Pray and Play inspiration

A church sent me photos of their brand new Pray and Play space today. This is always so exciting, and I love seeing these creative places where children can worship through play. They’re not quite done with theirs yet, so I’m waiting to share their photos, but it reminded me I took a full set of photos of my own a few weeks back and haven’t yet shown them!

Ours is mostly used:

  1. At the beginning and end of services, when toddlers aren’t in their Sunday School groups.
  2. During All-Age Worship.
  3. Over the summer, when we have no Sunday School.

This means it’s predominantly used by under-5s, and was designed with them in mind.

These photos give an overall view of the space. In the second photo you can see that it’s positioned in the south aisle – you still have a clear view of the altar.

Spaces at the very back can make it hard to see what’s going on, while those at the very front can sometimes make parents feel nervous and exposed – especially if you’re late, and there are no side aisles, so you have to do the Walk of Shame, with a fussy toddler, to reach the space at all.

There are chairs around the edges, so parents and carers can stay with their children, and the Good Shepherd poster on the wall is from McCrimmons.

Carpets like that are available from most educational supply stores, or from Amazon or Dunelm or the like. Ours cost £60. The altar is a £5 IKEA plastic table with a metre of fabric in the appropriate liturgical colour over it.

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Here’s a closer view of the altar. This is NOT at its best! The crucifix was inherited – I’d prefer one that didn’t have small pieces that could break off, and I’ll be buying a new one soon. We used to have a toy metal chalice and paten from Articles of Faith – they’ve discontinued it and have only the expensive one now. We used to also have IKEA wooden bread that “broke” via velcro in the middle – also now lost. So these are fill-the-gap bits, but they do the job for now! (That’s a wooden egg cup, by the way.)

1 metre each of red, green, white, and purple fabric will see you through the year.

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The back of the chair makes an excellent bookshelf … these are all great titles. The book on the Creed was made and illustrated by the Sunday School a few years back. Soft Noah’s Ark toys make less noise when a toddler hits them against stone church floors. You can buy one here (note: this is my company, so, conflict of interest alert) or here.

We have some puzzles of different Bible stories, and a bunch of themed baskets. We’re not rigid about how the toys are played with – kids can mix and match bits from different baskets. About once a month or so I go through and re-organise it all, which takes about 10-15 minutes.

There used to be laminated Contents lists in each basket – of course these got lost. If I were doing it again, I’d punch a hole through a corner and tie them onto the handles of the baskets.

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One of my favourite themed baskets is our Good Shepherd one. You can buy the shepherd and sheep set here. I’ve added a few railings from model railway sets to make a sheep pen – and if you look closely, you can see I’ve also added a piece of circular green felt to be grass and some strips of blue felt to be water. A couple plastic sheep have also found their way in over the years – that’s okay, Jesus says he has other sheep not of this flock! I added the book to give it a bit of context. You could include a book of the 23rd Psalm as well, if you liked. (I use wicker baskets from Argos, with liners, which can be taken out and washed.)

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The Baptism basket has a doll in a baptism dress (also available through Mustard Seed Kids), a shell, and a candle. There used to be a wooden dove – it appears and disappears at random, rather like the Holy Spirit itself …

Sometimes I’ve sent this basket home with a family preparing for a baptism where there is an older sibling. They can play at baptising “their” baby.

I may add a book for kids about baptism to this basket as well.

 

 

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The Easter one has some deep levels of symbolism which I’m sure many of the kids don’t understand, but which I include anyway, because it helps to build awareness of the symbols. The caterpillar and butterfly are symbolic of resurrection, and the globe stress ball indicates that Jesus’s death and resurrection saved the whole world. This also has our Jesus doll (you can buy it here – though they seem to have made him look more European since we got ours, which is a shame), and donkey and sheep hand puppets. The sheep symbolising Jesus as the lamb of God, and the donkey for Palm Sunday. This is also where the bread and egg-cup-wine-goblet were before we had to press them into service on the altar – to represent the Last Supper.

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I bet you can guess what this one is.

We got this toy church from Beulah Enterprises in the US (now part of The Sunday Paper) – you may want to go for the wooden church available from Articles of Faith (again, everyone’s White!! And the baby is literally glued to mum, so nobody else can hold it), which has a wide range of interior fittings, or the Happyland Church (store the wedding couple and coach separately, buy a bunch of ordinary Happyland figures to be the congregation, and bring out the bride and groom when you have a wedding). Playmobil also have a church, but that’s more appropriate for older kids and is very easily taken completely apart in minutes by an enthusiastic group of 7-year-olds – ask me how I know.

Finally – we put in a temporary 5-11 table over the summer, with plain paper, comic strip templates and speech bubbles, and some meditative colouring, since we had no Sunday School. We found that it was very popular, and, once Sunday School started up again, helped ease them back into church.

I don’t advise colouring being the extent of the Christian formation you have for primary-aged children, but as part of it, there’s nothing wrong with it. As long as it’s not completely banal imagery with preachy moralistic messages. This Psalms in Color (American spelling) book was about £10 and I photocopy a few pages when supplies run low. Far from being a distraction, keeping children’s hands busy helps settle them and enable them to concentrate more on worship.

In the future, I’d like to add a Pentecost basket and one with items related to our patron saint. You can get more ideas in our Pray and Play leaflet, which you can download here: Pray and Play Corners

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All Saints and All Souls All-Age Retrospective

allsaints10Yesterday was the All-Age service for All Saints and All Souls at my church, St. George’s. Here’s some of what we did – feel free to take any or all of these ideas, change them, adapt them, mix them up, and make them better, for your services next year.

As people arrived, they were greeted by this display. The printed images and information about saints is available in a file at the end of this post, so you can download it and use it. It features a mix of Catholic and Protestant, male and female, different ethnicities, different time period, different countries of origin, and different gifts – from martyrs to mystics to artists to reformers of the church and society.

The cardboard figures were made by children in Junior Church over the last few weeks, as we learned about All Saints and All Souls in preparation for the service. They represent either specific saints or people our children love who have died. This created an opportunity for some great conversations in Junior Church about loss, and memory, and bereavement.allsaints2

Also available was this table, with the Jesus doll, an icon of the harrowing of hell, and books about bereavement for children. A paper was available for people of any age to write names they would like included in the Litany of the Saints in the section for our beloved dead.

Children and teenagers joined the procession – the teenagers were too cool to carry shakers with them, but a few kids and I had bells and rattles, which we shook as we sang “When the Saints Go Marching In.” If you use shakers in All-Age Worship, make sure you have a bag or basket to collect them afterwards – or be sure you’re okay with random bell/rattle noises happening throughout!

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After the welcome, confession, and collect, the first reading was Revelation 21:1-6. This was read by a child. I didn’t get any photos of this bit, since I was at the front doing the feltboard. You can see it here off to the side – for the reading, it was front and centre, and the pieces were added to represent the prophecy visually as it was read. This is the Beulah Land feltboard storytelling set – we have a copy in the Diocesan Office for you to borrow, so feel free to get in touch if you’re interested. Children also love playing with it afterwards. You can learn more about Beulah Land here. (Be aware that Mustard Seed Kids is owned and operated by me.)

We then went straight into our gradual hymn, which is from the American Appalachian music tradition – “Palms of Victory.” You can download the song at the link – the sheet music is available in the All Saints section of my book, “There Is A Season: celebrating the church year with children,” which is available in the Diocesan Resource Centre.

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Our Gospel was read by one of our teenagers. There is, as far as I or our ministry team are aware, nothing that says children and laypeople can’t read the Gospel during a Eucharist.

I may have been imagining it, but I think the other members of our youth group paid more attention than usual, because one of their own was doing this part.

The sermon was delivered by our Reader, who helped us think about the great variety of imperfect humans who have followed Jesus before us, and how sainthood isn’t about being a perfect, holier-than-thou, joyless, person, but about our very real journeys through life.

We then sang our Creed.

The Liturgy of the Word is VERY talky – anything that can break it up a bit with something to touch, or do, or sing, can provide a break for those whose spiritual style isn’t primarily word-based, or who are young and have limited attention spans. We use this sung creed from Worship Workshop, which is set to a very familiar hymn tune. (You may need to log in to see it, but registration is free.) Worship Workshop provides backing tracks, teaching tracks, and sheet music, so it’s very user-friendly.

For our prayers, we did a Litany of the Saints. (First, we prayed for the sick, as they’re not included in the Litany and we don’t want to leave them out.) Again, the litany is available at the bottom of this post. You might want to move it up a third if you have high voices leading it.

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During the Litany, people were invited to come up and light a candle – we’d moved the candle stand to be in front of the altar. It’s always helpful for things like this to have one person des

ignated to get things started – once one person has got up and done something, more people are likely to follow.

The banners of St. George and of Mary were made years ago, by children who are now pre-teens or teens. They hang regularly from the balcony in church.

Then we celebrated the Eucharist – the presence of these candles lit during the Litany of the Saints meant they created a metaphorical light of the saints’ presence as we celebrated the Eucharist together. It was a reminder that we are surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses every time we come together to worship God.

There were a few prayers stations set up for people to use as they returned from communion:

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We closed with six verses of “For All The Saints.”

There wasn’t a huge crowd of children present – we’re going through one of the troughs in our regular cycle of peaks and troughs in terms of numbers. However, the purpose of All-Age Worship isn’t to be children’s worship. I have been reliably and regularly astonished by how often things I plan to be “child-friendly” that take worship, liturgy, and faith seriously end up being moving for adults. Especially after last week’s article in the Church Times that seemed to think All-Age Worship means nothing but action songs, it’s important to remember this. All-Age Worship isn’t about dumbing down – it’s about opening up. And it’s for everyone.

Litany of the Saints 2018

Saint Bios