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?

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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

Welcoming the Stranger, Part II

20160207_095425Tonight I have the privilege of speaking with some Lay Readers on the topic of Welcoming Children and Families.

I’ve put together a PowerPoint, which I thought I’d share with all of you.

The images of prayer spaces without captions are taken from this blog – you can find more details about them in older posts; just click on the “Pray and Play” tag at the bottom of this post to get all the related ones.

Welcoming Families (PowerPoint – 15 MB, download it on a proper computer over wireless not data!) Please also note – the big black rectangle on the 10th slide is a video – hover over it to see the “PLAY” command appear.

Pray and Play

Another wonderful Pray and Play corner, from St. Andrew’s, Bedford. Here’s what Children and Young People’s Activities Coordinator Becky has to say about it:

“There are some of the Lent calendars and some other worksheets/colouring and plain paper for the children to let their imaginations flow. Plus there are some stickers (they always love having stickers so I try to put some out every now and then, I have used some I got from The Word bookshop but the current ones are from Baker Ross with the words of faith).

“The activity bags are Bible story bags, like story bags you get in schools but each is Bible story. They contain a book of the story, some toys that can be used to act out the story and some colouring/worksheets relating to the story as well as a pencil case with colours, etc. I think the current stories in the bags are Jonah and the whale, that has a small plastic doll/figure, a whale toy and I think a boat, there is Moses in the bullrushes, with a small baby doll and basket, Daniel and the lion’s den, with a small doll/figure and small toy lions, David and Goliath, with a large figure (actually one of my sons old wrestling figures but with a tunic on!) and a small figure with a sling shot (that is actually one of the knee pads the wrestling figure used to wear!). I try to update them every now and then with different stories.

“I am also working on making I-spy treasure sensory bag toys with Bible themes (Google search I-spy treasure bags and look on images and you get the idea), these are Autism fidget toys but I think will work well with others too. I currently have collected everything I need to make Holy Week themed ones and one of the lovely ladies at our church is going to sew them for me. I will then work on other Bible stories/Christian symbols/Christmas ones for the rest of the year.”

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Let the children come to me.

When was the last time you went someplace that intimidated you?

Maybe it was a party where you didn’t know anyone except the host.

Maybe you were taking a toddler to a restaurant or a family wedding.

Maybe you were starting a course, and had to navigate a classroom and classmates for the first time in a while.

Whatever it was, can you remember how it felt to walk in? Can you remember some of the questions that went through your head?

What if nobody talks to me? What if I do something wrong, and obviously wrong, and everyone can see I don’t belong? What if my kid doesn’t behave? What if they need the toilet? Where will I put the pram? Will I know where to sit? Are there unspoken rules that I won’t know?

That’s what’s going through the minds of many young families as they come to church.  Just think of it – the service might be new and unfamiliar, the people are strangers, the atmosphere might be hushed and reverent (and they have a toddler!), and yet their desire to be a part of it, and for their child to know Jesus, is strong enough for them to brave crossing the threshold into your building.

And what happens next?

Do they find a place that puts their fears to rest? Or do they find a place that extinguishes whatever spark brought them there in the first place?

While no church is going to be the right fit for every family that visits once, there are some things you can do to help make new families feel welcome from the start.

  1. Have somebody in your welcome team every week whose job it is specifically to be there for children and families. They should know, by name, the children who come regularly, and greet them. They should know where the nappy changing facilities are, where Sunday School meets and when it starts (if you have Sunday School) and be able to inform parents of any special provision you have for kids – worship bags, a Pray and Play corner, etc.
  2. Have space available in the church for small children to move around. A toddler stuck in a pew will wiggle and make noise and it’s likely that without intervention, this will escalate to a point where the child will need to be taken out. This means the parent will miss part of the service AND feel self-conscious about their child’s behaviour. If you have a children’s corner in the church, parents can move there at the start of the cycle, and nip the escalation in the bud. Ideally, the children’s corner should have a sightline to the altar, and should be filled with spiritually imaginative toys, not secular ones. But if you have no money and all you have are Thomas the Tank Engine toys, start with that – it’s definitely better than nothing!
  3. Many parishioners who seem unwelcoming to children fit into one of two categories. Either there are pastoral reasons why the presence of young children is upsetting (for example, someone who desperately wanted grandchildren and is coming to terms with not having them) or they’re worried that the presence of children and families means the church is going to lose something they value and love, and that is important to them, spiritually (e.g. a strong choral music tradition, a sense of peace and tranquility). When you receive a complaint about the children “making noise,” try to find out what that parishioner is really saying, and minister to that. It may at times be necessary, however, to address the common unconscious belief that many people have – including parents – that children are, primarily, “visitors at an adult event,” who are welcome “as long as they behave.” This thinking causes some parishioners to resent every noticeable sign of the presence of children as taking away from “my” worship experience, and it also has the effect, when parents internalise it, of causing them to focus on getting their child to “behave” rather than helping them actually engage in worship.  This article on Whispering in Church is a brilliant starting point for helping parents engage children in worship rather than just try to get them to be quiet.
  4. Try and make sure that new families who stay after church for coffee talk to someone other than the vicar.  Research from the Christenings Project has shown that meeting even one parishioner other than the vicar significantly increases the chances of a family staying involved with the church. Maybe there are one or two people in your church who are very good at small talk and networking, and they can be unofficially “on duty” to welcome new people, find out a bit about them, and introduce them around.
  5. Does your church speak a different language?  Do you talk, during worship, about the chancel, the narthex, the legilium, the absolution, the sacrament, the Gospel, and the offertory without some indication, for newcomers, of what that all means?  When you say, “talk to Jo for tickets to our quiz evening,” does Jo stand up and wave, or is everyone expected to know who she is?  How user-friendly are your service sheets?  If aliens crash-landed into your service, would they leave knowing something about why you worship as you do and what it all means?  In other words – is the liturgy made for man, not man for the liturgy?
  6. And finally, but perhaps most importantly: what is the mood? Is your church confident in who they are, open to newcomers without feeling threatened by the possible changes they will bring, or are they closed-in and defensive?  If it’s the latter, how can you begin to change that culture?