Christmas all-age and youth talks

Here’s some of my favourite Christmas and Christingle talks I have done over the years:

The vicar’s reaction to people only appearing in church at Christmas

Jody Stowell wrote a great article in The Independent, a few years ago, on the vicar’s reaction to people only appearing in church at Christmas:

Do I mind that people come to church at Christmas and occasionally at Easter, and remain absent the rest of the year?  The honest answer is yes and no. Of course I want people to come to church each Sunday, but do not think for one moment that I care one tiny jot about bums on seats.  When people come to church at Christmas, I would like to see them again, simply because they have made the connection between the twinkly lights in the darkness and the Light that Shines in the Darkness.

You may only come to church at Christmas, but it really is Christmas every day.

Bishop of London on the challenges facing young people

The Bishop of London, The Rt Revd and Rt Hon Dame Sarah Mullally DBE, spoke eloquently in the House of Lords last week on the challenges facing young people:

It has been said that young people are our future. They are not – they are our present.  They hold the potential to reimagine the world and see possibilities not obstacles. They are a transformative presence in our present and reshape theirs and our future.

But life is complex for them – the high household income and home ownership rates that were a feature of the 20th century have failed to materialize for younger generations so far in the 21st. Yet, what I recognise more than anything, are the concerns over identity and belonging.

In October BBC Radio 4 announced the results of The Loneliness Experiment, a nationwide survey conducted by BBC Radio 4’s “All In The Mind” in collaboration with the Wellcome Collection.

The survey results indicated that 16-24 year olds experience loneliness more often and more intensely than any other age group. 40% of respondents aged 16-24 reported feeling lonely often or very often, while only 27% of people aged over 75 said the same.

The young are disproportionately affected by violent crime. This is even truer of those from a Black and minority ethnic or disadvantaged backgrounds.

Last month 250 churches across London gathered with youth workers, our schools, the police and young people to ask what we can do together. As part of their place in the local community, churches made a commitment to work in partnership with other organisations to seek to build on the existing work of our schools, after school clubs and youth projects to make their communities’ places where young people can find their identity, feel they belong and are safe.

One of the greatest challenges is how do we fund, recruit and retain good youth workers?  People who will remain in the community as young people grow up.  Role models are highly important for us psychologically, they help to guide us through life during our development and teach us to make important decisions that affect the outcome of our lives.

I also know from my previous life as a nurse that the only way to tackle these problems is through a whole-system approach, which I understand is now the consensus view.  Funding is central to this, and I welcome the £250 million allocated by the Mayor of London to establish a Violence Reduction Unit.  But, as the Commission on Youth Violence has spoken of, funding is often given in silos, with youth clubs regularly competing against one another for narrow funding streams.  I understand that the Commission’s final report is forthcoming, and I look forward to reading its findings.

I would like to pay particular testament to the vital youth work which is happening in places of worship and community halls across the country. In part of my own Diocese, in the London Borough of Camden, where according to the End Child Poverty coalition, 40% of children live in poverty, St Mary’s Primrose Hill’s youth workers mentor more than 20 young people a week, and undertake multiple prison visits a month.  The likes of St Mary’s are working hard to give our young people the hope that they deserve.

One of the wonderful characteristic of London is its diversity; it is multi faith and multi-racial yet at the same time we have seen a growth in people feeling marginalized – but I believe that we have more in common than divides us.

I wish to end my remarks today by reminding noble Lords that there is reason to be hopeful. Earlier this year I attended a youth Iftar – an opportunity for young people from a range of religions to celebrate that diversity, and to discover new things about each other.  Our conversations planted seeds which will build community bonds and friendships.  It also helped us to learn to value each other, to help build the peaceful and just society that all our religions seek. I reflected that this type of grand vision begins by taking such simple steps towards each other – but sometime we need to help each other to do it.

I am grateful that one of the most influential Bishop’s has taken time to share about the challenges young people face, and some of the brilliant work youth workers in the church do.

Tribalism v Unity

I loved the blog post by DigitalNun on whether or not humanity is Descending into Tribalism Again? I felt like it hit the nail on the head.  We’re currently in a place where extremist rhetoric seems to be the norm in the Western world:

  • Trump’s daily hate and vitriol represents a uniquely toxic style of leadership to a Western democracy.
  • The rise of the extreme right in mainland Europe
  • The large protests in Paris turning into violence.
  • The ridiculous arguing and quarreling each day in and around Parliament over Brexit
  • The racism shared in various football stadiums around the country.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has called in the House of Lords on the need for reconciliation after a “week of deep division” over Brexit.  The Most Rev Justin Welby said it was “central to our future” as a country that the divisions were healed.

The Archbishop, speaking in the House of Lords, called on the Government to establish a “reconciliation unit” which would work across Whitehall departments and with humanitarian organisations and faith groups to bring people together.  He said:

“This has been a week of deep division, and reconciliation will be something that, although applied to foreign policy in this debate, must become central to our future in this country.

“I hold firm to the belief that we can create a society where mutual flourishing is possible, disagreeing well is central and respecting the difference is paramount.”

“Reconciliation is needed before, during and after conflict, preemptive reconciliation is essential.”

“I think it was Bill Shankly who said ‘I teach my lads to get their retaliation in first’; we need to learn to get our reconciliation in first.”

“Reconciliation happens from the top of society down, from the bottom of society up and from the middle of society out. It must include women, youth and minorities. If any group is left out, peace is not sustainable.”

“What is needed is a joined-up approach to reconciliation, straddling humanitarian, economic, social, ethic, cultural, political, spiritual and religious factors in which different departments of Government work together under the umbrella of a joint reconciliation unit.”

The Church of England bishops have issued an unusual joint statement, saying that they are praying for UK politicians and “national unity” following turbulence over Brexit:

In the light of this week’s turbulent events, the bishops of the Church of England pray for national unity – and courage, integrity and clarity for our politicians.

We call on the country to consider the nature of our public conversation. It is time to bring grace and generosity back to our national life.

At the heart of the Christian message is Jesus’ command to love our neighbour. This includes those with whom we agree and disagree – at home, in Europe, and further afield. We urge everyone – our political leaders and all of us – to bring magnanimity, respect and reconciliation to our national debate.

There is now an urgent need for the United Kingdom to recover a shared vision and identity to help us find a way through the immediate challenges.

Regardless of what happens next with Brexit, the Church of England, alongside many other churches and other agencies striving for the common good, will be at the heart of local communities; educating one million children, providing 33,000 social action projects and running 16,000 churches across the country. Above all else, we will continue to support the most vulnerable and share Christ’s love with all.

This is the Advent season. As we reflect and await Christmas in joyful anticipation, we have faith in Christ to show us all the way of hope.

Our Greatest Christmas Hope

Nancy Guthrie:

Our great hope is not just going to heaven when we die, though that is so wondrously good. But God has much grander plans. Our great hope is that Christ will come again, not as a helpless baby in a manger, but as a magnificent king on a throne—a king who will be close enough, and gentle enough, to wipe every tear from our eyes. He will personally put an end to everything that has brought his people pain. He will “raise the sons of earth” by transforming “our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21) to live with him forever on a gloriously renewed earth.

The wonder of it made the herald angels want to sing. And as the wonder of it begins to sink in, it makes us want to sing, too.

Read the rest here.

Christmas talk: Chocolate Brussels Sprouts

This is my favourite Christmas talk – Chocolate Sprouts – I’ve used this in assemblies, carol services, across the age ranges.

Preparation

  • Boil the Brussels Sprouts (make sure they’re not too soft) and stick them in the fridge overnight.
  • Next morning, melt the chocolate and dip the sprouts in so that they look like truffles.  Let them set on a baking tray, then put them in small cake cases and sprinkle them with cocoa powder.

Talk

At the start of the talk, announce that you love Christmas so much, that you want to share it with everybody, and that what you have with you is something that will always remind them of Christmas day – delicious truffles!

Ask for a couple of volunteers to see if they can emulate Christmas day, by eating as many truffles as they can in 1 minute.  Build up the expectation and emphasise the need for speed in the challenge.

Once the young people start eating the ‘truffles’, they’ll realise that there’s something not quite right and their facial expressions will change from ones of sheer delight, to ones of outright disgust a they discover the sprouts. (You may want to have a plastic bag handy at this point!)

OK, so it’s a bit revolting, but here’s the point.

Ask the young people who loves chocolate, and also, who loves sprouts.

Say that Christmas, for most of us is a time of celebration, indulgence and happiness.  We love the ‘niceness’ of the Christmas season. It’s a bit like chocolate!

Go on to say that for many people, Christmas is not an easy time. For some it’s a time of loneliness, homelessness and struggle. For many people, Christmas is like our experience of sprouts – something to struggle through.

You could mention the first Christmas as an example. Mary was blessed with the news that she was to be the mother of God’s son, but probably struggled with knowing that her life could be in danger because of her pregnancy.  A classic Eastenders storyline!

Challenge the young people to consider how they spend Christmas – to be grateful for the Christmas they have, and to be mindful of those who will struggle through Christmas.

Prayer

May our lives and our prayers be like lights shining in dark places.  And may the blessing of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – fill our hearts and homes with light this Christmas and in the new year to come.  Amen.

What children want for Christmas: a Dad

When it comes to Christmas, it might be safe to assume children will ask Santa for an extensive list of toys, games and treats.  But a survery of their typical lists for Father Christmas has shown many have more serious concerns, requesting “a dad” instead.

A study of 2,000 British parents found most children will put a new baby brother or sister at the top of their Christmas list, closely followed by a request for a real-life reindeer.

A “pet horse” was the third most popular choice, with a “car” making a bizarre entry at number four.  But despite their material requests, the tenth most popular Christmas wish on the list was a “Dad”.

The survey, of consumers at Westfield London and Westfield Stratford City, found children aged three to 12 years also wanted a dog, chocolate and a stick of rock.  Traditional hopes for a white Christmas were represented by a wish for “snow” in ninth place, with sensible youngsters also requesting a “house”.

Of the top 50 festive requests, 17 related to pets and animals, with some imaginative children hoping for a donkey, chicken and elephant.

iPhones and iPads also appeared on the list, with some quirky children asking for the moon, a time machine, a pond cover and beetroot.

A request for a “mum” reached number 23 on the list.

Christmas video 15: classy Christmas flashmob

Start your day the right way, with this video of what’s possibly the world’s classiest flash mob.  Members of the United States Air Force Band wore disguises to the National Air and Space Museum, and then with no announcement, slowly began coming out of the crowd to perform a collection of Christmas classics, culminating with an epic rendition of “Joy to the World”:

Christmas feel good story

In 2013 a teenager collected hundreds of supermarket vouchers to buy £600 worth of shopping for 4p so he could give the food to families:

Jordon Cox, 16, scoured endless websites and magazines and gathered hundreds of coupons for dozens of products.  After spending hours each day searching the internet for coupons, he managed to collect 470, which he took to his local supermarket, and filled three trolleys with food and household items.  The bill came to £572.16, but once the coupons were factored in the bill was reduced to just 4p – a saving of 99.81 per cent.  The teenager, of Brentwood in Essex, donated all his food to the charity Doorstep which gives food to disadvantaged families.

He said:

“I read an article that said a thousandth of the UK population are unable to eat this Christmas because they don’t have any money.  I decided wanted to help as many people as I can, and to also show that it’s possible to shop very cheaply, if you know how.  It’s not an exact science, so you can never really work out ahead of time how much the total is going to be. I was stunned when it came up as just 4p.”

He started his Christmas shopping project on December 1 and scoured hundreds of in-store magazines and websites for money off and cash back coupons.  His shop, at Tesco Brent Cross, ended with an hour stop at the checkout to unload his items which included 200 packets of biscuits and 60 packs of butter.

He said:

“The lady at the checkout had worked at Tesco for 19 years, and she said she’d never seen anything like it before. I had a big crowd. I felt like a celebrity.  My heart was pounding and the adrenaline was pumping when we got to the till. So much could have gone wrong.  I could have left some coupons at home, or not read the terms and conditions properly. Some of them might have expired too.”

Vicky Fox, who works at Doorstep, said families who he had helped out were overwhelmed by the donation. She said:

“I’d call his gift a great and generous act of a young man and what he did made a real difference.  He’s made a really difference to families who work with us to survive on extremely low incomes and do need the help.  He made such a different to people living on the breadline.”

He bought:

  • 20 packs of frozen Yorkshire puddings
  • 20 jam roly polys
  • 80 packs of butter
  • 23 packs of Quorn mince
  • Four Gressingham poussin.
  • 40 black puddings
  • 200 packets of biscuits
  • 23 blocks of hard cheese
  • 20 pots of Yeo Valley organic yoghurt
  • 19 bottles of fruit juice.
  • 10 boxes of Paxo stuffing
  • 40 bottles of Anchor whipped cream
  • 15 bags of frozen Brussels sprouts
  • 4 packs of After Eight mints
  • 15 Covent Garden Soups.
  • 10 bags of Florette Salad
  • 36 packs of Cauldron tofu, vegetarian sausages and falafel
  • Crumble mix
  • Haribo sweets

Christmas video 14: The Scale and Morgan Freeman

This video, ‘The Scale’ is narrated by Morgan Freeman.  ‘The Scale’ leaves you wondering all the way through what he is talking about.  Only at the end to you get it, and yes it is very clever.  But more than that it is challenging and thought provoking too:

Best children’s Christmas story book

One of my favourite resources for the Christmas season is Jesus’ Christmas Party by Nicholas Allan.

Nicholas Allan writes and illustrates the nativity through the eyes of a grumpy inn keeper who is unexpectedly at the centre of Jesus’ birth.  The story follows him as he is woken up repeatedly by Mary and Joseph and guests visiting the newborn.

I first heard of the book when I was a child and it was used for a Sunday School drama to present the Christmas narrative to the whole church.  As a children’s and youth worker I’ve used it numerous times, be it with young pre-school children, older teenagers, or non-Christian adults.  The book is easy for people to follow and join in, and yet still allows for profounds truths to be taught.

It can be bought in a number of sizes – from A6 just to fit in the pocket and use to tell a large group of people, to a large A4 size which a class of children can crowd around and look at the pictures.