31 May 2011

getting ready to come in

I was chatting with see-through faith yesterday, and she suggested the following check-list for getting ready to enter the worship space:

  • Do you have to go to the toilet?
  • Have you washed your hands? (whether or not you've just been to the toilet)
  • Do you have any gum in your mouth? (please throw it away)

copyright Tony Atkin, used by permission

Edited to add: See-through Faith was never trained as a door person; I've tried to avoid even asking her to try to be one. Our original agreement was that she'd be a responsible adult in the room, but otherwise as far as possible just another member of the circle. Yet for some time now she has been organizing the feast and is now beginning to take on responsibilities for helping people cross the threshold. I'd guess this is similar to the way the role of door person must have evolved for Jerome and Thea Berryman!

ascension early

Sunday the 29th was again a day when Junior Church folk and the Big Church folk (big people, who usually worship in the big church) came together for Family Service. This is usually a communion service led by our (Finnish Lutheran) pastor, in a somewhat more child-friendly space than our "big church" is. 

This Sunday, though, I got a phone call about two hours before our service was scheduled to start. The pastor had come down with something, and was too sick to be able to take the service. She asked if I could lead a service and of course I said yes right away. 

It took me less than five minutes, bouncing my ideas against Vandriver, to run through my options and reach a decision. It was a given for me that the service would follow a Godly Play structure. And very quickly I/we decided that the lesson should be the Ascension lesson from Young Children and Worship

Sonja M. Stewart (source)
The relationship between Young Children and Worship and Godly Play is somewhat murky, especially to outsiders. But it would seem that the Ascension lesson was written by Sonja M. Stewart after visiting and working with Jerome W. Berryman (and after reading Sofia Cavalletti)

It's one of my favorite lessons. It is simple, while being both biblical and liturgical. It brings together the story of the Ascension with Berryman's "changing of the light", while also introducing (or reinforcing) the response we often give during the Eucharistic prayer to sum up the Mystery of Faith:

Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

by Rartat (public domain)
It's what I had been planning for Junior Church the following Sunday, and I already had all the materials I needed for it. Sunday didn't seem too early for Ascension, since we'll be celebrating it with a public holiday on Thursday. And it felt perfect to present the Ascension in the same space that I had presented the Resurrection a month earlier - the beginning and the end of Eastertide. 

There was a quick phone call to see-through faith, who volunteered to drop everything and help us set up. She texted back almost immediately to add that she had some food she could bring for our coffee time, and to confirm a few other arrangements. She is a real blessing for practicalities! We packed up the car and drove to collect her, the three of us drove to our usual premises to gather some things from there, and then we all began setting up at our Family Service premises.

I want to also thank our organist, who was gracious about arriving only to have me say that we didn't need any of the music that she had prepared. I regret that I didn't even think to ask what songs she had planned to have us sing together. She took a seat in the circle, quietly preparing for a very different service than she had expected - a model of "getting ready". I wish the children could have seen her!

I did adapt Stewart's lesson in small ways. I didn't use a satin underlay, but a small linen table cloth. I showed the Crucifixion/Resurrection card from the Faces of Easter lesson to emphasize the connection with (and continuation of) the Easter story. I deliberately used the word Eastertide as well as "season of Easter". And I followed Berryman's choice of phrasing, the tomb could not hold him, rather than Stewart's God made him alive again. 

(photo by stf, cropped by me)
I felt that it was the grace of God that I was prepared to step in and lead at such short notice. I was near-ready with this lesson already, I had led Godly Play in this space before, I am a relatively confident person when it comes to leading and speaking in public. We only had one child under three this week, and his parents kindly held him close (to his great frustration) while I was working with the candle. See-through faith and Vandriver were so supportive and helpful, and the congregation was flexible about the unexpected change in program. I felt a real sense of joy as we opened the session in song: Hallelujah, Praise the Lord.

26 May 2011

taking care with materials

Last Sunday I told the parable of the Great Pearl. At the end, I asked (this was my first question), I wonder whether the merchant is happy now? All the children leaned forward to look at the face of the picture of the merchant before answering.

Many Godly Play materials are deliberately made without facial expressions. This leaves the expression and emotion to the viewer's imagination. Do you picture Mary as serene or exhausted? Do you picture Joseph as proud or worried? Abraham's face surely looked different when he laughed at God's promise of a son than it did when he invited the three strangers to dinner.

But the Parable materials are different, and usually do show facial expressions. This wondering session warned me that we should be careful with them. We might search for ways to remind children gently that this is just one artist's impression, and that their own ideas are just as valid.

My own parable materials are colored, laminated, cut-out photocopies from Young Children and Worship. I looked up the originals in my book... and found that I'd used the characters the "wrong" way around. The one which Stewart and Berryman label as "Merchant" I used on Sunday as the Seller, and vice versa. I wouldn't have thought it matters much, except that I now see that the one who is supposed to be the Merchant (the one who sells everything to obtain the pearl) has a tiny smile on his face, while the Seller has a neutral expression.

With the way things worked out, I'm glad I used them the other way around. The children looked at a picture of a man with a neutral expression, and then had to decide for themselves whether he was happy or not.

(They all decided that he was.)

25 May 2011

about parables

Storyteller: I noticed that as soon as 4-year-old came into the room, you said, "There's a new parable box!" I wonder how you knew that it was a parable?

4-year-old: Because it's gold.

Storyteller: Why should the gold be a signal that it's a parable?

4-year-old: Because it's from Jesus.

24 May 2011

guest post: remembering a parable

Written by see-through faith on 23 May

Saturday was our wedding anniversary. 23 years.

We woke up together but spent the morning apart. Hubby busy with stuff around the house and I – I cycled over to our all age Godly play morning.

It was fabulous. Storyteller opened up the story of the great family of God in a new and exciting way.

But before that there was a heart stopping moment for me. As part of her introduction to the session storyteller explained to the group that all the stories in the room we had already had this year except for the one we were about to hear that morning. One of the young members of junior church raised their hand and repectfully reminded us that there was one story storyteller hadn’t heard! Because stf (that’s me!) had put in a new parable box the week before.

parable box
photo by see-through faith

That was nice.

But then the heart-stopping moment all teachers dread … One of the adults asked. Oh … can you tell us what parable it was?


(I’m sitting there thinking … wrong question … I never gave the parable a name. How awfully embarassing for the child. How awfully embarrasing for me.)

But I was wrong.

The three little children (all 5 and under) looked at where the box was placed and then at me and then with very little prompting they remembered – and started to tell the story to the grown ups.

They remembered the story of the tiny little seed, so tiny if I had it on the end of my finger you wouldn’t be able to see it!

which was planted by a sower

and it grew

and grew

and grew

until it was a huge shrub

as big as a tree

parable of mustard seed
photo by see-through faith (taken from the children's viewpoint)
and the birds of the air


and made their nests in it.

Then it was time to quiz the adults as to what parable that actually was. That was the fun part. (grin) You see there is more than one parable about the Kingdom of God which talks about seeds and sowers and birds, but only one in which the birds of the air make their nests.

That parable is – of course!- the parable of the mustard seed.
(You can find it in Matt 13:31-32)

22 May 2011

journeying with your partner

See-through faith just pointed me to this photo she took yesterday at our Godly Play morning, and I had to share it straight-away. This represents Abram and Sarai on their journey towards their new home at the Oaks of Mamre by Hebron. You can see the altars Abram built at Shechem and near Bethel, and off in the distance behind them, the Euphrates River and the city of Haran.

photo by see-through faith
She came to our fellowship morning on her wedding anniversary! Congratulations to see-through faith (who, a little like Rebekah, moved far from where she had grown up to marry her husband) on 23 years with her Love.

21 May 2011

Godly Play morning for (almost) all ages

Thank you, Leslie, for writing words of encouragement after my last post (about plans for today's Godly Play event), and also to my mother, who sent an email saying she was praying for us. My prayer had been that everyone would get something they needed from it.

There were thirteen of us in the circle. We had children aged 3-5, a young teen, a grad student, parents, adults without children, married couples, and at least one pensioner. We were people born in North America, the Middle East, Eastern Asia, Africa, and Europe (including Finland!). 

I told the story of "the Great Family" (of Abraham and Sarah), using a desert bag for the first time in our classroom. This prompted at least two people to make plasticine deserts in the Response Time. 

Some people responded to the literal distances in the story and the idea of emigration, while others responded more metaphorically, for example to the idea of travelling through the desert without the refreshment and guidance of a river. One person even connected ideas from this story with insights from a recent television documentary about the Second Law of Thermodynamics! 

In the picture below, you can see that Abraham's body has been buried under the "sand". 

Afterwards, I asked the children what their favorite part of the day had been. One said working with glue. Another said helping with the feast. However, the feast was something of a disappointment to at least one child, because there was no food, only drink (a decision I'd made because lunch was to follow almost immediately). Also, the children found some of the grown-up talk difficult to sit through: notice the two children amusing themselves below by wearing their napkins on their heads:

We ended our session with a very different kind of prayer time than we've had before. I put the desert out again, and handed around a basket of stones and blocks. Everyone took a turn and put one into the sand. If they wanted to, they said a prayer after doing so, either in their heart silently or out loud. 

I think this was the most successful prayer time we've ever had in Junior Church / Godly Play: we have one child who is often very awkward about prayer, but who seemed to handle this activity just fine. 

When we got home, Vandriver asked me what my favorite part had been. I said, "Entering the room after preparing the drinks for our feast [during the Response Time] and seeing everyone doing their work - whether chatting together over plasticine, making a glitter glue painting, taking a nap, or reading about prayer."

19 May 2011

upcoming event

Here's a copy of an invitation email that went out to our congregation this week:

Dear Church Family,

As many of you know from Sunday announcements this month, you are invited to a fellowship event on Saturday the 21st (morning and lunchtime).

10-12: Godly Play session for everyone ages 3 and up, followed by lunch. Children under 3 and their minders are welcome to fellowship together in the coffee room while the rest of us are doing Godly Play (please bring quiet toys).

You are welcome to come to lunch whether or not you come to the Godly Play session (and vice versa), but we do need to know numbers by Thursday evening, so please reply to this email to say whether you'll be coming to Godly Play, lunch, or both (and let us know if you plan to bring other friends or family members, and whether anyone has any dietary restrictions).

**Please come on time. If you arrive after the story has begun (after the door to the "Sali" is shut), then we ask you not to interrupt the GP session but to join the folks in the coffee room instead.

Some of you got a taste of Godly Play on Easter Sunday. It began as a Montessori approach to children's Christian education, but it is now used for all ages, even in work with the elderly and in prison ministries. It involves exploring Bible stories using your senses as well as your mind. You don't need to pretend to be a child - just relax and be yourself. Some of what we do may seem childish, but each person can experience the event at his or her own developmental level, spiritually as well as physically. I will never ask you to share more than you want to - silence is respected and enjoyed in Godly Play!

Our session will go like this:

- Gathering together

- Sacred Story presentation (an oral narrative, with visual materials to help you focus)

- Wondering together (a time to reflect upon the story with simple, honest discussion)

- Individual responses (including art, prayer, or working with story materials)

- Returning to the circle (time for a little more discussion if desired, and a short time of prayer)

- Blessing song / Dismissal

I've been looking forward to this for weeks - I hope you can come!

love, Storyteller

16 May 2011

busy with other things

Many, many thanks to "see-through faith", who dealt with Junior Church this week while I was busy with a family reunion (four generations, gathered from four countries) and wedding.

And thanks, too, to Sarah Frechette, for capturing some of our family time in photos for us.

10 May 2011

not a problem!

Dear parents,

I'm so grateful for the chance to work with your children every week. They are teaching me how to be with children, how to listen to them, and how to respect their abilities. Godly Play, like old Eli, knows that God speaks to children as well as adults, and believes that we should honor that.

Please don't fret when I write something that might sound a little critical. I'm in a relationship with your children, and we have to learn together how to do Junior Church and Godly Play.

licensed image by Hardeep Singh
I promise that if I really think your child is misbehaving in a way that you should hear about - I will let you know.

Otherwise, I hope I can write here about my minor frustrations, mistakes I make, what seems to work and what doesn't... without making you feel like you need to apologize for them in the comments. I love all your children!

Oh, and please, please don't tell them that you read on my blog that they were naughty!

licensed image by Peter Klashorst
With love from Storyteller @ Easterkind.

09 May 2011


I did suggest that it would be nice to keep the new clay in separate colors, and to use the already-mixed army green clay if that wasn't important to you...

oh well... ;)

06 May 2011

watermarks poll

This is part of my continuing effort to watermark photos without being too irritating. My goal in this is to allow people to enjoy and even reproduce the photos while keeping it clear where they've come from. So the "man" symbol is supposed to convey that the photos are not copyright in the strictest sense (this symbol is from Creative Commons), and the word Easterkind I hope will lead them back to this blog.

Which watermark do you like best (or hate the least)? Which is the worst? (To see larger versions, click on the photos.) I've set up two polls at the bottom of this blog. And you could also leave a comment if you like...





02 May 2011


This week I presented the Faces of Easter VII lesson for a second time, giving the children a chance to bring materials to the story, which we were unable to do on Easter Day.

Story materials brought to the circle: Trinity symbol and Baptism materials, the Presentation in the Temple, Christ candle, Advent materials

Vandriver said to me this morning, I wonder if there's any part of this story that we could leave out, and still have all the story we need? Well, Father Berryman seems to think we can leave out the Resurrection. 

He was partly joking, but it was also a comment on my frustration with this lesson. And it was a reminder that I have lots more I want to write about the tensions in wanting to honor Berryman's model, scripts, ethos, etc. while also needing to be true to my own understandings and beliefs. This post will likely only scratch the surface a bit more, but here it is.

The lesson asserts, Jesus had died on the cross, but somehow he was still with them, as he is with us, especially in the bread and the wine. But never does it say, He is risen. Left out of the story are the angels, Mary's encounter with Jesus in the garden, indeed any resurrection appearances at all. (Berryman has now finally released new lessons which may incorporate some of these post-resurrection appearances, "Knowing Jesus in a New Way", but for the time being, apart from part 1, the only way to get these texts is to buy a $200 package from the United States.)

My frustration was compounded by the fact that the picture on the final plaque in the German series I have been testing out, by Juliana Heidenreich, does not show Jesus at all. Instead there is a shaft of light, and a community of Christians sharing bread and wine. But I was not about to present a lesson which included no representation of the risen Christ in word or image, especially not on Easter Sunday!

What I ended up doing visually was faithful to my understanding of Berryman and still something I was comfortable with myself. I used the image of an icon of the Eucharist which includes representations of Jesus, grain and grapes, bread and wine, and a Gospel book or Bible.

I felt that this worked as a representation of the Risen Christ today, who, as we know from the Holy Family story, is no longer bound by space and time. It visually conveys Berryman's emphasis that Christ is present to us today in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. And it is so different from all the other plaques that it emphasizes the line about the fact that the Mystery of Easter changes everything.

As for the words of the story, I added one line of my own to the story of the women finding the empty tomb: Angels explained that Jesus had risen. I added the line Berryman uses in "Knowing Jesus" part 1: The tomb could not hold him, and then my own partial summary of ideas from the "Knowing Jesus" series: Over the next hours, and days, and weeks, Jesus' friends had to learn new ways to recognize Jesus - in the sound of his voice, in the breaking of bread, and in the memory of that empty tomb (which at first had seemed so sad). And these are still ways that we know Jesus today.

01 May 2011

Wondering about the Faces of Easter

Images by St. Michael's Workshop (UK)

Storyteller: I wonder which part of this story you think is the most important.

4.5-year-old: This (pointing to the Resurrection plaque).

13-year-old: I think the first one [the birth of Jesus].

3-year-old (jubilantly): I like ALL OF THEM!

4.5-year-old (quietly): Even the upside-down one? 

Storyteller turns over the Resurrection plaque to reveal the Crucifixion plaque.

13-year-old: That's important because Jesus died for our sins.

Storyteller: But that's not what 4-year-old asked. 4-year-old asked if we like that part. Isn't it interesting that there might be a part that we think is very important and yet we don't like it.

please bear with me...

Ever since I started the blog I've been wondering about watermarking photos. I've recently figured out how to do it with the software I have, as I'm sure you've noticed. I am experimenting with different effects - larger/smaller, more and less transparent, different colors...

Please let me know if there's an effect that you find too jarring or irritating. My goal is not to ruin the photos but just to attribute them. Once I settle on something that works, I'll try to go back and replace some of the less successful efforts.

On a related topic, I've begun to regret choosing the user-name "Storyteller". It'd surely be hopeless to try to search for my blog if that's all you remembered about me. Any thoughts on whether I should change my "name" (probably to Easterkind)?