Ash Wednesday is fast approaching, peep, and the beginning of Lent is right around the corner!
So, you wanna celebrate with your kids but need some ideas. We’re here to help! Use these ideas to foster discussions and more fully engage your kids.
How do you invite your kids into the celebration of Ash Wednesday? We want to know and so does your ICM community. So, share in the comments below!
How’d We Get to Forehead Crosses?
The ashes we receive today are a relic of what was long ago called the order of penitents. Before the Middle Ages, it was only possible to receive forgiveness for one’s sins after Baptism once or twice, and sins had to be confessed publicly to the bishop.
The bishop would then place the person seeking forgiveness in the order of penitents for one to three years. The penitents would sit outside the church begging for alms, wearing itchy sackcloth and covering their heads with ashes.
Over time, churches began the ritual of placing ashes upon the foreheads of the whole congregation instead. Together, the community together recognizes the sinfulness all carry. And it takes notice of the fleeting nature of our earthen footsteps, for from dust we came and to dust we will return.
Talking About Sin with Kids
Talking about sin with kids can be a daunting task. Since it’s a relevant concept to Ash Wednesday, try approaching it this way.
Explain to your kids that we all miss the mark sometimes by doing things that don’t lead to good things for us, the Earth, other people or creatures. Discuss some examples.
Missing the mark, which we call sin, is part of being human and God lovingly invites us to live each day in alignment with God’s hopes for the world.
When we celebrate Ash Wednesday, we recognize how we all miss the mark, no matter who we are. And in receiving the ashes on our foreheads we remind ourselves that we will continue in our quest to follow God’s ways each day.
3 Ways to Engage Kids on Ash Wednesday
If possible, it can be a fantastic experience for children to be a part of the burning of last year’s palm branches. Some churches gather in the courtyard or even at a location off-campus for Ash Wednesday worship, so they can participate together in setting the palms ablaze.
Create a coloring station or hand out coloring sheets and utensils to children as they enter. This is a wonderful way to keep them engaged. And it helps them listen and reflect during the service. Pssst. This is great for kids and adults!
Give each congregant the opportunity to write what practice they will give up or take on during Lent. This can be done on paper cut in symbolic shapes. For example, try crosses or butterflies. Then, at a special time during the service congregants can take their intention to the altar or baptismal font.
Benefits of Engaging Kids on Ash Wednesday
Sense of Belonging
Ash Wednesday is an opportunity for children to see themselves as part of the whole congregation. We all have a fundamental need to be part of something greater than ourselves. Children develop their identity in relationship to others, which means their church can be vital. Rituals like these are powerful reminders that they are not alone.
Learning by Example
The celebration of Ash Wednesday is a beautiful example for children of humility. Together, adults and children alike admit to messing up and commit to strive for God’s ways in their lives. Children learn the curriculum of honesty, vulnerability and grace represented in the practices of their faith family on Ash Wednesday. Additionally, and more importantly, children learn that in spite of missing the mark, we are in God’s presence loved and lovable.
Receiving ashes is a sensory experience, which brings to life the intangible elements of faith in the unseen. These experiences engage the body in a way that is not done at any other time during the church year. As a result, children connect more easily to the practice and theology.
The Power of Ritual
Dr. Barbara Feise, psychologist and professor at Syracuse University, researches the power of ritual in community. She and her team find that it improves overall well being and strengthens relationships and identity. She tells us also that “rituals…provide continuity in meaning across generations.”
As you begin the preparation for the mystery of Easter, we hope you find these ideas helpful and that this Ash Wednesday creates and carries on meaning for your faith family.
And don’t forget to share with all of us in the comments what ways you’re inviting kids to engage in Ash Wednesday this year!