Our congregation is going through an unexpected ministerial transition right now, throwing many of us into a state of uncertainty, sadness, and confusion.
For the most part, our children and youth are less affected. But that doesn’t mean they are not affected at all, or that we should not talk about this departure with our youngest members.
Children were invited to write a farewell card to the Reverend and his wife last Sunday, just as the adults in our congregation were. It is important to get to say goodbye and to express both appreciation and gratitude for a person and grief at their absence.
We also released and said goodbye to our butterflies that we have been raising here at the congregation. The butterfly remains, while a clichéd symbol, a powerful symbol of transformation and new possibilities. We watched our caterpillars grow, go into a chrysalis and seem almost dead, and then emerge completely transformed into butterflies. We enjoyed our butterflies for a week, then knew that it was time to let them go, and watch them fly away.
This is a metaphor for change that children can understand, as they will if you share the book Farfallina and Marcel by Holly Keller. Farfallina is a caterpillar and a great friend to Marcel, a duckling, but one day Farfallina is gone. When she returns, Marcel doesn’t recognize her, but they become friends again all the same … here we have a gentle story about friendship enduring transformation and change.
Another story about change, loss, grief and death for young children is Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley. Badger is a good friend to many, and when he dies peacefully one night, all his friends are sad. But when they gather to share their stories of Badger, they celebrate the gifts he left behind, and the precious ways he still lives on in their memories.
Neither of these books is a perfect match for what we are experiencing in the congregation right now, and we will not always find the perfect story for every possible occasion. But I believe that we need to explore stories like these with our children because they open a door of possibility for the children to tell their own stories … the story of how they are feeling, what they are wondering, what they have noticed and seen.
Share a story with your children, and then listen for their own. Don’t be afraid to wade out into deeper emotional waters … children have a depth of feeling and experience and just as much need to talk about it as adults do.
May we all find our way, through transition and transformation. Blessed Be.
The Story of Our Butterflies:
Eggs were hatched into caterpillars who were gathered up and sent through the mail to our Director of Religious Education’s home (so they wouldn’t get too cold in case the church building was closed when they arrived). There were 33 caterpillars, all in one cup full of food. They were tiny!
Each of those caterpillars needed to have its own space and its own food, much like we all need enough room and nurture in order to grow. We carefully moved them each into their own cup, with their own food.
The caterpillars got larger and larger, while we checked on them every Sunday (and the DRE checked on them all week long), and then when they had eaten enough and were ready, they clung to the lid of the little home and formed a chrysalis. We took all the lids and put them into the butterfly net, so they would have more room when it was time to come out of those hard pods. We watched, and we waited, and we even began to worry because it was taking longer than we thought it would!
And then the butterflies emerged! One by one they squirmed free of their chrysalides, unfolded their wings, and twitched and flapped them to get them dry and strong.
We enjoyed watching our butterflies, and feeding them orange slices and sugar water.
But butterflies can’t live in a net forever … they need to fly and find flowers and live their lives. So it was time to release our butterflies.
One by one, they flew away. Goodbye butterflies!