Worship bulletins at Ellendale UMC now feature art created by congregation's children and youth


Worship bulletin cover art at Ellendale United Methodist Church is being created by the church's children and youth. Recent examples (clockwise from top left) are by second grader Abigail Palmer (Children's Sabbath), fifth grader Elijah Gilliam (All Saints Day), fourth grader Julianne Rudy (Thanksgiving) and sixth grader Maddy Thompson ("Humble").

By Rev. Jeff Rudy, Ellendale United Methodist Church, Memphis TN

“How can we allow the children to share their gifts more than just one day a year?” This is a question Nilse Gilliam, children’s minister, brought to leaders of Ellendale United Methodist Church in Memphis, Tennessee.
For the last two years, Ellendale’s children have led in various parts of worship on a Sunday called “Children’s Sabbath.” Children and youth regularly serve as acolytes, but on this special Sunday, it is truly a blessed experience as children and youth of all ages lead in all aspects of the worship service – sharing special music, serving as greeters and ushers, reading scripture, and leading in prayers and other liturgical elements.

Ushers on Children's Sabbath are typically the youngest children. We have adult ushers walk behind them and guide them. The whole experience is one great way of living into Jesus’ instructions of discipleship – when he placed a child in the disciples’ midst and said, “Whoever receives a child in my name receives me…” (Mark 9:36-37) and later to “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14).
Another way children's gifts were showcased during the last two Children's Sabbaths was by having the children draw pictures to illustrate what comes to their minds when they think about Christ and the church.

As we were putting together the worship bulletin for this year’s Children’s Sabbath on Oct. 21, Nilse asked, “What if we have the children and youth draw these illustrations more frequently?”
“Brilliant!” I said. “Why didn’t I think of that?” So began a practice that is still in its early days, but has already taken on a life of its own.

I gave Nilse a list of scripture passages, sermon subjects and worship themes for the remainder of the year. She, in turn, set up a schedule and contacted one child or youth per Sunday to ask for an art illustration for the worship bulletin cover.
I think this is so cool because it’s like the exchange of gifts between children and adults at Christmastime, but in reverse. Rather than adults doing all the planning to be unveiled later, the children get to see and know weeks in advance what the focus will be for a given worship experience. Meanwhile, parents and other adults anxiously wait to see how children and youth imagine and picture passages of scripture, characters in Bible stories, the title of the sermon and more.
One of Ellendale’s greatest strengths, from my perspective, is the presence of a fruitful inter-generational ministry. There has been a developing connection between young and old, millennials and Baby Boomers, and so on.

This new practice of having children create worship bulletin covers is one more way our children can participate and lead in a vital congregation. It’s really a simple thing that just about any church (with artists and a worship bulletin) can do. It becomes an organic expression of the community’s worship of God and engagement with the scriptures.
I can’t wait to see what the kids' illustrations will be for Advent, Christmas, Epiphany and beyond. It will be like opening a new present every week!