Our kids who are atrium age may remember the liturgical calendar puzzle, and that there’s a long stretch of green Sundays after Pentecost. This season is called Ordinary Time—and sometimes called growing time.
These seasonal changes—on the church calendar, not to mention the academic calendar and the actual Gregorian calendar—yet again offer us an opportunity to adjust and/or take on new personal practices or family routines. Maybe your family or household can talk together about what’s been working for each of you and how you’d like to grow together during this next season.
We're also shifting rhythms as an Incarnation family for the new season, with a new a Sunday morning park meet-up!
Even if your family doesn’t come out to Alcova Heights, or you're out on the road somewhere . . . for all of us this summer, I’m suggesting a weekly family outdoor atrium—i.e. nature Sunday school!
Wild Wonder Sundays in the Park
Each week we’ll have a scripture prompt that points us to something wonder-worthy in creation—like the wind, or Zacchaeus' sycamore tree. I'm sending an email every Friday with that week’s verse, as well as some extension activities you might use on Sunday or later in the week, depending on your family’s needs and interests.
I envision a relaxed, quality family time. Here’s a starting-point outline for families to adapt:
Choose a pleasant, shady spot. Might be a back patio or yard, or a beloved hiking spot or nature area that’s open right now. Those of us who are able, and would like to, will gather at 9:30am at Alcova Heights Park, close to church. Of course, we'll follow all health recommendations, etc. This won’t be a formal gathering, just families on our own picnic blankets, nice and spread out—parents responsible for their own kids!
Start together on the picnic blanket, or picnic table, or stadium chairs. Might be nice to begin with a snack, so everyone’s happy. The Ortegas will never be above bringing delectable breakfast pastries and iced coffees . . . It’s a Sunday feast day, after all—time to develop delicious traditions.
Prayer time: You could use the Family Prayer services in our Book of Common Prayer (there are morning, mid-day and evening prayer options, beginning on page 67), and substitute our weekly scripture in at the appropriate spot.
Your prayer time could be very simple: sing Jesus Loves Me, read the verse, enjoy the breeze.
You might have a kid who would love to organize prayer time and assign parts. Elements of your family prayer time could include (choosing just a few of these is fine!):
An opening song
A Psalm (read or sung!)
Scripture reading: use the nature scripture prompt—with journals and art supplies available, if that applies.
The Lord’s Prayer
“Prayers of the People”—you can pass around a cross or another object to take turns praying. If someone doesn’t want to pray out loud, just hold it for a moment, then pass to the next person.
Sing “Amen” to conclude.
End with plenty of time left to respond with art and exploration.
Let kids run or amble off to find that week’s nature item, if it applies, or just to scramble over rocks or whatever they want to do. (Getting away from your house might be nice, in order to invite this.)
Option: bring nature show-and-tell to 5pm church!
Our objective: an enjoyable time, praising God, and giving kids opportunity for open-ended play and exploration. This works for all ages we have at Incarnation—even the adults! Remember, as in atrium, this is not school work where we require kids to master something and check it off the list. We wonder at God’s creation because He’s worthy of wonder. (Don’t force it is what I’m saying. Just enjoy it yourself! That will convey the message.)
Go to the bathroom before you leave home.
Be prepared with all your supplies:
water bottles and snacks
water shoes, if applicable. There is a creek at Alcova Heights.
lawn chairs if you’d like
journals, or paper, and colored pencils, crayons, or watercolors, etc.
a magnifying glass
Wear casual clothes so you won’t worry about getting messy—not hashtag "Sunday finest"! Maybe keep a change of clothes in the car—and all those other parent best practices you’ve picked up along the way.
Exploration Tips (adapted from groups like Free Forest School):
Let kids take the lead. (With multiple kids, you could take turns who gets to choose which bend in the path to follow, week by week. Or choice by choice.)
Before they start wandering, establish any ground rules:
One of our family's rules is the kids need to stay within Mama or Papa's eyesight.
Identify poison ivy (three tear-shaped leaves, or fuzzy vines on a tree) and any other plants to avoid in your area.
Leave alone any animals you might come across!
Leave no trace! Pick up trash. (Bonus points: bring a trash bag and clean up as you go... kids shouldn't pick up broken glass, but they can point out trash to you!)
You may have heard me or someone else explain that in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, we use the word atrium for our kids' Sunday school room. The atrium was that space in the early church where those waiting to be baptized and welcomed into the church would learn and prepare. Architecturally, the atrium was an open-air space in between the street and the sanctuary. In CGS, the atrium is a “prepared environment” (***Montessori buzzword***), a place with special materials for children to explore God’s love for them. While we’re not gathering together in a church building, we can use another open-air “prepared environment” to explore God’s love—it’s the environment! God’s gorgeous creation!
I hope this will be a relaxed time to be together that encourages us into a healthy Sabbath rhythm. (No cell phones! OK, except for pictures if you must.) As a side benefit, maybe we parents will feel less pressure for kids to engage nicely with zoom church in the evening.
That’s our Wild Wonder Summer plan! Let me know if you have questions, or if you'd like to get on the list to receive each Sunday's scripture via email.