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Video Hit: St. James’ children’s ministries series Did You Know?

Patricia Allen

Published in the issue.

When, at Pentecost, St. James’ Church ended an online Sunday service called “Family Chapel” that it had launched last year, Vicki Hall, director of children’s and family ministries, didn’t want to lower the curtain abruptly on video as an effective formation tool for St. James’ youngest parishioners.

“The pandemic forced other ways of teaching, communicating, and connecting,” she said. “The weekly Family Chapel on our YouTube channel was a main source of faith formation for many of our families.”

Families would watch together and then talk about the questions that the preacher had left them with at the end of the service. But while parents thought that Family Chapel was a relatively effective substitute for in-church faith formation and worship, many reported back to Hall that it was sometimes a challenge to get their children to pay attention through the entire service on YouTube.

Vicki viewed the ending of Family Chapel for the summer as an opportunity to create a fun new video series that would also educate children about various aspects of St. James’ and the Episcopal Church’s sacraments and rituals. The new series should, she thought, be significantly shorter than the 15-to-20-minute Family Chapel videos.

Hall approached the Rev. Zack Thompson, St. James’ vicar, and Andrew Filippone, Jr., St. James’ video producer, about her new children’s ministry series idea,

“I wanted to continue to connect every week with our families,” Hall said. “I get questions from parents all the time who don’t feel competent to teach their kids about certain aspects of church.”

“Realizing Andrew’s amazing talent and the gifts of communication of our clergy (and their personalities)—they are able to speak clearly and directly with our kids without talking down to them or dumbing things down—I thought the time was perfect,” Hall said. The videos, usually under five minutes in length, have explained the significance of sanctuary art and architecture, such as the carvings in the pulpit and stained-glass windows; bowing in front of the altar; making the sign of the cross; and the role of acolytes.

The stars and teachers of the video series are St. James’ clergy: Thompson, along with the Rev. Brenda Husson, rector, the Rev. Eva Suarez, associate rector, the Rev. Jay Sidebotham, associate for formation, and the Rev. James Morton, Rockwell fellow.

In addition to starring in a few Did You Know? episodes, Sidebotham also created and drew the series mascot, a yet-to-be-named dove. Suarez appears in all of the videos by dropping in—what is known in the digital space as “easter eggs”—a short Tik-Tok-style bonus lesson on a related subject.

“Although the series was created for St. James’ youngest parishioners, the most enthusiastic responses we have received are from adults, even those who don’t have children,” the Rev. Brenda Husson said. In addition to YouTube, the videos are released every Sunday on St. James’ Instagram account.

“They are so much fun and informative,” said  parishioner Caroline Ingalls, a parent of two toddlers, who added that Family Chapel and now Did You Know? are required viewing in her home. “Did You Know? is very engaging and I’m learning more about all the little secrets of the Church that I didn’t know about before.”

Video creator, producer, and director Filippone, who has worked with St. James’ since 2017, is a two-time Emmy Award-winner. He also produced the video documentary for the Diocesan Convention on the tabled anti-slavery resolution of 1860.

“I love playing with new ways of seeing and saying the old things, and I think that’s how we connect with the parishioners, especially young people, at St. James’ and beyond,” said Filippone, who has produced other series for St. James’, including the 2021 Lenten series. “The Church is engaged in work that matters. It’s fascinating and it’s fun.”