Today’s post is a little different from our usual “Prepare to Celebrate…” series. That’s because I recently became aware of a free resource available from Forward Movement which is full of plans for celebrating the saints.
You may have heard of Meet the Saints, a family storybook Forward Movement developed last year. (The paperback book is on sale right now, by the way. This post is not a planned promotion – I just noticed that while writing!) I recently realized that along with it, Forward Movement released a free downloadable storybook and activity guide of the same title which can be used both in churches and at home.
That means even if you don’t buy the paperback, you can read the story of the saint for free, and have more than one idea for an activity. And yes, Mary Magdalene (whose feast day is next Friday) is included.
In celebration of this resource, today we’re interviewing one of the co-authors, the Rev. Melody Wilson Shobe. She’s an Episcopal priest who has served churches in Rhode Island and Texas. A graduate of Tufts University and Virginia Theological Seminary, Melody is currently working on curriculum development for Forward Movement. Melody, her husband, and their two daughters live in Dallas, Texas, where she spends her spare time reading stories, building forts, conquering playgrounds, baking cookies, and exploring nature. – ed.
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The stories of the saints are one of the richest parts of our Christian tradition. The saints teach us about Church history, not in an abstract way, but through the personal stories of people through the ages who have encountered and followed the risen Jesus Christ in their own places and times. The saints teach us about theology; they wrestle and write and think and pray about who God is and how God works, and their own struggles can influence and inform ours. The saints teach us about the Church Universal; they come from different contexts and times and places, and yet they are united in their desire to love and serve Jesus. And, perhaps most importantly the saints are our companions on the journey of faith, the “great cloud of witnesses” who, though they have gone before us, also surround us as we walk with God in our lives. So when the opportunity arose to work on a year-long exploration of the lives and witness of the saints, I jumped at the opportunity.
Meet the Saints was designed around the church “program year,” which is usually about 26 weeks long. On the one hand, that seems like a lot, but on the other hand, it was really hard to limit the number of saints included. There are so many wonderful stories of faithfulness and fearlessness in the lives of the saints, and it was incredibly hard to decide which saints we would be able to focus on. In the end, we tried to select saints that represented the great variety of followers of Jesus: we tried to include saints of different genders and nationalities and ethnicities. We worked to select saints that told the story of Christianity through time: stretching from the time before Jesus to (almost) the present day. And we tried to choose saints that showed the many different ways of being a disciple: lay and ordained, paupers and princes, monastics and musicians.
Meet the Saints: a Family Storybook is just that: a family storybook. The book includes a story about each of the featured saints that is suitable to be read aloud as a family, or for older children to read themselves. The story is a snippet, a snapshot from that saint’s life. Following the story, there are a few reflection questions that families can discuss together. This is a way to try to make connections between the saint’s life and witness and our own lives and experience of the faith. For each saint, there is also an illustration, to give an idea of what the saint looked like, and the collect (prayer) for that saint’s feast day.
There are so many ways that families could choose to use this resource. It could be just a storybook that you read, among other stories at bedtime or through the day. Or it could be used as a devotional, prior to mealtimes or in the morning. Families could do a chapter a day for a set amount of time, or one a week. Or, you could use Meet the Saints to observe the saint’s days on our sanctoral calendar, praying the prayer, reading the story, and discussing the questions on each saint’s feast day.
If you download the curriculum, even more options open up, as it includes activities (crafts, games, service projects, and so forth) that further explore the saint in question.
Some of the ideas in Meet the Saints are mine, and others come from some of the contributing editors. For all of the activities, we tried to think about what the primary, unique witness of each saint was: what specific things does that saint’s life teach us about following Jesus. And then… we tried to connect that to some hands-on activity. In some instances, that was really easy, and in others, it was really hard! But we tried to come up with a lot of different ways for young people (and adults) to connect with the lives of the saints: arts, games, activities, reflection.
It has been really fun to share some of this work with my own family. I read the stories to my daughters (7 and 3); they particularly like Clare and Frances Perkins. Some of the reflection questions have lead to great (though challenging) conversations.
In our family, we also try to celebrate the feasts of our nativities: my oldest daughter was born on the Feast of the Transfiguration, and my younger daughter was born on the Feast of Saint Catherine of Siena (one of my favorite saints!). We make a big deal about that being their special feast day: praying the collect for that day, reading a story of that saint or a lection associated with that feast. I think that’s a really fun way to connect people with certain saints: find the saint whose feast is closest to your birthday, or see if there is a saint that shares your name.
Are there resources you recommend that help families celebrate the saints? Let us know in the comments.