How do Words Enhance or Hinder Worship?

By Mary Ann Weber

I’m a word person. I’m fascinated by how words are put together to make phrases and sentences. What do they mean? What do the words convey? Take this phrase: “Did you eat today?” Say it out loud four times, each time emphasizing a different word. Notice how the meaning changes, even though the same words are spoken. Fascinating!

All of this tells me that words are to be considered carefully and I thought about this as I was working with worship resources this week. MennoMedia offers a bulletin series subscription for congregations to receive bulletin covers for each Sunday. They are offered with or without worship resources printed on the back. You can read more about them see samples here and below.

The congregation where I spent my formative years did not use preplanned worship resources. I noticed that each Sunday, the prayers and words were similar to ones said the previous Sunday. It was predictable and did not tap into my love of words.

When I moved to another area I got involved with a different congregation. The worship leaders and pastors gave great thought as to what was spoken during the service, and I came alive! The poetic phrases, the images that came to mind, the careful nuancing of words, all enhanced my worship. A whole world opened up to me.

I keep these congregational stories in mind as I work with worship resources. How will words enhance, or hinder, worship? How will words lead someone into the presence of God? How will words encourage community and discipleship?

Some people are gifted in writing worship resources. Some people prefer to use resources written by others. Hymnal: A Worship Book, Sing the Journey, and Sing the Story, are all designed to lead congregational worship.

Along with quality song selections, each book includes good worship resources to be used during worship services and throughout the church calendar year.

Words for Worship and Words for Worship 2 pay careful attention to words and how they fit together. Take a look at these books the next time you plan a worship service.

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How do you use words during worship? How do they invite people into God’s presence?

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Visit the Congregational Resources Section of the MennoMedia store to find many of these items.

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Mary Ann Weber
MennoMedia Managing editor

Invigorating the adult Sunday school program at your church

WilliamsburgMCSSClassHow are your adult Sunday school classes doing?

One of my MennoMedia responsibilities at the Mennonite Church USA convention in Phoenix in July was to lead several workshops—one was on adult Sunday school. It was called “Sunday school or Starbucks?” I had no idea how many people would show up but knew that my own experiences with adult Sunday school have not always been ideal. As I watched the room fill with people, I realized that I was not alone in this.

As you look ahead to fall church school season and focus on getting ready for children’s Sunday school experiences, it’s also wise to pay attention to the adult Sunday school program. Are your adult Sunday school spaces welcoming and accommodating? Are the classes invigorating and challenging? (Coffee/tea helps.)

SSClassDiscussionI was pretty certain that the excellent panel members for our workshop at Phoenix would have good input. The three of them, Marlene Bogard, Barbara Ewey, and Shanna Peachey Boshart, did not disappoint. All are resource advocates for their conference or district. Resource advocates work or volunteer with the churches in their conference to let them know about the many helpful resources put out by the Mennonite Church USA agencies. Resource advocates also have their pulse on the types of resources and programing helpful to the churches in the conferences, and they pass that information along to the MC USA agencies. (In Canada, see Mennonite Church Canada Resource Centre for resource help.)

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Some Mennonite Church USA resource advocates

In the seminar, Marlene challenged us to take a good look at our Sunday school spaces. Are they inviting? Are they spaces in which people want to spend time? Shanna mentioned that though gathering for Bible study and fellowship can happen at any time, people are already together Sunday mornings and therefore it is one of the best times to have Sunday school. Barbara shared several excellent study resources so that adults will want to gather and study (see partial list below).

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Mary Ann Weber talks with a convention goer at the Mennonite Church USA
gathering in Phoenix about ideas for church school classes.

Following the panel discussion, we divided into small groups to ponder two questions. Participants jotted down responses which I then collected, collated, and emailed to those who requested them.

Here are just a few ideas that came from the workshop participants that you can use in analyzing and improving your own program:

1. How do you support Sunday school leaders?

  • Make the teacher’s guides available
  • Have a half-day prayer retreat to re-energize leaders
  • Offer prayers and send cards
  • Good teachers need to mentor others
  • Early Sunday morning meetings for the purpose of training, discussing topic, etc.

2. What are Sunday school ideas that work at your church?

  • Teaching styles that invite conversation without judgment
  • Find teachers with passion about the subject
  • Coffee, doughnuts, and fellowship are important
  • Fall quarter includes elective and intergenerational classes based on the passion of the leaders
  • Sunday school class outings to build relationships outside of Sunday school
  • Support groups for real-life issues that may not be traditional Bible or Sunday school topics (ex.: parents struggling with parenting, divorce, addictions, women’s group, etc.)
  • Provide opportunities to share stories

Many people have observed a decline in Sunday school attendance in recent years, but the amount of people who showed up for this workshop tells me that there is value in having a Sunday school program, and that people recognize the distractions that pull us away from opportunities to engage in serious Christian education. There is always room for conversations regarding how to update it and make it relevant for daily lives. May the conversations challenge and inspire us.

What has worked well in your congregation or conference for adult classes? Comment, please!

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Here are just a few of the many resources available through MennoMedia for adult classes (click on each one to find out more):

Also, find out who the resource advocate is for your conference and make connections with him or her. Contact your local conference office if you do not know who your resource advocate is, or check this list. Or join the Facebook page group with occasional links from Resource Advocates.

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Mary Ann Weber
MennoMedia Managing editor

Breathe in Bible School

What do you do with energetic, eager children over the summer? What will keep them busy and encourage faith development all at the same time? Vacation Bible school is something most children love: fun activities, stories, snacks, friends. What’s not to love?

Bible schools began around the turn of the last century when several denominations created summer programs that included worship, Bible stories, crafts, cooking, games, and other activities. According to the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO), Mennonite Bible schools cropped up the 1920s in Wakarusa, Ind.; Hesston, Kan.; Elkhart, Ind.; Portland, Ore.; and Scottdale, Pa. Interest increased and there were 150 Mennonite summer Bible schools in 1938. By 1963 there were 835 Mennonite Bible schools attended by 100,786 children and taught by 11,033 teachers.

GAMEO notes that as Mennonite Bible schools increased, curriculum was developed by the Mennonite Publishing House (forerunner to MennoMedia). Writers, artists, and editors were hired to create experience-related materials that were centered on the Bible. This VBS curriculum was used not only in Mennonite programs, but more than two-thirds was sold to other denominations. It was translated into German and French for Bible schools in Europe, and into Spanish for Bible schools in Puerto Rico and Latin America.

Though numbers have declined and are no longer near the amounts cited for 1963, there are thriving VBS programs concerned with children’s spirituality and faith formation. MennoMedia continues to develop quality VBS materials that focus on the Bible and children’s experiences. Written from an Anabaptist Mennonite perspective, materials are appreciated by many. Approximately one-third of the purchases are by churches of other denominations.

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MennoMedia’s VBS 2013 materials focus on an essential aspect of life—breathing. Take a moment right now and focus on your own breathing. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Next time you breathe in, say silently: “Let everything that breathes” and when you exhale, say: “praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6). You have just said a breath prayer that children who participate in VBS will pray.

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Breathe It In: God Gives Life focuses on Bible stories of breath, air, and life. At the beginning of Genesis, God creates the heavens and the earth. God takes dust, breathes the breath of life into it, and a person is created! And in Acts, God breathes life into a young church. These are just two of the stories covered in the materials, each one acknowledging God as the source and giver of life.

Veva Mumaw at Olive Mennonite Church in Elkhart, Ind., appreciates the MennoMedia materials. She said, “This VBS curriculum contains Anabaptist theology and fits our view of instilling faith in our children. It is exciting and offers creative and flexible activities.”  You can see learn more and see Bible memory videos at www.mennomedia.org/vbs.

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We’re already hard at work on VBS 2014 materials, Welcome! Give and Receive God’s Great Love, which features stories of hospitality. It will be available in October so be sure to look for it for NEXT summer.

Get your church and community involved in Bible school and join the tradition of spreading God’s love during the summer months. And we’d love to hear stories/see photos from your church’s VBS program.

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Mary Ann Weber
Managing Curriculum Editor