Monday, October 29, 2012

Making the Magic at Hogwarts Halloween

Saturday we had a fantastic event called "Hogwarts Halloween."  I've been the Headmistress of Hogwarts summer camps for eight years now, but this was the first time I've tried to do a single day of Hogwarts in the middle of the year.  Our faith development team chose to do this instead of our more traditional Halloween festival.  Basically, we had a single day of camp - assembly, a short house time, classes, Quidditch, and closing with the slideshow video from the summer.  We only used about half of the rooms in the church and set up on Friday.   I had some excellent help (thank you to Abby, Rudy, Rhye and Sylvester for your help with set-up).  We also had a lot of help with clean-up, and I specifically want to thank Madeline and Alana, two teens, who were among the last to leave.

By 9 am, we had about fifty students and twenty adults gathered at the Quidditch Pitch.  Our festival is usually a fundraiser for UNICEF as part of the Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF campaign, so we made that the focus of the Hogwarts Halloween. All of the proceeds of the day were designated for UNICEF, and we incorporated some things about UNICEF into the classes.  In the assembly, we showed a video about how UNICEF provides food, water, medicines, and other resources to children all over the world - and that by supporting UNICEF, we could save lives.

I told the students about how J.K. Rowling has encouraged imagination as one of the greatest qualities a person can have - the ability to imagine the pain and needs of another person.  She learned this when she was young working for Amnesty International.  In her Harvard Commencement speech (which is SO worth reading), she said:

"Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared."

We talked about how the real magic we can create in the world is helping others.  UNICEF helps us to do that, to imagine how it feels to be someone else who really needs help, and that was our true source of magic.  The fourth gift was the opportunity to really make a difference in the larger world (and to teach our children about generosity of spirit and of resources).  The event was an enormous success.  We raised $505 that day, then about $200 more on Sunday morning as the children took their trick-or-treat boxes through the sanctuary and our youth group held a cake walk.  And many of the children will still take out their UNICEF boxes trick-or-treating.  It's amazing.  According to the UNICEF info, with $500 they can provide a water pump for an entire village to have access to clean water.  What serious magic!

I also truly enjoyed teaching my class.  I teach Defense Against the Dark Arts, and we learn about how to face fears, nightmares, and other scary things.  I decided to share a dance meditation with my classes called Tara Tames the Eight Fears (some have asked for the music - it's available here).  This is a fantastic practice about facing basic human emotions - the snakes of jealousy, fire of anger, waves of desire, prison of greed, elephants of stupidity, lions of pride, thief of wrong ideas, and demons of doubt.  It is a fun dance designed for children, but there is SO much of worth for adults.  At the close of my classes, we lit candles in honor of our houses qualities: love, hope, peace and faith.  I told the kids that like birthday candles, we were going to make a wish, but our wish was for all of the people in the world to have these qualities.  We transformed the flames.  It was a meaningful moment with each group of children.

I saw such joy in the kids and adults.  They were so excited to be back at Hogwarts just for the day.  We had several great classes offered by Linda Wyatt (Edible Transfiguration),  Abby Hannaford-Ricardi and Charlotte Eckler (Transfiguration/Charms), Amy Borg and Erica Krenis-Peck (Herbology/Potions), Rhye Gray (Divination), and Nan Gibbons (Incantations).  Professor Gibbons taught us a new song:

         Come away to the center of peace
         Come away to the center of faith
         Your heart is calling you, gently calling to rest
         Come away to the center of hope
         Come away to the center of love
         Your heart is calling you, gently calling you home

We are looking forward to a Hogwarts Spring Spectacular sometime in March or April.  We will send out a survey about dates sometime after Christmas.  And we will also choose a new social justice project for our focus.  And the dates have already been set for Hogwarts in the summer (July 15-26).  I hope that you will be able to join in the magic!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Personal Journey

Dear First U congregation and friends,

I need to tell you about a personal matter that has developed in the last month.  

A few weeks ago I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.  This is the most common (and most treatable) form of breast cancer. I feel quite confident in my doctors’ and my ability to fight this.

I begin chemotherapy on Wednesday, October 10, which will continue until mid-January.  Then my team will determine the course of surgery and radiation.

I will NOT be taking a leave of absence from work.  My oncologist encourages me to stay active and to do everything I would normally do, just rest as needed. He said, “You’ve got to live your life, or else why are we doing this?”  We WILL have Hogwarts next summer.  Dates have already been determined – July 15-26.

We are scheduled to have two Hogwarts-related events during the year.  October 27, a Hogwarts Halloween, will continue as planned.  

It is my sincere hope that this will have limited effect on the Faith Development programs.  Abby and Lesa will both step up as needed, I know.  The co-coordinators of the Faith Development team and I have decided it would be best to find “coordinators” to work with me on all of the special events (multi-generational worship, parties, one-room schoolhouses, etc.).  I will work with you on planning and content (as needed), and will be present for the event to the best of my ability.

If you are willing to sign up as a coordinator for an event, please sign up here.

For each Sunday, the “Safety Monitor” system that Suzanne Weekes is coordinating is now much more significant.  If you have not already, please visit her Doodle Poll to sign up.  I will also be opening both of these opportunities to families and the greater congregation.

Many people have also asked how they can help me and my family and also want updates on how I am doing.  I have created My Pink Ribbon Journey blog.  If you click on the “How Can You Help?”, I have made a specific calendar of our needs as I know them.  A friend of mine is coordinating this effort.  Send him an E-mail ( if you are willing to provide a meal, childcare, etc.  It is very difficult for me to ask for help, but I know we need help now more than ever.

It is my sincere prayer that my ministry will be stronger because of this.   

In faith,
Jessica Gray

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Hogwarts Halloween

Spend a day at Hogwarts!!!
October 27, 2012
9 am - 3 pm

    • Halloween Activities in Hogwarts Classes
    • Quidditch
    • Halloween Costume Contest 
    • Hogwarts songs
    • Our real magic - making the world a better place!
    • And the unveiling of the summer camp slideshow
What better way to celebrate Halloween than a day at Hogwarts?  This event is open to all students and staff from our summer Hogwarts camp, but all guests and newcomers are also completely welcome.  

Students should register in advance if possible.  We are asking a $15 donation (all proceeds beyond expenses will go to UNICEF).  We will allow walk-in students, but pre-registration will help us to plan.  Use the following link:

Students will be separated into houses.  Those who were officially "sorted" in the summer will stay in their same house.  All newcomers will be house "visitors" for the day.  They may or may not be in the same house if they come in the summer.

We will start with a welcoming assembly.  Then, during a short multi-age house common time, the students will learn a bit more about UNICEF and do some related activities.

Then we will split into age class groupings to rotate through short classes (six classes in one day instead of three), all with a Halloween theme.  Students will eat the lunch they bring from home, so parents, make sure you pack a lunch!

All students will gather back at the Quidditch Pitch for at least four games (2 younger, 2 older - so each team gets a chance to play).

We will close with an assembly which will include a Costume Contest (all Halloween costumes welcome), singing some of our Hogwarts songs, and the unveiling of the slideshow DVD from the summer.  Students from the summer who want to pick up their copies can do so on this day (others will be mailed).

This is a drop-off program for school age kids, so parents do not have to stay... but all adults and teens are welcome to join our Hogwarts staff for the day.  If you have preschool age kids or younger, parents need to stay as part of the staff.   High school students could sign up either as staff (ELFS) or students.  Adults and high school youth can sign up as staff here:

Adult & Teen Staff Registration

 Families are also encouraged to bring Hogwarts snacks to share!

Questions?  Contact the Headmistress at

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Faith Development Class Calendars

We now have full calendars for each of our Faith Development classes (which you can copy into your own google calendar or smart phone if you wish).  Each class has its own calendar (click on the links below) and shows the topic and teachers for each Sunday.  For several (including Spirit Play, Holidays & Holy Days, and Building Bridges), if you click on the individual Sunday you can open a link to the story or lesson plan for the day.

  • BYKOTA (Middle school youth group)
  • YRU2 (High school youth group)