A litany for blessing a children’s space in a church

This can be used for a new Pray and Play area, for a Junior Church room, a Godly Play room, or any space used by children.

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You will need: a bowl of holy water and rosemary branches or other branches

The people gather in the space, ensuring children can see what’s happening.

Leader: a reading from the Gospel according to Matthew.

Little children were being brought to Jesus in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.

This is the word of the Lord.

All: Thanks be to God.

The leader invites the children to enter the space and touch something as she or he says:

Leader: Lord, thank you for this space. Thank you for the children who will use it. Help us to use it to know you, to love you, and to play with the stories of our Christian faith.

All: Amen!

The leader invites the children to hold the hand of one of their adults.

Leader: Lord, thank you for all the people in this church, of every age. Help us to love each other, to welcome each other, and to learn from each other.

All: Amen!

Each child gets a branch, dips it in the holy water, and shakes the branch to bless the space with the water, as the leader says.

Leader: Bless this space, O Lord, which this community has made. May it be a place where the children come to you and find welcome and a home.

The leader then sprinkles holy water over the children, saying:

Through their play, may they come to claim your stories and the worship of your church as their own. May they know you as they are known by you, and love you as they are loved by you.

And finally, the leader and the children together sprinkle holy water over the whole congregation, as the leader says:

And may we all be open to the awe and wonder, the joy and creativity, of play, becoming as little children so we may know you better.

All: Amen.

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More Pray and Play inspiration

Here’s a brand new Pray and Play corner from St Albans Church in Warner’s End, in the Hemel Hempstead Deanery.

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This corner was the work of a few dedicated lay volunteers, with support from their incumbent, and was funded with a small grant from the Diocesan Children’s Ministry budget – if you’re planning something similar, do get in touch and see if we can help you.

I love this display board. It’s interactive (lift the flaps! Asks a question!), includes a link to Scripture (the text from Isaiah 9 on the right), and introduces children to the liturgical year in a relatable way. If you have an ex-teacher in your congregation, this might be the sort of thing they could take charge of in your space.

Note that they’ve covered the table in an easy-to-clean cloth – a very practical idea.

 

An overview of the general space. A few things I’ve noticed:

  1. The mat is a landscape and can be used for so much imaginative play.
  2. The Happyland church!
  3. 2.jpgCushions on the floor are useful for older children to lie on, or if you ever plan to have structured sessions in this space – having a cushion for each toddler to sit on can help limit the wiggles.
  4. The toy storage is clearly labelled, which can help parents find what their child is looking for, and allow them fewer excuses for why they haven’t tidied your space at the end of the service.

Below you can see an overview of the whole space. The sightlines to the altar are clear, and there’s adult seating to allow parents to worship with their children in this space. The colours are cheerful and work with the general feel of the existing architecture of the church.

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6Starting with the most easy-to-find and familiar toys can be a good way of beginning your Pray and Play area. Parents and children will recognise them, and you can often get bargains on eBay or in charity shops, which is tougher with specialist items.

Here, the church has started with a Noah’s Ark, a toy church, and a Nativity set. They have books for a variety of ages, all of which are Bible stories or prayers. Some puzzles in the toy cupboard show other stories, such as David and Creation.

Below, you can see how they’ve displayed one of their wooden arks, next to books telling the story. This can also be a useful way of identifying toys whose Bible links might not be as easily recognisable (eg a story book of the parable of the lost sheep put in with a toy set of a shepherd and sheep).

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2018-11-07-116Here you can see the table, which is aimed at slightly older children. Some ideas for a table and marker/pencil space can include:

  1. Meditative colouring of Bible story pictures or passages from the psalms.
  2. Crosswords (you can make your own – one site can be found here.)
  3. Word searches (again, you can make your own – try here.)
  4. Blank paper.
  5. Drawing prompts, like, “draw what you think God’s Kingdom is like” or “draw your favourite part of worship.” These can vary with the seasons – and you could even include a place for children to leave their drawings if they’d like them to be included in a display.
  6. Lined paper for budding poets.
  7. Black paper and chalk.
  8. Anything else you can think of!

If you have a space in your church for imaginative spiritual play, I’d love to see photos! Do send them in.

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

More about spiritual play, with adorable photos

Some of you might remember this post from March, showing J, the son of one of our Diocese’s curates. J spends a lot of time hanging out at church with his dad, and has started “playing church” at home, including processions.

J has now had a birthday, and some parishioners have made him vestments. His dad has given me permission to share these photos. Unfortunately, there isn’t a replicable pattern available for these vestments – however, I imagine if you have a keen sewer or two in your church, they could probably figure something out, using Nativity costume patterns for the alb and making a chasuble pattern from scratch (it’s basically a circle).

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Here you will notice J has graduated from a soup ladle to a broom for his processional cross.

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J is using the soft “My Mass Kit” from the Diocesan Resource Centre – this is available for you to borrow!
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J’s dad has captioned this one, “ready for Walsingham.”

What strikes me about these pictures is how well they illustrate the concept of enculturation, which you may have heard me talk about if you’ve come to some of our training events.

Enculturation is “the gradual acquisition of the characteristics and norms of a culture or group by a person, another culture, etc.” It’s not education – the passing on of knowledge, facts, etc. It’s not entertainment – “the kids loved it!” It’s a process of being alongside someone as they acquire a particular way of life. It’s what makes us feel part of a group.

It’s how we start to feel like a “real member” of something – whether it’s a fandom, a supporter of a particular football team, a resident of a new place we’ve moved to. We learn “how we do things here, and why.” And John Westerhoff argued at the Household of Faith conference in 2013 that it’s how we make Christians. We show them, through received ways of being and doing, what it means to live out our baptismal promises.

Enculturation comes from a shared set of values, a shared authority, a shared tradition, and a shared story. Christian values – feeding the poor, caring for God’s creation, praying for each other, sharing in the Apostle’s teaching and fellowship, etc. Christian authority – for Anglicans, it’s the three-legged stool of Scripture, tradition, and reason, with the words and actions of Jesus being our paramount authority. Shared traditions – our worship, our ways of celebrating and remembering and drawing close to God (note how J stands at the altar, arms in a toddler version of orans position). And our shared story – that Biblical journey from “once upon a time” to happily ever after, that is full of exile and loss, return and redemption, that tells us of a loving and faithful God who would die to save us and all creation. Being a part of all this is what forms the basis of a Christian life.

Where in your church are opportunities for children to become enculturated? For them to learn by doing, alongside people of all ages, what it means to be a Christian?

And if there aren’t any, where’s a place where that can start?

New resource – labyrinth!

The Diocese now has a LABYRINTH, which is available for churches, schools, and other groups to borrow for use in their own programmes.

If you’re thinking, “what is a labyrinth?,” this short article can tell you a bit about their history and how they can be used for prayer.

Here is ours – in situ in a meeting room at Diocesan Office. It will look even prettier in your church, your churchyard, your school hall …

labyrinth

How can I borrow it?

Simply contact cme@stalbans.anglican.org or youthoffice@stalbans.anglican.org and let us know when you’d like it. If it’s available, you can come and collect it.

I don’t have an enormous vehicle and seven weight-lifters to help me transport it – what do I do?

That’s okay! The labyrinth is made of plastic-backed canvas, so it’s very lightweight and it rolls up easily. It can fit in the passenger seat or boot of most cars, even small ones, and I can personally testify that a small woman who doesn’t work out very much can comfortably carry it under her arm for a ten-minute walk.

How do we use it?

There are no right or wrong ways to use a labyrinth. The simplest way is to walk through the path, slowly, pausing whenever you feel like it, and then walk back out.

You can also provide meditations or prayer activities at certain points along the path.

You can encourage people to walk the labyrinth barefoot.

You can line the path with electric tealights and dim the room the labyrinth is in.

You can play music, have incense burning, or have other sensory elements added.

You can use it as part of a story, as a response to a story, or as prayer.

You can just have it available when your church is open, or deliberately use it as part of a service or activity.

It’s up to you!

The only ground rules I would recommend you make clear to children are those you would do with any physical activity – giving other people space, not pushing or shoving, and a reminder that a labyrinth is a quiet and peaceful time, not a race.

Is there a leaflet to go with it?

Here’s the text that goes with it in its current space in the cathedral. You are free to use or adapt this as you like:

Our lives are like a long trip.

Sometimes the path is wide and easy, sometimes it’s narrow and hard.

Sometimes we feel far away from where we’re going, but actually we might be nearby. Sometimes we feel near to where we want to be, but we’re actually far.

People of all ages can walk this labyrinth.

You might want to think about all the places your feet have travelled through your life, and pray for the people in those places.

There are a few mistakes in this labyrinth. Maybe they remind you of times when things have gone wrong, and you’ve had to try to fix them.

Maybe they remind you that our lives, and ourselves, aren’t perfect, and that’s okay.

A labyrinth is a place to spend time walking with God. Take your time. Pause. Breathe. Pray.

I’d like to make my own, since I don’t live in your Diocese or I want to use it without having to play far ahead. How can I do it?

Here’s the tutorial I used. The total cost was about £50.00 – two dust sheets, duct tape to hold them together (I didn’t spend time sewing, like in the tutorial), paint, string. I had to adapt it slightly because I used two dust sheets and that meant the circle had to be an oval instead.

Harvest Prayer Stations

We had our Harvest Festival at my church last Sunday, and we added a few prayer stations. Some were inspired by Mina Munns’s work on Flame Creative Kids .

This is a congregation that doesn’t get up and move around. So we’ve learned that if we want people to engage with prayer stations, we need to find places where they’re already naturally walking past them in worship. We had:

  1. An All-Age Prayer Station at the entrance to the church. This created a visual focus as people came into the church – something to signal a) a shift from outside towards sacred space, and b) the theme of the service. The rug is one we use in our Under-5s Sunday School and our toddler groups; it’s from Hope Education.

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2. An Under-5s sensory prayer table in our Pray and Play area. There are touch-and-feel books about Creation, a tub full of plastic toy animals, and some bread and fruit to try. (There was a bin discretely present, as well, as toddlers don’t eat neatly.) We used a low table, so they could reach.

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3. An All-Age (in practice, it was mostly 5-to-15s who used it) prayer space near the candle stand. People walk past the candle stand on the way back from communion, and often pause to light a candle. We’ve found people will sometimes engage with another prayer station in this space, at that time. It’s also near where the children sit together for the Liturgy of the Word in our All-Age services, so they used it a lot during that time, when “sitting still for talking” became too much and they needed something to do with their hands to help them engage.

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The tree outlines and the leaf stamps are from Baker Ross.

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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Getting Started slides from 15th March

pray-and-play8When I run training sessions, I often refer people to this blog to get the slides I used – these are for the “Getting Started in Children’s Ministry” training held on 15th March 2017 at St Andrew’s in Biggleswade. Click on the link at the bottom to download.

Topics include:

Opportunities for mission and ministry

Creating a culture of welcome

A video clip from Rev on how NOT to manage change

Answers from lots of clergy and children’s workers on “what do you do when people complain about children making noise in the service?”

Baptism/Christenings

A resource list

Children’s corners (Pray and Play areas)

Getting Started

 

Imaginative Spiritual Play in action

20170205_093750Those of you who have been to any of my workshops or training sessions might have heard me talk about “imaginative spiritual play” and how to facilitate it. Yesterday, Patrick, aged 5, gave me a good example.

His mum was leading one of the Sunday School groups, so he arrived early. As the space was set up, he started playing – first, he arranged the electric candles on the altar.

What I did: got more candles when he asked, helped him come up with an idea on how to arrange them when he was frustrated that there weren’t enough to go all the way around.

Then he asked me if I had any red paper. He balled up the red paper and stuck it in the chalice to be wine.

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He also went to the toy corner and got the wave and the rainbow toys and set them on the altar.

What I did: Asked him about his setup, using open-ended questions, e.g., “would you like to tell me about what you’ve made?” rather than “is that rainbow from the Noah story?”

When I asked him about his setup, he explained that the water and the rainbow were, in fact, from the Noah story, and asked me if I’d heard this story.

What I did: Instead of saying, “yes, I know that story,” I asked him to tell it to me.

20170205_094928Using the rainbow and the water wave, he briefly recapped the Noah story, and then asked if we could take out the plastic animals from the cupboard to play with them. As the service was about to start, so we had to go into the main worship area, I said no, but reminded him there was a Noah’s Ark toy in the church’s Pray and Play area if he wanted to go and play with that during the start of the service, before Sunday School began.

What made this work:

  1. Easy availability of toys that aren’t proscriptive in their usage – flexibility of symbolism in, for example, the water toy, lets it be used for play based around lots of different stories, or around baptism, or just exploring its shapes and colours and textures and becoming familiar with the image that way. The toy corner in our Sunday School areas, as well as our Pray and Play area, doesn’t change that much – it’s not tied to the story of the day. The same toys are available year round, with a few extra at festivals.
  2. A pretty laissez-faire approach from the facilitator. This episode was child-led. I was the audience – he wanted me to see what he was doing – but not the leader. I helped when asked, but I didn’t direct his play or tell him what meaning to make from it.
  3. Patrick’s familiarity with Bible stories. Patrick’s mum is a Sunday School volunteer and leads our toddler group. She reads Bible stories at home and Patrick is in church most Sundays. But that doesn’t mean she’s doing anything complicated – she’s just making sure he knows the stories, the same way he becomes familiar with, say, Thomas the Tank Engine stories. That’s the foundation of this kind of play, and it isn’t hard to do.

 

 

 

Ministry With Under-5s Day: further resources

Last Saturday, we had a wonderful day on Ministry With Under-5s.  As part of it, I did a whistle-stop tour through the idea of Pray and Play corners – my slides are below, if anyone would like to share the presentation or be reminded of what was covered.

Some other takeaways from the day include:

Ellie Wilson did our keynote address. While she has unfortunately left her post in the Diocese of Leeds, her legacy includes support of “1277: Make Them Count” and also the Toddler Group Research Project, which will be published soon – check back here for more!

Vicki Howie, who did a wonderful workshop on Storytelling with under-5s, recently did a Childrenswork article on a similar topic, which you can find here.

30844981952_3df1f5dc22_kJenny Paddison introduced us to Starting Rite, which is a 5-week programme of spiritual nurture for carers and babies together, based on the type of course run by Sure Start centres. You can learn more here.

Carolynn Pritchard led a workshop on liturgical worship with children – many of her ideas can be found on the Spiritual Child Network page. (There’s also a Facebook group of 700+ members, which I’ve found invaluable on many occasions, for ideas and inspiration.)

Victoria Beech and Becky May did a workshop on music and multi-sensory worship – they both do wonderful Faith at Home work as well. Victoria runs GodVenture, and Becky and her husband Adam are the Treasure Box People.

Any other resources you have for Under-5s are more than welcome – please do leave a comment.

PDF of Pray and Play Corners presentation: pray-and-play-corners