Children's Sabbath: A how-to guide

This month, faith communities across the nation — including United Methodist churches in South Carolina — will celebrate the annual Children's Sabbath Celebration.

Children's Sabbath is a way churches, synagogues, mosques and other communities can celebrate children as sacred gifts of God and renew and live out their moral responsibility to care, protect and advocate for all children. Sponsored by the Children s Defense Fund, the UMC and approximately 200 other denominations embrace Children's Sabbath, and the S.C. Conference of the UMC is encouraging local churches across the state to hold their own Children's Sabbath.

While Children s Sabbath is typically celebrated the second Sunday in October (this year, Oct. 13), the Rev. Kathy James, conference director of Connectional Ministries, said any Sunday is acceptable.

In South Carolina, we want churches to focus on the needs of children in your own communities for Children s Sabbath, James said. It s not just a worship service, but rather asking, ˜How do we engage our congregation to meet the needs of children in our own communities?

James said a Children s Sabbath can look very different in each church. It might involve interviewing a school principal, showing a video in church about local needs, holding a panel discussion after church or organizing a community dialogue.

Even if a church doesn t have any children in the congregation, it still should hold a Children s Sabbath, because all the children in our community are our children, James said.

Children s Sabbath: Helping to end hopelessness, despair

Children s Sabbath is a specific Sunday set apart to examine the issues and challenges faced by all children, not just children in our specific congregations in a worship environment, asking for God s help and direction in our responses to those challenges.

This year, the focus is on children in poverty. Poverty is not just being financially poor. Poverty is a lack of resources of all kinds, including material resources, but also including a lack of power, a lack of dignity, a lack of hope and a lack of a sense of caring, Christ-like love in their community.

We as the church must respond to the call to assist those in poverty. Scripture calls us to it. Reason calls us to it. Tradition and experience call us to it, as well. Children s Sabbath is not meant to be a stopping place, but instead a starting place to open up discussions, awareness and action.

There are many good resources to use for worship on this Sunday. Children can and should be included in the service. They can be ushers, greeters, read Scripture or a responsive reading, help with the offering or Communion, or however is appropriate for your service style. The service is not necessarily about the children specific to your congregation. However, because all members of the household of God should be concerned about these issues, it is vital that we include the children upon whom we have the greatest influence. Start them on the path of remembering those in poverty, and perhaps one day they will be trailblazers along that path.

Before, between and after services are wonderful times to showcase both what your church is doing to assist those children in poverty, but also a great time to whet the appetite of your congregation with new possibilities. Set up tables, provide information and direct ways to sign up to be involved.

May God richly bless our efforts to end the hopelessness and despair of children in poverty.
“ By Anne Shelton, Child in Poverty Committee, District Connectional Ministries, Greenville

Want to learn more?

A full Children s Sabbath resource manual developed by the Children s Defense Fund is available online for people to use; click here.

The manual, which is free, requires you provide your name, email and some other information. Once you provide the information, you have access to a wealth of materials, including ideas for planning a Children s Sabbath, a devotional guide, action ideas, Christian (as well as Jewish and other faith) resources, a promotion guide, frequently asked questions and more.

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