The Lord is my Shepherd

Psalm 23. One of the first bits of Scripture many of us learned. One of the few Bible passages most people still recognise and find comforting. The theme tune for The Vicar of Dibley.

It’s worth breaking out of the Bible STORY mold occasionally and introducing children to the other parts of the Bible – primarily the poetry and prophecy. This has several benefits – first of all, the rich imagery of these passages can be very meaningful to children, and secondly, it plants the idea, early on, that the Bible is a complex book full of many genres of writing.

Here are a few of my favourite Bible books that can help do this, starting with two retellings of the classic 23rd Psalm.

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FOUND, by Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrations by Jago.

Simple text and beautiful illustrations remind children of God’s enduring love and care. A perfect book to read aloud at bedtime, give as a baptism gift, or have in your church creche/children’s corner. You can also use it as the story in Junior Church for an under-5s group. (We have a copy of this in the Resource Centre if you’d like to borrow it.)

 

psalm23-2PSALM 23, illustrated by Barry Moser.

This one was available in the UK when I bought it for my church, but doesn’t seem to be now. It’s worth keeping an eye out for, however, as it uses the Biblical text and the illustrations have lots of details that can start discussions with children about what the psalm means and how they feel about it.

The imagery – a modern-day child like them, in a T-shirt, and other details – helps ground the psalm’s reassurances in a world familiar to children.

 

PSALMS FOR YOUNG CHILDREN, and IMAGES OF GOD, both by Marie-Helene Delval and illustrated by Arno.

These books have a simple format – a line or two of Scripture on one side of each spread, and a beautiful illustration on the other to bring it to life. The text is accessible even to toddlers, without diminishing the richness of it, and each page has a Biblical reference, so parents and older children can look up the original line and its context. These are also in our Resource Centre.

graphic-bibleFor older children, the LION GRAPHIC BIBLE, by Jeff Anderson and Mike Maddox, is very good at showing how the prophecy and poetry came to be written, and when in the story of God’s people the different parts of it appear. You see the Babylonian exile, and then you read the psalms written at that time, and hear the words of the prophets. It’s a very good introduction to some of the story of how the Bible came to be, and how the poems and prophesies fit into the whole. (Bear in mind I haven’t read all of this book, so there may be glaring problems with it I haven’t caught. But I’ve used parts of it with small groups and it’s all been good so far.) Again, we have a copy of this in the Resource Centre, so do borrow it.

What books have I missed? Add your recommendations in the comments!

 

 

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New Christmas books!

Just in time for Advent, I’ve bought a bunch of new Christmas books for the resource centre. They should be here within the week, so pop in and check them out if you’re around!

For those churches in our Diocese who are far from St Albans – if any of these look good, email me, and we can send around an APB to Holywell Lodge staff for anyone who will be in your area in the next few days and can bring you what you’d like to borrow.

cover1So without further ado, here’s what we now have …

Lois Rock is basically the rock star of under-5s Bible stories and prayers. This collection helps adults and very young children together explore the wonder and mystery of the Christmas season through prayer. Perfect for a toddler group, a creche, a visit to your local nursery, inspiration for your crib service …

 

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Another Lois Rock one – I first discovered this when my nephew was three and I gave it to him as a Christmas present. What makes it special is that it includes not only the Christmas story itself, but a wonderful collection of folklore and legends surrounding Christmas. The stories come from all around the world, making it a subtle way of teaching diversity and inclusion, and Alex Ayliffe’s wonderful illustrations are simple and colourful, but include interesting details for children to spot.

 

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As Elena Pasquali’s simple yet beautiful text tells the Christmas story, Giuliano Ferri’s illustrations tell a second, unspoken one – that of the peaceable kingdom. Bit by bit, the animals gather together around the manger. Lions and lambs lie down together. Bears and donkeys gather in peace. At the end, the text of Isaiah 11 connects this imagery to the prophesy of God’s Kingdom, where “they shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.”

 

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Another one that combines the Biblical Christmas stories with folklore and legend, this time aimed at older children. Here’s what the publisher says: “This beautifully presented volume of classic Christmas stories from around the world is written for children aged 7+ to enjoy reading alone, or for reading aloud in a classroom setting or with family sitting round a log fire! A mixture of stories from the Christian heritage and more secular tales, these retellings all evoke the true spirit of Christmas around the world. Included are Nativity stories from the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, the stories of Baboushka and Papa Panov, Fir Tree and The Nutcracker. The whole collection sparkles with colourful and detailed artwork from Jane Ray.” (It’s also worth pointing out that Jane Ray’s Mary and Joseph look genuinely Middle Eastern.)

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I’ve been an adult for a while now, but this book still sends a shiver of wonder up my spine whenever I read it. It’s based around the Mexican community in the American Southwest, and the tradition of Las Posadas – when Mary and Joseph go around the town looking for a safe place to stay. Here’s the publisher’s summary: “This year Sister Angie, who is always in charge of the clebration, has to stay home with the flu, and Lupe and Roberto, who are to play Mary and Joseph, get caught in a snowstorm. But a man and a woman no one knows arrive in time to take their place in the procession and then mysteriously disappear at the end before they can be thanked. That night we witness a Christian miracle, for when Sister Angie goes to the cathedral and kneels before the statue of Mary and Joseph, wet footprints from the snow lead up to the statue.”

I’d love to hear your recommendations for the Advent and Christmas books we should add to our library – do leave any thoughts in the comments! And let me know if you’d like to borrow any of these.

 

 

What about the boys?

Today being International Men’s Day, it’s a good time to talk about boys.

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Many churches, when I’m working with them on Junior Church, Messy Church, etc., will ask, “what about the boys?” When I ask for more information, they’ll say “they can’t sit still, they charge around, they make noise, they’re loud – how do we engage them in Junior Church or worship?”

Now, I’m firmly of the belief that we shouldn’t structure our children’s ministry around “boy stuff” and “girl stuff.” We should include a range of activities for different interests and levels of activity – some girls will be very fidgety, some boys will happily sit still and read for hours. And of course in any mixed-age group, age will play a huge role – a 9-year-old boy will be much more able to sit, listen, and participate in long discussions than a 6-year-old girl will.

So when we talk about “what about the boys?” in our children’s groups, what we’re really asking is, “what about the fidgety, physical, noisy children?” And they may be mostly boys, but if we phrase it as simply “a boy thing,” then a fidgety, physical girl may get the message that her way of being a girl is “wrong,” and a quiet, calm, boy may get the message that his way of being a boy is “wrong.”

So let’s take that “what about the boys?” question and ask … “what about the fidgety, noisy, physical kids?”

I have a group in my church right now that is about 80% fidgety, noisy, physical kids, and 20% kids who want to talk for ages.

This is a tough combination.

So yesterday, when a Sunday School session had turned into a total disaster, I found a moment during activity time, got down on the floor with some of the more fidgety ones, and we had a chat about what they needed.

When they said “Sunday School is BORING,” I said, “okay, how can we make it less boring for you?”

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Here are some of the things we’re going to try:

  1. A physical opening time. We’re going to start not by sitting for quiet prayer – that will come second (kids do need silence and stillness). But we’re going to start with making the sign of the cross (in the Diddy Disciples way, with words to go with it – “God be in my head, my heart, and all around me, Amen”). We’re then going to stomp out a rhythm to accompany reciting the books of the Bible (I did this with them once, when we were talking about the Bible being a library and having all kinds of different stuff in it, like poems and stories and rules and prophesy, and now a few of them have got obsessed with it and beg for it to be included every week, and I’ve given in). We’ll then have a physical opening to prayer (the “Gathering Song” bit from this Diddy Disciples session – you can speak the words if you’re not a confident singer) and then sit for some time of peaceful stillness.
  2. More games in response time. I tend to have a variety of activities out – kids can choose to do art, or play with spiritually imaginative toys, or play with the storytelling materials. So there are options for getting physical. But they’re not officially organised. These kids said they wanted to do games together. So we’re going to try a few over the next weeks (anyone have a good physical game for the Joseph and his brothers story?)
  3. Fidget toys. This isn’t news – in fact, during the disastrous session yesterday, one of the things I tried was handing out things for them to fidget with. But we had a LONG conversation about what the fidget toys were for, and what kind they could bring in – they wanted to bring in iPads, or things that could fly up to the ceiling of the room. So we set a few rules. YES, you can bring in a fidget toy from home. But it needs to be quiet, it needs to stay in your hand so it doesn’t distract others, and it needs to be something that settles your body so your mind can focus on the story, not something that is going to focus your mind on the toy itself. I passed these guidelines on to the parents after church, so the parents know that yes, I did tell them they could bring toys in, but so that the kids can’t go “Margaret told me I could bring my iPad to Sunday School next week!” This will hopefully also help the more fidgety ones to listen with more patience to the ones who like to talk things out.
  4. Physical engagement with the story. We do a bit of this already, but I need to step it up. So next week, based on a suggestion from the Spiritual Child Network Facebook group, I’m going to hand out Lego and we’re going to build the story as we tell it. Diddy Disciples is also an incredibly physical form of storytelling, and can work with children over the age of 5 as well as under. I’m also going to try having them use their bodies to make tableaux of each scene in the story as we tell it, and, in the spring, try taking them outside and walking around different places in the church garden and porch area, for different parts of the story.

What other suggestions do you have for engaging fidgety, physical, noisy children in storytelling, music, prayer, and response time?

And how do we put these ideas into practice in other contexts, such as All-Age Worship?

 

The Prodigal Daughter

In 2016, I went to the European Conference of Christian Educators, where I saw Bibliologue storytelling done with chairs – you can find a short summary here.

I then used it when I did Prodigal Son prayer stations with Readers a few weeks ago – you can find a write-up of that here.

Now John Griffiths and Jonathan Evans, of St Cuthbert’s Church in Rye Park, have done a script using the image of a mother and two daughters, and given me permission to share it. They used it in worship on Mothering Sunday.

Note how most of it is simply the Biblical text, with a few small changes – and how the story is stopped at different points to wonder about how characters are feeling at that specific moment. By focusing on each section of the story individually, you might draw out details that would get missed if you saved up the wondering until the end. (However, for some people, it might interrupt the flow of the story, and they would get more by waiting until the end for wondering. This is why mixing up different approaches can be good.)

The Prodigal Daughter

 

Place three chairs by the steps of the sanctuary carpet.  One larger and two smaller and say:

There once was a woman who had two daughters.

Move the ‘younger daughter’ (i.e. a smaller chair) over in front of the mother’s chair. 

The younger daughter said to her mother, “Give me my inheritance NOW
so that I can enjoy it.”

pause

So the mother divided her property between them.

Move the ‘younger daughter’ a little way along the road. 

Place the mother in the centre.

Move the ‘older sister’ off to the side (almost out of the scene).

move to the younger daughter chair and say

The younger daughter gathered all she had and travelled to a distant country

She spent her money on wild parties and having a really REALLY good time.

Move the ‘younger daughter’ towards the ‘end of the road’ (top of the central aisle)

I wonder. What is the Mother thinking?

I wonder. What is her older sister thinking?

 

But the day came when she had spent all the money her mother had given her and she had nothing left. 

Turn the daughter’s chair onto its side.

There was a severe famine in that country and she was hungry and poor.
So she went and hired herself out. To a pig farmer. Who made her look after pigs.

She was so hungry that she would have been grateful if she was allowed to eat what the pigs were eating; but no one gave her anything.

 

Then she came to her senses, she said to herself

“All my mum’s maids have plenty to eat, but here I am dying of hunger!

I wonder What is the younger daughter thinking?

 

I know what I’ll do. I will go to my mother, and I will say to her, “Mother, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your daughter;  could you give me a job around the house?”

Move the daughter on the road towards the other two chairs

So she set off to return to her mother.

Move the mother down the road towards the daughter, say:

While she was still far off, her mother saw her and was filled with compassion;

Her mother ran and put her arms around her and kissed her.

Move both the mother and daughter close to one another at the bottom of the aisle say:

Her daughter said to her, “Mother, I have sinned against you; 

I am no longer worthy to be your daughter.”

But the mother said to the staff, “Quickly, bring a dress – my very best one  – and put it on her; put a ring on her finger and my favourite shoes.

Remember her favourite meal? – go and make it, and let’s eat and celebrate;
for my daughter was dead and is alive again; she was lost and is found!”

And they all began to celebrate.

Move the mother and daughter’s to the centre of the sanctuary blue carpet

When the elder daughter came home, she heard music and dancing.

She called one of the maids and asked what was going on.

The maid replied, “Your sister has come home, and your mother has made her favourite because she got her back safe and sound.”

But the older daughter became angry and refused to go in.

 

What is the older daughter thinking?

What is the mother thinking?

 

Move the mother to the back of the carpet in front of the elder daughter, say:

Her mother came out and began to plead with her.

Twist away the elder sister and say

She said to her mother, “Listen! For all these years I have been slaving away for you, and I have never disobeyed you in anything; yet you have never given me a single night in with my friends.  But when young madam went off and played the tart and wasted all your money comes back. YOU treat her like a princess!

Move to the Mother chair, and say

The mother said to her, “Oh Darling, you are always with me, and everything that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate, because your sister was dead and has come to life; she was lost and now she’s found.”

What was your favourite part of the story?

What was the most important part of the story?

Which person in the story did you most connect with? 

Toddler Group Inspiration – Small Saints

small-saintsA few weeks ago, I visited Ruth Harley’s  “Small Saints” toddler group in High Wycombe, along with one of our Diocese’s Children’s Workers. The group happens at the same time as a cafe in the church, so there were people of different generations using the church in different ways.

I managed to capture a bit of the storytelling – they were doing Jonah and the whale. Here are a few tips I noticed from how Ruth told the story.

  1. The children are involved – they’re touching the cloth and moving it. Under-5s are very physical.
  2. She keeps it short. The video is 90 seconds, and I’d only missed about a minute of the story. Toddler attention spans are not long.
  3. She asks questions. “What do you think happened next?”
  4. She lets the story be a story. She finishes by saying “that’s our story for today” – she doesn’t turn it into a moral. Children’s imaginations are sparked by stories – immediately repeating a moral can ruin the story’s power for them. (Wondering together about the story in an open-ended way is different, but difficult with a group primarily of 2-and-3-year-olds.)

Click here for the video.

Another brilliant thing Ruth did was have several of the songs in singing time be Christian songs that were sung to familiar nursery rhyme tunes. This made it much easier for the mums and dads to join in (and repeat the songs at home) since they already knew the music. Here are two.

To the tune of “London Bridge is Falling Down”

God is with us when we sing, when we sing, when we sing,

God is with us when we sing, God is with us.

(repeat with “jump, stamp, clap, etc” – doing all the actions as you sing them. If you need to calm the children down, you can finish with “sleep.”)

To the tune of “Row Row Row Your Boat”

Worship God today, worship with a clap!

Joyfully, joyfully, joyfully, joyfully, worship with a clap!

(again, do the movements as you sing them – repeat with whatever movements you like, including suggestions from the children.)

Author we love: Lois Rock

If you work with under-5s, you probably know Lois Rock. If you don’t, you have a treat in store.

Probably best known for her toddler-friendly “My Very First Bible,” Rock has also edited and written books of prayers, and authored “My Very First Christmas,” which includes Christmas folklore and legends as well as the Christmas story.  She has also written Christening gift books and some secular non-fiction that can be used for pastoral care of families, like helping children adjust to a new baby in the house.

Many of the stories from “My Very First Bible” are also available as individual books – some in big-book format, which is great for large groups.

Her writing is clear and simple without being simplistic. She doesn’t talk down to children. She includes some of the non-story parts of the Bible, such as the Lord’s Prayer, by showing how they came to be told. And, in many cases, she adds vital details that are often left out of retellings for very young children – for example, it’s made clear, in her retelling of the Good Samaritan, that Jesus’s listeners wouldn’t have liked the Samaritans. So the crucial element – that the parable isn’t just about “being nice” but about rethinking who your enemies are – is maintained.

An extra note of praise must be given to the illustrator of many of her books, Alex Ayliffe. The illustrations, like the text, are simple without being simplistic, and contain lots of little details that children will notice. The colours are bright, and the shapes attractive even to babies. Sophie Allsopp illustrates some of her others, with wonder and charm.

Author we love: Jenny Koralek

Jenny Koralek has written three retellings of Old Testament stories for children aged 7 – 11: Queen Esther, The Moses Basket, and The Coat of Many Colours.

She’s also done collections of classic fairy tales, and a retelling of a Christmas legend about the Flight into Egypt.

The books tell the stories in beautiful, clear prose, and give enough background detail on the political situation in which they occurred – not always easy when working with the Moses and Esther stories for children.

Her illustrators (Pauline Baynes for the Joseph and Moses stories, Grizelda Holderness for Esther) do beautiful, intricate work that complements the text perfectly. It’s also worth pointing out that both illustrators use realistic flesh tones for the characters – they look like Middle Easterners, not Northern Europeans.

Highly recommended, especially the Esther story – it’s one of the few Old Testament stories with a brave female heroine, and you don’t see enough versions of it for children.

Starburst conference handouts and slides

This Saturday, I had the privilege of attending the Starburst conference in the Diocese of Peterborough, and leading workshops on All-Age Worship and Storytelling.

Below are the slides from the workshops, and all the handouts, in case you missed out. (The Worship Clock and the Elements of Worship sheet are missing – I don’t have access to them today, so I’ll post them tomorrow.)

For more on the Beulah Land “fuzzy felt” Bible storytelling, you can visit Mustard Seed Kids (be aware this is my company, so there’s a conflict of interest).

For more on Godly Play, visit Gody Play UK’s website.

Starburst All-Age Worship (presentation slides)

Starburst Storytelling (presentation slides)

Basic Resource List Starburst

Going to Church No Diocesan Branding

Going to Church Older No Diocesan Branding

Helping Kids With Behaviour In Church

Whispering in Church

The Big Story – concepts

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All-Age Worship Ideas, Part 2

Today, my dears, we look at STORYTELLING.

In the standard Anglican Eucharist, there’s a looooong section of pretty talky stuff, from the end of the first hymn through to the end of the prayers.  That’s about 30-45 minutes of very verbal worship, including:

  1. Opening collect, confession, and absolution
  2. Three Bible readings of wildly varying length
  3. A sermon
  4. Intercessions, also of wildly varying length

Yes, there’s some music mixed up in there, but overwhelmingly, the expectation is “sit still and listen, and learn orally.”

Anything that can be done to break up this chunk of text is a good thing – not just for children, who, in general, have short attention spans and less social conditioning to hide their boredom, but for adults whose learning styles may vary just as much as children’s do.

Which is not to say that you need to jazz up your service with bouncy castles, a juggling act, interpretive dance, stand-up comedy routines, and a mariachi band, but rather, think about ways in which, while maintaining your church’s tradition, you can perhaps open up the liturgy a bit to some creative new ideas.

The easiest way to do this is by trimming down the Liturgy of the Word – possibly cutting one of the non-Gospel readings – and thinking about how to bring the main story of the day to life in a meaningful way.  Note: THIS IS NOT NECESSARILY THE GOSPEL!

Here are some of the things I’ve done – and some of the mistakes I’ve made. Learn from my failures!

Acting it out.

This is the same Pentecost service I featured in Monday’s post. The children had made flames on sticks in the same Sunday School session as making their doves, a week or two before Pentecost, and had also practiced acting out the story.  We had one final practice half an hour before the service started.  The right-hand picture shows them going out into the “streets of Jerusalem” and telling the congregation the good news – I gave them a line to use: “Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and he is Lord!” if they wanted to actually talk to people but didn’t know what to say.

I was the reader for this lesson, which meant I could pause and nudge them if they forgot what to do – and the general atmosphere was welcoming and informal. They weren’t being judged on a standard of performance; that’s not what this is about. This is about enhancing their understanding of the story through inhabiting it, and helping the adults in the congregation see it through fresh eyes. We’ve all done it – heard the first line of the lesson, gone, “oh, I know this story,” and spent the rest of the reading paging through the notices to find out when the garden party is. If there’s something to look at, something happening, adults are forced to actually pay attention to the story !

If you like, you can also act out the story with adults and children together. The Candlemas story is good for this – choose a matriarch and patriarch of the church to be Simeon and Anna, and teenagers to be Mary and Joseph. If you’re able to have a real baby, even better!

You can also do ad hoc performances, with very little rehearsal. The Moses story on Mothering Sunday is particularly good for this one – with a blue length of fabric and some active seven-year-olds to shake it, you have a river, and then you just need a baby doll in a basket, someone to be Moses’s mother and Miriam, someone to be Pharaoh’s daughter, and, if you have extras, you can have a group of Egyptians and tell them to order around a group of Israelites at the start to establish the social order.

Again, this is usually all done by miming – I don’t give the children lines to read (except for the Passion Play on Palm Sunday). I read the text of the lesson – when I’m directing an ad hoc performance, I’ll take a break, and, with a slightly less formal but still reverent tone, turn from the microphone and give instructions (e.g., “all right, now the Egyptians, you can pretend to hit and order around the Israelites – be careful to only pretend.”).  By keeping my tone elevated, I don’t detract from the importance of the story, or break the mood.

LEARN FROM MY FAILURE: If the story you’re acting out is the Gospel, you’ll need to have the congregation sit for it, against all their instincts, or else they won’t be able to see.

Using Beulah Land

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Unlike Godly Play, Beulah Land is large-scale enough to easily be used in All-Age Worship. You can use the scripts that come with it, or you can use the original Biblical text.

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I told the story by moving the feltboard to lean on the front of the altar. After I was done, I moved it to the back, where it was still visible, but not in the way of the altar.  This feltboard shows a story from Harvest Festival, showing the people of Israel remembering how the Lord had saved them from slavery in Egypt, and offering him sacrifices of thanksgiving in return. The Beulah Land stories don’t cover that particular reading, but the pieces are so flexible that with a little imagination, they can be used for stories that aren’t in the manuals. (Our Diocesan Office has the first two Beulah Land sets, and these can be borrowed – email youthoffice@stalbans.anglican.org for more information)

Beulah Land also has a script for the Apostle’s Creed, so you can use it for that as well as for storytelling.

LEARN FROM MY FAILURE: If you’re reading the script AND telling the story, make sure you have a good microphone and that you’re confident enough in the words to be mostly off-book. If someone else is reading, make sure you practice with them ahead of time so they know if there’s a place where they need to PAUSE to let you finish putting up some pieces!

Using Props

I’ve done this once, and it was actually an unqualified success, so I don’t have a “learn from my failure” lesson here – and the reason it was a success is because I’d done it before, at a conference, so I’d had a chance to practice. So that would be my tip.

The story was the commissioning of the 70 Disciples – they’re sent out in pairs, told to bring nothing with them, and return to Jesus astonished at the power they’ve discovered in themselves, from him.

I’d been at a conference (see below) where the commissioning of the 12 was told in this way, so it was easy to adapt.  ecce

I took 5 chairs, labelled 1 “Jesus” and the others “Disciple,” and brought them onto the chancel at the start of the reading.

I read the Biblical text in sections, and moved the chairs around – when the disciples were sent out, I moved them away from Jesus, and wondered aloud how they might move and where they might go. “Maybe some of them stayed close to Jesus. Maybe some rushed straight out. Maybe some turned around at the door to look back,” all the while moving the chairs.

In a congregation more inclined to get up and move around, I would have invited congregation members to join me in moving the chairs – “how do you think they might have moved?”

When the Disciples went out among the people, I moved them into the congregation, right up close to people. “I wonder what the people in the villages thought when these strange new people arrived? What did they think or feel when they started telling them about Jesus?” And then I’d go back and read the next section of the Biblical text.

The chairs idea is very flexible, as it can be used for any story in which individual characters (as opposed to “the people” collectively) are important to the narrative.  But there are a few other easy ways to use props:

If you’re doing the story of Creation, you can use props to build a world as you tell it (some pot plants, stuffed animals, blue fabric to be the water, lamps to be the lights, a pop-up tent as the firmament if you’re feeling ambitious …

If you’re doing the Christmas story, you can start with an empty crib and add the figures to it one by one, wondering as you do so what each of them thought and felt at crucial moments of the story.

Blue fabric can be water or sky, red fabric can be flames.  An electric fan can create wind. A party popper, hidden in your palm and popped with no warning at “HAIL, O FAVOURED ONE!” can create a genuinely surprised reaction to the appearance of Gabriel in the Annunciation story.  Hiding an object under a blanket can create tension and suspense for any story that involves waiting for something to be revealed (e.g. the giving of the Ten Commandments – you can paint cardboard ones and hide them – Christmas, many of the Parables of the Lost.)

Items placed in the pews and brought up during the story can be useful – if you’re doing Noah’s Ark or the Peaceable Kingdom, you can place stuffed animals in the pews and have them brought up and create a safe place for them all and for any children who want to join them.  If you’re doing Harvest Festival and are dealing with some bit of Deuteronomy about giving our duty to the Lord, you can have images of the work we do in school and in our offices/workplaces/homes set about the church and brought up to the altar.

Puppets and Videos:

You may notice I haven’t said a word about puppets or about videos – two other very popular forms of storytelling.  This is because I have no experience in these methods myself – I’m not a puppet person, and the church I served doesn’t have video screens (though I have used videos in Sunday School and Assemblies).  This series is focused on my own experiences, not general rules – I do mention puppets and videos in my wider All-Age Worship training.  Please feel free, if you have personal stories of using these or other methods, to mention them in the comments!

Some General Guidelines:

  1. Don’t succumb to the temptation to get cutesy or twee.  Take the stories – and the spirituality of the children and adults hearing them – seriously.
  2. Unless you have a really really good reason, stick as closely as you can to the point of view of the original. Feel free to wonder about what different people were thinking and feeling, but you don’t need to re-write the story of the Baptism of Jesus to be all about the dramatic backstory and life-changing conversion of some random Galilean who happened to be at the river that day.
  3. Allow openness of interpretation. Don’t finish with, “and what that story teaches us is …” or expect to receive instant summations of neat moral lessons from your congregation in response to your telling.  Allow time to “hear, mark, learn, and inwardly digest,” and for your congregation, including the children, to make meaning of it for themselves, over time. You’re giving them the gift of a story – let them explore it in their own time and in their own ways.
  4. If children are performing, remember, at all times, that the story they’re telling is more important than how they’re telling it. If you’re rehearsing, keep the focus on the fact that you’re doing an important job in telling God’s story to others – yes, you need to make sure they’re on at the right times and doing the right actions, but the message is more important than the performance skills.
  5. If you’re stuck with a random or dull story (see: Harvest Festival readings all about agricultural practice in Palestine 3000 years ago), spend some time thinking about what that story meant to the people who wrote it down, and where it fits into the overall story of salvation. Don’t be afraid to add a bit of context at the beginning – you can explain that the people were about to enter the Promised Land, that Moses was about to die, that he was telling them all about how to be God’s people and the promises they had made to God and God to them, and so on. Moses constantly reminds people of the Exodus in these readings, so you can act out that part of it and then act out the sacrifices the people were supposed to bring God. This can lead to wondering about how we show God that we’re thankful for what he gives us. Are we good at it? Do we remember to do it? Does God abandon us when we don’t remember to say ‘thank you’ to him? These readings, with a bit of context, can easily be brought around to broad questions of the relationship between God and his people, and our stewardship of the earth and of each other.

Next time: All-Age Worship maintaining themes and symbols THROUGH A SEASON – I know it’s August, but the best photos I have are of Lent, Holy Week, and Easter, so that’s what we’ll do. I’ll try to get some good photos of Advent and Christmas this year and share those for next year!