“Our Hearts are Restless”: Saints Monica and Augustine of Hippo

Saint Monica (sometimes Monnica) was born in the fourth century and converted to Christianity at a young age. She was married off to a non-Christian when she was very young. She is best known as the mother of Saint Augustine of Hippo who wrote most of what we know of her in The Confessions. She is remembered for her virtuous life of patience and prayer, especially her prayers for the conversion of her husband (who was not an altogether nice guy) and her son. Her entire life is marked by prayer and tears and it is said that when she mentioned her prayers to a Bishop, he said to her, “It is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish” suggesting that God would not leave her prayers unanswered. Since Monica is well known for her tears, she is often pictured in prayer (with rosary, praying/folded hands, eyes to heaven) and periodically she appears grieved or crying.

The Consecration of Saint Augustine by Jaume Huguet c. 1470

Saint Augustine follows a pattern of many saints in their youth–wealthy, distracted by parties and drinking, and well educated–he is a follower of Manichean philosophy which he later rejects. Augustine’s conversion and baptism in 387 happened after many years of prayer by his mother. His conversion story, which took place in a garden in Milan is told in Book 12 of The Confessions which is excerpted below in the block quotation.

Once converted, and after the death of his mother, Augustine moved to Africa where his son also died. He sold his extensive family inheritance and gave all he received to the poor, keeping only a family house which he turned into a monastery. Shortly after Augustine was ordained as a priest he was appointed as bishop of Hippo. A prolific writer and excellent orator, Augustine left behind more than 100 books and 300 sermons. In his last days, it is reported, that Augustine asked for the Psalms to be posted around his room so that he might pray them as he prepared to die. Augustine is a doctor of the church and is one of the most influential thinkers of all time. Certainly his impact in the church–Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox cannot be underestimated.

Augustine provides this account in Book 12 of The Confessions. moves to Milan where one day in a garden, he experiences this:

So was I speaking and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo! I heard from a neighboring house a voice, as of boy or girl, I know not, chanting, and oft repeating, “Take up and read; Take up and read. “ Instantly, my countenance altered, I began to think most intently whether children were wont in any kind of play to sing such words: nor could I remember ever to have heard the like. So checking the torrent of my tears, I arose; interpreting it to be no other than a command from God to open the book, and read the first chapter I should find. For I had heard of Antony, that coming in during the reading of the Gospel, he received the admonition, as if what was being read was spoken to him: Go, sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come and follow me: and by such oracle he was forthwith converted unto Thee. Eagerly then I returned to the place where Alypius was sitting; for there had I laid the volume of the Apostle when I arose thence. I seized, opened, and in silence read that section on which my eyes first fell: Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, in concupiscence. No further would I read; nor needed I: for instantly at the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away.

Hear the story: Share the stories above with your class as you begin your lesson. We have no children’s books about Augustine or Monica. If you ever find one when you are out and about that looks good, let me know. Remember to ask some of the key questions established at the beginning of our unit on Saints: What do Augustine and Monica show us about God? What do they teach us about what it means to be friends of God?

Respond to the Story

  1. Restless hearts: Saint Augustine famously said, “Our hearts are restless God, until they find rest in you.” Wonder with your students on the meaning of this quotation. You may want to discuss it and write it in simpler language together–“God, you give us peace, and no one else will do” or “God, we cannot rest until you find us.” or “God, our hearts will search for you non-stop.” After your discussion, invite students to create a visual symbol of a heart using paper, clay, beads, paint or any other material you would like to explore. Encourage your students to work silently.
  2. Prayers for others: In images and icons Saint Monica is often pictured with a rosary or other symbol of prayer since she prayed so fervently for her son’s salvation. The four activities below focus on themes of prayer, intercession, and praise.
    1. Anglican Rosary (older children) create prayer beads. We have a tub of wooden beads in the supply closets (including bags and bags of pony beads. Use this guide for making Anglican prayer beads, and send home copies of this guide so children can explain to their parents what the prayer beads are for and how to use them. See page three of this document for a pattern.
    2. Prayer beads (younger children) can make prayer beads by stringing beads onto yarn in a line while saying a different person to pray for as they string each bead. Children under (about) 4 or 5 will need help stringing beads, but will likely love to use their beads over and over again to pray for the people they love. As they finish stringing their beads, ask them to tell you who is represented by each bead. It seems small, but I did this last thing with a group of children under the age of five a few years ago, and it was very meaningful. Children, I think, are not often given time to list their prayers for people outside of prayer times with their parents.
    3. Paper People Chain: Prayer is one of the most important things we do as Christians. Saint Monica prays for her son and husband, and in doing so intercedes for them, asking God to change their hearts. Invite your students to pray for people who are important to them. Christians have always believed that our prayers are joined by the Holy Spirit who prays with and for us. Who can we pray for with the Holy Spirit? Make a paper people chain using these directions and this template. Older students may be able to cut out the people chain by themselves. Ask students to work together to come up with a list of people for whom they can pray. Students can the name of each person/location on one of the paper people (Emily, Jasper, the people of Syria, etc.).
    4. Church, World, People we love: During the liturgy, we always have the prayers of the people for the church, world, and people we love (sometimes other categories as well, such as those who have died). Write three columns on the board–church, world, people we love and ask students to list prayers for each of the categories. Create a class poster on which students may always write names or situations below each heading.
  3. The Gift of Tears: Saint Monica shed many tears over her son. Saints throughout the world at different times have had what is sometimes called “the gift of tears,” they are moved by deep compassion and desire for God to make things right in the world. Use watercolors to create images of those things that we most deeply desire to change in our world–it may be something small or something huge, but listen closely to what the children describe. What prayers is the Holy Spirit crying out on their behalf?
  4. Tolle, Lege (Take up and read!): Augustine’s conversion in a garden in Milan was finally prompted by the sound of a child’s voice saying,  “Take it [scripture] up and read” or, in Latin, “Tolle, Lege.” Play a game using these words. Here are a few ideas:
    1. Marco Polo (subbing the words–Tolle, Lege).  
    2. Pick it up (older students): Divide your class into pairs. Each pair should stand back-to-back with a Bible in one person’s hands. The other (who cannot see) gives directions–open the Bible, go back five pages, go forward 20, etc. Once the person giving directions wants the other person to read, they should say “tolle lege.” Then, read the verse or story on which they have landed together. Discuss what the passage or story tells us about God. Come back into the large group and share.

Close with a prayer and snack.


“Lord, What do you Want of Me?”: The Poor Saints of Assi

Saint Francis is one of the most popular and well loved Christian figures. It’s easy to find children’s books about Saint Francis in which stories of Saint Clare are often easy to find. Saints Francis and Clare (one of Francis’ followers) were both a tremendous challenge to the church in their time and continue to be so for us today. Below, I include excerpts from Holy Women, Holy Men on each of their lives. Since our time with students is brief, I recommend selecting an activity below (from the “Respond to the Story” section), as each is paired with a story from the lives of Francis or Clare and giving an overview of their lives plus the story for your selected activity.

Saint Francis of Assisi
 from Holy Women, Holy Men

Francis, the son of a prosperous merchant of Assisi, was born in 1182. His early youth was spent in harmless revelry and fruitless attempts to win military glory. Various encounters with beggars and lepers pricked the young man’s conscience, and he decided to embrace a life devoted to Lady Poverty.

Despite his father’s intense opposition, Francis totally renounced all material values, and devoted himself to serve the poor. In 1210 Pope Innocent III confirmed the simple Rule for the Order of Friars Minor, a name Francis chose to emphasize his desire to be numbered among the “least” of God’s servants. The order grew rapidly all over Europe. But by 1221 Francis had lost control of it, since his ideal of strict and absolute poverty, both for the individual friars and for the order as a whole, was found to be too difficult to maintain. […]

Not long before his death, during a retreat on Mount La Verna, Francis received, on September 14, Holy Cross Day, the marks of the Lord’s wounds, the stigmata, in his own hands and feet and side. […] Of all the saints, Francis is the most popular and admired, but probably the least imitated; few have attained to his total identification with the poverty and suffering of Christ. […]

Saint Clare of Assisi
 From Holy Women, Holy Men

In the latter part of the twelfth century, the Church had fallen on evil days, and was weak and spiritually impoverished. It was then that Francis of Assisi renounced his wealth and established the mendicant order of Franciscans. At the first gathering of the order in 1212, Francis preached a sermon that was to make a radical change in the life of an eighteen-year-old young woman named Clare.

The daughter of a wealthy family, and a noted beauty, Clare was inspired by Francis’ words with the desire to serve God and to give her life to the following of Christ’s teaching. She sought out Francis, and begged that she might become a member of his order, placing her jewelry and rich outer garments on the altar as an offering.

Francis could not refuse her pleas. He placed her temporarily in a nearby Benedictine convent. When this action became known, friends and relatives tried to take Clare from her retreat. She was adamant. She would be the bride of Christ alone. She prevailed, and soon after was taken by Francis to a poor dwelling beside the Church of St. Damian at Assisi. Several other women joined her.

She became Mother Superior of the order, which was called the “Poor Ladies of St. Damian.” The order’s practices were austere. They embraced the Franciscan rule of absolute poverty. Their days were given over to begging and to works of mercy for the poor and the neglected. Clare herself was servant, not only to the poor, but to her nuns.

Clare governed the convent for forty years, caring for the sisters, ready to do whatever Francis directed. She said to him, “I am yours by having given my will to God.” Her biographer says that she “radiated a spirit of fervor so strong that it kindled those who but heard her voice.” In 1253 her last illness began. Daily she weakened, and daily she was visited by devoted people, by priests, and even by the Pope. On her last day, as she saw many weeping by her bedside, she exhorted them to love “holy poverty” and to share their possessions. She was heard to say: “Go forth in peace, for you have followed the good road. Go forth without fear, for he that created you has sanctified you, has always protected you, and loves you as a mother. Blessed be God, for having created me.”

Hear the Story

Use the excerpts above from Holy Women, Holy Men to share the life stories of Clare and Francis. We also have some wonderful books in our Christian Education Library about Clare and Francis, including: Francis: The Poor Man of Assisi by Tomie de Paola, Saint Francis by Demi, Saint Francis by Brian Wildsmith. We also have several books that use the Canticle of the Sun. They can be found under the saints and Christian Life sections in the library.

Respond to the Story

  1. Rebuild my Church: Soon after Francis returned to his hometown of Assisi after a year as a captive of war, he was praying in a church when he asked God: “Lord, what do you want of me?” At that moment, Christ, from a crucifix on the wall, spoke to Francis and said: “Rebuild my church. It is falling apart.” Saint Francis began to rebuild the churches, first by using his fathers assets and later by singing in exchange for the large stones that would be used to build and repair the churches on which he worked. Respond to this story by playing one of the following versions on a “rebuild the church” game (based on the ages in your class). Go outside if the weather is good!
    1. Pre-K Class Game: Use the cardboard bricks (supply closet on the nursery side) to build churches. Children can divide into two teams and line up to build churches relay-style. One brick per child. The next child can take their brick once the first child returns. When the churches are complete, discuss what else your churches might need in order to be finished (a cross, font, pulpit, altar, pews, people).
    2. K+1 grade/2+3 grade/4+5 grade classes: Use the relay rules from the pre-k guidelines above except modify by having the children carry cardboard bricks on their back (bent over at the waist). The student behind them in line can help them balance the bricks before they walk toward the build site. If the carrier drops the brick before they make it to the build site, they must go back to the line without adding a brick to the church.
  2. Rich to Poor: If it so happens that we are rich, it doesn’t seem to make much sense to us intentionally to become poor, especially since status/power/respect in our culture are tied to ownership and the ability to consume more things. Going from rich to poor voluntarily is exactly what both Francis and Clare did. Based on the story of Jesus sending out his disciples in pairs of two with the command to take nothing with them and to accept the hospitality of others, Francis believed God wanted from him and those who committed to following God to become poor.
    1. “If you wish to go the whole way, go, sell your possessions, and give to the poor, then you will have riches in heaven”
    2. “If anyone wishes to be a follower of mine, he must leave himself behind; he must take up his cross and come with me.”
    3. “He… instructed them to take nothing for the journey.”

Discuss what would be most difficult to give up in order to become poor. What would one gain? Are there opportunities to give up things we love so that we may come to love God more? What do we own that gets in the way of our love of God and neighbor?

3. The Rule of Saint Francis and the Rule of Saint Clare: On our first day of classes, students helped come up with rules and guidelines for behavior and life together in Church School. The purpose of these guidelines is allow for a place in which all students can actively participate in creating space where they and others experience the good news of God in Christ without behavioral distractions, conflicts, and chaos. When Francis founded the Order of the Friars Minor and Clare established the Poor Clares, they each wrote a rule of life. These rules helped the communities reflect the message of the Gospel and live in accord with one another. What is the rule in your classroom? How is it helpful? Revisit your rule and make any changes you feel are important.

Students can make an illustrated or designed version of your classroom Rule. Alternatively, each student can decorate one of the guidelines so your class rule can be posted on the wall.

Francis’ rule involved simplicity of life, restrictions on ownership, begging for food, and living in complete poverty. How are our guidelines similar and different from Clare and Francis?

4. Blessing of the Animals: Saint Francis was known for his love and care for creation and his recognition that animals were beloved creatures made by and for the worship of God. In one the most famous stories of Francis, he preaches to a tree of birds (sermon below). In another, he asks a wolf who poses a great danger to a nearby village to be at peace with the people. In turn, he asks the people of the village to care for the wolf and ensure that it has enough food so it does not need to live desperately. These stories and others like them explain why Francis is the patron saint of animals and why it is traditional in many Episcopal Churches to have an animal blessing on the feast day of Saint Francis (Oct. 4). Take one of our Francis animal stories from the library and your class outside to the memorial garden. Gather around the garden altar (it’s made of rock and is at the side of the church. Let me know if you need help finding it) and discuss some of the stories of Francis and animals. How do we know that God cares for animals? While your class is in the garden, look for Holy Family’s two statues of Saint Francis and play a round or two of wolf tag. Instructions: One student is a wolf. Another is Francis. All others are villagers. When the teacher says “go” the wolf tries to tag the villagers who sit where they are as they are tagged. While the wolf tries to tag villagers, Francis tries to tag the wolf. The game is over when Francis tags the wolf.

Francis preaches to the birds

Sister birds, you owe God much thanks and ought always and everywhere to praise him. He has give you the joy to fly freely. The whole sky is yours. He has given you warm feathers like thick cloaks. You do not have to sew or spin for your living. God feeds you and gives you water to drink from the rivers and streams. He gives you tall trees to nest in, mountains and valleys for shelter. Each of you has a song. Do you see how God loves you? So, watch that you are never ungrateful. Stay simple and poor as an example to people. And praise and thank our Father everyday. Your song is your prayer. So, sing, m sisters, Praise Him.”

Conclude with prayer and a snack

Stigmata (art project?) Canticle of the Sun? Thanksgiving for creation?

Preacher Lady: Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles


Last week we saw the stories of Saints through the history of art and iconography. Over the next five weeks, we will work with a saint or two each week, learning about their lives, how they searched after God, and what they left for us in the way of stories about God’s work in the Church. We might say that saints are friends of God, exemplars of holiness, and witnesses to God’s work in the world. Remember that even though we are reading and exploring the stories of Saints, these stories are still about what God is doing. Remember to ask yourself (and, when the moment seems right, ask your class): what does this have to do with God? How does this person’s story point to God and who God is? How does this person help us worship God more fully?

Anointing of Jesus, miniature from Heures d’Étienne Chevalier, by Jean Fouquet

On Mary Magdalene: Mary Magdalene has a varied history in Christian interpretation. You may have observed last week that many in many of the depictions of Mary Magdalene, her hair is uncovered (unusual in depictions of Biblical women), she is often pictured in red, and sometimes exposed or covered only by her hair (though I left many of those images out). In the history of interpretation, Mary has often been labelled a prostitute. The Gospel according to Luke mentions that Mary became a disciple of Jesus after he healed her from seven demons, but this is all we truly know about how she came to be Jesus’ disciple. Other figures in the Gospels including the unnamed woman who anoints Jesus’ feet with perfume and her tears and wipes them with her hair and Mary of Bethany who is the sister of Martha and Lazarus have historically been conflated with Mary Magdalene (hence the label of prostitute, her long hair, red attire). This conflation is called the “composite Mary” and has it’s roots in a sermon preached by Pope Gregory the Great in 591.

What is true about Mary (and all four Gospels seem to be in agreement), is that Mary Magdalene followed Jesus closely during his life, witnessed his death when his male disciples fled, went alone or with other women to Jesus’ tomb on the first day of the week, and was the first to see the risen Christ. Because of this, Mary plays a role in proclaiming Christ’s resurrection for the first time to the male disciples. Because of this, Mary came to be called the Apostle to the apostles (no minor title!), a name that is bestowed on her by Saint Augustine (though the honorific was likely in was in use prior to that).

There are not many details about the end of Mary Magdalene’s life and she is not mentioned outside of the Gospels. One popular legend says that Mary Magdalene once had the audience of the Roman Emperor Tiberius. Over a meal, with an egg in hand, Mary exclaimed, “Christ is risen!” The emperor is said to have laughed, saying “Christ is no more risen than the egg in your hand is red.” Immediately the egg in Mary’s hand turned red. There are some other variations of this story (We have books about this legend in the Christian Education cabinet under “saints”). This story explains the red egg in icons of Mary Magdalene as well as our use of dyed eggs at Easter (In the Orthodox Church, eggs are dyed red instead of the pastel colors that are popular for us.) Don’t get too caught up in whether this particular story/legend happened. What the story says that is important for us is two-fold. First, Christ is risen! Second, Mary Magdalene witnessed and preached the resurrection to the disciples and likely to others.

1. Children will be able to share one of the important stories about Mary Magdalene.
2. Children will ask (and maybe answer) the following questions: What does this story tell us about God? How does Mary Magdalene’s life point us to God?

Hear the Word

You can choose to share some of the stories I mentioned above or some of the stories that are included below. You can find more detailed information here (yes…wikipedia… I know.).

Respond to the Word: Select one of the themes below and one of the corresponding activities to explore the life and significance of Mary Magdalene.

  1. Reading the Gospels Together (older children):
    1. Together, read the story of Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the risen Christ in John 20:11-18. Ask your students to divide into pairs and discuss the following question with their partner: What happens in the story? What is their favorite part? What part do they think could be left out, if any?
    2. Synoptic parallels: Read the story of Mary’s (and the other’s) first encounter with the [news of] the risen Christ by breaking your class into three groups. Each group should take one of the following texts: Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-8, and Luke 24:1-11. Have your students take notes about what happens in the story, then give students time to work through the text together. Come back into the large group and ask each of the groups to share what happened i their story. Compare and contrast the accounts. What is Mary’s experience in each of the accounts? Which story do they like the most? Which raises the most questions?
  2. Mary Magdalene and the Red Eggs: Orthodox Christians exchange red eggs during the 50 days of Pascha and say “Christ is Risen.” This practice is believed to have it’s roots in the legend of Mary Magdalene and the red eggs (mentioned above), the color red as a symbol for the blood of Christ, and the use of eggs as a symbol of resurrection beginning sometime in the 2nd century. After sharing the story of Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the risen Jesus, talk about how she shared the story of the resurrection with the disciples. Mary Magdalene is also reported to have shared this story with people all over the known world.
    1. Reading: You can find the legend of Mary Magdalene and the Red egg online here or read one of the two books we own, The Miracle of the Red Egg or The Story of Saint Mary Magdalene & the First Easter Egg. Ask your students what they think Mary might have been thinking when she stumbled on the empty tomb. What was her response to Jesus in the Gospel of John? What made her want to share this news with everyone? When she did share this news, how did the disciples respond? How did she come to believe the story of the resurrection herself? Does the story of the red egg help us remember and believe this story?
    2. Art: I have about 15 wooden eggs (older children may want to try blowing the yokes from real eggs. Here’s a tutorial if you are interested). Set your students up with red paint (acrylic, watercolors, or a food coloring and water mixture) and wooden eggs. After they have painted the eggs red, they can select symbols of the resurrection (butterfly, Lamb of God, tomb with stone rolled away, even crosses are a sign of Jesus’ victory over death) to paint on their eggs. If you have writers in your class, suggest that your students write “he is risen” on their egg (4th+5th grade class, here is an opportunity for a short Greek lesson!). Encourage them to share their red egg and the story of Mary Magdalene seeing the risen Lord and then sharing the news with a relative this week
  3. Act it out (younger children): Create a montage of scenes from Mary Magdalene’s life using fabric and costumes from the supply closet. Together, make a list of all the things your class knows happened to Mary (her being at the foot of the cross, seeing the risen Jesus in the Garden, her preaching to the disciples, and her legendary encounter with Emperor Tiberius). Divide your class into smaller groups of 3-4 students (put a teacher with each group). Groups can work on acting out each scene for the class (take a photo of each scene).
  4. Holy Play: Our youngest children may want to focus just on the resurrection story. Use play dough (free-form, 3-d, or with these play dough mats), cardboard bricks (supply closet near the nursery), or found stones to build a tomb and talk about how Mary found the tomb empty before she saw Jesus. If using the cardboard bricks, have the children act out the scene for each other.
  5. Mary Magdalene’s Proclamation: Ask your students to imagine that they are present with Jesus and the disciples at his trial, death, and resurrection. How would they respond if they were the disciples? If they were Mary? Would it be easy to believe Mary’s story? Is it hard for us who have not seen Jesus in person to believe that he has been raised from the dead? If your class plans to do this activity, let me know. I have an icon of Mary preaching the resurrection to the 12 disciples (a favorite icon of mine) in my office. I can lend it to your class for the day as an anchor to your discussion.
  6. Repentance: Tradition holds that Mary Magdalene is the model of a penitent sinner. She points us to a life of holy devotion to God, confession of sin, and living a new life. In our weekly worship, we practice confession of sin. This confession is not just something we say, but opens us to God’s work on our hearts, minds, and bodies. Our prayer of confession is literally one of the instruments God uses to change us and make our lives holy. Challenge your class to memorize the prayer of Confession that we say in the liturgy every Sunday and with your remaining time, work on the prayer together. Older children can do copywork, writing the prayer and making a small booklet. Younger children may want to illustrate confession–our confession and Mary’s confession. How does this prayer lead to a new life?

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us, that we may delight in your will, and walk in your way, to the glory of your name. Amen.

Pray before you conclude

Flat Saints

This week, we begin our tour through the lives of Saints who in their own times and contexts were faithful to Jesus Christ and witnesses to the God who is made known in Jesus of Nazareth. Over the next five weeks, we will tour through the lives of seven such saints–Mary Magdalene, Claire and Francis (both of Assisi), Saint Luke the Evangelist, Augustine of Hippo and Monica, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Sunday, students will have the opportunity to identify some representative symbols connected to the stories of each saint’s life, and use those symbols to make a flat saint which they will focus on until our celebration of All Saints on November 1. To that end, there will be no “hearing the story” component. This week, we will see the story and in the weeks that follow, hear the stories of the saints, one saint at a time.

1. Students will see the stories of the Saints
2. Students will create a saint which they will be responsible for studying until All Saints day on Sunday, November 1.
3. Students will identify some of the symbols of particular Saints.

See the Story
We will attend to the stories of each of our saints (and the significance of their symbols) later, but today we will focus on seeing the stories of their lives through the history of Christian art and iconography.
Use the images for each Saint listed below and scroll through them with your class on a computer or ipad (We have many saint and art books in our supply closet. If you choose to use these resources as a supplement, please don’t read the stories yet. I promise we will get to those in upcoming weeks!).

As a class, make a list of all the repeated symbols you see in the images of each saint. For example, you may begin with Mary Magdalene. Pull each images up on the screen and ask your students to notice and identify somes of the details they see (Young children may need a bit of help with this “where’s Waldo?” style search. Then move on to the next image for that saint, noticing similarities and differences.

Students might notice, for example, that in images of Mary Magdalene, she is often wearing red, pictured with a skull, or holding a bedazzled container of some kind. Write a list of what you see.

*Note: Teachers of younger groups may want to choose just two, three, or four of the saints below on which to focus. Children may also need some direction “I wonder if you can spot the red dress.” or “I wonder if you can find the same perfume bottle that we just saw in our last picture” or “a picture of Mary and Jesus is hiding in this picture. Can you find it?”*

Mary Magdalene: Image 1, Image 2, Image 3, Image 4, Image 5, image 6
Commons Symbols: Red egg, cross, skull, perfume jar, the color red, book, candle or torch.

Saint Francis: Image 1, Image 2, Image 3, Image 4, Image 5, Image 6
ommon symbols: skull, stigmata, cross or crucifix, birds and other animals, friar’s robe

Saint Clare: Image 1, Image 2, Image 3, Image 4, Image 5
Common symbols: flowers (esp. roses and lilies), monstrance, book/Rule of life, cross, cloth

Saint Augustine: Image 1, Image 2, Image 3, Image 4, Image 5, Image 6
ommon symbols: Omophorion (Bishop’s vestment), Bishop’s hat or staff, book, pen, pear, heart.

Saint Monica: Image 1, Image 2, Image 3, Image 4
Common symbols: book or scroll, tears, symbols of prayer (esp. praying hands).

Saint Luke the Evangelist: Image 1, Image 2, Image 3, Image 4, Image 5, Image 6
Common symbols: book, ox or winged ox, Madonna and child, paintbrushes, icons of Mary and Jesus, Physician symbol (snake and rod).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Image 1, Bonhoeffer wore glasses and was often pictured with a book. He was also a martyr, so students may like to know that martyrs are often pictured in red or white. Students may make a flat saint of Bonhoeffer as he is a saint we will cover, but they will need to create their own symbols. There are few pictures of him and unlike our other saints, he is much more recent a figure. There is no long history of his likeness in Christian art, but his story is very important and children will likely find it interesting when we cover him.

Respond to the Story
Make Flat Saints: 

Saint Augustine of Hippo

Saint Augustine of Hippo

You will need:

  • An assortment of two dimensional materials from the supply closet. Multicolored paper (construction paper, tissue paper, and cardstock), tracing paper, watercolor paper and watercolors. We don’t have magazines, but if you would like to add Magazine clippings and collage as a possible medium, feel free to bring some to cut up.
  • Scissors
  • glue sticks
  • Paper people (I will put these out in each classroom)
  • Description cards to glue on the back (provided in each classroom
  • List of symbols that your class created for each Saint.


Each child should select a saint from the list above based on their interest in the Saint. They should create a likeness of the Saint, utilizing some of the symbols your class discussed. There is no wrong way to do this. The only guideline is that the materials students use to create the saints need to be two-dimensional in order to fit through our laminator.

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Saint Mary Magdalene

Don’t send the Saints home yet! I will laminate the saints this week and students will be able to take them home next week along with a letter to parents (explaining the project) and a booklet in which they can record their findings on their saint. Remember to write student names on the Saints! One aspect of this project will encourage families to take photos while they are about their daily work, and submit photos with the hashtag #CHFSaints. Fun fact: Our clergy and other staff will be participating in this part too!

Covenant: Samuel Anoints David

Illumination depicts Samuel anointing David. France, c. 1270 – 1280, Tempera colors and gold leaf on parchment


This weeks introduction gives you some of the historical background on the text and on Israel’s move into the monarchic period. You may choose to share this with your class, but it is a tad complicated (especially for younger children) and you may decide instead to focus on how God calls David to be a leader in Israel. Quick aside: I really wish we could do the stories of Hannah and/or Samuel this week because they are so wonderful, but we must move a bit more quickly than that.

In this week’s lesson, you already begin to see our move toward Advent, as we jump ahead to the establishment of Israel’s monarchy. After their time wandering in the desert (we will revisit this story for a bit in Lent), Israel finds itself located in its own land, the land that God promised. It is, however, almost continuously under threat from other groups and peoples. Two things happen to move Israel toward the establishment of a monarchy. First, beginning in Judges, we hear the repeated refrain, “there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in their own sight”; in short, the people are straying from who God wants them to be (or from the Law as received and given to the people by Moses). Second, Israel’s existence is consistently under threat from the Philistines; Israel’s loose confederation of tribes is threatened without some organized power structure and response. The second of these reasons is related to the first, as it is often noted by historical writers that Israel’s existence is under threat because the people (and their leadership) stray from God’s favor. In other words, when they are in God’s favor, they are victorious in battle, and when they are outside of God’s favor, they lose battles. The establishment of the monarchy, however, is not entirely positive. Indeed, at some points, is is portrayed as a rejection of God’s direct rule (in favor of a different ruler) over the people.

As we have seen in various other texts, God chooses (through Samuel), David, the youngest of Jesse’s sons to be anointed as king. Such a selection is contrary to expectation that the oldest male would receive this privilege. From the time of his anointing, the Spirit of the Lord is upon David (as an aside, the portrayal of David in 1 Samuel is pretty idealistic. We remember him as a person after the heart of God, the youngest selected to remedy the evil spirit in Saul and lead Israel with faithfulness, and the writer of the Psalms (though David did not, in fact, write most of the Psalms as these were composed and compiled over hundreds of years). 2 Samuel’s account of the Davidic monarchy offers a more nuanced and complicated picture. David takes advantage of Bathsheeba, sends her husband Uriah to his death, and neglects to respond to the rape of his daughter Tamar by  his son Amnon. These details don’t need to be shared with the children (though they are likely familiar with the first two), but it is important to avoid valorizing David entirely since our picture of David in Scripture is more mixed than our children’s Bibles, and our story for this Sunday demonstrate.

In our text for today, 1 Samuel 16:1-13, the Prophet Samuel anoints David while Saul is still king. From this point forward in the story, David rises to power as Saul falls from the seat of control. This story can cause us to wonder what God will make of these people. Does God’s promise still rest with the people? Does it come through David? In Matthew’s genealogy, it is clear that Christ is of David’s line (Matthew 1:6). Despite all of the conflicting ideas about the rise of the monarchy in Israel and despite the conflicting stories of David in 1 and 2 Samuel, here, it seems as though God has a plan for this people. Even before the exile and the hope of the Messiah how is God’s promise unfolding for the people of Israel and all the world?

Hear the Word: 1 Samuel 16: 1-13

Read the Story of the Prophet Samuel’s anointing of David. You may choose to read or tell this story directly from the Biblical text.

Respond to the Word

1. Artistic Intertext: Spend time looking at one of the following images: the illumination shown above, this fresco from Dura Europos, or this image. After reading the story of David’s anointing, share some of the details that stand out to you. Then, spend some time talking about the images. What does David look like? Does he seem like a simple shepherd boy or more like a king? What makes him look like one of these things? Is there a quality about David that makes him seem like a good king, or was God’s selection random? Invite the children to discuss which of the images they like best and then which image is most like the story as it is written. What makes the images similar to and different from the story?

2. What about the others?: Discuss some of the features that this story may share in common with other stories in the Bible. It seems as though God or another character has favored or selected younger siblings over older siblings in many of our stories (Abel over Cain, Jacob over Esau, Isaac over Ishmael, Joseph over his other brothers, etc.). Why does this seem to be the case? Why does Samuel (with God’s direction) select David  over Jesse’s other sons? How do you think Jesse’s other sons responded? What about Jesse? Wonder together about this theme. What might it say about the work of God?

3. Paper figures: Have your students illustrate an image of each of Jesse’s sons (there are seven, including David). You can find most of their names in our text.  Also have them illustrate livestock, Samuel, and Jesse. Cut each of the figures out and have yours students use them to retell the story. You can find a visual and some additional directions here.

4. David Icon: Many of our significant Old Testament Matriarchs and Patriarchs are considered Saints of the Church. Here is an icon depicting Saint David the Prophet and King. What details of the picture tell us something about David? Discuss what makes David a Saint of the Church and ask students to share some of the stories about David that they know. Is there something about David that makes him a Saint or something about what God does with David that makes him a Saint? After talking about his life and witness for the church, invite your students to write their own icon of David. They can depict any of the stories about David they know, including the story of his anointing. Or, they can make and image of David with symbols that remind us of his importance for the church and witness.

5. Liturgy Connection: Talk together about what it means that Samuel anointed David. The children may be most familiar with anointing from the liturgy. After someone is baptized, they are anointed with oil. Oil is often used when someone is commissioned, called, blessed, or given a charge. Reflect together on this significance and what it might have meant to David to be anointed. Then, set out small dishes of oil and roll up the children’s sleeves. Cut out pieces of the thick, brown building paper we have and give students a chance to practice anointing the paper. You can ask them to imagine that they are anointing a real person and giving them an important task. Then, on another sheet of paper, draw images or symbols from the story on the paper. This can be messy, so in classes with younger students, ask them to get ready to use these materials. Demonstrate some of the different shapes they can make and remind them that less is more. You may want to use some of the extra t-shirts in the supply closet to cover their clothes and use the sinks in your class to wash hands right after their activity.

6. Tending the animals Game: David was out tending the animals when his father was asked to summon him. It seems that Jesse was pretty sure that David was not going to be selected by Samuel! On slips of paper, write down animal names (sheep, cow, horse, etc.) and “David.” Then, Select one child to be Jesse. Send Jesse out of the room while all of the other children select a slip of paper. The children spread out throughout the room. Then bring in the blindfolded Jesse and place them in the middle of the class. When you start the game, all of the children should make the sound of their animal. Jesse needs to find David in the crowd of animals. If Jesse touches on of the characters they must tell him if they are David or not. When Jesse finds David, they game starts over with David playing the new Jesse.

Close with Prayer and a Feast

Covenant: God remembers the people in Egypt/Moses is taken out of the water

Coptic Icon: Moses is drawn from the Water


Last week we saw how things started to go down hill for God’s chosen people. At the end of Genesis, God’s people are in Egypt. Joseph dies and is embalmed in Egypt, buried far from the land that God promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As he dies, Joseph tells his brothers that God will bring them up out of the land of Egypt (Genesis 50:24), but as we know this does not happen for some time. In Egypt, the people of Israel expand in numbers and new king rises to power in Egypt, a King without all of the strong ties to Joseph and his family (Exodus 1:8). Because of the Hebrews large numbers, this new king is concerned about the Hebrews strength. He sets taskmasters over them and they make bricks–they go from being valued guests in Egypt to being slaves.

In the story we are tracking, we have seen how God has gradually entered into covenant relationship with the Hebrew people.

Moses is such a fascinating character and so much happens in his life. It can be tempting to move through the whole story this week (especially with how quickly we are making our way through the Old Testament at this point), but for this week, focus on the first two chapters of Exodus. In them, we learn why the Hebrew people are enslaved, we learn also about the subversive behavior of two Hebrew midwives–Shiphrah and Puah–who save many of the Hebrew children from certain death under the king’s orders (1:15-21). In chapter 2, Moses is born, his mother hides him for as long as she can. Then, in what may be one of the most hope-filled acts, she lines a basket with bitumen and pitch, and sets her son among the reeds (2:3) with his sister standing by to watch. I wonder what she thought would happen. A flowing river (perhaps teeming with Crocs and Hippos) is not the first place one would want to leave an infant. And yet, she does. When Pharaoh’s daughter draws the child out from the water, she gives him his name (pay attention to names in the book of Exodus; they are very important!), Moses.

Take a moment, to notice several things about this text. In it, women–midwives, a mother, a sister, the daughter of Pharaoh–are the agents with whom God works to save Moses (an act which we know leads to the liberation of the people of Israel much later). Also notice how the action taken by each character requires profound trust–Hebrew midwives defying orders from the king, a woman leaving her infant in possibly dangerous water, a young slave girl approaching Pharaoh’s daughter and offering her mother as a nurse, the King’s daughter raising a Hebrew child and giving him a name (when you give something a name, it’s hard not to bond). It’s hard to read this story without being moved about the way God works in such an unlikely way. Also note how much like the ark Moses’ lined basket of reeds might be. God brought Noah and his family through water as the earth was destroyed and now Moses is brought through the water in his own miniature ark. Finally, you may also be interested to note the way that this story prefigures the early life of Jesus (the threat from King Herod under which Jesus lives, the defiance of the king by the Magi, protection in Egypt just as Moses is protected by Egypt’s elite).

At the end of chapter 2, we learn that after all of these things, time passes. Moses grows up and flees to Midian after killing an Egyptian. “After a long time the king of Egypt dies” (2:23). Then, God hears the Israelite’s cries and remembers God’s covenant to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Hear the Word

This story is in virtually every children’s Bible. We have many books in the Old Testament section of the Christian Education library about the life of Moses, many of them leave out the wonderful story of the Hebrew midwives. Notice the details that are left out by each telling and if you choose to use one of the resources in our cabinet, fill-in the details where they are missing.

Respond to the Word

1. Dress the Part: We have several Egypt costume pieces from VCS 2 years ago. Split your class into Egyptians and Hebrews. Borrow a baby doll from the nursery and act out the first two chapters from Exodus. If the weather is nice, take that acting outside!

2. Wonder: This is story filled with mysteries. Why do people who are in positions of low esteem work in ways that are contrary to those in power? How is God working in them? Does God forget about the Hebrews (since the text says that God heard and remembered them) and their location in Egypt? Is it important that the Israelites have this time away from the land that God promised to their ancestors?

3. Leave it Open-ended: Sometimes when we provide an end product for children to reproduce, we don’t let them respond to the parts of the story they find meaningful. Follow our approach from a couple of weeks ago, and provide several different kinds of materials for your students. Offer them lots of time to reflect on the parts of the story about which they had questions or which they found interesting. You may want to provide writing materials, art or paint materials, clay, or something that you have never tried in your class. Remember, if you put out a new material that the students have not used, you may want to provide a demonstration on how to use it.

4. Sing a Moses Song: Since we will spend two weeks on stories about Moses and the Exodus, you might want to introduce a song or two to sing the next two weeks. They may know the songs from Vacation Church School.

  • Pharaoh, Pharaoh is a favorite
  • Go Down, Moses

You can find the music these songs in the song binder in your classroom. Remember that we have several musicians who are willing to come and sing with your class if they are available and you provide enough notice. You can find them on the Google spreadsheet linked in your weekly teacher email.

5. Compare and Contrast Images: Take a look at some of the ways that this story has been depicted in art. The image below is a Coptic icon of Pharaoh’s daughter drawing Moses from the water. Also check out this image by Henry Ossawa Tanner, Moses in the Bullrushes (1921). What does each of these images show or suggest about the story? Which image tells the story the best? Which one do you like the most? Why?

6. Make Miniature story materials: Use clay, paper, felt, and other materials in the closet to make the various items in the story (baby moses, a basket, reeds, Hebrew midwives) so that students may retell the story to their parents when they get home. Here is one idea of how this might be done, but the possibilities are endless.

Close with a feast and a prayer

Crisis: Joseph is taken to Egypt


The story of Joseph closes out our time in Genesis and it does so in a  strange way. After all of our stories of covenant, the story of Joseph is when things start to go downhill for the people of Israel once again. The themes of covenant and God’s provision are less apparent and at times almost seem to disappear. While it is true that throughout much of the almost 20 chapters on Joseph, he seems to get out of a lot of trouble and to garner the favor of Pharaoh, at the end of Genesis, Joseph is buried far from his ancestral homeland; that is, far from the land that God promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Sometimes when we read this story, Joseph is portrayed as a hero and the story seems to end on a high note with reconciliation among Joe and his brothers. But, when we tell this story, we have to keep in mind that at the end of it, the people of Israel are enslaved. It is quite some time before God raises up another leader on whom Israel can depend to bring them back to the land which they are promised.

The story of how Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers (Genesis 37:3-36) explains how the people of Israel end up in Egypt and how they come, years later, to live as slaves under the oppressive hand of Pharaoh.

The children in your class are likely to know many of the stories of Joseph, but as usual when we think we know the story, we are often missing something in it. For example, in many children’s curriculum’s, one of the primary stories about Joseph is the coat of many colors, but our text doesn’t say Joseph had a coat of many colors, it says that Joseph’s father gave him a coat with long sleeves (check out the NRSV on this one). This is a small detail, and one that doesn’t seem to have a lot of significance, except that a big deal is made over this coat of many colors and almost every children’s craft about Joseph has some many colored coat craft. In this class, focus on the details of the story as they are offered by Scripture. I think that Children’s Bibles are okay on this story, but not great. They tend to be a bit moralistic and add details that are not in the text.

Hear the story

Share the story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers in Genesis 37:3-36. This text is long, but interesting enough for children as it includes details about how Jacob favors Joseph, and the details of Joseph’s dreams (about his brother’s sheaves of wheat bowing down to his own sheaf, or the Sun and moon and stars bowing to Joseph). When you read these details, it becomes pretty obvious why Joseph’s brother’s don’t really like him.

Younger children might want to hear this story told in your own words. Older children may be able to read this story from Scripture. Because the stories of Joseph are so familiar to the students in your class, you may want to begin by asking them to tell the story of what happens, helping them with the sequence and details as you go.

Respond to the Story

This week, I wanted to try something a bit different. Rather than giving your students a project to complete, offer them several open-ended activities. The four suggestions below will get you started.

Open-ended response: Choose one or two of the response types below, then set up your classroom space. After you share the story, tell you students that they can respond to the story at one of the stations you have set up. Allow students to work independently, and check in as their work progresses. Encourage them and help them if they get stuck by asking questions. As their work progresses, you may want to ask them about the content by saying something like, “tell me about your picture here.” Keep all of the art at the end of the class so that we can hang them up. The biggest prep for this is the way you lay out materials, so think about items that you know are in the supply closet, and how they might encourage open-ended exploration.

1. Body Response: For this station, set out costumes, and objects that might represent materials from the story (Wheat, some paper stars), some of the Egypt materials from the supply closet. At this station encourage your students to act out the story together.

Alternatively, they can tell the story to each other and come up with body gestures (every time someone says Joseph, everyone takes a particular body posture).

2. Artistic Response:  Provide blank pieces of paper, a variety of materials, and something like paint or colored pencils. Ask them to think about the part of the story that is most important to them. Then, they can create an artistic depiction of that part of the story.

3. 3-D Artistic Response: Offer play-doh or modeling clay from the supply closet. Cover the tables with brown craft paper and allow them to work with an image or theme from the story that was important to them. Ask questions and offer a listening ear as they work.

4. Written Response: For this response, provide writing materials and a couple of prompts to choose from. Encourage students to illustrate their writings. Here are some suggested prompts:

What part of the story is most important and why?

If you could change one or more things about the story, what would it be and why?

If you were asked to tell this story to someone, how would you tell it?

Ask your students to help you clean up the space before snack and closing in prayer.