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.


  1. When are we going back to your house?

    I echo that.
    I thought epiphany as I leave the next day :)

  2. Thanks for posting this on the Advent Link-Up! It has some great suggestions, especially for people just starting out.


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