When the faith formation team members at The Congregational Church of Mansfield, MA, were discussing how to do Sunday School during the pandemic, they realized they faced a challenge. They had heard from parents that their children and youth were already participating in school and worship services online and they didn't want "one more ZOOM meeting." The team also wondered how they could involve more people, especially senior citizens, in the life of the church when gathering is not safe.
To meet the challenges, they came up with the idea of a fun 5-episode video series that tells the story of the Exodus and the people's time in the Wilderness. (Wilderness was a key theme of the church this year.)
Each week's video "premieres" during Sunday morning ZOOM worship service — because, as Shaver notes, faith formation is for all ages. Later the video is posted on their YouTube channel.
“The opening and closing narrations are written for children and youth but accessible to adults, much as I would plan a children's message for in-person worship,” explained the Rev. Dr. Ruth E. Shaver, the intentional interim minister.
“I wrap a theme from the week's episode of ‘The Wilderness’ into my sermon so that everything ties together on Sunday mornings, as I would do for in-person worship.”
“Participating in church remotely isn't nearly as interactive as participating in person and seeing others in person,” said Suzanne Eyerman, a member and one of the narrators. “The video series was a great way for nonclergy to be involved, and those participants, also known as actors, interjected with plenty of quips that made us laugh, even in the middle of a serious story.”
The faith formation team is having a great deal of fun making the videos, and those on the production staff enjoy watching people's reactions on ZOOM as the story unfolds each week. One video entitled ‘Pharaoh, Pharaoh!’ is set to the tune of the song “Louie, Louie” where Shaver uses different hand motions, including the ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’ dance moves, to tell the Exodus story. Another video was filmed in the church yard, where Dick Kelsay, a Deacon and member of the Parish Relations Team, dressed to look like Moses, approaches a small shrub wrapped in reddish-orange fabric (to signify the burning bush).
“This whole project is a Holy Spirit fostered combination of talent, recognition of new needs for this time, and a willingness to try new things,” said Shaver.
The program has shown to be a success, gathering about 50 views for each video, as church members have shared the link with friends and family, of all ages, around the country.
"Getting children and youth involved in all-church projects — finding roles and tasks that match their developmental abilities — is a faith-forming practice that guides our young people in their understanding of discipleship and in their growth in faith,” said Debbie Gline Allen, Conference Associate for Faith Formation & Youth Ministries. “This happens every time that all ages are learning, growing, and doing together!”
“The best feedback I've heard so far from across the congregation is that it's wonderful to have a Bible story presented in a relatable way,” said Shaver. “The humor inserted into the situations makes the story stick better than any dry reading of the actual Bible!”
“My kids enjoyed it so much that they asked to act in the new video series about Jesus' birth,” said Eyerman. “They will be shepherds-in-training in a video that will be shown later this month. Along with a couple of other people who are in the same video, the children were able to film their part outdoors while wearing masks, so it was pandemic-safe too. People can volunteer to act, or they can record themselves reading a Scripture passage at home. Pastor Ruth has offered a variety of ways for people to take part, and she really has made it accessible so anyone can participate!”
Luke (age 8) said, "Instead of just hearing a story, we get to watch it!" Gabe (age 10) added, "It was funny! And it was entertaining."
The team thought that Wilderness was a perfect theme for this series because the Israelite people wandered in the desert, discovering who they were and how God was working in their lives.
“During an interim minister's tenure, the congregation has the opportunity to discover who they are after the previous pastor has guided and shaped them, and to see where God has been and is still at work in their community and their lives so that they choose the right leader for the next settled pastor,” explained Shaver.
Now, instead of working on how they will teach about ‘letting the people go,’ the church is on their way to figuring out where they themselves are going.
Note that the music used was presented under CCLI Licenses for music and streaming. The video adventures continue as the church is working on Episode 4 of the Christmas pageant and Episode 6 is in process (as this Spotlight goes to press). You can contact Rev. Shaver at the church office at email@example.com or (508) 339-4793. Visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/serve2love.