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Wonder Box: Integrated, Meaningful Time for All Ages

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General Assembly 2013 Event 2014

Program Description

Speakers: Rev. Christina Leone, Rev. Tera Little

Does your congregation struggle to integrate children into Sunday services in a meaningful way? Join Rev. Christina Leone in exploring ways to use the “Wonder Box” (seen at 2012 Justice General Assembly Sunday Worship) to create intentional multi-generational moments in your Sunday service. Rev. Tera Little co-leads.

Transcript

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: So good morning, everybody. I'm so glad that you chose to come today, come to this morning workshop. I know it's early. And I'm so grateful to see your faces this morning.

I'm starting just a couple minutes early, so I know some people will probably keep walking in. I was under the impression that this started at 10:30. So I have minute by minute schedule that now is 15 minutes behind.

So I am super excited. And I have a lot to share with you. And I want you to be able to share with each other. And I want us to have a chance to even practice a little bit together. And we won't get that chance if I don't maybe get started soon.

So I do encourage you to raise your hand and ask questions. Do step to the microphone if you're going to do that, because we're being audio recorded, and also for people with limited hearing. So do that if you're going to ask a question.

I'm Reverend Christina Leone. And I am one of the ministers at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis, Maryland. Woo-hoo, Annapolis. And last summer at General Assembly in Phoenix, Arizona, my congregation, led by one of our ministers Reverend John Crestwell, we were asked to lead worship at the Sunday morning worship service in Phoenix. How many of you were at that Sunday morning worship service in Phoenix?

And I got to do something that I just love to do, which is the Time for All Ages, which I call the Wonder Box. And I got to introduce the Wonder Box to General Assembly. And the response that I got was really amazing.

And I even got an email from a Unitarian who saw it online from Italy and he wanted to learn how to do it. And so I just thought, this would be a great chance for me to spread the good news of the Wonder Box and talk a little bit about how we integrate children as people in our congregation as full participants in worship and not people we occasionally pat on the head and then send to religious education.

So I want to start by also introducing Reverend Tara Little. We had hoped to sort of co-lead this. And it hasn't worked out exactly that way. So she's going to chime in. And if she chimes in, that's because I have fully given her permission to do so. And I encourage her and expect her to do that. So that's Reverend Tara.

Come on in, come on in. You're not late. I'm early.

So I want to start by talking about what Time For All Ages is. Let's just start with the basics. And the problem is I can't see this on my computer now. So hang on.

So I'm going to start by-- I've done a lot of guest preaching in other congregations, very large congregations, very tiny congregations. I did a lot of that in seminary. I was also a Director of Religious Exploration at two different churches.

So I have seen Time For All Ages in many different ways. And I'm going to note some of the things that I see typically in Time For All Ages in our congregations. This may or may not fit with how you do Time For All Ages. But I just wanted to kind of highlight the pros and cons to how we typically do this work.

One of the pros, I think, one of the advantages, is that it's an attempt at multi-generational community. And Amen for that. I mean, any attempt I am completely in support of. I think it's a good thing for us to try to integrate the generations.

The con of that is that typically it really only succeeds in speaking to one generation. It's children's time. It's the time where we call the children up, and we speak directly to the children, and kind of ignore the adults that are sitting there. And that's when they balance their checkbook, or clean out their purse, or something like that.

And then we sing the children to Sunday School. And then the adults go, OK, good. Now I can come back to community. And it's not really a time for all ages. So that's the pro and con there.

Pro is that it uses story. And typically in our congregations, we tend to be sort of lecture-y or directive. And anything that uses a different learning style is a good thing in worship. And I think using story as a method for conveying information or conveying a message is an important thing. It's good to use story.

The con there is that even though it helps us break out of maybe that very sort of cerebral part of our brain, it's still only a verbal or auditory way of learning. So it's not really multiple learning styles in the sense that we learn through all of our senses, and that children in particular, though not exclusively, need more visual and tactile ways of learning.

Another pro is that it highlights the fact that there are children in the community. And I think that's a wonderful thing, that we acknowledge that for a time, if you do sing your children out to RE, that even for that moment that they are among us. And that's a gift.

The con is that it, not always, but it risks parading the children for the sake of the adults. And it can be, though not always, patronizing to the children. Look at how cute they are.

And they say such cute things. And we all laugh. It runs the risk of being patronizing.

So pros and cons of the Time For All Ages. And now it's your turn. I'd like you to turn and find a group of maybe four or five people sitting in your general vicinity. And this is going to the same group that you're going to work with for the rest of the time that we do these small groups.

And we only have a few minutes. But I'd like you to turn and just share with each other where you're from, your name. And if you do Time For All Ages, what do you notice about it?

What are the advantages of the way you do Time For All Ages in your congregation? And what are maybe the disadvantages? So you have about four minutes. Go.

--of allowing Unitarian Universalists to break into small groups and share is that you're so excited to do that sometimes it's hard to get us back together. So we're going to do a little bit of this on and off.

So feel free to get to know your group a little more. If you walked in during that first sharing, feel free to either create a new group with some people or jump in with an already existing group for the next time that we practice and talk together.

So I hope that some of you shared maybe that you have some positive things about the way you do Time For All Ages in your congregation if you do it. And I know-- just because everything is not perfect, even the way I do this is certainly not perfect. But I hope that maybe you've identified some of the things, the growing edges where you can grow and learn in the way you do this work with children and adults. That's the key, and adults.

So why the Wonder Box? I'm going to check my slide here. Yeah. Why the Wonder Box?

There's one main reason that I chose the word wonder. And I didn't invent the word wonder, and certainly didn't invent it in the context of Unitarian Universalism. I know it's been used in curricula, Tapestry of Faith.

And the way I learned it was through Nita Penfold's Spirit Play. How many of you are familiar with Spirit Play? OK. If you're not, talk to somebody who just raised their hand. Because its an incredible method of doing religious exploration with children.

And one of the highlights of Spirit Play is that it has a high emphasis on wondering. There's even a time after each story where the children sit and have wondering time. And I just love that. So if a child says to you, what is God like? My answer is, hm, I wonder.

It's a very Unitarian Universalist response. Not necessarily, I don't know. But I have a sense of, and a desire and a curiosity to know about this question that we don't necessarily know the answers to.

The definition of wonder is that it can be a noun and a verb. The noun is that it's a feeling, a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, and caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable. It's also a verb, to wonder.

And to wonder means to desire or be curious about knowing something. And I think that those two things describe perfectly what we're trying to impart to people of all ages in our Unitarian Universalist congregations. It's something we cherish.

Even our principles say-- our fourth principle says that we honor the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. And our third principle says that we support each other to spiritual growth in our congregations. So we honor, even in our principles, that not knowing, that wondering, and that growing. So that's why it's called a Wonder Box.

And the reason for why it's a box, why it's closed, is because it does many things. It is interactive and surprising. It allows for there to be an interaction. This is not the time where I just stand up here and tell a story. It honors all the generations and tries to speak to them at all levels.

So if you choose not to use the Wonder Box method and just do Time For All Ages, however it is that you've been doing, I hope you take home some of these, what I'll call, best practices. In Time For All Ages, that it honors all generations, hopefully simultaneously. And if not simultaneously, then at least allowing small moments.

I call them the Shrek moments. Or how many of you have seen Monster's Inc.? You know, Pixar and DreamWorks are gifted at this.

They're talking to the children the whole time. And then they throw in this little joke that the adults totally get, but the kids don't get at all. But it doesn't matter, because the kids are still engaging. Right?

Those movies are the ones that parents don't mind taking their children to, because they're kind of fun for them as well. So I think if we can try to master the Shrek moments, the Monster's Inc. moments, then maybe we'll be a little more engaging to all ages.

It recognizes  the children in the community as partners, and not as people to be patronized. I like to tell religious exploration facilitators that children are people in their own right. They're not underdeveloped people.

[APPLAUSE]

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: Right. They have a lot to learn. There's a lot that adults can do to guide and help them develop. But they have a lot to teach us and a lot to learn. So hopefully this method honors that in them.

And it uses multiple learning styles. This method uses multiple learning styles. It has the possibility for story, for verbal. It does tend to still tend toward the verbal.

But it allows for there to be an object tactile experience. Sometimes multiple objects appear. And children are all standing, and they're holding things. And maybe we're pouring water and oil, or doing various things. And there's more physical interaction, visual and physical interaction.

Just a couple weeks ago, our music director did the Wonder Box. And she had the whole congregation singing. So it allows for there to be more flexibility. It doesn't have to be a story.

And it's an integrated part of the worship service. So again, if you take nothing home from today, take home that Time For All Ages is not easy. It's not a thing that you tack on at the end of planning worship. For the ministers in the room, or the worship leaders in the room, it should be one of the first things that you think of.

I know when I plan my order of service, the first thing I think of is the hymns. The second thing I think of-- with knowing generally what I'm going to talk about-- is the Time For All Ages. And then I build my sermon around that.

I don't write my sermon and then say, gee, I wonder what I could stick I wonder box, five minutes before Sunday morning service. It has to be an integrated part of your service. So I do hope you take all of those things.

Maria Montessori, who I highly look up to, and she was a contemporary of [INAUDIBLE], often said that education needs to be sacred and beautiful. And I think by sort of tacking Time For All Ages on as an afterthought, we've sort of abandoned that beauty of it.

And so that's one of the reasons that I use the Wonder Box. And I chose a particularly beautiful box, something that's sort of special. And I'm going to let you all in on a little secret that's going to be published to the internet apparently, so it's not going to be secret for long.

This was given to us by a member of our congregation. She said, I think I have the perfect Wonder Box. She got it at Marshalls for $12.

And she had been using it to store toilet paper in her bathroom. Clean toilet paper, but toilet paper none the less. So it doesn't have to be something that you buy for $300 at in antique shop, just something special, just something beautiful.

So one thing that I like to do with the Wonder Box and with Time For All Ages of any kind is there are sort of two things that I think can be used. One is story. And I never underestimate the power of story.

Story can just say so much. So I'm going to tell you a story. And then I'm going to talk a little bit about how we use story using the Wonder Box.

So do I have a brave volunteer who could maybe help me find out what's inside our Wonder Box? I wonder what's inside. I see you right there. You're welcome to come on up here and help me. What's your name?

LAUREN: Lauren.

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: Lauren, thank you so much for helping me. I wonder what we have in here. Can you open it up and find out? Hm, what is it? Looks like a picture. Hm, it's a picture. Thank you. Lauren, can you take a guess what that might be?

LAUREN: A bunny.

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: A bunny. It does look like a bunny, doesn't it? That's a great guess. Can you hold it up for everybody to see? Thank you.

LAUREN: Or maybe it's a fish.

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: Or a fish, maybe. Hm. That's a good guess. Thank you for your help, Lauren. You can sit back down. So I wonder what this is.

Well, later in our service, our imaginary service where there's going to be a sermon, the minister is going to talk with the grown-ups about this man named Jesus. And that man Jesus lived a long, long time ago. And the story goes that he was killed.

It was very, very sad. He was killed for his teachings. And on this one day, just a few days after he died, his followers they were so, so sad. But they went to the place where they were going to bury him, and he wasn't there.

The story goes that he had raised from the dead, that he was alive again. Can you imagine what that must have felt like, the joy that they must have felt? Well, that story is what's being celebrated today in this imaginary worship service about Easter.

But that's not the story I'm going to tell you right now. Because that story, it has lots of different ways of being seen, kind of like this picture here. Depending on how you look at it and depending on how you see it, maybe it's a bunny. Or maybe it's a fish. Or maybe it's a duck. Does anybody see the duck? Yeah.

So like that story about that man Jesus, this story is about where we get the other part of Easter, the part about the eggs. Where do they come from in that story? This story, like the story of Jesus, I'm not sure if that story happened in actual time. Maybe it did, maybe it didn't. And this story, maybe it happened, maybe it didn't.

This is a story about a goddess. whose name was Ostara. Another way to say her name is Eostre. Kind of like the word Easter. And she was the Goddess, the Bringer of Spring. And she came and she brought the colors and the flowers to the cold winter trees.

And one day, there was a little girl and she had found a baby duck. We're going to call it a baby bird for our story. She had found this little bird. And the baby bird was dying in the cold. Maybe it had fallen out of its nest.

And it only had light little feathers, so it couldn't keep itself warm. And the little girl knew that if she could only find the Goddess Ostara, that she would be able to help. And so she does.

She finds her. She says, oh please, Goddess Ostara, can you save this baby bird? And the Goddess says, can't you see that I'm busy right now? I've got stuff to do. I've got trees to help bloom. I've got flowers to help grow. I don't have time for your baby bird.

But the little girl was persistent. And she said, please, please help me. Help this baby bird. It wouldn't take much for you. You're a goddess.

So the Goddess waves her arm. And like that, the bird turns into a bunny. And bunnies, they have warm fluffy coats, don't they? They don't have light little feathers like birds. And so the bunny, happy that it had been saved, hopped off into the woods.

And now here's the magic. That bunny each year about this time, this spring time, remembers that the Goddess saved its life. And it remembers that a child was the one who helped make sure that that would happened.

And that bunny remembers that it once was a bird. And it lays eggs. It lays colored eggs in honor of the colors that Ostara brings. And it brings those eggs particularly to the children for the gift that the children brought.

Now I don't know if that story actually happened. It may have, it may not have. And it's important how we look at it. But as we sing our children to their religious exploration classes, I wonder if you'll help me remember the gift of springtime and new life. And we sing the children out.

[APPLAUSE]

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: So stories are powerful things. They have lots of meanings. They have multiple meanings. And one thing that I would like you to notice is that I didn't read a book, that I told the story.

And I didn't necessarily do voices, but I tried to sort of engage and be dramatic in a way that held attention. And that it was a support to the worship service that actually Reverend Fred Muir had preached that day about Jesus. That I kind of set it up so that the children would know this is what the grown-ups are going to be doing while I'm down in Sunday school, but I have a part in interacting with this community.

And the story that I told is an amalgamation of many Germanic tales, that particular story. I've heard it in lots and lots of different ways. But I had to pick one and go with it.

And I knew it well. That's kind of the key. If you're going to read a story, know why you're reading a story.

I have nothing against reading a story if you have a reason. Just last Sunday, I did a blessing for an infant who I actually had the gift of being present at her birth. And when she had been born, I had read her a story.

It's called, "On The Day You Were Born." Some of you might know that story. And so when we did her blessing in front of the congregation, I read that story to the congregation. There was an intention behind it. I didn't just go, what story do I have on my bookshelf? I guess l read that.

You'll notice that I didn't call the children forward, that I called one helper forward. I asked her name. And I honored her by thanking her and having her sit back down with her family. If it's truly time for all ages, there's not really a need to have the children be separated out. That's one of my particular thoughts about it.

So there are lots of different ways to do stories. One way to do a story is to write a story. If you find that that's something you enjoy doing or you're gifted at, by all means write your own stories.

Last summer at General Assembly, I wrote the story that you saw me perform that was about Martin Luther King, the fairy tale about the king. And I took the story off- oh, what was that story that I told? "The Princess and the Pea," you know, the princess that sits on all the mattresses?

And I sort of switched it. And I called it "The Fairest and the Fork." The fork, instead of the pea, was at the bottom of the mattress. But it told the story of being unaccustomed to discomfort or injustice.

So you can take a story you love and spin it. Another example of that is-- do any of you know the story of "The Three Blind Men and the Elephant," the old eastern religious story? We've told that one in church. So you can just tell the story. There's no reason to reinvent it.

Or if you're feeling creative-- since we'd already done it, I wanted to do something different. And we're from Annapolis where crabs are big. We are all about crabs. Yes. And so I told the story of "The Three Blindfolded People and the Crab," invited three people up, blindfolded them.

I had already told them what was going to happen. They all knew their lines. They all pretended like they didn't grow up in Annapolis, so they didn't know what a crab was. What's a crab? And they all put their hand on the crab in one different way. And it was the story of "The Three Blind Men and the Elephant," but spun in a slightly different, more fun kind of way.

You can tell just any old story. You could tell the story of the good Samaritan, or any story that you know and love, stories from our own tradition. The story of Norbert Capek and the Flower Communion, or John Murray and his journey to America, which may or may not have happened. But it's a beautiful story anyway.

So that's an important thing. And there are sort of familiar hooks that I think are important when telling stories. "Once upon a time" tells people you're about to hear a story. "Once upon a time," boom, you know what's coming. Right?

Even if "once upon a time" was last week it could still be "once upon a time" because it's a familiar hook. One that I love, and I used it in the Ostara story is "and the story goes." "And the story goes." You can get away with a lot in your congregation with "and the story goes."

In a particularly humanist congregation, I have no problem telling the story of the crucifixion death and resurrection of Jesus, because it's how the story goes. I'm not telling you it's the only truth. It's just how the story goes. And there's a lot of flexibility and power in that.

And that reminding people and stories are powerful, that stories are powerful things in their own right, is an important thing to remember about story. So you can take your own. You can write your own.

You could put a spin on one you already know and love. You can take a story and just tell it from what you know and love. You can read it, though I don't recommend that unless you really are prepared with how to do it.

And what I really, really, really don't recommend, really, really is showing the pictures. The reason for that is the children can't see it. If they want to see it or can even remotely see it, they all sort of scramble to try to see.

The grown-ups really can't see it. And if you're doing Time For All Ages, then you're leaving out a majority of your congregation. So if you must show pictures, if there is a story that the pictures are particularly powerful-- I can think of one that I know, it's a story called "One."

And it's about little blobs of color. They're the characters in the story. And their emotions are sort of-- they're water colors. So when they get mad, they get really big like this, then really small. Without the pictures, that story is meaningless.

So that's an example where the pictures are important. In that case, scan them and project them onto a screen. But otherwise, it shouldn't be necessary if you can tell stories.

So I'd like you to turn, and you have just a few minutes, to talk about stories that you love with your small group. And think, perhaps, what object you might put in the Wonder Box if you were going to tell a story. Talk amongst yourselves. Stories.

And right before we just ended our discussion, Sheila just came up to me, a woman who's here. And she gave me this beautiful quote, "the world is made up not atoms, but of stories." And I think that's so true.

We are a storied people. It's what makes us human. But story is not the only way that we learn. We also learn through dialogue and through conversation and just through interaction.

It doesn't have to necessarily be in story "once upon a time" form. It can just be in an interaction. And I think sometimes we've sort of trapped ourselves into the Story For All Ages model, that we have to find a book or we have to pick a legend. And it has to be from some world culture. And we have to tell the story in order for it to be Story For All Ages.

And I'm here to tell you that it doesn't have to be that. You are free to break out of the story mold if you are inspired to do that. And I think sometimes for some people, especially if your congregation uses multiple people to tell the Story For All Ages, if it's not always the minister, if it's not always the director of religious education, if it's lay people, not everybody is gifted at storytelling. But some people are just gifted at talking, communicating.

And so by all means let them do that. So I'm going to give you some examples of how to use, what I call, sort of lessons or messages instead of stories with your Wonder Box. But before I do that, I'd like to invite somebody up to find out-- because I wonder-- certainly our duck bunny is no longer in the Wonder Box.

After the duck bunny came out the Wonder Box, I typically will place the object, if I can, near our chalice or near the flowers that are usually at the front of our sanctuary to give it sort of a prominent place even if it's not the most beautiful object in the world. And sometimes our flower volunteers get on to me. They just made this beautiful bouquet, and I put like a Tylenol bottle next to it or something like that.

But what I'm hoping for is a visual cue during the sermon after the children are gone, that the adults, because they're still part of the interactive process, can sort of say, oh right. I remember what we talked about earlier. That there is a hearkening back to the Time For All Ages in that little object. So I usually place the object in a prominent place.

So the duck bunny's no longer in our Wonder Box. So I wonder what could be in it? Do I have a volunteer who could help me find out what's inside our Wonder Box?

Down on the floor. Sheila, the giver of our quote. All right, Sheila. Can you open this up and see what's inside? Oh, what is it?

SHEILA: Money.

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: Money. Yeah. Kind of a lot of money. That's exciting. Can you hold it all up? Yeah. All right.

Now Sheila, would you mind staying up here with me? Is that OK if you stay up here and help me? And I actually need four more people?

Can I get four more volunteers? I see one right there. You want to come help me? Great.

Come on. Be brave, there's money involved. Don't be shy. Come on. There's two. There's three. Come on, just stand up in a line right up front here. All right. And what's your name?

EMMA: Emma

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: Emma. And you are?

JESSE: I'm Jesse.

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: Jesse. And here we have?

LEN: Len.

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: Len and Sheila. One, two, three, four. I still need one more. Right back there. Come on up. I've got my five people. Five brave volunteers.

So I'm going to take the money, Sheila. Thank you Thank you for opening our Wonder Box. I appreciate that.

Now this is a lesson about grace. Grace is one of those words can mean a lot of things. But in this context, grace means those things that we get but don't deserve. Not because we're bad people, just because we didn't do anything to deserve it. We didn't earn it.

And grace is like that. Grace is a word that means those things, usually great things, that we have, but didn't deserve. And so this is a story. Now let's just imagine that you five here are sitting at home one day.

You're watching TV, or you're playing on your Wii, and there's a knock on the door. Knock, knock, knock, knock. And you say, I wonder who that is. I'm not expecting anyone.

And you open the door. And this stranger is standing there. And without a word, he hands you a $100 bill. These are not $100 bills. These. are $1 bills. But we're going to pretend that he hands you a $100 bill. Can you guys come on down this way?

All right. So you might say to that stranger what Jesse said to me, wow. Thank you. Thank you for that. You might say, are you crazy? Or you might say, I didn't even do anything to deserve this.

But the stranger wordlessly hands you the $100 bill and leaves. Ah, you're feeling pretty good, right? That was unexpected.

And the next day, you're sitting at home and maybe you're making dinner or doing something and there's a knock on the door. Gee, I wonder who that could be. It's the same stranger. And he hands you another $100 bill.

SPEAKER 1: Good to see you again.

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: Good to see you again.

SPEAKER 1: See you tomorrow.

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: Yeah, right? This is getting great, right? Wow. Now how do you feel?

SHEILA: Twice as good.

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: Twice as good. Right? This is kind of amazing. This is a gift And then it happened again. It happens the next day.

SPEAKER 2: Watch's the catch?

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: Watch's the catch, right? Right? You're kind of wondering maybe there's something I have to do with all this money. And then it happens again. And it happens again and again and again, every day.

Pretty soon, you start to know about the time the man's going to come. Maybe you just leave your door unlocked. You leave a sign, leave the money at the door. You might even stop saying thank you, because it's just happens every day, right? You're just kind of used to it.

And then you get to the point where you start budgeting for it. Right? You know it's coming. It's part of your monthly budget.

You can use it for groceries. You could use it to go on a vacation with your family. And it's just expected. It just happens every day. And then one day, there's no knock. How do you feel?

LEN: Scared.

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: Maybe a little scared. Maybe resentful. A little nervous. Maybe a little angry.

SPEAKER 2: What happened to the guy?

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: What happened to the guy? Maybe he got hurt, right? Yeah. I know I might feel maybe a little angry. Hey, that's my $100 you're not giving me today.

And that, my friends, is like grace. That is like life. that we are continually showered with things that we didn't do anything to earn. The fact that we were born where we were born, the fact that we were, perhaps, the bodies that we were given, the fact that we have water to drink. All of these things, we didn't do anything to earn them.

And then one day, sometimes in our lives it's inevitable to happen, some of those things may be taken away. Maybe we are struck with an illness. Maybe someone we love passes away. And our first thought is how dare you take that for me?

But the thing is, it wasn't really ours in the first place. We didn't really deserve it in the fact that we didn't earn it. But it was still a gift every single day.

And that, my friends, is something that we have to try to remember, that we are continually being showered with daily Benjamin's or Washington's in this case. And what is the response to that, if we can remember that we're being showered with that? What is the response that you said to me?

JESSE: Thank you.

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: Thank you. Right? What's the catch? The catch is that you have a responsibility to share with the world. Now I'm not going to tell you what to do with that money.

You can keep it yourselves. You can give it to someone in this room. You can give it tonight to the Service of the Living Tradition. It's up to you.

But you have a responsibility with it. And I want you to remember that. And as we sing our children to their Sunday school classes, let's all remember the gifts we have and the responsibilities we have in our lives.

[APPLAUSE]

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: See what happens when you volunteer? You get money. It's a good thing.

So that wasn't a story. It wasn't "once once upon a time." It was a, "hey, I wonder what would happened if this happened." Right? And there's lots of different ways to do those.

One time Fred Muir, he is the senior minister of our congregation, and he is a golfer. I doubt that many people in the congregation knew that. And so there was a golf ball in the Wonder Box.

And when the child pulled out the golf ball things started appearing from behind the curtains, and behind the pulpit. There was a golf club. And there was a golf glove and a hat. And he did this whole elaborate lesson about how sort of his golf swing reminded him of how spiritual practices take time and practice. And it becomes sort of muscle memory in us.

And so it wasn't a story. It was just conversation, a lesson. So I have handouts here that I'm going to give to you as you leave. And if you don't get one of the big packets, I have a packet with actual stories and lessons word for word that you're welcome to use.

If you don't get one, then you could put your name and email address on this sheet. And I will be sure to email it to you. Or if you want to save the paper, I can email it to you.

So I'd like you to turn to your group and think about is there sort of a theme that's been kind of floating around in your head or is there a theme that your minister likes to preach about over and over again that you could make into a sort of a lesson? And if so, what object would you put in the Wonder Box? Go.

So I hope not only are you learning a lot about Time For All Ages, but you're making a new friend. So now when you're in Plenary Hall or you're in the-- what do they call it-- the exhibit hall and you see someone in your small group, you can wave and make a new friend. That's the advantage of being here and not just streaming, live streaming.

So-- oops. There goes my pen. So one thing that I didn't mention when doing this, stories or lessons, that there's a few things that are kind of important. That interaction with the congregation is very important.

You'll remember that when I was talking about getting the money, I would turn to the volunteers, I would turn to the congregation. I would say, I wonder how that felt. I would have you sort of shout out how it might have felt.

And you guys weren't 100% sure what was happening at that moment. Should I shout out? Am I suppose to raise my hand? What's going on? But eventually you're congregation will catch on.

The first few times I did the Wonder Box with my congregation, they were a congregation that for many years hadn't done any Time For All Ages. And they really weren't sure what was happening then. And so I was like, this is the interactive portion of the show.

And they started to catch on that that was what was expected. And now they know. But what I didn't do was say, you, [? Farrell ?], what did you feel?

I didn't point to one person and hand them a microphone. Not a good idea to just hand random people microphones in general. It also puts somebody on the spot.

Children, when being asked specific questions, inevitably are going to say something adorable. And everyone does what? Aw, or they laugh. Right? Because it's so cute.

And what a child hears then is being laughed at, and not being laughed with. And that's never a good strategy to have a child or an adult feel like they're being laughed at. And I can tell you from experience, that I have made all of those mistakes.

Once I was talking about the sanctuary. And I asked a child, what room are we sitting in? And he said, the cemetery. Sanctuary, cemetery, they sound sort of similar. Everyone laughed. He felt really embarrassed. And I had to quickly kind of scramble to have the congregation see why that was an honest mistake and help the child feel sort of healed again.

It's best to just not do it, unless you've already cleared someone in advance. This is the answer, or I'm going to ask you this question, and is it OK if I call on you? When using examples from life, try to use examples from multiple stages of life.

Sometimes we either ignore the fact that the children maybe haven't ever had a first day of work-- so has anyone ever had the first day of school? Or a first new day  of church? Or a first new day at work? Has anyone ever made a new friend? Anyone?

Something that generally all people could nod their head to. In doing that, sometimes we skew toward the children. Has anyone ever had a first day of school?

And we ignore the fact that there are more transitions in life than firsts and that there are transitions like lasts. And there are transitions like deaths. And that's a hard thing to try to say when the children are in the room. But the fact that there are also elders in the room that may be dealing with mortality and the deaths of family members.

And if we're actually doing Time For All Ages, we need to be speaking to the whole age spectrum. It's OK if not every single word out of your mouth applies to every single person in the room as long as you're kind of tapping the different people in the room. So those are some of the things for stories and whatnot.

So one question people ask me is how do you choose who to call on? And I think there's lots of different answers to that. Whatever works in your congregation is up to you.

I tend to do the general, who wants to open the Wonder Box? Is anybody willing to help me? And sometimes I say, anybody who hasn't had a chance.

We're a relatively large congregation, so I say, anyone who hasn't had a chance yet this year or this month. And if you're a very small congregation, maybe this month might work. And then all these hands come up.

They know when it's coming, and I haven't even started yet. And they're like-- you know, which makes me happy. But I get to try to maybe get a new member or a newer child.

Adults have been asking me to open the Wonder Box. And a couple times, I've made that exception. But really this is the chance for the children to be active partners in the congregation, and so I try to do that.

If there's something unique or maybe weird or gross or surprising in the Wonder Box, it's probably best to pick a child ahead of time and kind of warn them. Like, you're in on this surprise with me, and don't tell anybody. But when you open the Wonder Box, there's going to be a jellyfish. Right?

And it's just a rubber jellyfish. But it looks a little icky. And so it's OK. It's OK.

One of the first Wonder Boxes I ever did, I didn't do that with a child, and there was nothing in the Wonder Box. It was a whole story about thinking outside the box. And so the child was like, ah, I get to open the Wonder Box.

And I brought him up, and he opened it. And he was crestfallen. Nothing? So I felt so bad that I called on him the next week, like make up for it. So do that.

One time I did a Wonder Box where half of the Wonder Box was in Spanish. I started the whole thing in Spanish. And no one really knew what I was saying, except a couple people that speak Spanish. And so I had to prepare the child.

You're not going to even know what I'm saying. But when I do this, you just come up and open the Wonder Box. And he said, OK, OK. And I said, we sure? We're good?

You're not going to know what I'm saying, that's OK. And he said, OK. And then, of course, I transitioned into English and talked about what was that like to not know what I was just saying.

So those kinds of times you might want to clear somebody in advance. If it's somebody's birthday or maybe their baby sister is being dedicated and you want to honor the older sibling or something like that, those are also good times to have them open the Wonder Box.

How do you choose what to put in in the Wonder Box? Typically, I like to put something that will fit. So in the case of the golf club and all that, we put the golf ball in the Wonder Box. So there was something to open.

It doesn't have to be just what's in the Wonder Box. As I said, the golf club came out, the golf hat came out, all those things. Over Mother's Day, I did a story about the wonder women of our faith. And so I talked about all the popular heroes, superheroes and Ironman and Superman, and Batman. And who's missing from all of that?

So she was in the Wonder Box. And the best part was that these two girls that opened the Wonder Box went, yes, when they opened the Wonder Box. They were so excited. And so then I talked about wonder women.

But then I had pictures of the four Unitarian Universalist wonder women that I was talking about. And so I called up more children, and they each got to hold the pictures of the wonder women. So it doesn't have to just be one object. It can be multiple objects.

And the object should be relatively central to your message or story or lesson. And it should be something that can be that sort of touch point in your service, where people can look back at the Tylenol bottle and remember what you just talked about, not so obscure that it doesn't mean anything.

And sometimes what I do is I start the story first and then I say, you know, I wonder if there's anything that can help me learn a little bit more about this. And then I call someone up to the Wonder Box. And that object kind of continues the thrust of the story.

So actually in the case of the story with Jesus and Easter bunny, I talked about Jesus first. And then I called the child up and said, oh, this doesn't have anything to do with that story. I wonder why it's an Wonder Box. And it kind of helped me kind of veer to another direction.

Sometimes I like to say, you know, oh. What do we have in the Wonder Box? It's a frog. You know, that frog really reminds me of a story. It can "remind you of." that's a good trick.

How do you set it up? How do you start? You start with intention. That's the key, is with intention So whatever that means for you in your congregation.

I tend to do the, today Reverend John is going to talk to the grown-ups about blah, blah, blah. And so I wonder if anyone could help me. And I try to be dramatic. This is you're sort of dramatic flare time.

Hm. I wonder what is in our Wonder Box. And occasionally I shake it. Maybe there's a rattle in there or something. It makes a funny noise. And I ask, what is that? What do you think it is? Wonder with me.

And sometimes people will shout out different things that are never right. And that's always the fun part. Because then when they find out what's inside, it can be even more exciting. You don't want to shake it if there's something breakable in there. But you know, so that's good.

And how closely should it tie to the service? Some people have asked me that. How close does it necessarily need to be? And I stay pretty close. So the ministers in the room-- or if you're going back to your congregation, talk to your minister about really being in partnership with whoever is doing the Time For All Ages.

I am a little bit of a control freak, and I like to do my own Time For All Ages when I'm preaching, because I know what I'm going to say. And so I can kind of form my sermon around my Time For All Ages. We you don't want to do is what one minister once did to me, which was say, well, the sermon's about grace.

Oh, OK. Well what do you mean by that? You know, grace. Uh, could you give me a little more? No. Partly it was because that minister didn't really know what they were going to talk about. So that helps, to know what you're going to talk about in order to make your Wonder Box.

But you don't want it to be completely out of left field for the rest of the congregation that's not at all what the minister's about to say. And you also want to steal their thunder. So our intern minister did a service about laughter.

And I said, what if I lead the congregation in a laughing meditation? Is that OK? Were you planning to do that? And he said, no. No, I wasn't planning to do that, so that's fine.

But if I had just gone up there and led everyone in a laughing meditation and that was in his sermon, I would have totally stolen his thunder. And that wouldn't have been appropriate. So you want to kind of closely tie, but you don't have to tell the sermon. You're just telling a piece of it.

Honor your volunteer. Use their name if you know it. If you don't know it, ask them their name. Names are important. And it helps them feel honored and special.

Thank them when they're done for their help. That's usually how I ask for a volunteer. I say, anyone who's willing to help me. And I try that because my goal is to not patronize them.

My goal is to encourage them as partners in this work. So they're helping in the work of worship. And then they're allowed to rejoin the community and not be up here just because they're cute. Right?

And lastly, I think one of the most important things to remember in Time For All Ages is that it is OK and in fact good to talk about things that are hard or scary or sad. And sometimes when we're working in worship with children we stick to a relatively superficial level because we don't want to scare them or talk about anything hard.

If the child can't hear about hard things at church, where can they hear about hard things? This is the only place, I think, other than their family where they are able to do that in a safe environment. And the key is the safe environment.

One time when I was telling the story of Norbert Capek and the Flower Communion, the story ends with Norbert Capek being killed at Dachau by the Nazis. It's not a fun story. And I didn't get into the details of concentration camps and gas chambers or anything like that.

But I did mention that there was an army a long time ago, and that their goal was to separate people, to make some people feel better and some people feel less than or worse. And that in doing that work of separating people, they hurt people, they scared people, and they've been killed people. And that's when I introduced the fact that Norbert Capek stood up against those people, that army. And for doing that, he was killed.

But that army, they are long gone. But that message of Norbert Capek who stood up to them, that's still here with us. And isn't it amazing that his message is still here with us? So that safe space of don't worry, that army is long gone.

Now as adults we all know that in some ways and in some places that army is not long gone. But I don't need to get into that with the children in my six minute Time For All Ages, right? I've allowed them that space to sort of feel that fear, but then to know that they're held in the community that works towards safety.

When talking about things like racism or sexism or homophobia I talk about it plainly and clearly without a ton of detail. And I always mention that this church is a place where we work to make sure that that doesn't happen, that we're trying our best to make sure that all people are treated fairly.

Is it all fixed? No. But our church is a place where we do our best to make these things right in the world. So that they can feel at home and safe in the congregation, but you can still talk about hard things. So I hope that that helps a little bit in this.

So how are we doing on time? I know I've gone a little over, or my plan was. Well, I got about 10 minutes.

My plan was originally to have you guys kind of practice. But what I'd like to do instead is maybe just offer time for questions and answers or comments. So you can step up to the microphone if you have a question.

AMY: Hi, I'm Amy. I just have a logistical question, which is if you're doing something where you have multiple objects and they need to come out in a certain order, how can you help ensure that they come out in that order?

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: That's a great question. I tend to either have them all come out all at once and then just address the objects in the order that you need to address them. Or you can just have one of the objects, and then the rest can sort of appear from behind the pulpit or your magic hat or something.

So that's kind of two different ways to do it. If it's like a secret and you don't want anyone to know, then I would hide the other objects. But if it's OK, and you could just address them one by one, then you can do that.

AMY: Thank you.

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: You're welcome. Thanks, Amy. Hi.

ELLEN QUAADGRAS: Hi. I'm Ellen Quaadgras from East Greenwich, Rhode Island. And my question is you mentioned about asking questions and when children give their wonderful answers sometimes people laugh. And so I would love to hear a little bit more about how to address that in a moment or how to address that in advance. I know you said something about not asking questions without preparing the youth. But then you also talked about--

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: Shouting out answer.

ELLEN QUAADGRAS: Shouting out answers and that kind of thing. So I'd love to hear a little bit more about that.

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: Yeah. It is a risk. It's always a risk that people will laugh. And I think just the key is being honest and being sensitive. So if a child says we're sitting in the cemetery and everyone laughs, I immediately put my hand on the child's shoulder to show them that I'm with them and to sort of hold my hand up to the congregation to sort of be like, nope, not acceptable.

And it's a teaching moment for the congregation and for the child. to say, you know, I know that did sound kind of funny. It did sound a little funny. Because the name of this room is actually the sanctuary, which does sound kind of like cemetery. Doesn't in everybody?

And it's an honest mistake. It's an honest mistake. But good try. That was a really good try. So honesty about why that might have sounded funny, and that we weren't laughing at you. But it was a sweet thing.

The other reason that I don't directly ask questions to children-- and not to say that it's impossible or that teaching moments can't arise from these things, because they absolutely can-- but just that it creates a real risky situation in the middle of a live scenario. It's just because it can be really risky. And I'll give you an example of a time that I made a big mistake.

I was telling a story about the inherent worth and dignity of all people. And I was using babies as an example. And so I had pictures of babies. And the were all different sizes and shapes and colors, these babies.

And I said to the small group of children-- this was a church where they were called up to the front. It's just how they did it at their church, so I did that. And it was a relatively diverse group of children racially.

And I said to them, which of these babies is going to grow up to be president? This was prior to Barack Obama's election. And so the kids said, we don't know. And I said, which of these children is going to grow up to be a bank robber?

And the three African American boys said, that one. And they pointed to the African American baby. And I felt like I'd been sort of stabbed in the heart. And immediately I had to say, actually, we have no idea if any of these babies is going to grow up to that. I had to immediately step in.

My hope was that they were all just going to say, I don't know, I don't know, I don't know. That's the thing about babies, we don't know how they're going to grow up. But they didn't.

And I had made the mistake of specifically asking them. But in a way, it was a gift. Because I was able to sort of challenge that racist notion that had already been embedded in these young children. But it's a dangerous sort of risky thing to do.

SHEILA SMITH: I'm Sheila Smith from Flint, Michigan. And in response to the notion of what children sometimes say and how to deal with the laughter afterward, in telling a story one time, one of the children said something about getting punished for something. And she said, because I said a bad word.

And everybody in the congregation laughed. And I just took her seriously and said, hm, sometimes when I get upset I guess I say bad words, too. It's probably good to think of as many good words as we can, but maybe sometimes things we think are bad are not always bad. So she didn't concentrate on what they were doing, she concentrated our conversation.

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: On you. Right. And your relationship with her in that moment. Right. And I think that's the key. That's the hand on the shoulder, that's the time to be sort of supportive and partnering with the child. Any other questions?

JOHN: Yeah. A quick question. I'm John [INAUDIBLE] from Midland, Michigan. I had recently read the book Winning the Story Wars by Jonah Sachs. And he's associated with you kind of in a roundabout way. But it's all about story.

And it goes through the whole thing about how society-- thank you-- has constructed stories, how stories make culture in a lot of ways. And it talks about in our modern day what role our stores play and how we can do that. I found it, personally, to be almost a roadmap for what we as UUs need to do to be relevant in today's modern world.

And I was wondering if you read that. I would recommend it. Because I mean, for dozens or hundreds of thousands of years, humans learned through stories.

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: Yes.

JOHN: That's how we learned our information.

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: We do.

JOHN: And suddenly we get to the modern world, and we start putting people in classes or doing other things other than stories. And we think it's going to work somehow. So, yeah. OK.

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: What's the name of the book, again?

JOHN: The name of the book again is Winning the Story Wars.

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: Winning the Story Wars.

JOHN: Winning the Story Wars by Jonah Sachs. And his name is spelled S-A-H-S, I think. Anyway he's easy to find, because he's the guy who, based at the same story-based approach, did The Meatrix.

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: Oh, OK

JOHN: Are you familiar with The Meatrix?

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: Yup. He was collaborated with with The Story Of Stuff, which you might know. And a lot of people saw the little YouTube clip-- really funny-- called "The Grocery Store Wars" if you saw it with Cuke Skywalker and Chew Broccoli.

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: Thank you

JOHN: You're welcome.

SPEAKER 4: I just have a quick question. And I come from a very small confirmation, so we do things a little differently. One of the things that is a concern in our congregation is the different perspectives on how children should behave during service.

I am very open to kids being-- I want them to be feel like this is home. I want them to revere the space and be respectful. But at the same time, there's a generational difference in how children are supposed to behave at church. And I wonder how you address that.

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: Our congregation is working toward being more accepting of the natural inclinations of children especially babies. I always think it's funny how people sort of scowl at a baby whose making noise. Like, they're a baby. They don't--

But I mean, I think there's a difference when a child is wailing and no one can hear. Maybe that's the time to step out on the back or something like that. But honoring a baby that's sort of babbling quietly is a normal and natural thing.

And I mean, when I'm doing the pastoral prayer and a baby goes, wee. I go, and the voices of children. It can be integrated and honored as a whole part of the community.

That being said, there's a balance there. You If someone has a hearing aid and can't hear because the baby's squealing behind them, then we have to honor that as well. I use the Time For All Ages often to talk about what church is.

The cemetery, sanctuary was because the children were running around in the sanctuary and the people were showing up late with their coffee. And I was talking about what is this space that we call sanctuary. That was sort of teaching moment to do that.

And I recognize that the time is coming to a close so I'm happy to stick around and answer questions. Maybe I'll take the last two here. And this green sheet, there's plenty for everybody.

Come up and grab a green sheet on your way out. Or maybe-- Susan, can you come and hold them out to the back? The green sheet is the one sheet just tips and tricks on how to do this.

The white packet is the one that has lots of take home information. I only made, I think, 30 copies of the white one. So if you don't get one, by all means, put your name and email address on the list, and I'll email it you when I get back to Annapolis. So two more questions, Stephen.

STEPHEN: Stephen [INAUDIBLE] from Iowa City. You spoke about opening the box and taking something out. And then at one point you had nothing in the box to think outside the box. Is there ever a story or a time you could tell us about when you took the opportunity to put something inside the box, put something away?

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: I have not done that. But that's a great idea. I highly recommend you doing that at your congregation, Stephen.

STEPHEN: Thank you.

MEREDITH PLUMMER: Meredith Plummer from Cincinnati, Ohio.

MEREDITH PLUMMER: Meredith.

MEREDITH PLUMMER: So you talked some about making sure it's not superficial, and that we talk about the scary things. Is there ever a time that you address a national tragedy during Time For All Ages?

REV. CHRISTINA LEONE: Yes, absolutely.

MEREDITH PLUMMER: And if so, how do you address that, since there are obviously families in the congregation who don't want their child to know that there's been a school shooting or something?

Right. I might sort of speak more vaguely about it than saying there was a school shooting. I might say, some of you have heard on the news that something sad has happened in our country. And I want to take a moment to honor that sadness.

And that way, the child can go home and ask their parent if they're curious enough. But I think sort of like some of the things that we tell our children about, like the holidays, they'll hear someone at school say, well, that's not true. That's not real.

My mommy told me that's not real. They don't even hear it, because it's so sort of embedded into their life that Santa is real. So in that case, sort of going over their head can be fine if they're not ready or able to hear it.

It also allows the parents to do the work of doing that. My strategy when addressing anything tough or hard is to go directly to the feelings. So when talking about Jesus, I didn't get into the details of how he was killed. I went into the details of how sad that must have been for the people who followed him.

Or the details of how angry you must have felt when the money is no longer given to you. That our country is feeling so sad right now, because of this thing that has happened. And I think it's OK to be vague in that way if you need to be.

But you know your congregation best. And our congregation is kind of at the point where we're sort of in the middle. And I think I've kind of helped the parents see slowly that we can talk a little bit more about sad and scary things. Because I think where else can you do it than at church, that there's a community to hold us in that?

And if it turns out that a child asks, well, what was the sad thing? And  the parent says, I am completely at a loss for how to talk to my child about this. In a way, that's a gift. Because you've been opened up to help. And your pastor can help. And your DRE can help with that work Thank you.

[APPLAUSE]

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Last updated on Friday, August 23, 2013.

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