Friday, January 18, 2019

Are All Welcome at Your Church?

Don’t read either of these 3 books to your faith family unless you are prepared to talk honestly about whether your faith community, without judgement and with fears in check, is willing to welcome anyone and everyone.
Picture Book: A Church for All
Author: Gayle E. Pitman
Illustrator: Laure Fournier
Summary: In simple rhyming verse, an inclusive worshiping community is celebrated. This book starts with a panoply of people anticipating a gathering at their church, a church for all. There they find joyful noises, laughing voices, weak and healthy, plain and dressy. All are embracing and "The Spirit is gracing," even the wailers and the wigglers. This church is full of "hearts believing" and "hearts accepting." 
Hanna’s Comments: Inspired by a visit to Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, this picture book is a challenge! Visually it is full of diversity, a loving and active sort of diversity. People who are young, old, gay, straight, physically able and not. Those who have differences are not just included; they are the heart of this godly community of Christ. The sanctuary of the church is shown with posters of progressive messages all over the walls. This is not your grandparent's church!
Original Publisher & Date: Whitman & Co. 2018
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 3 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: Any scripture in which Jesus crosses societal boundaries such as conversations, meals, and the healing of women, tax collectors, and gentiles.
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of preschoolers and older. Encourage them to consider this vision of church and how your church is similar or different.

Picture Book: All Are Welcome
Author: Alexandra Penfold
Illustrator: Suzanne Kaufman
Summary: This delightful story is about a diverse classroom (not a church classroom) where everyone is welcomed and encouraged to grow. More importantly, it is a place where fears are lost and hope is found. Music, art, and stories are explored and celebrated together. No one is left out. Even bread is served in all its cultural diversity. The text emphasizes that strength is found through diversity so that these children learn from each other and enjoy time together.
Hanna’s Comments: Despite this secular setting, there are many parallels to church, particularly in the text. When we enter a church, what we want are our fears lost and hopes found. We want to sing together and tell some stories – Bible stories and personal stories. Two fun bonuses: The center is a big fold out page that captures the glory of diversity. If purchased new, inside the book jacket you'll find a poster!
Original Publisher & Date: Knopf, 2018
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: Do not judge (Matthew 7:1-5)The Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27 & Ephesians 4:16); Show no partiality (James 2: 1)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of elementary-aged children and talk about how your church compares with this classroom and neighborhood.

2022 Update: This author-illustrator duo have 2 more books. More may follow. All 3 have the big foldout at the center of their stories and a poster inside if purchased new. All involve the same young characters. 

Big Feelings is about how these children manage responses when things don't go as planned while they renovate a deserted plot in their community. Talking things through, apologizing, and adapting plans are 3 of the many social-emotional skills recommended. So many of these skills are biblical! Feelings are identified throughout the pages. This is such an important skill to teach children! Exploring feelings in church allows you to remind all that God loves and accepts every feeling.

In All Are Neighbors, a newbie to the neighborhood is welcomed. The concept of "community" is explored while the children show their new friend her new neighbors and neighborhood. A repeated sentence is: We all are neighbors here. There is a surprising number of scriptures that encourage the spiritual practice of hospitality! Be sure to have your audience reflect on how hospitable their communities are and your shared faith community.

Picture Book: Everybody’s Welcome
Author: Patricia Hegarty
Illustrator: Greg Abbott
Summary: This story begins with one little mouse who is determined to have a “great big happy house.” The mouse encounters a series of animals in distress and invites them to help build a home they will live in together. Some animals have had homes destroyed. Some have been chased from their homes. One bear just doesn’t fit in anywhere. He scares others because of his great size. A snail arrives very late but is welcomed just the same. All need healing and want a home that is secure. I couldn’t help but think of parallel human stories of folks walking into the doors of a worshiping community. Some of these characters' troubles are directly linked to scripture. Think Jesus healing the woman with the issue of blood (does she have a home or community?) or the man who is mentally ill and living among the tombs. The snail is like the workers in the vineyard who arrive late but are still generously rewarded. Lots of connections here!
Hanna’s Comments: Here you have a metaphor for church or any community where Christ is the center. My favorite aspect of this story is that news of these animals’ work and manner spreads and more animals come to be healed and included. This is what’s happening at my church. Every Sunday I see new faces who have been hurt by the church. They enter with trepidation but are eager for acceptance and longing for love meaning. It feels so good to greet them and tell them they are welcome.
Original Publisher & Date: Little Tiger Press, 2017
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 3 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: None at present
Scripture Connections: Jesus heals the woman with the issue of blood (Matthew 9:20-22); Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16); Jesus heals the man who lives among the tombs (Mark 5:1-20)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of children and help them imagine people who are like these animals, longing for a new church home. Then talk about what it looks like when a church community is a place of healing, safety, and stories.

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