It Worked For Us: schools ministry, prayer space

Jane Hatton, one of the chaplains at the Lister Hospital, has lived in Knebworth for over thirty years. Serving on the board of governors of the local school – which isn’t a CoE school – and getting to know the staff, she earned the trust of the school leadership over time, and eventually felt she was able to suggest having a prayer space in the school.

In discussions with the school, it was decided that the space would be called “Soul Space,” as some people felt the word “prayer” carried specific associations. The space was designed to include information about what Christians believe about God, but not to proscribe these beliefs, and to allow children to participate fully without having to share a Christian view of God or the world.

For a short video about last year’s Soul Space, click here.

Jane told me she doesn’t feel like a natural with children’s work, so she surrounded herself with volunteers who felt more at home with kids – they came from St Martins church, Trinity Church (both in Knebworth) and from Bridge Builders, as well as chaplaincy volunteers and retired clergy.

Through a few planning meetings (one of which I was lucky enough to attend), a few themes were decided on, and activities from Prayer Spaces in Schools were chosen. “We wanted a mix of activities looking inward (to ourselves), looking outward (to others), and looking upward (to God),” Jane said. The volunteers attended the planning meetings and contributed lots of ideas.

One of the “looking upward” activities invited children to imagine they were in charge of the world. What would they change? What would stay the same? What questions do you have for God? Write them as a tweet.

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They were then invited to think about transformation, and change, and how the world should be transformed. A butterfly image was used to represent this. Click here for the resources for this activity.

IMG_20170718_113201The prayer space was scheduled to be open for two days in late July, so some activities focused on looking ahead to the next school year, and, for the Year 6 pupils, the transition to secondary school.

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The Calm Zone included space to write hopes and fears about the future, as well as Calm Jars (click here for more) and Bubble Tubes (click here) to help pupils relax.

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Pipe cleaner people, next to photos of every class in the school, were used to help children reflect on the school year that is ending, and pray for those who have helped them. For more on Pipe Cleaner People, click here.

Volunteers chose a particular corner that was “theirs” – they introduced children to the activity there, and were on hand to support and talk if needed. Two volunteers were “spare” – i.e., not assigned to a particular corner. Their job was to manage the timings and to jump in and help if needed.

For the running of the space itself, the plan was:

  1. Each class was split into two groups of approximately 10-15 pupils.
  2. Each group has half an hour to explore the space, while the other half does classroom-based activities – in this case, they were connected with one of the school’s values.
  3. Children can choose which prayer activities they want to do, but there should be no more than 5 children in each area at one time. So if an area is full, you pick another one and come back later.
  4. At the end of the half hour, children are invited to fill in a feedback sheet to say what they liked and didn’t like. This feedback is taken seriously in planning the next Soul Space.

Soul Space is now in its second year, and I had the chance to visit it last week.

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The powerful Refugee Rucksacks activity is an age-appropriate way to help children learn about and pray for refugees. It invited children to think about what they would bring if they had to leave their home because of war. It works well with this photo essay of refugees sharing what they brought with them, what they’ve lost along the way, and what they are hoping for in their new lives.

The final activity was Finger Print. It explained that Christians believe in a God who made each of us and loves each of us, and invited children to add their unique fingerprint to a large fabric print on the wall. There were also two prayer boxes available at this station.

The children’s feedback sheets were done in a way that new/non-readers could participate in, with a bit of adult help. The list of stations can help you find those activities on the Prayer Spaces for Schools website (you have to register to download the resources, but registration is free).

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Lessons:

  1. Relationship matters. Jane’s positive relationship with the school, over a period of time, made this possible.
  2. Helpers matter. Jane couldn’t have done this on her own. She assembled a team from the whole community.
  3. Choose a few things and do them well. There were four corners to Soul Space, each with a clear focus. They didn’t try to be all things to all people, and get overwhelmed.
  4. Have a plan for safeguarding. Obviously all volunteers need DBS checks, and the school needs to be given their names and their DBS certificates. However, in addition to that, children may reveal things in prayer that need to be passed along to the right adults in school. Check the prayers left after each class, so you know if a potential issue has been raised, which class it comes from. The teacher can probably identify the handwriting and pass it along to the safeguarding officer.
  5. Get feedback. The feedback forms can help guide future planning, can show the governors the impact the space has on the children, and can remind you that all your hard work was worth it!

 

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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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

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?

Pray and Play 2

A few more images of great children’s areas have come through.  If you’d like me to feature yours, email pictures or links to cme@stalbans.anglican.org

This one shows an area focused on providing different activities for children to do at different times in the service.  This type of idea might need an adult helper, or clear notes for parents.  This corner supports the “gathering” time at the start of the service – many different items made of different pieces that can be put together.

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There are lots of seasonal ideas for children’s areas. This one is set up for Advent and Christmas (the gathering area above can be seen just at the right):

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While many children’s areas are specifically designed for Under-5s, there are ways of providing opportunities for older children as well.  Here are a few.  For the first activity, a book of the story is available for children who don’t know the story:

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Pray and Play

Many churches have children’s corners.  It’s hard for little ones to sit still for the whole of a 1-hour service, or to come back in from a Sunday School session where they were allowed to move and play, and suddenly be expected to sit quietly in a pew.

This can mean children get restless and fussy, and parents end up taking them out. Parents feel embarrassed, both parents and children miss out on the service, and worship can get disrupted by a large-scale tantrum.  Not good.  By providing a children’s corner, where parents can take their children at the first sign of restlessness, this escalation can be largely prevented.  (Though kids will sometimes kick off regardless – it helps if it’s a vicar or churchwarden’s kid, so other parents feel more relaxed about their own.)

It’s easy to make the children’s corner just an ordinary secular playspace, but with a slight change in mindset, this can actually be turned into an opportunity for developing children’s spirituality.

Here’s one I made earlier …  the “Pray and Play” space at St. George’s Church, Campden Hill, London. Each basket is themed.  We have Baptism, Christmas, and Easter, as well as a Noah’s Ark with animals, a book corner, and a small toy altar with liturgical items and a toy church.

The focus is both on the Christian STORY and on Christian WORSHIP.

You can see how the colour of the cloth on the altar shows the liturgical year (except for when we lost our cloths and had all blue for a while while we replaced them!), and how extra items are sometimes added at festivals.

There’s a poster of the Good Shepherd on the wall, and the altar is visible from the Pray and Play area, so children and their adults can still feel connected to the worship.

The treasure boxes contain items similar to the Spiritual Child Network’s liturgy boxes.

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This one was used as a “Meditation Tent” in a Holiday Club in Nottinghamshire, and therefore can be more of a roped-off space than one used during corporate worship. This allows for fantastic creativity in terms of lighting and the overall atmosphere of the space.  Note the sign, which reads, “slip off your shoes and lay down your phone, for you are entering sacred ground.”  This one would work really well for older children and teens.

You can see more of the Meditation Tent here.

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The rug here really reflects a lot of Biblical landscapes (they’re from IKEA).  Note the pillow on top of the purple cushions – it has a heart and hands, which is great for cuddling, and which echoes the imagery of God used in the Beulah Land storytelling sets.  The table and chairs provide space for creative work – make sure you provide materials allowing for open-ended creation and not just colouring sheets.  The coat hanger features Bible-based story sacks, with storybooks and toys connected to that story.  Also note the vicar doll!  The child is playing with a wooden ark, just visible to the right of her.

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pray-and-play10This was a special installation for Pentecost.  Its creator says, “in MY head the doll’s house was meant to be the upper room in this case, but with children it could become anyyhing in their heads! It’s also been house-with-stable for Christmas, wedding feast house for water into wine, anyone’s house when we talked about hospitality and sharing things in common…quite versatile!”

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The image below shows how baskets can be used to encourage play based around worship as well as stories.  The coloured ribbons can be changed according to the season of the year.  For more ideas on children’s area, see the Spiritual Child Network’s page on them.  (Wooden egg cups make very good play chalices, by the way!)

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I’m getting lots of pictures sent through with many more ideas, so keep checking back for more!

In the meantime, if you’re thinking of setting up a Pray and Play area in your church, and you’d like some help – either in what to include or how to do it without scaring your congregation and starting World War III, do get in touch via cme@stalbans.anglican.org or on our Facebook page!