Last year, my Junior Church did the Old Testament, in order (with breaks for celebrating major festivals). This year, we’re doing the New Testament. This means that last Sunday we did the Annunciation, and I decided to use one of my favourite lesson ideas – which can work for almost ANY Bible story.
Here’s what you do.
Either during, or after, you tell the story, you show a few very different artistic interpretations of one of the key scenes. Here are the Annunciation pictures I used:
Notice there are a lot of differences. I made sure at least one showed Mary with a darker skin tone, and they weren’t all “old masters” in style, and after that, I basically just went with what struck me.
I asked the children:
- What do you notice about these pictures? (They noticed Mary had a halo of stars in one, that she looked sad in some and happy in others, and more.)
- What do some of them have in common? (They noticed some of them had the dove, which meant we could talk about the dove as an image of the Holy Spirit. They also noticed that Mary was wearing blue in a lot of them, and this meant I could talk about how she’s traditionally shown wearing blue, and that up until recently, blue was a “girl’s colour” because of that. )
- What are the differences? (This allowed us to talk about how different artists have different ideas of what the angel might have been like, and what we thought about those different ideas.)
- Why do you think the artists chose those colours?
These questions got them examining the art, and the imagery, and the emotions of the scenes, in much more detail than a lecture would have. And it meant that our discussion – which ranged from “are there boy colours and girl colours, really?” to “why do we show the Holy Spirit as a dove?” felt like it belonged to them, rather than being imposed by me. Of course, because I had specifically chosen the images to suggest this kind of noticing, I had created a context in which these discussions could happen, but they picked it up, and ran with it, and made it theirs.
I then asked them to think about how they would show the scene. To think about the questions we’d asked about the artists whose pictures we’d looked at, and ask themselves the same questions – what do I want the angel to look like? What images do I include? What colours? What is Mary’s expression like? I had provided a variety of multimedia materials for them to play with as they did this.
For those who didn’t feel like doing that activity, I provided:
- Lindisfarne Scriptorium colouring images of the words of the Magnificat
- A toy and book corner, with a toy church, puzzles, Bible storybooks, a prayer station, etc. (We have this up every week, so it’s effortless)
Here are some of the results:
Benefits of looking at different pictures of the same Bible story:
- It makes us think. When we look at one image, we tend to go, “oh, okay, that’s what it looked like, I’ll copy that,” and we don’t think, “maybe it looked different. Maybe Mary was scared. Maybe she was excited. Maybe she was both. Maybe the angel looked like a person with wings. Maybe it looked like a pillar of light. Maybe the room was dark.” It breaks our tendency to accept a pre-digested “default” version of the story.
- It shows us Christianity through time, and around the world. This is an opportunity to show artists of ethnicities outside Western European, artists who are women, portrayals of the Bible story set in different times and places, and much more.
- It gives us permission to experiment. If there’s no “one right way” to show the story, then that gives you freedom to try, and explore, and discover new things about the story and about God. And isn’t that the point?
For more on using diverse art in your Junior Church, Messy Church, and more, try these resources: