You can learn all sorts of things by running a church’s kids’ ministry during a pandemic.
I learnt the importance of taking the breeze into account when you want to teach a memory verse with the help of paper boats. I got a fresh sense of their enthusiasm for relating to one another and to us as we all hung out each week for our Zoom socials. I discovered the humour that can come from resourcefulness – as when we taught Galatians 5 with the previously unknown ‘carrotfruit of peace’. I learnt the encouragement of teaching kids in a church which cares as much for its youngest members as it does for its oldest. And I came to understand more deeply the preciousness of knowing the One whom no pandemic can change (Hebrews 13:8) and on whose shoulders rests all our presents and futures (Ephesians 2:6–10).
When the first lockdown came into effect in March 2020, it was just eighteen months since our church’s revitalisation. In 2017, St Martin’s Stockport was set to close; in August 2018, following a huge amount of prayer and considerable support from the Diocese of Manchester, a team from Holy Trinity Platt was commissioned to join St Martin’s small but faith-filled congregation. Perhaps that made our March 2020 reinvention of kids’ ministry far simpler – we only had a short history of what ‘normal’ looked like. In retrospect (though it was something of a baptism of fire at the time!), I’m also grateful that my husband and I only took over as kids’ ministry leaders in March 2020. We were spared having to shelve carefully made plans for the term ahead (since we hadn’t yet made any!) and we also came armed with plenty of enthusiasm for our new roles.
Our new roles turned out to be a combination of kids’ TV producers, scriptwriters, presenters and editors. It wasn’t something my husband and I had anticipated when we got married, but it turns out that his film-industry background and my theological training were a wonderful combination for 2020 gospel ministry! Starting that very first lockdown Sunday, we produced a weekly half hour video as the main substitute for our in-person ministry. The videos started as a means to teach the small group of children at St Martin’s – but they ended up being used by three other local churches. And that in itself was a huge encouragement. Having been so blessed by other churches in the course of the revitalisation, it was a real joy to be able to bless them in turn.
For that first video, our minister encouraged us to focus on simple Biblical truths which reminded our kids of the constancy of God at a time when their worlds felt inside out. And that’s what we did. With the help of my husband’s Lego and my Schleich animals (you see, there’s an advantage to keeping old toys!) we adapted the storyline and refrain from a childhood favourite of mine – Better Move on, Frog! – to illustrate how humanity God alone is capable of giving us the security we need. And we went on from there. We spent a number of weeks looking at the character of God before moving on to journey with Jesus through Luke 8 and 9. And though we made that very first video by ourselves, the subsequent ones were made possible thanks to the cheerful willingness of our team of leaders, who contributed music, treasure hunts, art slots, memory verse songs and back-garden activities with plenty of humour and enthusiasm.
The videos came to an end along with summer 2020. Since then, we’ve tried new ways of helping our kids meet Jesus. That’s included Zoom Bible studies, child-friendly liturgy, craft packs with weekly worksheets and in-person sessions outdoors. Our ministry, like everyone else’s, has been one of adapting. We’ve kept changing in order to allow tired and anxious adults to serve tired and anxious children in a world whose brokenness seems to change shape with every new day. But against that backdrop, the truth of Hebrews 13:8 – “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever” – shines brighter and brighter. Because if our God is unchanging, then all the other truths we taught the kids – that (among other things) our God is faithful, holy, loving, self-revealing and jealous – are as trustworthy today as they seemed in 2019, no matter what else is changing, or how much they or those around them are struggling. That’s a lesson our kids have needed these last two years. And it’s a lesson I’ve needed too.
You can learn all sorts of things by teaching children in a pandemic.