Advent Inspiration for your family

image of a candle lit in the darkness

‘Jesus is not a metaphor. He is real. This all happened.’ Tim Keller, in his book ‘Hidden Christmas’, reminds us of truth amidst the sparkle, glitz and consumer-centric hype of Christmas. Amidst the debt, family-breakdown, heartache and strife of Christmas. Advent points to the coming of Jesus to this earth. A gift that had been promised for hundreds of years.

Celebrating advent with our children builds anticipation for Jesus’ birth. It redirects their minds towards the One who makes all things new, the One who they can trust, who doesn’t break his promises, the One who came to heal our broken hearts.

At Grace Church, we’ve been digging around for some ideas and resources to help your family mark Advent in a meaningful way. We hope you can find one or two that will bless your family this season.

Creating Family Traditions

Make a Jesse Tree

Image of The Littlest Watchman advent book for children

A Jesse Tree or Advent Tree is a decorative tree used during Advent to retell the stories of the Bible that lead to Jesus’s birth. It tells the story of God’s salvation plan, starting with creation and continuing through the Old Testament to the birth of Jesus Christ. (The name Jesse represents the genealogy of Jesus – ‘a shoot will come from the stump of Jesse: a branch from his roots will bear fruit.’ Isaiah 11 v 1)

 

Image of a Jesse Advent tree with decorations


For primary school aged children, The Littlest Watchman Advent Calendar (which goes alongside The Littlest Watchman book by Scott James) comes with a booklet with 25 devotions for December, helping families look through the Bible together in the lead up to Christmas.

Each window in the calendar provides a tear off decoration for your child to put on your Jesse tree – meeting the different people from Jesus family tree along the way. You can buy your copy here.

The Jesus Storybook Bible has a similar resource you can download for free from

https://www.faithgateway.com/jesus-storybook-bible-advent-calendar-printable/

Each story points to Jesus as our Saviour, and most stories can be found animated on YouTube and read by David Suchet (best known for his role as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot).

Image showing a free advent printable from the Jesus Storybook Bible

Alternatively, if your child loves craft and making things, they can draw and colour in their own decorations (correlating with one of the resources shown above) out of card or make them out of salt dough. You can be as creative as you like!

 

Image of a homemade felt Jesse Tree to help children celebrate advent

Image of a homemade wooden Jesse tree to help children celebrate Advent

Take them to see a Nativity

Pennywell Farm near Exeter:

‘The whole family is caught up in the Christmas magic at Pennywell. Adults are welcome to take part in the Nativity or simply watch the delight and wonder on the children’s faces from the cosy straw bale seating, as the greatest story ever told comes to life.’

https://www.pennywellfarm.co.uk/buy-christmas-nativity-tickets

Cotley Farm near Whimple, Exeter

FREE ENTRY 10-6pm everyday til 23rd December. A more traditional Christmas experience on a farm run by Christians. Choose a tree, order a turkey, and visit the reindeer lodge, the Nativity area with a donkey and other animals, and the shop filled with locally produced festive goods and decorations.

Visit www.cotleychristmas.co.uk for more information.

Buy a nativity playset

Image of a playmobil nativity playset
Playmobil have a great range of nativity playsets you can set up year after year. You can also find some beautifully crafted wooden sets online too.

Being Generous

Reverse Advent Calendar

Image from Exeter Foodbank of the reverse advent calendar 2018

Exeter Foodbank have provided the 2018 advent calendar below. You could make your own one with your children, to help teach them the importance of serving others and to see the bigger picture at Christmas.

Write gifts list for others

Help your children write shopping or gift lists for other people. Whether family members, friends or those in need, it helps you to go big on giving this Season.

Baking for others

Image showing ‘Bake through the Bible art Christmas

‘Bake through the Bible at Christmas’ helps parents to explore the Christmas story with their children whilst cooking! Containing 12 Bible stories, they take the child through the events of the first Christmas.

Why not give away what you’ve made to your friends or neighbours?

Books and Resources

The Meaningful Chocolate Company have produced The Real Advent Calendar (Fairtrade) which comes with a free 24 page Christmas story-activity book. Read here to find out other ‘meaningful’ features of this advent calendar.

Image showing The meaningful chocolate company advent calendar

‘Diary of a Disciple Luke’s Story’

(8-11 years) Gives an account for the whole of Luke’s gospel, beginning with the Nativity Story. The style is similar to the popular children’s book series, Tom Gates.

Image of the book Diary of a disciple Luke’s story

The Christmas Promise

(4-7 years) This is a brilliant retelling of the Christmas story about how God keeps his promise to send a new king. You can also buy the accompanying colouring and activity book here and a giant colouring poster here.Image of the book A Christmas Promise for children to mark advent

A Very Noisy Christmas

This is a heartwarming book to encourage interaction whilst reading the nativity story. Suitable for ages 1-3 years.

Image of the book A Very Noisy Christmas for children under 5

Books for adults

Ann Voskamp ‘Unwrapping the Greatest Gift

Written to engage the whole family (children over 8yrs) during Advent. Based on her book, The Greatest Gift, there are Scriptures to read and activities to apply each theme.

Tim Keller ‘Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ’

Editorial review: ‘In this surprising take on the Christmas story, Tim Keller reveals how, by focussing on the women in Jesus’ birth narratives, a colourful, scandalous and refreshing tale of grace emerges.’

Noel Piper ‘Treasuring God in our Traditions’

This book helps parents, grandparents and other family members pass along the treasure of God to future generations through everyday routines and celebration of key holidays. When family traditions are rooted in the Bible, the next generations will see who the greatest treasure is…

Music and Film

The Star Movie – a playful animation with a great soundtrack (Mariah Carey, Kirk Franklin, Pentatonix, Casting Crowns), retelling the nativity story through the eyes of the animals. Buy on Amazon for £9.99.

Image of The Star Movie DVD cover

The Jesus Storybook Bible on YouTube – divided into three parts, two of which can be found below. Watch the following short videos to help your children see the nativity in the context of God’s big rescue plan.

Part 1: ‘He’s here!’

Part 2: ‘Light of the Whole World’

Christmas Albums

Someday at Christmas, Samuel Ljungblahd, Ole Borud

Image of the album cover for Someday at Christmas

Prepare Him Room, Sovereign Grace

Image of the Prepare Him Room album

Behold A Christmas Collection, Lauren Daigle

Image of the Lauren Daigle Behold A Christmas Collection album

Christmas: The Peace Project, Hillsong

Image of Peace Project album from Hillsong music

These Christmas Lights, Matt Redman

Image of Matt Redman These Christmas Lights album

We hope this helps your family to mark Advent in a meaningful way. Whatever way you choose, be conscious of why you’re doing what you’re doing. Even basic dressing up clothes (think dressing gown, tea towel and rope for a shepherd’s headdress) or four simple candles in an Advent Wreath can help children consider the Christmas story more meaningfully. Find out what your child loves, think about how your family celebrates occasions…

Have fun creating your own family traditions and enjoy finding ways to evoke a sense of celebration waiting for Christmas Day!

Practical ways to explore Easter with a young family

‘We reveal to ourselves and others what is important to us by the way we celebrate… Over the Lenten and Easter season, we are remembering the lowest points of sin and the highest peaks of what God has done for us through Jesus. That’s worth celebrating!’

Noël Piper

 

Here are a few practical ideas for exploring the Easter story with your children or grandchildren.

Jesus Storybook Bible

Image result for jesus storybook bible

The Jesus Storybook Bible divides up this powerfully written Easter story into 3 parts, perfect to read, enjoy and discuss over Easter.

You can watch the 5 minute animated videos on YouTube if you haven’t got the book.

A Dark Night in the Garden:

The Sun Stops Shining:

God’s Wonderful Surprise:

Get outside!

Who doesn’t love a spring walk? There is so much around us signifying new beginnings and new life, it’s the perfect opportunity to point our children to our creator and give thanks to Him.

Image result for spring walk

Here is what Claire, mum of four, says about her family tradition:

‘For the last few years, we have created a little Easter tradition in our family. On Good Friday, we wake up and bundle into the car to go up to Mamhead (Forestry Commission site) with a packed breakfast. It’s early, quiet (with the exception of the occasional avid dog walker) and cold! We walk to the viewpoint overlooking the Exe estuary and read the Easter story over brioche. It’s peaceful and beautiful. We then do the rest of the walk collecting bits for our Easter garden – moss, twigs, bark, a rock for the tomb! That day at home, we make our Easter garden with our forest bounty, complete with Lego characters. Why do we do this? It creates a beautiful tradition and way to share Easter together – getting out early adds to the excitement and memorability! Our kids will anticipate this time and we hope to be doing this with them year on year, maybe not always making an Easter garden and swapping juice cartons for flasks of hot caffeinated beverages (!) but with a walk in creation, breakfast and a marked time to reflect on His story.’

Real Easter Eggs

Image result for real easter eggs

The Meaningful Chocolate Company make ‘Real Easter Eggs’ from fairtrade chocolate which include an Easter-story activity book. You can buy them online or from some major supermarkets such as Morrisons, Tesco, Waitrose and Asda. Bridge Books on Exe Bridges also sells them. You can read more here: www.meaningfulchocolate.co.uk

The Garden, The Curtain and The Cross

Image result for the garden the curtain and the cross
Here is what Rach, mum of four, says about this book:

‘In our family we love ‘The Garden, The Curtain and The Cross’. The illustrations are creative and engaging and the language which the author uses is simple but deeply poignant and compelling. We have found that it holds the interest of Lily, Evie and Fred even though they are of varying ages. Fred loves the rhythm of the words, repeated phrases and pictures. Evie loves looking at the detail of the illustrations and asking questions about how the story fits together and it prompts Lily to explore how the story impacts upon her own life. It is a beautiful books which is brilliantly written. I would go so far as to say that I think it is one of the best children’s books exploring the story of the world and what Jesus did for us that you will find.’

You can buy this book or the brilliant activity and colouring book here.

Easter Garden

Image result for easter garden

Making an Easter garden is a lovely activity to do with children of all ages and can be as simple or complicated as you like! Generally, it is made on a small tray or plate and uses moss, broken egg shells, pebbles, an empty flower pot for the tomb, soil, twigs and anything else you can easily find to make the Garden. As long as it includes a tomb with a stone in front of it and a cross, you’ve got it covered!

Resurrection Tree

Ideas for teaching the true meaning of Easter!

If you’re feeling creative, a Resurrection Tree is a wonderful way to talk about the events of Holy Week (starting with Palm Sunday and going through to Easter Sunday).  Collect some branches and each day hang a decoration/drawing/symbol that represents an aspect of the Easter story (e.g. donkey, palm branches, chalice, crown of thorns, hammer and nails, cross, spear, rooster (Peter’s denial), money bag/ coins (Judas betrayal). You can also hang some paper-maché eggs on the tree to symbolise new life.

Treasuring God in Our Traditions

Image result for treasuring god in our traditions

Treasuring God in Our Traditions by Noel Piper is a warm and practical book that discusses the value of Christ-centred traditions and engaging family experiences to draw our children to God.

FOOD

Many of the best traditions involve food!  So here are some foodie ideas for sharing with one another and inspiring discussions around the meaning of Easter.

Resurrection Cookies

Image result for resurrection cookies

You will need:

1 cup whole pecans

1 tsp. vinegar

3 egg whites

a pinch salt

1 cup of sugar

a sandwich bag

a wooden spoon

tape

Bible

1. Preheat oven to 150
2. Place pecans in sandwich bag and let children beat them with the wooden spoon to break into small pieces. Explain that after Jesus was arrested, the Roman soldiers beat him. Read John 19:1-3.
3. Let each child smell the vinegar. Put 1 tsp. vinegar into mixing bowl. Explain that when Jesus was thirsty on the cross he was given vinegar to drink. Read John 19:28-30.
4. Add egg whites to vinegar. Eggs represent life. Explain that Jesus gave His life to give us life. Read John 10:10-11.
5. Sprinkle a little salt into each child’s hand. Let them taste it and brush the rest into the bowl. Explain that this represents the salty tears shed by Jesus’ followers, and the bitterness of our own sin. Read Luke 23:27.
6. So far the ingredients are not very appetizing. Add 1 cup of sugar. Explain that the sweetest part of the story is that Jesus died because He loves us. He wants us to know and belong to Him. Read Ps. 34:8 and John 3:16.
7. Beat with a mixer on high speed for 12 to 15 minutes until stiff peaks are formed. Explain that the colour white represents the purity in God’s eyes of those whose sins have been cleansed by Jesus. Read Isaiah. 1:18 and John 3:1-3.
8. Fold in broken nuts. Drop teaspoons onto greaseproof paper on a baking tray. Explain that each mound represents the rocky tomb where Jesus’ body was laid. Read Matt. 27:57-60.
9. Put the tray in the oven, close the door and turn the oven OFF. Give each child a piece of tape and seal the oven door. Explain that Jesus’ tomb was sealed. Read Matt.27:65-66.
10. GO TO BED! Explain that they may feel sad to leave the cookies in the oven overnight. Jesus’ followers were in despair when the tomb was sealed. Read John 16:20 and 22.
11. On Easter morning, open the oven and give everyone a cookie. Notice the cracked surface and take a bite. The cookies are hollow! On the first Easter Jesus’ followers were amazed to find the tomb open and empty.

Hot Cross Buns

Image result for hot cross buns
Image: BBC Good Food Recipes

It may sound obvious but a breakfast of hot cross buns is a great opportunity to talk about the meaning of Easter with your family.

Simnel Cake

Image result for simnel cake

Image: BBC Good Food Recipes

If you enjoy baking and love having a cake for tea on Easter Sunday then this one is a must! This delicious traditional fruit cake is topped with 11 balls of marzipan, representing Jesus’ 11 disciples, minus Judas who betrayed him.

 

BAPTISM SUNDAY

Baptism is a foundational moment in the Christian faith as men and women say yes to Jesus and no to life without him. In baptism they associate themselves with Jesus’ death and embrace the hope of Jesus’ resurrection life.

We invite you to join us and take a next step in your journey of faith, a step that is also a community moment as we stand in unity with you as your church family.

We gather at The Maynard School, with coffee from 10.00am, and the service from 10.30am-11.50am. During a Baptism service there will be an opportunity to see a video of each baptism candidate sharing their story, hear a short message on faith, and see them being baptised.

BAPTISM IS FOR LEARNERS

Baptism is for learners.

Baptism isn’t something to enter into lightly – it should be thoughfully considered.  Below are comments from Hannah and Jackie who have been baptised at Grace Church.

Hannah says “I’ve been putting this off for years. I know this is what Jesus is asking of me. I could’ve done this years ago.”

For Jackie baptism is about saying “I used to think Jesus was about strict rules and I wasn’t really interested. Now though, thanks to my daughter inviting me to Grace Church a couple of years ago, I’ve accepted Jesus into my life and I want to follow him.”

Or, take the story of an Ethiopian politican for example, recorded in Luke’s history of the early church. Travelling with him, Philip carefully explains the story of Jesus to this official and on the first sight of water he says: “What can prevent me from being baptised?” The answer is nothing can.

Baptism is for the journey.

In baptism Jesus stakes his claim upon those who go into the water. So we baptise them ‘in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’. Named and claimed by Jesus as his.

Those who are baptised can “use” their baptism to comfort, encourage and strengthen their faith – as they face doubts and struggles they can say: “But, I am baptised. Jesus is mine and I am his.”

Baptism is beginning again.

In preparation for their baptism, Clare, Hannah and Jackie have considered what the Christian faith is about, what baptism means and discussed their questions together.  

Each of them has their own story with its ups and downs, each is now saying – “I belong in Jesus’ family and I want to respond to him.” As they emerge from the water that’s the story they’ll be starting again, on a lifelong journey following Jesus.

And if you follow Jesus but haven’t yet taken this step we’ll be starting Baptism Classes again soon. Contact scott@gracechurchexeter.org to express your interest.

A New Season

January will mark the sixth year of my leadership at Grace Church. Our evolving, emerging & brilliant team have been on a fantastic journey seeking to lead our community well.

Initially we entered into a pruning season as a community. We felt for faith to be relevant for our generation a number of things had to change. A number of people left and a number of people joined as we focussed on what we see as important for today.

It feels like we have moved from pruning to sowing. New prayers, study, teaching, emphasis and teams have been worked on. Theological foundations have been laid, philosophy of ministry established and ministry shapes shared. ‘Giving ourselves to God’s reconciliation of all things’ is how we have been describing the big vision for all we are doing.

Paul writes, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3v6)

Through personal prayer, team experience and a special sense of God’s presence at our prayer time that the season is changing again. Now is time to water our community through Bible saturated prayer.

A number of people at our overnight prayer independently felt Psalm 1 was particularly important for us now. A tree, planted by the stream, that yields fruit in its season is like those who delight in the Scriptures.

Given this shared sense of leading I can’t wait for our overnight prayer in the new year and our ‘Empowered’ teaching series. Additionally, we’ll be teaching from the Psalms in the summer term seeking to know His presence through prayer. Our series will be called ‘Songs for all Seasons’ and we hope will be one of the ways we receive an invitation to receive nourishment together.

MINISTRY INTERNSHIP

September 2017 – August 2019

Please note that applications for this role have now closed.

What is the aim of this role?

This leadership role will include leading, managing and developing ministries with Grace Church in order to support and strengthen our Community Group network and Sunday gatherings. It also includes opportunities to deliver ministry and leadership through teaching and preaching.

Over the course of this internship vital areas of pastoral ministry including Marriage Ministry, Grace Foundations (baptism preparation), Community Group pastoral support and the Alpha Courses will be equipped, empowered and supported by this position.

This role will enable the intern to “test” calling for full time ministry part time for a two year period.

What does the role involve?

This role involves empowering volunteer leaders on behalf of the SLT to ensure that supporting ministries are appropriate, accessible, well-communicated and delivered effectively. This will be achieved through providing clear guidelines, motivating teams, progress reporting, risk and cost management, problem-solving and good communication.

It will also include teaching and equipping others through Sunday teaching opportunities.

Who are we looking for?

The ideal candidate will be able to demonstrate:

  • A passion for church and ministry
  • An understanding and/or willingness to learn Grace Church philosophy and theology
  • A servant heart
  • An ability to communicate publicly
  • Management experience
  • Self-leadership in planning and time management

Hours

Estimated 20 hours per week (5 sessions)
Wednesday Morning (1 session) Staff Team time including personal admin.
Sunday Morning (1 session) Ministry Time.
Personal Preparation (1 session per week)
Ministry Delivery / Oversight (2 sessions per week)

How to apply 

For further information please email Stuart Alred to express your interest. stuart@gracechurchexeter.org

Further details regarding the application process will then be provided, if required. Successful applicants will be invited to interview in April. Applications close 9th April.

Thank you for your interest.

REFUGEE APPEAL

Syria: “The worst humanitarian crisis of our time”, UNHCR

We’ve become accustomed to daily news reports of suffering arising from the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. We feel both compassion and confusion, wanting to help but wondering how we can in the face of the enormity of the need.

As part of our response in Grace Church  we are partnering with Samara’s Aid Appeal who focus on ‘the relief of suffering through the provision of humanitarian relief including medical aid, and the practical demonstration of God’s love in action’. You can find more details via their website or Facebook page.

We will be organizing a clothing collection during February, but encourage Community groups to consider one of these other appeals during the coming year:

Here is a list of items for our clothing appeal – items must be new or excellent condition (washed, no holes, no stains, working zips etc):

  • ALL SEASON CLOTHES, adult, child & baby
  • COATS & SNOWEAR, new and used – adult, child & baby
  • NEW UNDERWEAR only (no used), with tags or in packaging
  • SHOES (polished) in immaculate condition
  • BOOTS & WELLY BOOTS, clean, adult/child
  • Blankets, sleeping bags, sheets & towels in immaculate condition
  • Duvets only if like new with no marks or stains
  • Wheelchairs, zimmer frames and crutches (paired)
  • Moses baskets and baby bedding
  • Disposable nappies, sanitary towels & incontinence pads
  • Soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes (unopened)

We will also collect donations towards the transportation costs which are around £5/carrier bag, £10/bin bag and need people to help sort and pack items. To donate money, please either do an online transfer and ensure your reference includes ‘RA’  (Account name: Grace Church Exeter, No: 00011476, Sort: 40-52-40; if you gift aid already, it will be added) or give cash at the table at our Sunday gatherings.

There will be a table at the back of the main meeting hall at our Sunday gatherings with further information and a collection point throughout February. Items can also be taken to the Church Office Tuesday – Friday (please phone ahead 01392 211331).

If you’d like to help or have questions, please feel free to contact any of us on the core team directly or email via refugeeappeal@gracechurchexeter.org.

Many thanks,

The Refugee Response Core Team

Mike and Ann Banks, Jo Todd, Leslie Tellerain, Amanda Schmid-Scott, Olayinka Oyekola

GRACE FOUNDATIONS

In the new year we’re planning to offer a ‘Grace Foundations’ course. This will be a seven session course looking at the basics of the Christian Faith and how we can live as Christians today. (8th Jan, 15th Jan, 22nd Jan followed by 19th Feb, 26th Feb, 5th March, 12th March.)

You can sign up here.

This is a great opportunity for those who are looking to take a ‘next step’ this term. It would be good as a refresher of faith. It would also be great for you if you are considering following Christ and for those who are interested in Baptism.

The sessions will include a series of short Bible studies around the below subjects as well as opportunities to learn about the practises of prayer, Bible reading and community.

1. The world we all want
2. The invitation we all have
3. A new beginning

4. Everyday talk
5. The wind in your sails
6. A journey together
7. A difference to make

ST PETROCK’S COLLECTION

This year we will be taking up a collection for St Petrock’s, a local charity who provide a range of emergency, support and prevention services for the homeless or vulnerably housed. We will be collecting essential clothing and practical items from their most wanted items list as well as making a special Christmas gift donation of personal hygiene items and small gifts. Items can be donated by bringing them to our donation point at the back of the hall in our meetings on the 4th, 11th or 18th of December. Alternatively, they can be bought straight from St Petrock’s Amazon wishlist, for delivery directly to the charity.

WELCOMING REFUGEES?

A pastor, a doctor, an architect and others sat in a living room hearing a local social worker share her passion for her work and the pain of it as she works on the cases of refugees seeking assylum in our nation. A Community Group gathering.

In a previous gathering we heard from an engineer in the group, and I’m looking forward to hearing from others in future.

What can we do about the refugee crisis and assylum seekers?

The Christian faith, as Krish Kandiah explains in the video below, tells us that all of us are refugees, to whom a lavish welcome is offered.

In Jesus, we see that God is at work in this world for good, he’s ahead of us in responding to the needs of his world, and invites us to join him in what he’s doing, to renew all things.

The need seems overwhelming and we tried to consider what response we could each give to this situation.

We recognised that some of us might engage politics campa,igning and supporting those who fight for justice, others might need to consider the longer term work of pursuing a career in politics or law.

We asked whether we have the capacity to open our homes to those in need.

We saw that our friend working in social work is engaged on the frontline – just as each of us is in other ways for the same or other causes. We spoke of how we as a church family might be a part of a response.

It’s easy to say someone should do something. Armchair outrage at injustice isn’t difficult. The situation is complex, involving many factors, and if the solution was simple surely the problems would already be resolved. But, perhaps, there are concrete steps we can take to do something, steps that might cost us, steps that can empower and encourage and equip others to do what they’re doing.

Some can join in with God’s renewing work in his world by being social workers, others in redeeming places through architecture, others overcoming illness in the NHS, and many other ways in culture, neighbourhoods and workplaces.

Krish Kandiah of Home for Good offers practical steps to respond to the refugee crisis in this short video.