“Lesbia Scott’s hymn, I Sing a Song of the Saints of God, becomes the basis for a church school lesson for All Saints’ or All Souls’ Days.”
All Saints & All Souls
Lay theologian Derek Olsen describes the differences between All Saints and All Souls Days this way: “… the Feast of All Saints celebrates the mighty deeds of God in and through the Church Triumphant; the Feast of All Souls recalls to us the Church Expectant who shall yet enjoy that final consummation.” Today in most congregations we blend these two together and celebrate them on the Sunday closest to November 1st. More than an opportunity to dress up as historic figures, we must be dedicated to teaching children why All Saints and All Souls are an important part of the church year.
All Saints teaches us that we are members of a great cloud of witnesses from every generation who have acted in great and small ways to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven.
All Souls reminds us to honor those we know who have died in the past year, their graces and their weaknesses. After all, those who have died are members of that great cloud of witnesses, too.
Teaching All Saints Day
I have sung Lesbia Scott’s hymn all my life. From childhood, the idea that “the saints of God” are just folk like us and can show up anywhere stuck with me. And one was a doctor… a queen, a shepherdess on the green, a soldier, a priest, and more; we meet them in school, in lanes, at sea, in church, in trains, in shops, at tea. A saint is someone who has demonstrated mighty deeds of God, and we recognize those saints for whom our churches are named, for example. But saints – as the hymn states – are also those who live out kindness and compassion in daily life.
Ask older children to reflect on the people named in the hymn:
- How has a doctor been especially kind and helpful for them?
- Who is a public figure (queen) that has stood out for them as particularly understanding and important?
- Who is a “shepherdess” in their lives? This could lead to conversations about animal caretakers and caregivers of all kinds.
- Do they know stories about soldiers who might live in their community?
If nothing comes quickly to mind, there are many stories in the news you could share. How have clergy or church leaders shown compassion? Who else in their lives might be a Saint? Are there particular people in the news who have acted courageously on behalf of others? Lead the children to naming parents, and other relatives, teachers, babysitters, and all kinds of people who have been just the right person in a particular moment.
You might even spread this discussion into all the generations in your congregation. Older and younger generations will have different ideas about who is a saint and why! Collect categories for more verses to the hymn and sing in not just when you celebrate All Saints, but as a hymn of thanksgiving, too.
Remembering the Departed on All Souls Day
It may be, as your group names those who have had a strong influence on their lives, that they begin to name those who have died. All Souls Day calls us to pay specific attention to those whose lives we have shared and who have gone before us.
Naming people who are no longer with us in person but who are with us in memories, stories, and pictures is an important aspect of holding them up as members of the great cloud of witnesses of the Christian faith. In times past, families visited cemeteries, honoring those who have died. Visiting a cemetery may not be feasible for your church context. Find time during the liturgy or during Christian education to honor and bless those who have died.
Today as we blend All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days together, we honor both. We name and celebrate the saints who are in our midst right now and look forward to those whom we do not yet know. These saints all combine to create the church triumphant. These souls remind us of God’s promise of eternal life. Together they ring us with love and grace, a cloud of witnesses surrounding us when we need them most.
Elizabeth Ring is a lifelong student of theology. She recently retired from 26 years on the staff of the Diocese of Maine where she was part of the team that developed their Diocesan Resource Center and served as consultant to congregations around program and leadership development for lifelong learning.
Photo credit: Boykin Bell, used with permission.