Adventures in Advent

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BY SUZANNE PARKER MILLER | @SuzParkerMiller on Facebook and Twitter |

nativity scene

Image courtesy of Suzanne Parker Miller

“Mommy, Mommy, Wake up! Wake up! I just put Mary on the Advent Calendar!” So began my morning on December 1st. Lacking coffee and still rubbing my eyes to wake up, I dragged myself out of bed and into our Den to see the source of my son’s excitement. Our Fisher Price Little People Nativity Advent Calendar finally had someone Velcro-ed to it. My five-year-old son was so excited to finally begin the Advent calendars we had put out in the house four days before on the first Sunday of Advent on November 27th. Most Advent Calendars begin on December 1st in order to have a standard 25 days on the Calendar despite the number of days between the first Sunday in Advent and Christmas Day fluctuating each year. He had waited as patiently as a 5-year-old can near Christmas for those four first days of Advent to pass by, and he was so glad we could start the countdown officially!

“Mommy, Mommy, Wake up! Wake up! I just put Mary on the Advent Calendar!”

Advent is a season about waiting—waiting for the Christ Child to be born and waiting for Christ to come again. Christ is already here and yet Christ has not yet come. We live in an already-not yet world, and it is difficult on normal days, but is even more difficult this time of year. For my family to be better about living into the waiting of Advent, we have multiple Advent practices we have developed over the past few years. While they are not unique to our family, we claim them as our own. They help us focus on the season of Advent and not jump too quickly to Christmas and beyond.

nativity scene

Image courtesy of Suzanne Parker Miller

We have four Advent calendars we are maintaining this year. The Advent Calendar my son added Mary to has a person or animal a day that we add to the manger scene by Velcro. Another is a coloring sheet he got at school. Yet another is a Lego figure that you build each day that he does with my spouse. And my favorite is one I ordered a few years ago online is a take on the Charlie Brown’s Christmas play, where we add one person or story element each day. My son is of an age now where he does them himself before school each day, and loves getting to show me his latest additions. Having these to help him count down to Christmas makes it easier for him to mark time and focus on the season.

We also have an advent wreath on our dinner table and, when we remember, we light the candles for that week at dinner. Having candles on the dinner table makes the meal feel even more special, and there’s always the fun of blowing out the candles at the end! My 20-month-old daughter loves to pretend to light the candles, and I envision her doing it for real during Worship one day when she is older.

A new Adventure in Advent for our family began with our Wise Ones from one of my nativity sets. Last year I discovered the Wandering Wisemen on Facebook. A mom in Kentucky came up with the idea to have her nativity scene’s Wisemen and their faithful camel travel around their home looking for the child. In the spirit of whimsy that Elf on the Shelf evokes for kids without the attachment to Santa, these Wisemen have adventures of all sorts. I decided to try this tradition with my own kids, so I’ve been moving our Wise Ones and their Camel around our home each night after the kids go to bed. They get to search for them in the morning to see what they are doing that day. They cannot touch though, or the camel might run off, as the note they left my kids the first day said. Follow our adventures on Facebook by searching the hashtag #WanderingWiseOnes.

nativity scene

Image courtesy of Suzanne Parker Miller

 

Nativity scene

Image courtesy of Suzanne Parker Miller

My final Adventure this year has been a fun opportunity for me to share my Nativity collection with those friends and family near and far on Facebook. I have been posting one Nativity from my collection each day since Advent began. I decided to take this on as my Advent Adventure this year because I wanted to have something positive and fun to post each day on Facebook (Along with my Wandering Wise Ones’ adventures). I have collected over 40 nativities from around the world, and my preferences are for ones that are more diverse and explore the Christmas Story within that culture’s own context. They draw me in to think about the deeper meanings of the story of the birth of Christ Jesus. I have a Nativity from Uganda that includes a water buffalo and one from Peru that has a dolphin in it, and these cause me to ask what animals were likely in the first nativity. This question draws me back into Scripture to look at it more closely and with new eyes. It has been a great practice for me, and I am really enjoying the feedback and comments people have shared on my photos. I have heard stories about friends’ nativity sets, and learned that ones I thought were unique are in fact made from a pattern. I am thankful social media has given me an opportunity to share them and for others to get pleasure in seeing them. They help me to appreciate the diversity of our world and see the story of Christ through other people’s eyes. Follow along with my Adventures in Advent at #NativityAdventure.

Wishing you and your family many Adventures in Advent this season!


If you have questions or need additional information, email (bhayesATmcsp.org) or call the Resource Center (336) 722-8126.

The Rev. Suzanne Parker Miller serves as Local Coordinator for InterExchange Au Pair USA for the Raleigh, NC area. She attends Ekklesia Church in Raleigh, a new church development that meets at Athens Drive High School. When not chasing her kids, she enjoys reading and playing The Settlers of Catan board game.

Suzanne pic

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Confirmation… An Ever Changing Process

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APRIL 18, 2016

Growing up in the Presbyterian Church and being confirmed as a teenager is not so vastly different from the process that Moravians take in their confirmation practices. Those memories of confirmation for me are everlasting. I developed relationships with adult mentors who cared enough about me to help me in this step in my faith. I truly felt like a worthy member of a congregation when given tasks during confirmation, such as baking communion bread with my family, and preparing the elements for a communion Sunday. Even the small task of making sure there was a glass of water in the pulpit each Sunday for the pastor… it may seem meaningless, but it is far from that. I learned the importance of even the smallest of tasks and made those next steps in my faith journey. It truly made me feel like a member of a congregation that could contribute something.

Book Cover

Click above image to see more about this book at our online Resource Center library!

As I was fortunate enough to spend some time this year reflecting on my faith journey and what each step meant to me, I ran across a new book, 100 Things Every Child Should Know Before Confirmation: A Guide for Parents and Youth Leaders. It was written by Rebeccca Kirkpatrick and published by Westminister John Knox Press in 2015. What a read it is! Not only for parents, but Sunday School teachers and youth leaders, as we strive to make confirmation be the most meaningful experience it can be. Drop by the Resource Center and borrow it for an excellent read about planting, feeding, watching growth, and understanding an experience such as confirmation.

In Bill Gramley’s piece for Moravian confirmation, Confirmation: A Graceful Step, he refers to confirmation as an opportunity for young people to make a public profession of their faith in Jesus Christ. It is a time when they confirm the steps that have already been taken for them by their parents or guardians, usually by virtue of infant baptism. It allows them to become more aware of the meaning of Christianity and be more deliberate in their response to God’s purpose for their lives. Confirmation is one of the milestones of faith that congregations can celebrate with a young person. It is truly an important step as it gives the opportunity to learn more about the Bible, theology, and what it means to be a member of a Moravian church.

Rev. Matthew Allen leading confirmation on Palm Sunday this year at Olivet Moravian.

Rev. Matthew Allen leading confirmation on Palm Sunday this year at Olivet Moravian.

Many of your churches may be at the end of this process with confirmation taking place during Holy Week or Pentecost. I challenge you not to stop here. We are offering a wonderful opportunity this summer for you to take this process one step further. At the August 14, 2016 Moravian Children’s Festival and Lovefeast, attendees will have the unique opportunity to visit many of the provincial agencies and learn about the work that they do for the church. This event is open to Moravians of all ages! The street will be closed and groups will be able to walk from the square, up Church Street to God’s Acre, stopping at the Board of Cooperative Ministries offices and Resource Center, Board of World Mission, and more. Make your plans now to bring your confirmation group even if you have ended the process. What a wonderful opportunity to continue those treasured relationships you have developed by showing the workings of the Moravian Church.Beth Hayes portrait

It is truly a graceful step, but just one of the first steps of following Jesus. It is not the end of one’s faith journey, but a gift that is received by our faith and proven through discoveries yet to be revealed. Help your young people continue this journey! Bring them to the Children’s Festival and use the opportunity to enrich their faith journey, as well as see the buildings and people that make up the Moravian Church today.

If you have questions or need additional information, email (bhayesATmcsp.org) or call the Resource Center (336) 722-8126.

 

Beth Hayes is the Director of Congregational Ministries and Resources, Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM) 

2016 VBS Preview

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APRIL 4, 2016 

“The most important part of a quality VBS program is not the T-shirts or the crafts or catchy skits that open the day. It is the relationships that are formed with the leaders, peers, and with God. Putting our time in the training and nurture of the staff of VBS is more critical than finding inflatable palm trees or the right banner to hang out front.” -Kathy Dawson, Hope4CE

 As we approach the summer and see all the publicity about Vacation Bible School programs, we are reminded how important this experience can be for children. It is one of the few concentrated blocks of time that the church has to do faith formation with a child. Many of you remember the experiences and people who were part of your VBS events long ago. Relationships are the key to a successful Vacation Bible School as youth and adults lend a hand in leading children closer to Christ.

At the end of this post you’ll find the VBS program options set up in our Resource Center earlier this year. We do this each year and then lend kits to committees as they make their choice. My recommendations for the top VBS programs this year are:

  • Water All Around The World published by Living Waters PCUSA Synod,
  • Cokesbury’s Surf Shack, and
  • Group’s Egypt: Joseph’s Journey from Prison to Palace.

I am not a fan of expensive glitz and glamor, or making VBS themes biblical but with gimmicky, cutesy things, which is why I chose the three listed as recommendations. The Water All Around The World program provides an economical VBS all in one notebook. The crafts are simple and do not require lots of time gathering things. There are Moravians in all of the highlighted countries, so it is an excellent opportunity to use our supplemental Moravian Mission VBS. Everyone is familiar with the Cokesbury model, a traditional, very teacher friendly program which has been out for several years. They do one a nice job using themes and tying them into biblical stories. Group’s Egypt is a marketplace model that takes you back to marketplaces and journeys of biblical times. This program allows you to easily mix ages or can be done with specific ages.

Here at the Resource Center, we keep a list of which churches are doing what school and when. Churches are often able to share VBS resources and decorations with each other. Come check Vacation Bible School out in the BCM soon! In the meantime, enjoy the photos and overviews of various programs below.

FYI, here are some of the programs being used in 2016:

  • Surf Shack: Highland Presbyterian, Central Moravian, Olivet
  • Cave Quest: Fulp, First Presbyterian Winston Salem, Fairview, Guilford Park Presbyterian, First Presbyterian Greensboro, Great Kills Moravian, and New Dorp Moravian.
  • Water Around the World: Salem Creek RCC
  • Standard Deep Sea Discovery: Grace Moravian
  • Egypt: New Philadelphia, Jamestown Presbyterian, and Unity/Shallowford Presbyterian.
  • Surprised by Love from Mennomedia: Hope Moravian

Cave Quest VBS

VBS Name: CAVE QUEST

Publisher: Group

Theme: Following Jesus The Light of the World

Bible Stories: Prophets fortell light of the world (John 1:1-34), Jesus and Peter walk on water (Matthew 14:22-36), Jesus sheds light on how to live (Matthew 5-7), Jesus dies and comes back to life (Luke 23:1-24:12), Jesus ascends and empowers his followers (Acts 1:1-11)

Music: Music non-reproducible, Sing and Play Music CD

Egypt VBS

VBS Name: EGYPT

Publisher: Group

Theme: Joseph’s Journey from prison to palace

Bible Stories: Joseph interprets dreams (Genesis 40:1-23), Pharaoh puts Joseph in charge (Genesis 41:1-40), Joseph leads Egypt through famine (Genesis 41:41-42), Joseph forgives his brothers (Genesis 42:6-45:15), Joseph settles his family in Egypt (Genesis 45:16-47:27)

Music: Music non-reproducible, Celebration Music CD

Barnyard Roundup

VBS Name: BARNYARD ROUNDUP

Publisher: Concordia Publishing

Theme: Jesus gathers us together

Bible Stories: Jesus the good shepherd (John 10:1-18), Jesus feeds 5000 (Mark 6:30-44), Jesus tells about a sower (Matt 13:1-23), Jesus and the lost son (Luke 15:11-32), Jesus appears to Mary in the garden (John 20:1-10)

Music: Music non-reproducible, Moovin and Groovin Passalong CD

Deep Sea VBS

VBS Name: DEEP SEA DISCOVERY

Publisher: Standard Publishing

Theme: Not only is God with me everywhere I go, but he wants me to go out and share his love with others.

Bible Stories: Noah survives the flood (Genesis 6-9), Jonah prays inside the fish (Jonah 1-3), Peter walks on water (Matthew 14), Jesus appears by the sea (John 21), Paul sets sail to tell God’s story (Acts 13-14)

Music: Music non reproducible, Passalong Music CD

Surf Shack VBS

VBS Name: SURF SHACK

Publisher: Cokesbury

Theme: Catch the wave of God’s amazing love

Bible Stories: Creation (Genesis 1), Miriam cares for Moses (Exodus 2:1-10), baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17), Jesus calms the storm (Luke 8:22-25), breakfast on the beach (John 21:1-17)

Music: Music non-reproducible, Student Take-home CD

Water All Over The World VBS

VBS Name: WATER ALL AROUND THE WORLD

Publisher: Living waters for the world

Theme: Learn how Jesus is Living Water for our bodies and souls

Bible Stories: God sends water to Hagar and Ishmael (Genesis 21), water from the rock (Exodus 17), Noah and the flood (Genesis 8), baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3), woman at the well (John 4)

Music: Music reproducible

Joy In Jesus VBS

VBS Name: JOY IN JESUS 

Publisher: Abingdon 

Theme: Everywhere All the time

Bible Stories: A room for praise (Psalm 100), a room on a roof (II Kings 4:8-17), a room without a roof (Mark 2:1-12), an upstairs room (Acts 20:7-12) under a roof (Matthew 8:5-11,1)

Music: Music non-reproducible, Student Take-home CD

If you have questions or need additional information, email (bhayesATmcsp.org) or call the Resource Center (336) 722-8126.

Beth Hayes portrait

Beth Hayes is the Director of Congregational Ministries and Resources, Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM) 

 

From The Resource Center: What You Need for Advent

Advent - mug and candle

It’s November. The Halloween candy is being taken off the shelf… many stores skipping Thanksgiving and going straight to Christmas. At this point in the year, it is getting easier to start fathoming the cold winds and many Moravian traditions that often accompany the Advent season, but at the risk of being like that store that puts out Christmas decorations just a little too early, we are asking you to think about the Advent season now. Not the shopping, the decorations, or even all of the great food–think of the spiritual journey of Advent. What do you want to experience during this season in your family, with your friends, and by yourself ? So now, before you get caught up in everything else,, think about some of the many books and studies in our Resource Center that can help get you where you truly want to be this Advent…

Group Studies:

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Finding Bethlehem in the Midst of Bedlam (James Moore) Christmas or confusion, Bethlehem or bedlam . . . Which will you choose this year? The truth is, we don’t have to choose, because Christmas always happens right in the midst of our chaos. God breaks into our noisy disorder and is made known in Jesus Christ. Christmas and confusion—weren’t they intimately related at the first Christmas when Jesus was born? Sometimes we forget that. That’s what this study is about—how Christ breaks into our chaos and confusion and brings Christmas—how Bethlehem always happens in the midst of bedlam. The re-introduction of this all-church Advent study, which features a new Leader Guide and DVD, has five sessions—one for each Sunday of Advent and one for Christmas. Each chapter includes questions for reflection and discussion, a brief prayer, a focus for the week, and six daily Bible readings for personal devotional time during the week.

The Journey: Walking The Road to Bethlehem (Adam Hamilton) Using historical information, archaeological data, and a personal look at some of the stories surrounding the birth, the most amazing moment in history will become more real as you walk along this road. This study includes a DVD and a devotional book.

A Different Kind of Christmas (Mike Slaughter) This will empower your family and your church to reclaim the broader missional meaning of Jesus’ birth, and A different kind of Christmas - bookexperience a Christmas season with more peace and joy than any toy or gadget could ever bring. Discover how Christians can experience the true joy of living and giving like Jesus, beginning with the Christmas season and continuing as a lifestyle. There is a DVD component as well as a devotional book.

Children’s Studies:

The Christmas Shoppe - bookThe Christmas Shoppe: An Advent Experience for Children (Daphna Flegal and Marcia Stoner) Children explore the story and the symbols of Jesus’ birth, peruse the Bible, and create symbols of Advent as special gifts. This book helps children prepare to be a part of the presentation of the Christmas story. It comes with an inter-generational worship model.The Story of Christmas. Inside this Advent calendar you will find 25 small numbered books. As you open the gates, the Christmas story will start to unfold. It teaches children the amazing story of the first Christmas on earth.

Unwrapping the Christmas Crèche (Lisa Flinn and Barbara Younger) This engaging and delightful book follows a child’s thoughts and actions as the Christmas crèche is unwrapped. Each figure comes to life in this Advent adventure! Share Unwrapping the Christmas Crèche with your children as you create memories and traditions of your own.

Individual Studies:sent

Sent: Delivering The Gift of Hope (Jorge Acevedo) “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them . . .” —John 17:18 God sent Christ at Christmas. In turn, Christ sends us into the world to be his hands and feet, head and heart. Dynamic pastor Jorge Acevedo leads us on a 5-week Advent journey to discover how, where, and why we are sent. Joining him on the journey are four young clergy including Jacob Armstrong, Rachel Billups, Justin LaRosa, and Lanecia Rouse, who challenge us through story, art, and Bible study. This devotional, offering four weeks of daily reflections, functions beautifully on its own or as part of the church-wide experience. The reflections are ideal for use during Advent and include Scripture, personal insights, daily challenges, and prayers.

Embodied Light: Advent Reflections on the Incarnation (Melissa Tidwell) The book’s penetrating reflections for Advent reveal how to follow this fully human, fully divine Jesus with our full selves – mind, spirit, and body.

The Uncluttered Heart: Making Room for God During Advent and Christmas (Beth Richardson) Advent is the season when we prepare our lives – hearts, minds, and spirits – for the coming of the Christ child. We sweep out the corners of our hearts, cleaning up the clutter, to make space for God’s hope, peace, joy, love, and presence.

God is IGod is in the manger - bookn The Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) These stirring words are devotions that guide and inspire readers as they move thematically through the weeks of Advent and Christmas, from waiting and mystery to redemption, incarnation, and joy.

Waiting For the Wonder: Voices of Advent (Katerina Katsarka Whitley) You are placed in the hearts and minds of the biblical characters – both real and imagined – who played a part in the Christmas narrative. The voices lead us closer to the Christ child and deepen the meaning of the season of Advent.

Family Studies:
Christmas at our house

Creating Christmas Memories: Family Traditions For a Lifetime (Cheri Fuller) The traditions we share together each year remind us of who we are and where we have been as a family. Christmas is a wonderful time to establish new traditions, enhance old ones, and build special memories.

Christmas At Our House: Family Holiday Traditions (Donna Green) This keepsake book preserves the special holiday traditions and memories that bind families together for your children and grandchildren. It is a joyous celebration of the uniqueness of every family.

The Resource Center’s hours are 9am-5pm, Monday through Friday (evenings and weekends by appointments.) Email bhayes@mcsp.org if you have questions or need more information. You can view our Advent catalog here, or search “Advent” on Resource.Moravian.org.