Easy Junior Church/Messy Church idea

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:

annunciation-1824.jpgLargeannunciation-juan-de-flandes-1519-9eb786e3annunciation-tannerJN958 Canticle of Mary

annunciation5

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:

  1. 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.)
  2. 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. )
  3. 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.)
  4. 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:

  1. Lindisfarne Scriptorium colouring images of the words of the Magnificat
  2. 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:

annunciation1
B represented the angel as a pillar of light and sequins – this reflects the imagery used in the Tanner annunciation above, and also the pillar of fire in Exodus. We have a stamp set that includes a bird, so she used that for the Holy Spirit.
annunciation2
S is using the Baker Ross scratch art sheets to copy the seated, awe-struck, nervous Mary from the Tanner annunciation. Copying is a legitimate stage of art – here she has clearly focused intensely on Mary’s body language and her facial expression, entering into the scene and training her eye in observational drawing.
annunciation3
In storytelling, we talked about how often God’s messengers tell people “do not be afraid” – and that this suggests that meeting an angel is a scary thing! One child incorporated these words into their work (like one of the Annunciations above included the words of the Magnificat). Mary’s body language is surprised and perhaps afraid, and the child has also included imagery of stars and doves from the art we looked at.
annunciation4
A very detailed angel took up most of the page here. Mary didn’t even get a look-in! Again, artists make very different choices in how they show a scene, and that’s perfectly fine.

Benefits of looking at different pictures of the same Bible story:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

The Christ We Share

John August Swanson (Artist)

Jesus Mafa (the main website appears to be down, but many of the images are here)

Advertisements

First Dates by the Manger

I set up two of my friends recently – they had a lot in common, they seemed to be looking for what the other one had to offer, and I thought they’d get on.

They agreed to meet up and they went out! There were candles, there was poetry … all the ingredients of a special occasion.

A few weeks later, I asked one of them if there had been a second date.

“No,” she said. “I really liked him!  He gave all the right signals, but then he never called … guess he didn’t want me after all.”

So I went to my other friend and asked why he’d never arranged a second date.

“Well,” he said. “I organised the first one. I reckoned if she was keen, she’d call me, and set up a second date. It’s a shame – I really liked her.”

This story is made up. While I am, in fact, responsible for introducing TWO of the couples in my immediate circle ninebreaker-at-deviantart-madonna-and-childof friends, this particular matchmaking venture didn’t take place. This is, in fact, a fictional version of the elusive courtship relationship your church has with young families.

Your church wants young families. Young families want a friendly and meaningful religious community where they feel welcomed, loved, cared for, and wanted. You meet up for a Crib Service – there are candles and poetry, and it’s a really special event. You smile at each other and say how lovely it was to meet up, and you’d love to do it again.

And then you both sit at home, waiting for the other to make the first move.

Research from the Christenings Project shows that families WANT the church to stay in touch. They want to be invited back to special events and to family-friendly services. But families are busier than ever, they’re nervous about their child’s behaviour in church, and they don’t know what’s happening at your church if you don’t tell them. So you need to make the effort. You need to reach out. You need to woo.

This Christmas Eve, why not hand families who come to your Crib Service a small sheet of paper with a space for them to write down their name, their child(ren)’s name(s), their email address, and whether they’d like to be contacted about future events?  You know they like you – they’ve come to your Crib Service!

Have someone at the back of the church at the end of the service to gather these papers in and hand out something special to take home (a chocolate coin, a cut-out-and-keep Nativity, or something else).  Then add these email addresses to your mailing list and invite them back for Candlemas … Mothering Sunday … Holy Week … toddler group … holiday club … and don’t take them off the list unless they ask you to! Conventional wisdom in the marketing world is that people need to be reminded of something seven times before they’ll take action on it. Keep inviting them back.

After all, that’s what God does, isn’t it? He goes out into the highways and the byways and says “we’re having a feast! Come on in!”  And he keeps asking, and keeps asking, because he loves us so much and he wants us to be together, near him – he calls his people to be his Bride.  Let’s model that persistent courtship in our churches.

(And if anyone wants my services as a real-life matchmaker, do get in touch. I can provide two happy couples as references! One couple was even introduced to each other, by me, in a church. So you never know …)