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Hallo again to all.

One of us in former years helped run the Sunday school programme at our parish along with two friends and a host of parent volunteers. The curriculum created by the three of us was home-grown, theme-based and service-based with monthly intergenerational opportunities.

In October, our team began working on the concept of saints with the children. What is a saint? And what is a Saint? It became clear that the children's common belief was Saints lived a Long Time Ago, did Big Things and often died in lurid ways as Martyrs. They had no cohesive understanding about lower-case 's' saints. As we talked about it with our volunteers, we realized many of the adults also had fuzzy ideas about Big 'S' vs little 's' saints. To add to the haziness, our parish is one of many named St Somebody. Parish lore maintains the male saint name used was really the name of a prominent ancestor of the founding family and not meant to refer to the original famous St Somebody. So there is persistent confusion among adults and children on the Saint-ness of our St Somebody.

How could our curriculum broaden the children's understanding of saints in a way that would stay with them? And how could we equip our volunteers with tools to feel confident talking about saints with the children? And what could we do that would engage the whole congregation during our intergenerational coffee hour on the Sunday after the Feast of All Saints?

The first Sunday of November Eucharist reliably incorporates favorite All Saints hymns including 'For all the saints who from their labours rest' (sung to Sine Nomine), and 'I sing a song of the saints of God' (Grand Isle). These two hymns are good examples of the common confusion between Saints and saints. In Sine Nomine, often sung as the opening processional hymn, the language is full of fighting warrior imagery, and one verse says explicitly that 'We feebly struggle, they in glory shine'. Hmmm. Saints are brave people 'who nobly fought of old'. They are not us. They are not alive. They are Saints.

Then the children's hymn set to Grand Isle follows in the service: 'I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true' with its lists of different kinds of people who were and are saints. If one can read Lesbia Scott's words without the earworm of John Henry Hopkins' melody, there are actually a number of good hooks for expanding the concept of saints from times of yore to now, from 'S' Saints to the more inclusive 's' saints:

They lived not only in ages past,
There are hundreds of thousands still.
The world is bright with the joyous saints
Who love to do Jesus' will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea;
For the saints of God are just folk like me,
And I mean to be one too.

We are saints because we love God and muddle through life trying to follow Jesus' teachings in all aspects of our lives. We don't have to be martyrs (a relief to the children!) — we don't even need to be dead. We each are members of that glorious crowd, the saints of God.

The three of us looked around our parish: There were grandparents whose grandchildren lived far away, and there were younger families whose extended families were not in our town. What better way to encourage a sense of connection between the generations than to have them work together? We decided to have the children interview our older members and record the stories of these saints in our parish.

Our volunteers began working with the children to help them create questions to ask the older congregants about their lives, their faith, and how they found themselves members of our congregation. And then the big day arrived. The children enjoyed it; the older members of the parish loved it! And a few weeks later, our Sunday school shared with the parish what they had discovered about the saints among us. It was hard to tell who was more excited: the young interviewers or their older interviewees.

Capital 'S' or little 's', there are saints all around us. Those who participated in this oral history project have remembered it with great pleasure.

How have you talked about what defines a saint with the young people in your congregation? What projects have you come up with to illustrate what it means to be a saint? Do you have stories of the saints around you? Please drop us a note!

See you next week.


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2 November 2014

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