24 December 2011

Merry Christmas

"La Navidad" - a gift to the public domain, by Antonio "Aguijarro" Guijarro Morales

22 December 2011

Advent art - initial reflections

As "stf" has commented, it is worth my reflecting upon what is behind my unwillingness to let go of control over the finished product of my Advent art (presented over the past several blog posts). But I do think that a big part of it was simply that I was trying to do too many things with that one project. I wanted to give the children something to do if they got bored or antsy during the sermon at church, but I wanted that to be more than "busy work". I wanted something beautiful for Advent. I used the project myself as a sort of meditative preparation exercise for Christmas.I wanted something that would link Junior Church with the all-age Christmas Day service. I liked the idea of a mystery that would become more and more understandable during Advent, to be revealed completely on Christmas.

And my other inspiration, besides the original stained glass window linked to yesterday, was Sarcastic Lutheran's congregationally-made Advent Icon. [She's moved her blog and I cannot track down the post right now to link to it, but it was created entirely of ad circulars - a transformation of the materialistic (and rubbish) into something holy.]

All this was too much burden for a single project to carry!!

Yet this is not to dismiss stf's comment lightly. As I move into ministry, leading and serving congregations, I will come up with liturgical suggestions which congregations will dislike, or find boring, or confusing. People will "mess up" my beautifully-designed plans. I do need to remember that worship is Process, not Product. May we all feel prepared, at the end of even the most muddled and "imperfect" corporate worship, to go forth to love and serve the Lord at home, at work, in our families and our communities.

21 December 2011

advent art, part 4

It was a rush to get the collage ready for 4th Advent. I wasn't yet finished when stf came to collect me for Junior Church, so I brought the supplies with me. Once we'd got the classroom set up with our Godly Play materials, I sat down at a work table and carried on.

photo by seethroughfaith (I cropped most of myself out of it)

To my great disappointment, I realized that I had left at home the thick black magic marker with which I had planned to outline all the elements. This would have made Mary and Joseph's sleeves clearer, for example, and would have allowed me to draw in Jacob's staff. I had also still been undecided about whether to draw in windows and doors on some of the background houses, as in the original I had based this work on. But I just had to do without all that. 

photo by seethroughfaith

I have now turned the work over to the pastor, along with one important additional element - a manger, with a little head just visible nestled within the hay, surrounded by a golden halo. This will be attached to the poster collage as part of the all-age service on Christmas Day. I can't wait to hear whether and how this worked in the service (I'll be with my mother-in-law across Christmas, not here), and to see how it looks with the manger added.

(In all the rush, there was certainly no time to go over it all with a coat of Modge Podge, as I'd hoped. The pastor may find that some of the scraps begin to lift or curl. They can just be carefully left alone, or gently stuck down again with glue or paste. I hope to finish it off in the ways I'd intended after Christmas, maybe even in time for Junior Church on New Year's Day.)

20 December 2011

advent art, part 3

By the third week in Advent, a good deal more of the picture had taken shape.

At least one child was pretty sure that this was going to be a picture of Jesus. 

(background: part 1, part 2)

19 December 2011

advent art, part 2

(continued from yesterday)

Another problem with my art idea was that I wanted the children to be surprised by the end result. This meant not being able to tell them very much about why they were doing this cutting and pasting, and why everything was supposed to be the same color. So they lost interest fairly quickly. In hindsight, this seems a fairly obvious flaw in my plan!

And the final problem was that I found I was too invested in how I wanted this project to turn out. It wasn't primarily about the process - the final product was also extremely important to me. So I was really unable to let the children work on it freely. In the end, I did most of the work on this project myself. I did have a little help from one of the children (and another adult) on Thanksgiving Day, and three other adults gave me a little help on a couple of Sundays. But the bulk of it was me.

By the second Sunday of Advent (our first Junior Church session in Advent), I was able to place this in the room:

When asked, I explained that it was Advent art. I tried to remind them of the work they'd put into it the previous month (I'm not sure any of them really made the connection), and explained that it would be finished gradually during Advent. I wondered what they thought it might be. One suggested a boat (you can see the prow of the boat there in brown). Another said it looked like it would be a castle. Another suspected that we'd eventually see a priest in the middle. 

More tomorrow...

18 December 2011

advent art, part 1

Way back when we had the children in Big Church for Fr Rupert's last service with us, I invited the children  to do some cut and paste work during the sermon. I had brought background shapes cut out of heavy card and asked them to cut out and paste scraps of similarly-colored paper onto them.

This was not an unqualified success. The biggest problem was that I'd set up so that they could choose whether to work on the floor or kneeling in front of chairs, using the chair as a desk... without having thought about the fact that every time a glue stick came down on a chair, a BANG would echo around our stone chapel.

the very beginning of this year's Advent art

More of the story of this year's Advent art will be posted tomorrow!

11 December 2011

topical response work

The children in my Godly Play classroom are aged 2-6. They almost always choose to work with the art materials during Response Time, rather than story materials, and it's extremely rare that the artwork they do is [or rather, seems to me to be] related to the day's lesson, any lesson we've done, or anything to do with their spiritual lives at all!

In fact, it was striking when two new children joined us in the autumn, children who had been to Sunday School elsewhere. For the first several weeks, the older one drew pictures of Jesus on the cross, and the younger one often copied this. It seemed likely to me that the elder child was trying to do what s/he assumed would be expected. Otherwise, though, apart from rainbows when we do Noah's ark, I don't think any of the artwork has had anything to do with our lessons.

Most of the time I manage not to be bothered by this. I know that every week these children pay attention to a lesson, break bread together, and receive personal blessings from our pastor. They are given the opportunity to thank God corporately in song and individually in naming something that they're particularly thankful for that week. And so it's enough that in the Response Time they know that they'll be trusted enough to be left alone for a while if they want to be, while knowing that we will be happy to look at their work with them if they ask us to. It's enough that they are in a worshipful environment with adults who care about them.

That's enough.

But I was thrilled today when a four-year-old showed me this winding trail of glitter glue and explained, It's the road to Bethlehem.

EDIT: Just minutes after posting this, I was led to this Washington Post article about play, which reminded me that the more we limit the children's choice about what they do, the less it's play. And after all, the name of this curriculum is Godly Play.
h/t UMC Ministry with Children

06 December 2011

it never rains but it pours

I'm a bit embarrassed to realize that in the past week or so I've pointed my readers to two Godly Play blogs that were new to me, but I've never mentioned The Patch. I had overlooked it because I hadn't realized how much more GP-oriented it has become recently. This blogger, Kas, has recently taken up a post as a lay youth worker with YP4L (Young People for Life) in the Diocese of Leicester. And Kas also recently did a Godly Play training course! So suddenly there is a fair bit in that blog about using Godly Play.

In this post, with the GREAT :) title of "Easter Kind of Way" :) , there's a beautiful picture capturing the moment when one of the young children, having heard the GP Holy Family lesson for the first time, began retelling it to one of the adult leaders.

So Kas, too, has now been added to my blogroll in the right-hand sidebar. Good on ya, Kas!

05 December 2011

Oh yes I know

One reader emailed to say that the song I mentioned in my previous post had been unknown to her until she Googled it after reading what I'd written. I'm glad she found it despite my referring to it by its second verse rather than the first! I like to think of it as an Advent song.

04 December 2011

Our Second Second Advent

Second of Advent last year was my first full Godly Play session with children. It was held in my living room, with two children in attendance:

Now, a year later, we have been meeting in a church hall, with five children regularly attending. and the pastor comes to greet us (with communion and blessings) at the end of every session.

Today we had a new member join (and we hope to welcome another next week): 

His big sister (already a very experienced member of Junior Church) was rather disappointed to learn that he wanted to work independently during the Response Time, but she rallied well, especially when one of her friends asked to work with her.

I opened the session by introducing the Holy Family figures and changing their underlay from green to purple. I wanted to teach an Advent song, so asked children if they could think of songs about getting ready for Christmas. One child suggested "The Little Drummer Boy", but the most confident responses were "You'd better watch out" and "Santa Claus is coming to town". I conceded that insofar as these are songs anticipating Christmas then we might consider them to be Advent songs. The song I taught, though, was "Jesus is Coming (O yes, I know)" from South Africa.

03 December 2011

and yet another blogger!

It's not long since I posted about Jennings' new blog, and now I've stumbled across another. The Wonder Circle (what a great title) is a blog maintained by Rebecca from South Carolina. I've only just found her blog, but a couple of things have struck me already:

She has an extensive series of pages, linked from the top of the blog, working their way through all the elements of a Godly Play session, from Preparing the Environment, Getting Ready, and Entering the Circle right through to the way they Close their Sessions. She notes that, I describe Godly Play by sharing the way our church does it. That doesn't mean that it's the best way or the prescribed way, or the only way, of course, but it's the way that suits us best. I expect all of us will see some things there that we wouldn't want to do in our own classrooms and other ideas that we'll be excited to implement for ourselves - isn't that the way blogging often works?

This post about the lesson of the Ark and the Tent she wonders whether her fourth-graders would like to turn a table on its side and cover it with blankets as a much larger-scale model of the Tabernacle. What an amazing idea!

A belated welcome to the Godly Play blogosphere, Rebeccca. Glad to have found you. You'll find some of the other bloggers I knew about in my side-bar on the right. I have found it a joy to have this circle of support in my work with children, something which is "virtual" insofar as it is long-distance, computer-mediated, and asynchronous (not necessarily instant or simultaneous), but also very real. A big thank you to all of you who blog about GP (and CGS) and to all my readers, with extra thanks to those who comment and/or email me.

27 November 2011

Hopeful Advent

Just a quick post to share a link that Leslie at Thoughts from the Sheepfold pointed me to. This is a two-minute explanation of what Advent is all about. I think it's great! I've also put a link to it at the bottom of my blog layout for the whole season. Thank you, Busted Halo, and thank you, Leslie!

21 November 2011

another new Godly Play blogger

Today I got an email message from a friend announcing her newest blog, Building Godly Play. Welcome, Jennings! I'm so pleased that you're doing this. She's only posted two posts so far, but it looks like her special contribution is going to be the sharing of her own personal variations on the scripts that she uses. And lots of helpful photographs!

I think I'm right in saying that although this blog is new for her, she's actually been using Godly Play for longer than I have and that she's also been trained in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. Here's a fun pic (which I'm pretty sure she won't mind me sharing - just let me know otherwise, Jennings, and it's gone) which you won't find on that blog. This is from her church's blog, and shows their GP classroom. What a great assortment of different children and work.

Jennings and friends in the Godly Play classroom
I know she'd love to have some visitors and followers, so do wander over for a visit. If you're interested in what you see, why not click on her link to be a public follower?

*     *     *     *     *

While I'm on the topic of linking from one blog to another, I'd like to thank four bloggers who've sent lots of traffic in my direction. According to my Blogger "all time" stats, these are the top four Referring URLs for this blog. 

Thank you all - readers and referrers!

18 November 2011

looking ahead to Advent

The first time I tried leading a complete Godly Play session was for an "away-day" for adults in our church. We used the Godly Play room and materials at a church in one of the suburbs.

But the first time I led a full Godly Play session for children, using my own materials, was the second Sunday of Advent. It was held in my living room, with art materials set out on chairs next to my dining table for the Response Time. I did the same for the third, and then the fourth Sundays of Advent, increasing the circle from two to three children, and it culminated in an all-age celebration of the first Sunday after Christmas... again in my living room, during a snowstorm on Boxing Day.

photo by seethroughfaith
Although I love our current Junior Church setting for its spaciousness and its convenience for parents, I have fond memories of those sessions in my living room. Last spring one child asked, When are we going back to your house? Liturgically, I like the fact that we started Godly Play in Advent, the first season of the Church year. It is my hope that this year again we will have some new children joining us, coming to Junior Church for the first time... in Advent.

Many people come to this blog looking for information on Godly Play materials, and the Advent materials may look daunting to those who do not have access to wood-working tools. They can be bought from Godly Play retailers in the USAFinland, the UK, and Germany. I bought my wooden pieces ready-cut but unfinished from Johanna Kaarto-Wallin, and stained and painted them in a workshop at the Godly Play European Conference in Finland. However, if you prefer to make your own, an easy and beautiful alternative to wooden cards is to make them from felt (as shown on the Watkins Every Flavor Beans blog).

the display racks are lovely, but a basket is just fine
A quick Google image search will show you the range of variation possible when you make your materials. Some are blue, some blue-ish purple, some pink-ish purple. Some plaques are large and square, some smaller and rectangular. Some have very stylized wreathes, some look more real. But in almost all cases the first plaque has one candle on the wreath, and a pointing hand representing the prophets. The second has two candles, and shows the road to Bethlehem. The third has three candles (sometimes the third candle is pink), and a lamb. The fourth has four candles, and three crowns. The fifth has a white background, and may show a star. These plaques are laid out on a cloth underlay, something pleasant to the touch. It has four squares of purple and one of white, onto which the plaques are placed. The easiest way to do this is to use a long stretch of purple, divide it with strips of gold cord or ribbon, and glue or sew a white square onto the end.

photo by seethroughfaith
only the Storyteller is allowed
to take things from this basket
You will also need candles, ideally in the colors used by your church (the most common alternatives are four red, or three purple and one pink), and you will probably want unobtrusive candle holders for them (I have since purchased a flea-market set of glass saucers for mine). In addition to matches, you will also need a candle-snuffer. The fifth, white, candle will be the Christ candle from your focal shelf.

ready to give a hug
You probably already have a Holy Family for your focal shelf, but if not you will want one for this lesson. You don't need it for week one, though, so there is time to hunt around. Ideally, the figures will include a baby Jesus who can be taken out of his manger and has his arms spread open, Mary, Joseph, a donkey, a cow or ox, three wise men, a shepherd, and two sheep. (And the focal shelf should also hold a picture or figure of the Risen Christ.) However, you can make do with what you have. My terra cotta Christ child has his arms open for a hug but does not come out of his manger, and this has never been a problem at all.

Several times I used a nativity set belonging to my godson, in which the baby was wrapped tightly in swaddling clothes. He was also smiling. In general, we don't like to use figures with smiles, preferring to let children imagine their expressions themselves. However, I felt that for pastoral reasons it was appropriate to use my godson's set, and I just changed the words of the script on those occasions from see how he's holding out his arms to give you a hug to see how he's smiling at you.

the Holy Family, smiling
More important than sticking precisely to the words of the script is to say the words by heart. It is considered good Godly Play practice to keep to the script as well as you can, and Jerome has written some beautiful lines. But don't rely on note cards! Just gaze at your materials and tell the story from your heart. This is your story. This is our story. This is the story of our faith.

At the same time, don't fret if things don't turn out perfectly. This story officially includes no Wondering, just "enjoying the light". However, last year one young child was far more excited about changing the light than quietly enjoying the light. As soon as the candles were lit, it was Snuff them out! Snuff them out! And the children may well want to wonder or talk about the story. Great! Similarly, don't interrupt a child's intent work to make "corrections". Just enjoy the light of Christ.

"wrong" layout

For more about Advent Godly Play, try these links at Living Montessori Now or see what else I've written.

November 2012 update: This post has been included in the Explore and Express "Getting Ready for Advent" link party.

06 November 2011

circle-calendar of the church year

[I've written this post in advance.] Today, Sunday, I'm on a residential weekend for ministry training and Vandriver is leading Junior Church (reading aloud from the Jesus Storybook Bible).

As we're getting ready for Advent and the new church year, I wanted to publicize this wonderful resource from My Faith My Life.

©2011 Jenifer Gamber; permisson to reproduce for church use
It's a beautiful rendition of the circle of the church year in all its colors, along with the corresponding dates from the calendar year. If I had loads of time (which I don't) it would be tempting to try to put together something similar to this myself, with tweaks (such as purple for Advent) to bring it into line with our congregation's practice. But as it is, perhaps I will just print this out to have in the room as a talking point. A high-quality pdf is here. Many thanks for Jenifer Gamber for making this available to churches!

01 November 2011

my world communion materials

It was months ago that I promised Sheila from Explore and Express that I'd write about how I made my World Communion materials. Since then she's gone ahead and made her own materials in her own way, which I'm glad about for her sake. But I'm perfectly happy to describe my own - a fair amount of the "traffic" that comes to me through search engines is people looking for information about materials - it was just that I hadn't actually finished mine until this week. These were made with much love and little expense. There was no woodworking involved!

The fence enclosing the sheep fold is of plastic (by Schleich), which disappointed me at first, but it is working well for us. It's easy to disassemble and store, which I have to do every week. We use only four pieces, two of which are designed not to fasten, so it's easy to open and close the pen. My green circle bases are simply cardboard painted green. I was a bit embarrassed about doing that, but this beautiful post at What Can We Leave Out reminds me that the beauty and value of these objects is as much in how you treat them as what they're made of. Here's another photograph of a World Communion base made out of cardboard (from Godly Play in Australia), with clothes-pin people. I would encourage you not to apologize for your materials as long as you have created them with love and care.

My figures are also made of cardboard, but a very stiff and solid board. It doesn't have the holes that you can see within the base (EDIT: corrugated, that's the word. It's not corrugated) - it's just a solid stiff cardboard. I no longer remember where it came from - it was just in our recycling box on the day that I went hunting for what to use for this. I used the patterns found in the Young Children and Worship book, but my figures are like typical Godly Play figures in that they are clothed and colored rather than just being wooden silhouettes. I bought a super-basic range of the three primary colors at the craft store: blue, yellow, red, and white paint (and bitterly regretted not having bought any black, but I used a Sharpie pen for hair and definition), and did my non-artistic best to mix them into a range of plausible skin tones and hair colors. I deliberately left one man bald and gave one woman white hair, and tried to give the priest a gender-neutral hairstyle.

side view, lamb's "wool"
upholstery swatches
I had stumbled across a couple books of upholstery swatches in the flea market. What a great find! (I also used them for my "Jesus the King" Palm Sunday materials.) With them I was able to create clothing (and sheepskin) which was soft to the touch. For the lamb on the Jesus's shoulders I actually used a thicker fleece material, for a contrast with his garment. (The priest's stole is a bit of ribbon.)

The whole process of course took much longer than I had anticipated. I clothed them front and back, just using scissors and glue. A couple of hours before church I realized I wouldn't have time to finish, and decided to prioritize the children over the adults. So we had the Good Shepherd, five sheep, one priest, and five children for our first session. It was only the Shepherd, two sheep and the priest who could even stand up that day! (This was done simply by using little cardboard bases like paper dolls often have, set at right angles to the figures' flat bodies.)

(back view)
And for the next several months, that was the range of figures that we had. I did nothing else apart from provide the rest of the bases so that each figure could stand up. The unclothed adults were stashed away in a craft box at my house. We did have a communion table or altar, which was simply a simple, unvarnished dolls' house table which I bought on sale. It's not quite to scale, but seems to work fine. The "chalice" and paten were another flea market find. They were the creamer and one saucer from a little tea set. Again it's not ideal - there's a chip missing - but they do for now. In fact, if you remember, stf couldn't find them one week and substituted cardboard ones in their place (which are now lovingly stored together with these ones in their basket).

Last Sunday I presented these materials again. The story of that presentation will have to wait for another post. But it was the motivation I needed to finally finish clothing my figures. I had already tried to dress one of the girls in a shalwar kameez for some cultural diversity, although at least one person has told me it just looks like she's wearing a coat and scarf. But I gave the adults a real variety of clothing. One woman is in a cheongsam and one is in a gákti. One man is in a suit and tie and the other is in sweats (a jogging suit). One thing I don't have, though, is a diversity of mobility (at one parish in Lohja, Finland, they include a man with a cane).

It was actually a friend who was looking to do some "community service" who clothed the man in sweats - thank you!

You might also like to read the post about the first time I presented this lesson
and a short post (with a photo) about how limited my materials were then

25 October 2011


Satara (photographer's real name unavailable)
Did you see the news story about the girls named "Unwanted"? I had been vaguely aware that there were places in the world where boys were valued much more than girls, but today I learned that in one region of Maharashtra, India, the ratio of young girls to boys is only 801 to 1000. And what is life like for those 801 girls, the ones not aborted or fatally neglected? Some, especially ones born into a family with several daughters already, get labelled with demoralizing names like Nakusa, which literally means "unwanted". Parents say that they didn't treat these girls badly. But it's tough to imagine being reminded every time someone uses your name that your birth was a disappointment to your parents.

Yesterday I read about Dr Bhagwan Pawar, district health officer in the Maharashtra region of Satara, who came up with the idea of an official re-naming ceremony. Officials visited the homes of over 200 local girls with this or similar names (Nakushi, Nakoshi), and asked what they would prefer to be called. Some chose the names of famous actresses they admire, some chose Hindu goddess names, and some chose names with literal positive meanings, "prosperous", "beautiful", or even "rock hard, very tough".

The ceremony was held last Saturday. (Most news coverage has included a beautiful photograph of some of the girls at the ceremony; there's also at least one news video with interviews).
students in Mumbai, photo by Bernard Gagnon
The girls were given certificates with their new names, which were also published in the state gazette. Schools were notified and asked to use the new names from now on.

Of course this made me think of Hosea's children, the oldest named for a massacre site, the girl named "No Mercy" and the youngest named "Not My People".

My devotional Bible text last night, though, was the story from the Gospel of Luke of a woman crippled for eighteen years by a spirit, so that she was bent over double. Jesus healed her as soon as he saw her, and she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue was indignant. Indignant. Indignant with Jesus. So what did that religious leader do? He began to harangue the crowd (not Jesus, but the congregation), telling them they could perfectly well come to be cured on a weekday. He was shaming this woman in front of the community, criticizing her in her moment of freedom, beating her back down. But Jesus shut him up. He called him a hypocrite and said,
Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?”
Satara city, photograph by Mangeshjadhav
Jesus called her a daughter of Abraham. Which when you think about it is the very opposite of "Not My People".

There's so much to think about here, so much to pray about, and this is already a long post. But then, also last night, I read this post by Wanda at KidTrek. She says that 70% of children raised in the church leave it. And she says that one major factor in whether or not churched children keep their faith is whether or not they feel connected to the church community while still a child. And so I want to ask, are the children in your church "Not Our People"? Are any children you know perceiving that they are Unwanted?

[My first source for this news story was a link to USA-Today posted by a Facebook friend. I've since found two Indian newspapers' coverage here and here.]

19 October 2011

learning liturgy

Sunday was Fr R's last service with us before moving away. I didn't want to miss it, and I didn't want the children to miss it. And Fr R is all for having children present, so I decided to try setting up a children's area in the chapel for the day.

Vandriver was a huge help in this: he washed the tarp in advance, and moved all the furniture for me (that's our blue table and chairs - I think I need to suggest to the Dean that the Cathedral could do with a small range of child-sized seating).

While he was re-arranging the chairs, I was finishing up the And also with you -flags, following an idea that I got from The Spiritual Child Network. A good thing about them was that we had plenty, so I was able to give some out to members of the congregation as well as the children. A bad thing was that I'd forgotten to buy materials for them while I was out shopping for the craft materials - so I wound up making them out of our own chopsticks and will have to dis-assemble them the next time we have Chinese food!

Fr R was very pleased with them! He visited the children's area well before the service and spoke to those children who were already present, letting them know that although they did need to try to be quiet during most of the service, when he said The Lord be with you they could be as loud as they wanted in replying, And also with you! And at least once he cued us all - asking if the children were prepared - before giving us our prompt, The Lord be with you! 

From the children's corner I'd say the flags were not an unqualified success. The children were of course most enthusiastic about the flags at the "wrong" moments, and one child made an immediate connection with sports fandom and wanted to cheer for her favorite team. But I take heart from these words (again, from The Spiritual Child Network): 
The children playing during the worship does not mean they are not also engaging with what they are seeing and hearing. They will be making connections between the materials in the area and aspects of the worship and Christian faith they encounter in the service.
I plan to write more about this adventure in another post, but for now I'll close with The Peace. I wish that we didn't have security concerns about displaying children's faces in public websites, because the facial expressions are the real joy of this photo for me. The girl in red is producing a wonderful parody of an earnest adult greeting a child, and the boy in the plaid shirt has thrown his head back and is laughing with delight. 

09 October 2011

children and chat

Today was a tough day at Junior Church in many ways. I'm always hoping for this kind of atmosphere (which, as this photo shows, we do occasionally have):

photo by stf, faces obscured in accordance with parents' wishes
But today the children's desire seemed to be for something like this:

photo by Eden Keller from Mechanicsburg (used by permission)
Because I'm in ministry training now, I've had to ask other adults week by week to take turns leading. We have agreed to try to keep the rough format the same and to set up the focal shelf each week, but that the lessons in their weeks would be told or read from Bible storybooks (we use the Me Too! Bible stories and the Jesus Storybook Bible (which I learned about from Sheila at Explore and Express)). That (and the fact that we don't use the door person system - again due to lack of training and needing to keep the threshold very low for volunteers) has made it harder for our new children to learn what *I* expect of them, particularly during the lessons.  

I had decided to do the Circle of the Holy Eucharist lesson with them this week, despite not feeling that they were really ready for it yet, because next week we will all be in the big church for Father R's last service with us. It was a mistake. The lesson (or my telling of my version of it) was too long, not engaging enough, too factual, not numinous enough. By the time I was ready to come home I really felt like a failure. 

But on the other hand, as I sat at supper and talked through with Vandriver some of what had gone on today, I realized that the children raised a lot of interesting points and topics today. And thinking over some of my experiences with them over the past several months, it occurs to me that the time we spend chatting is clearly very important to (at least most of) them. 

We always chat for a bit at the beginning of Junior Church, especially if we're waiting for others to arrive. Today we didn't have to wait for anyone, but it felt as though they'd have liked just to carry on talking forever. My trainers told us, Sometimes all you do for the whole session is form the circle. Perhaps I should not have been so fixated on my plan to do the Eucharist lesson. Perhaps what they needed was just to chat!

Afterwards, during the feast, the children's talk included:
  • God writes people's names either in The Book of Life or The Book of Death.
  • One time on The Simpsons Homer had a dream about God.
  • Can we please start eating now? 
    • (We always wait to begin eating until everyone is ready. But today the talk ran away before we'd even had time to thank God for our food!)
  • Why don't we have Junior Church every day?
  • image by Stannered
  • Another time on The Simpsons God's hand came down right next to Homer!
  • No, that was Ned Flanders.
  • We have to have adults here because children can't be left on their own.
  • My mother says I can travel by airplane all by myself when I'm eight.
  • Why aren't you (Storyteller) here every Sunday anymore?
  • You're going to Priest-Classes? We should go with you. 
  • Fr. R is moving house!
  • (a lot of guesses as to where Fr R might be moving to - Borgå, Sweden, Japan, Africa...)
  • + a couple of answers to my leading question of why it is that we [supposedly?] talk more quietly than usual in Junior Church. 
Maybe one conclusion from today's session is that I need to be more clear and firm about the behavior I want to see in Junior Church. But maybe another is that I should bear in mind the Montessori principle of following the child, and carve out more space for chatting? Maybe we need a children's fellowship group! Certainly I can be thankful for that the children find Junior Church a safe environment in which to talk about things religious, and that they appreciate the attention I pay to them. 

07 October 2011

the parts we don't like

Today's prayer podcast at Pray as You Go made my heart sink with the words of the scripture for meditation from Joel 2Sound the alarm on my holy mountain. Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble. For the Day of the Lord is coming. It is near: a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness. I had been ready for a more encouraging message today!

But the guidance for meditation asked, What do you think this Day of the Lord that is near is? Is it something to be feared? To be welcomed? and then went on, Joel speaks of alarm, darkness, gloom and clouds. Do you think there is a place for that kind of language when we speak about God? If so, why? If not, why not? And those questions reminded me of Godly Play. do think there is a place for language of darkness and clouds when speaking about God. But I also think it's a very worthwhile exercise to think about the arguments for both answers to that question. 

The Great Day of His Wrath by John Martin (1789-1854)

One of the things that I loved the most when I first experienced Godly Play was the fact that at the end of each Sacred Story we are invited to wonder if there is any part of this story that we could leave out and yet still have all the story we need.

It doesn't even have to be something that we don't like. It could be something we're baffled by, a detail that seems irrelevant, or just an exercise in paring down to the simple essentials (as Jill writes). But what pleases me most about the question is that it gives us room to say, I don't like that part. In fact, I wish it wasn't even part of the story at all.

And it's not just for the sake of children that I love that. Once, my father was reading a Bible story aloud to us as a family and my mother suddenly interrupted and asked him to stop at a certain point. Because I had been (Sunday-)schooled in a very Bible-based church, I knew what was coming in the story. And although I wanted to be sympathetic, I wasn't sure that a request like that was really "allowed". After all, we had been told over and over again that You can't just pick and choose from the Bible. You can't just leave out the parts you don't like.

Well, Godly Play doesn't really say that we can cut those pages out of our Bibles, as it were, but it does give us room to say that we don't like them. And I believe that that's healthy. We belong to a faith that has Sacred Stories about people who bargain with God and people who wrestle with God. And I confess to a certain amount of sympathy for Jonah, who not only got angry with God, but lectured him a bit, sulked, and finally burst out with an endearingly adolescent-sounding, I'm so angry I could die! (Jonah 4

detail from a miniature, Vatican Library

01 October 2011

genius? stupid?

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.

- Albert Einstein
photo by Graham Horn (used by permission)

21 September 2011

risk assessment (lighthearted)

Despite today's atmosphere of risk management as imperative...

(US Navy photo, public domain)
... the danger of lice had not occurred to me.

(No, I don't think I've caught them. But one Mom kindly warned people that she'd discovered that her child had them.)

14 September 2011

What do you mean, "*in* the story"?

In the Wondering Time after Sacred Stories, storytellers are urged to introduce four things to ponder. These are always the same. The first is I wonder which part of this story you liked the best. Just about everyone seems to like that. It gets the members of the circle thinking back over the story, and with that question most will feel comfortable sharing something out loud (... although nobody is ever made to feel that they must speak out loud.)

The third topic is I wonder where you are in this story. It can also be asked in a different way: I wonder which part of this story is about you. But this third topic is a tricky one. Adults may over-think it. Children may be baffled by it. Yet sometimes members of the circle share very deep and personal things about themselves at this point:

I am under the flood-waters.

I am the donkey, getting tired of carrying people.

I have come back from the desert to the river where there is refreshing water.

(my own materials)
It's also interesting when this question is taken literally. Last Sunday I told the story of the Great Flood. When I asked, I wonder where you are in this story, a child answered, I'm not there! I can't remember the exact words that followed, but the child gestured and observed that there were no figures of children in the story - just two adults and a bunch of animals. It's an interesting point. We think of this as a good story for children, and yet there are no children featured in the story.

[After a pause, I did point out that the Bible story says that after the ark landed, Noah's sons, who were grown up, and their wives, had babies to help "fill the world with life again".]

Frances, at "On the Chancel Steps", explored this idea of being in the story in her children's sermon for September 11th this year:
I wonder where you are in this story: I love stories! I love to read myself into the world of Winnie-the-Pooh, or mysteries, or kings and queens, or the Bible. But not all stories are in books. Each of us has a story.
Her closing prayer begins, Dear Lord, Thank You for stories. I might pray this prayer myself the next time I feast with our children!

12 September 2011

a group bulletin board?

Dear Godly Play folk, Good Shepherd catechists, and others working with children in church,

Would you be interested in creating a bulletin board together of photographs of Godly Play & CGS materials? I've recently discovered Pinterest - an easy way to save interesting photographs that you run across when browsing. You can also use it to share photographs you have taken yourself. The resulting collections (yours and others') can be a great source of inspiration!

Follow Me on Pinterest

If there were any interest, I'd certainly be up for opening up a couple of my "boards" for contributions from others, or even creating a few new ones explicitly to be group boards. I don't think that you need an invitation anymore to join Pinterest, but I'm happy to try to send one if anybody does need one.

Have a look and see what you think.

UPDATE: (13 Sept)
I've opened up several of my boards to be group boards, but each contributor needs to be added by me individually. It seems like I can't add you unless you have not only joined Pinterest, but "pinned" at least one picture. Probably all you'd need to do is "re-pin" one of my pictures to your own board? But so far I haven't been able to add anyone who doesn't have any pins yet.

11 September 2011

off-topic: 9/11

US Navy photo (public domain)
Today our grown-up congregation is observing "Awareness Sunday", a joint initiative of many churches in the English-speaking countries, to remember the victims of violence, the conflicts that underlie it, and to pray for peace and reconciliation.

And so today I'd like to recommend Gordon MacDonald's "Reflections from Ground Zero", a 5-day diary written while he was working as a chaplain at Ground Zero, a week after the terror attacks (September 18-22, 2001). I first read them as forwarded e-mails soon after they were written. They are thoughtful musings on the work of a chaplain, the task of ministering in crisis situations. (If you're not up for reading the whole thing - it's pretty long! - you can find an abridged version here.)
However, I was distressed to see that even the "complete" version has been edited. The following paragraphs have been left out entirely (compare what you find at the bottom of this page to the "Day One" version linked above):
The Salvation Army is the only group that introduces you as a couple. It's never "we're glad to have Gordon MacDonald with us this morning...and Gordon is pastor...., etc." They always say, "We're glad to have Gordon and Gail MacDonald with us; they are pastors of..." The Army, from the very beginning, has respected the notion of women in ministry and leadership and the genius of couples working together as teams on a partnership basis.
So, literally within minutes, I decided that this was not a moment for me to preach but that Gail should join me in dialoguing the thoughts on Elijah's wilderness experience that I'd prepared. I whispered to her that I would "preach" the sermon to her and she should respond with ideas, insights and questions of her own. The result was a presentation that was twice what I could have done alone. She was just terrific. And to think that this was a woman who, twenty-five years ago, would have been terrified of getting up to do a spontaneous talk.
We started by reminding people of the familiar instruction given by flight attendants:"If you have a child with you, put your airbag on first and then do what has to be done to the child." That seemed a useful way to remind these dear folks of the importance of tending after the soul and the body as they help others.
It's particularly distressing to me as a woman training for ministry to find that these words about women in ministry and leadership had been omitted. I haven't yet re-read through the whole journal, so I don't know what else is missing, but I remember how impressed I was, upon my first reading in 2001, by the candor of MacDonald's musings on the strengths and weaknesses of different church traditions - comparing, for example, his own ministry with that of a Roman Catholic nearby. As well, of course, as his observations about the Salvation Army, who were his hosts and indeed his passport into this zone.

Let me close not with distress over omissions, but on the powerful and practical witness of the Salvation Army, with the words of another preacher who visited Ground Zero with them, Philip Yancey:
The Salvation Army has learned to meet needs at the most basic human level. They’ll certainly talk with you and pray with you if you want, and the Salvationists in the shiny red “Chaplain” jackets were in high demand. Mainly, though, they were there to wash out eyes stinging from smoke, and provide Blistex for parched lips, and foot inserts for boots walking across hot metal. They operated hydration stations, and snack canteens. They offered a place to rest, and freshly cooked chicken courtesy of Tyson’s. The day I arrived, they distributed 1500 phone cards for the workers to use in calling home. Every day they served 7500 meals. They offered an oasis of compassion in a wilderness of rubble.

(kind permission for use of this photo granted by the photographer, urban)

02 September 2011

eye contact

photo by Heptagon, used by permission

Something that really sets Godly Play apart from other kinds of storytelling is the lack of eye contact between the teller and listeners. It seems to be one of the most disturbing features of Godly Play. It's certainly one that I have often heard people complain about. And I too find it frustrating sometimes not to be able to "see" how children are reacting to the story. But if I've understood right - that's precisely the point: It's not about where the storyteller's focus isn't, but about where it is.

The storyteller is completely engrossed in the story. And this deep involvement draws the listeners' attention to the same place. There's a lovely photograph of Jerome Berryman telling a parable story to a child. It's copyrighted and so I won't include it here, but please follow this link to the picture.

I don't think anyone could look at that photograph and say, "How weird that Jerome isn't looking at the boy!" It's clear that Jerome and the boy are looking together at a shared story. It looks perfectly natural and right.

If you have time you might click through the complete sequence of five photographs of that telling (at the National Godly Play Conference in Australia, July, 2011). There is one photo illustrating the eye contact that does occur before the parable begins, Even if you don't know what a parable is, the parable is already yours.

And then, I wonder how many sheep there really are? What I love about this photo is how curious Jerome looks. He has handed over control to the boy, and has no idea what answer the boy will come up with.

The third photo we've seen already: When there are places of danger I show them how to go through.

Four: I wonder if you ever had to go through a place of danger?

And finally, a picture of real intimacy and trust. I wonder what caption you would give to this photo.

29 August 2011

"we, who are many, are one body in Christ"

I am back home after spending a week at ministry training summer school. It was a wonderful and exhausting week. And my overwhelming sense at the end of it is that I was not only welcomed into that community, but have already come to belong to it. That, in turn, left me with a feeling of belonging to the Anglican Church more widely, and to the Body of Christ more widely still.

What a pleasure, then, to stop on our journey home for communion at a little Anglican church where a diverse group of people were welcomed.

St. Martin's Church, West Drayton
There were several white-haired ladies already present when we arrived. Gradually elderly men arrived as well. Then two young women with bold platinum highlights in their hair, and a young man with tattoos on his neck and arms - a large rose spreading from his left shoulder up to his left ear, and a row of what looked to be Hebrew letters across the back of his neck. I was so struck by his tattoos that it took a while for me to notice that he was holding an infant in his arms. When I asked, at the peace, he replied that the tattoo said father. All these people were white, but the congregation also included a middle-aged man who looked Chinese, and a young black man.

Like we have at our church, they had a re-usable leaflet containing the order of service. But unlike ours, theirs was season-specific. And, as Vandriver spotted even before I did, the cover was in the color of the season. Inside the front cover was a description of the season. I won't repeat it all, but here is a little of what it said: We need to remember that Ordinary Time does not need to be "ordinary, or plain or dull" and it is not meant to mean that somehow we get a break from the Liturgical Year. The opposite is true: Ordinary Time celebrates the mystery of Christ in all its aspects. Many important liturgical celebrations fall during Ordinary Time, including Trinity, All Saints and Christ the King. ... As we journey through Ordinary Time may there be nothing 'ordinary' about our encounter with our Lord and Saviour. 

What I noticed was this information: There is an area in the south side (near the font) that has been set aside for carers and toddlers to use during our services. There are book and quiet toys to keep children occupied. And so there was!

It included crayons and Bible storybooks, as well as other activities, and was within view of the altar and even the organist (depending a little on where you sat). A Sunday School for the over-3s ran from the start of the service, with children re-joining the adult congregation for the entire Liturgy of the Sacrament.

But it wasn't just the provisions for children and the presence of a visibly diverse congregation that showed off the welcoming nature of this church - we were made welcome. We were greeted as we entered the church (by the same woman that I later saw helping an elderly man find his place in a large-print service booklet), and because we had apologized that we might have to leave early because we had a plane to catch, we were amongst the first to be ushered forward for communion!

So it was just a natural extension of the feelings that the week of summer school had left me with - a real sense of belonging to a community within a wider body. For so much of my life, I have interpreted the question How was church? to mean firstly, "How was the sermon?" and then, "What hymns did you sing?" and "Who spoke to you?" Well, yesterday we sang several familiar, beloved hymns and were given a competent, evangelical sermon, but what I took away with me was several images (the children's area; the hanging aumbry with a funny dove above it which looked like an angel from where I was sitting; the secluded, walled churchyard; the tattooed father holding his baby; the stained glass depiction of the crucifixion and ascension which I turned to gaze upon during the Eucharistic Prayer) and above all the sense of belonging.