then there are plenty of opportunities to make the most of Lent and Easter. Whether it’s running a craft day or holiday club, or inviting your local school into church to explore Easter with you, there are many more resources available to help with that. In the Eastmoor Resource centre you can borrow Instant Art for Lent and Easter by Kathryn Atkins, Projects for Easter by Jean Cooke, or Edible Bible Crafts by Sally Welch, all giving craft ideas. There is also a Messy Easter Resource book available, for those churches who are engaged with Messy Church. There are even programmes for younger children with Kay Warrington’s Play and Pray Through Lent for 5-7 year olds. With the Easter holidays beginning on Good Friday this year, why not make the most of the two weeks off school to have a day for children to engage with the real meaning of Easter? Or if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, hold a holiday club over a few days to have an opportunity to really examine what Easter means.

You can download the Lent family planner here.

The weeks running up to Easter are also a good opportunity to engage with your local school. Each school will have Easter as part of their RE curriculum, so many will jump at the opportunity for you to assist them with teaching that. Experience Easter is a fantastic resource to use with schools. Classes from local primary schools are invited to visit the church where, in small groups, they are guided by a leader around 6 stations that explore different elements of the Easter story. There is a pack available with instructions on how it can be run, as well as further packs on how to run Experience Easter Outside, or with Young People, Adults, or in Residential Homes and with Older People.

Easter Explored is another resource for schools which takes the format of an interactive trail, following in Peter’s footsteps and discovering the amazing events of the first Easter. Similar to the Christmas Through the Keyhole experience (see earlier post), pupils are guided in small groups around different rooms to piece together the events leading up to Easter day. Easter Explored is available from the Redland Education Centre as a book, with further downloadable resources.

As always, there are resources for use within all-age worship in the Scripture Union All-Age Lectionary Services book, or through the Scripture Union Light Live website. If you have an idea for something you would like to do for Lent or Easter, but aren’t sure where to start then feel free to get in touch at revrachelbunting@hotmail.co.uk. Most of the resources mentioned are available from the Eastmoor resource centre, email zoegilbert@churchinwales.org.uk for more information.

Rev Rachel Bunting is Bishop’s Officer for Family Ministry in the Swansea Area Deanery.