Today, Julie Bear went to the Teddy Bear Service at St. Albans Cathedral.
Like many who are coming to baby and toddler groups, she didn’t quite know what to expect, since she hasn’t been to church for a while.
There was a sign on the door that helped her know where to go. Some churches are small, so they may not need signs, but for a small bear trying to find her way around a big cathedral, it was very helpful!
She followed the teddy bear signs to the right place, and got a sheet with the words to the songs on it.
She said hello to some of the people who were running the service. It was clear that there were three or four people all helping out, so no one person was trying to do everything at once. This meant that there was somebody to welcome Julie and show her around, and someone to set up the tea at the same time. Different people were going to lead different parts of the service – some were doing music, and some were doing talks, and some were doing prayers. Since this service is only once a month, it’s easier for lots of people to be involved. Doing this every week might be very hard, especially if you have jobs or children to take care of.
Julie noticed how beautiful the building was. The service was being held in a place that felt different from where she usually spends her time. There were lots of things to look at, a comfy rug to sit on, and lots of teddy bears to be friends with any child who hadn’t brought their own. Julie knew that what was going on in this space was going to be something different and special. Also, it was right in the middle of the big church! She felt really important and like the people at church were happy to see her.
She looked around at the statues, and lit a candle, and looked at the pictures in the coloured glass. Her adults explained to her what some of the statues and pictures meant.
There was a board showing what the theme of today’s service was, and some pictures to go with it.
The service started with Abbey Bear coming out and saying hello to everyone. Abbey Bear’s waistcoat was purple, which Mother Sally explained means it’s LENT. Abbey Bear has different waistcoats, and sometimes has props, for the different times of year.
We talked about how Lent is 40 days long and sometimes people give things up so that we can be really ready to celebrate Easter with a big party. We remembered the story of how Jesus died and rose again, and how that means Easter is really special – and giving something up helps us be ready to celebrate at the end.
We also heard that Lent is about saying sorry and being forgiven. We found out that Mother Sally’s Stripey Cat was missing and Abbey Bear had hid it and said he hadn’t. When we found Stripey Cat, Abbey Bear said sorry and promised to try not to do it again. We heard how Mother Sally FORGAVE Abbey Bear, and how God’s love for us is so big that he forgives us whenever we say sorry.
We held our arms out to try and stretch as big as we could, and even that wasn’t as big as God’s love!
We sang some songs that are the same every time, so the children who come a lot know them very well, and we sang some songs that were new. There was no story this time, because we had the talk about Lent instead, but sometimes there’s a story too.
We finished by putting the bears’ (or unicorns’ or Gruffalos’) hands together to pray.
Then we went downstairs for a biscuit and a play.
Margaret adds: I really enjoyed going along with Julie Bear to the Cathedral today. Weekday worship with Under-5s can be really difficult, and it was great to see many families who came even though it was half-term. I was impressed by how consistently certain elements were clearly used from one service to another – the character of Abbey Bear as a way in to talking about the colours and seasons of the church year, for example, and the way teddy bears were used throughout the service as a way of physically engaging children. It was pastorally thoughtful to have extra “Prayer Bears” for children who didn’t bring their own.
The fact that the service was held in the cathedral itself was really important – it created sacred space, made a church setting feel familiar to them, and put the children in the very heart of the building.
It was also good to see a team being used effectively. I was told that several of the leaders had done different roles – first attending as a parent, then playing music, then leading the service. Doing all the setup, leadership, and cleanup for a group like this would be exhausting, so try and share the responsibility.
Of course, the service is constantly having to adapt to the changing population – you may have a group full of 4-year-olds who all go off to nursery and then you suddenly find yourself with a group of nothing but babies!
If you’re planning your own, here’s a list of things you might want to include – some are used in Teddy Bear Worship, and some aren’t. No one service can do everything, tempting as it may be, so take some time to think about what you’d like to emphasize:
- Using sign language
- Songs to nursery rhyme tunes – easy for parents to pick up
- Other music ideas: Taize chants, Bible songs, call-and-response
- What storytelling methods will you use? How will you choose which stories to tell?
- How will you respond to the story – a talk? Wondering questions? An activity?
- Can you have instrumental music?
- Starting by marching into the worship space together and singing
- Starting by hiding an object used in worship (like a Jesus doll) and having the children find it and bring it into the space
- Marking the seasons and colours of the church year
- Passing the peace
- Action songs
- How to pray – using words, objects, silence, music, darkness and light, movement …
- How to adapt for babies vs toddlers vs pre-schoolers
- Using a character, like Abbey Bear
Images of children used with permission.