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Children’s Sabbath includes prayer, service and advocacy

By Deborah White

SUMMARY: Participating in a national observance of Children's Sabbath is spiritually powerful, said Marian Whetstone, a United Methodist Women's group leader in New Jersey.

"It underscores the magnitude of the problem," explained Whetstone, who is passionate about advocating for children's health-care needs. "It also helps us connect in prayer with other people who recognize the problem and are trying to solve it."

Children's Sabbath, sponsored by the nonprofit Children's Defense Fund, is an interfaith event that seeks to inspire congregations to help children through prayer, service and advocacy. The United Methodist Church and more than 200 other faith groups support it.

The United Methodist Church will observe Children's Sabbath Oct. 10-12, 2008. The interfaith observance is Oct. 17-19.

"Children's Sabbath gives churches a chance to look at the real needs of children in the pews and outside the walls, and it invites advocacy on their behalf," said Julie Taylor, executive secretary, Children, Youth and Family Advocacy, Women's Division, General Board of Global Ministries.

Each year, the Children's Defense Fund offers resources for congregations, including a low-cost manual and free downloadable resources.

This year's manual When Will We Hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Call to End Poverty in America? includes worship materials, bulletin inserts, and ideas for service and advocacy.

In 2007, colorful origami boats called attention to the theme of creating a "safe harbor" for children. Whetstone used the boats to decorate the sanctuaries of First United Methodist Church, Beach Haven Terrace, N.J., and Kynett UMC, Beach Haven, N.J. During the children's sermons, she folded an origami boat as she talked about the 9 million children in the United States who lack health insurance.

"We have written hundreds of letters to our elected officials concerning health care," Whetstone said. "In July, our state expanded its FamilyCare program and established mandates for health-care coverage for all children."

The United Methodist Church is the top celebrant of Children's Sabbath, said Matt Rosen, deputy director of religious action, Children's Defense Fund.

At its first Children's Sabbath celebration in 2007, Wesley UMC, Lexington, Ky., focused on children's health in several ways, said the Rev. Chrysanthia Carr-Seals, who served as youth pastor. Church members created health bags for children, distributed them to low-income families in the community and provided information about how families could enroll children in Medicaid.

On the Saturday of Children's Sabbath, the church invited legislators to the church to pray for uninsured children in Kentucky. Two worship services on Sunday focused on children's health-care needs.

At Memorial UMC, Summerville, W.V., the Rev. James Malick introduced Children's Sabbath to the church several years ago. In 2007, he focused his sermon on children's health. Church members worked closely with area health organizations to enroll children in health insurance. Like the New Jersey congregations, Memorial Church used ideas developed by the Children's Defense Fund, decorating the sanctuary with about 150 origami boats.

–-Deborah White, associate editor of Interpreter and Interpreter OnLine.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Resources are available from the Children's Defense Fund at www.childrensdefense.org/Religious_Action