July 15, 2021 | by JB Brayfindley
Rev. Rod Brayfindley singing with Mort during one of the 63 episodes of Children's Worship.
Author's note: Children’s Worship is a free innovative online worship experience for children everywhere. The production is a collaborative effort sponsored by the United Methodist Churches of the Pentecost Circuit. The 20 minute videos include music, messages and special friends to meet--including talking animals and a puppet called 'Mort' ... video clips come from around our church family in Northern California and Nevada. The series started May 31, 2020, and extends to July 25, 2021.
This is personal. This is about Mort, my righthand (literally on my right hand), and more. It’s about chubby cheeked toddlers, wrinkled grandparents, and really, kids of all ages who need to know God loves them especially during a pandemic. It’s the United Methodist families, their friends and relatives and all who tuned in to or supported in some way the 20-minute online “Children’s Worship” motivated by the shut down and offered for 63 Sundays through an email link on YouTube from May 31, 2020 to July 25, 2021.
I had a call—literally and figuratively. Those come when least expected and yet, at a time when needed the most. Rev. Motoe Yamada-Foor, pastor of Sacramento Japanese UMC, knew there had to be more for children during the pandemic. My husband, Rev. Rod Brayfindley, pastor of First UMC Sacramento, gave her my phone number. I answered the bleep, beep, buzz…
I did not know what it would lead to. All I knew is that there was a need. I latched onto Yamada-Foor’s passion and vision (and volunteered my husband) and prayed for God to help.
We wrote up a list, emailed and phoned volunteers. Over time, more than 40 churches across our conference from Fort Bragg, California to Yerington, Nevada signed up to participate. (See end of this article for listings). What started with the eight churches of the Sacramento Pentecost circuit eventually extended across the district and then the entire conference. Later, the conference Young People’s Ministry Committee would contribute significant funding.
I helped make an overall structure of weekly themes with attached bible verses based on the lectionary. As the pandemic continued, this 3 month long list stretched into five more lists! Yamada-Foor and I established a simple order of worship that included music, humor (that’s where Mort fits in) and a message.
The service sometimes featured a crab puppet called “Snappy” from Lodi First UMC or a talking animal from “Susan’s Holy Zoo” of Sacramento First UMC. Sometimes, Gordon Barbosa from Evergreen UMC in Fort Bragg brought a cartoon. Once, we had a children’s bell choir from Grass Valley UMC and another time we had a “Make A Noise” band from Dixon UMC.
For each worship, as the producer, I worked to compile and stitch together video clips from different churches. We had grandmothers, preschoolers, youth groups, families, pastors, pre-school teachers, dads, moms, youth directors, family ministry coordinators, Sunday School teachers, teens, and elementary aged children.
We all did it. A United Methodist contingent or continuum of love.
“We were able to provide a place to learn about Jesus and praise God for children who may not have any opportunity otherwise,” stated Yamada-Foor. “Since mostly there were no Sunday school nor children church activities during the pandemic.”
Over the months, The Children’s Worship YouTube channel grew to 132 subscribers. The most watched worship video was on Sunday, July 12, 2020 with 356 views.
Because it is online, analytics showed that viewers may not just watch on Sundays but ahead of time (if their parents give them the unlisted link) and/or the next day (depending on their family schedule, I presume). Some families told me that their children request to watch the video over and over again—and after getting control of the smart phone or computer, fast forward to watch Mort’s antics (which some grandparents are getting the habit of doing as well, I’ve heard). But seriously, a good laugh is hard to come by these days. Mort is always glad to oblige, of course. That is the beauty of pre-recorded humor.
It was on purpose and on accident that Mort came into being. I had a box of puppets in my garage boxes of teacher supplies. The snail puppet, my favorite, slipped on my hand and I just couldn’t take it off. I had never given it a name or a voice. All of a sudden, I called it “Mort” and decided it was shy, neither boy nor girl, and although smart, was definitely few worded. My job done. I turned to my husband to write the songs. And that was just the beginning it seemed.
I thought “Singing with Mort” would be a one-time thing. However, after multiple requests, it became a weekly bit. Now, it’s a personal part of my history and maybe my future. I am glad I answered the call. We count success with numbers sometimes but as analytics go, I know that people are not numbers. However, numbers do help me imagine the fact that hundreds of someone somewhere watched and, maybe, just maybe, enjoyed themselves and felt as loved as I did.
Now that the pandemic is, hopefully, drawing to a close, I am confident children will be able to attend in person services in every congregation soon.
This Sunday, a family said that “the best thing to come of the pandemic was Children’s Worship and Mort.” Their three children, age 6, 8 and 11, attended online Children’s Worship every week. I am glad they could. I am glad there was a Mort and all the other parts of Children’s Worship available when it was needed most. I am grateful to you and our churches for this ministry. I am proud to have been a part of this fantastic gift to our children across the conference!
Thank you to Bishop Carcaño, Los Rios Superintendent Shinya Goto and past Pentecost Circuit leader Rev. Motoe Yamada-Foor of Sacramento Japanese UMC for leading our way in this ministry. Thank you to the churches of the Sacramento Pentecost Circuit for initiating and funding a large part of this ministry. Special thanks to Rev. Dr. Fel Cao, past director of Young People’s Ministry for the support and funding from the Conference Committee on Young People’s Ministry and the new Children’s Ministry Task Force led by Rev. Catharine Morris. Thanks to the Director of Communications Selby Ewing and Associate Toua Yang for regularly getting the news out to the conference. Special thanks to the Los Rios Lay Leader Kelly Vaughn for blessing our kids online!
Thank you to the following participating churches who contributed funds and videos as well as all the children and to all those not listed by name but just as important in bringing this ministry to our children:
Asbury UMC, Livermore, CA; Buena Vista UMC, Alameda, CA; Chinese Community UMC, Oakland, CA; Choun Korean UMC, Folsom, CA; Church of the Joyful Healer, McKinleyville, CA; Colfax UMC, Colfax, CA; Community UMC, Fairfield, CA; Community UMC, Shasta Lake, CA; Concord UMC, Concord, CA; Crystal Springs UMC, San Mateo, CA; Dixon UMC, Dixon, CA; Emanuel UMC, Sacramento, CA; Evergreen UMC, Fort Bragg, CA; Faith UMC Sacramento, CA; Fellowship UMC, Vallejo, CA; First Taulanga-Ū Tongan UMC Sacramento, CA; First UMC of Hanford, CA; First UMC of Roseville, CA; First UMC Lodi, CA; First UMC Santa Rosa, CA; First UMC Sacramento; Grass Valley UMC, Grass Valley, CA; Galt UMC, Galt, CA; LaFayette UMC, Lafayette, CA; Martinez UMC, Martinez, CA; Merced UMC, Merced, CA; Napa UMC, Napa, CA; Open Door UMC, Richmond, CA; Pittsburg UMC, Pittsburg, CA; Rancho Cordova UMC in Rancho Cordova, CA; Sacramento Chinese, Sacramento, CA; Sacramento Japanese Garden Church, Sacramento, CA; San Ramon Valley UMC, Alamo, CA; Santa Rosa Christ UMC, Santa, Rosa, CA; Smith Valley CUMC, Smith Valley, Nevada; Yerington UMC, Yerington, Nevada; Sonoma UMC, Sonoma, CA; St. Mark’s UMC, Sacramento, CA; St. Paul’s UMC in Vacaville, CA; Trinity UMC in Sunnyvale, CA; Tulare UMC, Tulare, CA; Wayside UMC in Vallejo, CA; Wesley UMC, Fresno, CA; Willow Glen UMC, San Jose, CA; and Windsor Community UMC in Windsor, CA.
To view all 63 of the Children Worship links, go to https://childrenworship.shutterfly.com/
Password childrenworship (all lowercase). Several conference wide online events featured Children’s worship including a special webinar. The Children’s Worship YouTube site also has public videos of Mort, Susan’s Holy Zoo and other special videos for children.
VIDEO Trailer LINK for Children’s Worship is: