15 June 2012

evaluating the Play and Pray area

As I've said here, the adults were very positive about our first week of summer Play and Pray. I described our space and materials in this post. But I haven't really said much about my own expectations nor about what actually happened. That's this post.


The children will need to learn new rules for this space. Some are like the rules in Junior Church - we talk more quietly than usual and we move more slowly than usual. I modeled that we did not need to be silent during the hymns or music, but that we could sing along OR talk quietly together. Of the three children present this week, the older two already attend day-care classes (in fact, one has just "graduated" from pre-school or kindergarden and will start first grade next year), and they have several times sat through adult church services with only a few coloring pages or such-like to keep them occupied. For them it was pretty easy to stay still and quiet through the service.

The youngest is a bundle of energy. He found it hard to remember to keep his voice low, and often wanted to jump, turn upside down, or clown around with his sister. And yet, he did an excellent job of whispering when I reminded him to. To emphasize that jumping isn't wrong per se, but not to be done in chapel, as soon as the service was over the small boy and I made a beeline for the door and jumped up and down for several minutes just outside. As we were still in the Cathedral building this was perhaps not ideal, but I hope it will help him in the future to save up his jumps for after the service. (Pentecostals or anyone who does jump in church are welcome to make good-natured protestations in the comments.)

Godly Play Jonah materials & animals for Noah's ark
All the children worked with the materials we had available in (usually) appropriate ways. When the boy tired of coloring, I encouraged him to explore the available story materials. At first he really didn't know what to make of the Godly Play Jonah materials, especially the long squiggly blue "blocks". But once we had identified the boat, and looked at a picture of the storm in the Jonah storybook to see that the blue things could be storm waves, he carefully laid them around the boat, one at a time, until they were all in place.

He was unhappy with the suggestion that they might be put away before he moved on to work with other things later, but when, during our post-communion hymn, I said firmly (to all the children) that it was time to put everything away, he placed each blue wave back into its box, so carefully that it seemed to make no noise at all. I was enchanted.


My minimum expectations are these: I want the children to stop and stand and listen to the Gospel when that comes in the service, and to go forward for a blessing at communion. Word and Sacrament. Other than that, I am happy for them to have a lot of choice in what they do, in when they "pay attention" and when they seem absorbed in their own work. They will need, though, to begin to learn the cues - that the sung Alleluia Alleluia Alleluia means it's time to stand up and listen to a story about Jesus; that the song, Jesus, Lamb of God, have mercy on us, is the signal to get ready to go forward for communion. It may take some time. This week they found it very hard to stop what they were doing for the adult liturgical timetable.

At "the Peace", I asked if they would like to go around and shake hands with people. One said, "No." Another said, "Only with my Mum." I had asked a genuine question, and so felt that any answer was acceptable. (I'm glad to say that many congregants did lean into our "enclosure" to greet the children.)

Trinity Sunday
I handed out "and also with you" flags to many members of the congregation, as well as having them available for the children. Our pastor was so pleased with the response that she had us do it again - which was a good encouragement for the children to participate. She also urged the children to join the congregation in blessing the newly baptized by raising our hands toward them as she prayed.


The children will need to learn how to keep themselves occupied. (One important task for the adult on duty will be to help them do this.) It may also prove harder than it was in our much larger Godly Play room to find a second choice if someone else is working with your first choice materials. What else is in the area that they could work with? What might this child color onto a blank sheet of paper? During which bits of the service is it most interesting to watch what the priest is up to?

As I've said , I hope the children will soon recognize certain cues about the shape of the service. But I'd also like to help them "read" other things in the environment. I happened to kneel next to the young boy at the communion rail. So while waiting for the wine I encouraged him to count the candles on the altar. Trinity is a six-candle day in the Finnish Lutheran liturgical calendar, so I corrected him when he only counted five, saying one must be hiding behind another.

three baptism candles
But I was wrong, and he was right! The pastor had taken one candle down from the altar to use to light the baptismal candles!

It's always a special pleasure when the children notice things and make connections all by themselves. One girl particularly noticed the baptism candles, and whispered to me that her younger sibling has just such a baptism candle.


In our old Junior Church / Godly Play format we would begin by "forming the circle", often chatting informally for a short while before singing our first song, and always asking if anyone had anything special they were thankful for (these things then were included in the opening song). Although I have visited a church which incorporated an extended time of "sharing joys and concerns" into their service, we have nothing similar at our own adult services.

When one girl sidled up and began chatting to me during the service I realized that for her, a weakness of our Play and Pray scheme is the lack of opportunity for talking. I recalled that once when we'd been unusually pressed for time during our Godly Play session, this same girl had said she'd rather skip the Response Time (when we usually work independently) than the Feast (when we resume sharing together). She is clearly one of those Christians who prioritizes fellowship!

I don't have an immediate solution for that, but I am reminded of Jerome W. Berryman's advice, Whenever you see a child in the church, approach the child, make eye contact, and say, "I'm glad to see you." 

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