When I was young, I had a very particular view of what a saint was. Many of my friends were Catholic and wore medallions featuring their patron saints. As it was explained to me, saints were people who performed miracles. Because of their extraordinary acts, they were set above the rest of us. Not to mention, they were all dead and had been for many years. While I was intrigued by these saints, they seemed so separate from our everyday lives. We could never be saints and there was no point in aspiring to this position.
When I joined a Presbyterian church in my teens, I discovered that there were saints among us: ordinary people living their faith out in front of others, sometimes stumbling, sometimes walking a straight path, but always committed to God. They were people who, in the words of Nadia Bolz-Weber, showed “not our ability to be saintly but rather God’s ability to work through sinners.”
As we celebrate All Saints’ Day in new and unusual ways this year, we have an opportunity to explore the idea of saints as both extraordinary and ordinary people living among us. In this lesson, you and your children will develop a definition of sainthood and will create a tribute to the saints in your lives.
Begin your time with your children by asking them what the word saint means to them. (Younger children may not have heard this word before.) Accept any and all definitions of the word at this point. Explain in the church we use this word to refer to someone who live their faith and share it with others. These people may be alive right now or they may have lived in the past. They may be people who live ordinary lives or they may be famous. Another way to understand what a saint is draws on the letter to the Hebrews found in the Bible. It says that there is a “cloud of witnesses” or people who have passed away who “look[ed] to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” and who serve as a reminder to us to do the same (Hebrews 12:1-2).
After defining the idea of saint, ask your children to consider what things someone who is called a saint might believe or do. Alternately, you can ask them to list all the ways that a person who loves and follows Jesus acts. You may want to write their answers down on a sheet of paper or on a whiteboard so they can see them all together.
Using this list, ask your children to name people who exhibit these traits or beliefs. Remind them they can name people who are alive or dead as well as people they know personally and those they have learned about but have not met. Also, share that it doesn’t matter how old or young the person is. What is most important is that that person shares his or her faith with others. Write down their responses on paper or a whiteboard.
Next, gather the materials you’ll need for the activity portion of this lesson:
- 10-20 popsicle sticks
- A large piece of cardboard (at least 2’x2’)
- Glue (white school glue will work better than a glue stick)
Tell your children you are going to make a wreath to commemorate the saints in your lives. Have your child use the markers to write the name of one of the saints you identified earlier on each popsicle stick. If your child is pre-literate, you may write the names for him or you can ask him to draw a picture that represents the person on the popsicle stick.
Once your child has written or drawn on the popsicle sticks, lay them out in a circle on the cardboard. Depending on how many sticks you have, you may want to place them close together or you can spread them out. The important thing is that they create a circle. Then, glue each stick in place. When the glue has dried, use the scissors to cut the cardboard into a circle that is slightly larger than the popsicle stick circle. Leave a ¼”-½ ” border around the popsicle stick circle. Then, use the scissors to make a hole at the top of the circle large enough to thread the string through. Cut a piece of string and put it through the hole. Tie the ends to create a loop. Now you can hang your saints wreath somewhere in your home.
With your children, offer a prayer of gratitude for each person featured on the wreath. You may say something like “Thank you God for (insert name of a saint on your wreath). She has shown me God’s love by (share something the person has done or said).” You may also decide to create your own prayer of thanksgiving for these saints.
JOELLE BRUMMIT-YALE is the director of children’s and youth ministries at Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. When not at the church, she can usually be found at home with her son and husband caring for their many animals and developing their family homestead.