What started out as a way to help families overwhelmed by home schooling demands has turned into a unique online ministry that is available to bring joy to children across the Southern New England Conference in the days and weeks to come.
When church buildings closed because of COVID-19, the West Stockbridge Congregational Church UCC realized that many of their members were finding it hard to be stuck at home, unable to gather in-person for worship, fellowship or study. However, Pastor Rev. Patty Fox believed this new non-building experience would be especially difficult for the families who had to take on the responsibility of education at home.
In an attempt to reach out online to the children within their congregation and beyond, Fox (named appropriately) started a new online ministry known as “Pastor Patty's Musical Menagerie.” This church ministry – which is supported by the Berkshire Association of the United Church of Christ – focuses on the spiritual needs of children by teaching them a song, sharing a lesson, and later reviewing the song.
“My goal is to present the good news of our Christian faith in a user-friendly way through music,” said Fox. “The special twist is that I’m including the animal members of the Gould Farm community where I live.”
In one video, Fox plays her ukulele in front of cows while singing about the gifts of compassion, love of the earth, and for creatures big and small. In another she sings about creating love, as she is surrounded by kids (the human kind and the baby goat kind). She invites a large bunny to sing about the Spirit that helps people find their way. On Pentecost, to help celebrate the birth of the church, Pastor Patty’s menagerie included a litter of baby pigs. Alpacas (and some wasps) accompanied Fox’s lesson on calmness. Another video shows Fox singing about ‘the God who blesses us’ as her daughter performs the song in sign language and some children feed some very large pigs behind her.
Fox wrote the songs each week and tried to tie together the challenges that kids and families were facing with the characteristics and the experiences of the animals. She recorded them as live-stream Facebook videos for the public and then transferred them to YouTube. Unfortunately, she found that the quality of live stream from her rural location was disappointing, so she started simply recording and posting on YouTube. (You can watch Pastor Patty’s videos here.)
“Originally this ministry was meant to be a stop-gap for congregations that didn’t have something in place during the COVID-19 shut-down,” explained Fox. “At this point I think it’s more likely to be useful to educators looking for unique new material whether they need it because of the shut-down or not. So I decided to put together some written materials including a one page ‘lesson’ and sheet music for each original song.” Additionally, prayer cards that have a picture of the animal friends and a special prayer for kids are available to anyone who sends her a request.
The church’s Facebook postings of the video has gathered many ‘likes’ and ‘loves’ as well as comments like “super sweet video,” “Love it and love the goat.”
One participant, Cait Graham, commented that Patty’s Musical Menagerie has been a particularly meaningful way for kids to connect with God’s messages during this time at home. “My son Brady was missing the sweet lessons and songs that chapel time provides, and thus he loved seeing Pastor Patty teaching a song and short lesson -- with a cute animal to boot,” she said. “For myself, I enjoy taking those few minutes each week to connect with the message in a new, fresh way. And I always find myself humming the tune all afternoon!”
“While many, many faith formation leaders are doing YouTube children’s messages, Patty’s is different because she writes her own songs, sings them herself, and includes a different animal each week,” said Debbie Gline Allen, Associate for Faith Formation & Youth Ministries for the Conference. “But the most important piece is that her material is so theologically age-appropriate. And her focus is on letting the children know that God loves them, which is the teaching from the Church that kids need to hear over and over again.”
When George Floyd was murdered and as people began protesting, Fox was on lockdown at the farm and could not participate in the protests. Instead she took the opportunity to craft a song that was kid friendly and emphasized the mission of the church to stand for what’s right and care for one another.
“There are a lot of folks in the world that don’t believe they are lovable; who truly feel unworthy of love,” she said. “But the Living Christ wants to move through us to offer love to this hurting world, and as the body of Christ we are responsible for teaching our children what that looks like. That was the sentiment behind my song called ‘What Does it Mean to be People of God’.
“I hope that by sharing a love of music, and the abiding belief that God is with us through the good and the bad, we can help our children remember that they are deeply loved!”
Follow the church (and the musical menagerie) on their Facebook page. You can watch Pastor Patty’s videos on YouTube. (If you need to manually access the site, go to the YouTube channel for the West Stockbridge Congregational Church, UCC and choose the playlist for Pastor Patty's Musical Menagerie.) Just send her a message at email@example.com with your name and address and she will send out one of her prayer cards.