18 June 2012

sneaking in some Godly Play

How long did you think it would be before I'd find a venue for presenting Godly Play again?

As part of my ministry training, I had to preach the sermon for our congregation yesterday. And what should be the Gospel text in our lectionary but a section from Mark's Gospel which included the Parable of the Mustard Seed! So, since the children are with us in their Play and Pray area in the chapel, I decided we should have a children's lesson as well as a grown-up sermon.

I invited everyone to come to the front of the chapel before the Gospel reading, and presented the Godly Play lesson then. After we'd wondered for a bit, and put the materials away, I had everyone stand to listen to the Gospel, or rather, the bits that hadn't already been presented in the Godly Play lesson, which is to say Mark 4: 26-29 and 33-34. Only then did everyone go back to their original places, and I went to the pulpit for the sermon.

This was actually the first time I've presented this lesson, as it was see-through-faith who presented it last year! There were various minor "flaws" in my presentation. It was hard for me to stay in the story and not get impatient with how long it took to unfurl the creased branches of the shrub/tree. When I'd practiced at home, I'd managed to get these to "stick" pretty well to the underlay as I unrolled it, but today they wouldn't un-crumple. Plus I was distracted with nerves about the other upcoming sermon.

I did get a good chuckle from the congregation at the beginning when I bunched up the underlay and suggested it might be a splodge of mustard.

The wondering remained silent ...

photo kindly taken by Rami Rekola
... but many people (not just children) took the opportunity to place birds and nests into the story themselves.

15 June 2012

(Post-)Eastertide Guest Post: Montessori-inspired Prayer Chart

As Sheila says in her introduction to this guest-post, life happens. I promised almost two weeks ago that I'd share more about our Play and Pray area and implied that would happen straightaway. Instead I finally posted two long posts about it today. Sheila and I had planned to include a guest post from Leann, of Montessori Tidbits, in our Eastertide series. Instead, she published this yesterday and I'm getting it posted today. 

prayerchart2 I love the simple prayers of a child.  They are so sincere, innocent, and pure.  They are spoken from the heart and in a way that many adults miss in their own prayer life.

As a Christian mom, I have always sought ways to help my son understand prayer is more than just asking for things.
It’s his time to mention things that are important to him. 
It’s his time to say thank you.
It’s his time to ask for help, especially on character traits that he’s working on.

However, my son sometimes has a hard time remembering what he wants to pray for and about.  That’s how our Montessori-inspired interactive prayer chart began.

Read the rest of this post here

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." 

more on Play and Pray

As promised, somewhat belatedly, here's more on the launch of our Play and Pray area. This post will tell you what the set-up was like, including some initial reflections on what worked and what didn't.

We chose our space to gave a good vantage point for any child who wanted to see what was going on. The space felt enormous as we were moving twelve chairs to make room for it, but didn't feel so large once three children were inside it. As soon as one lay stomach-down to do some drawing I began to be thankful that more children hadn't come!

The floor was lined with a thin comforter / padded blanket. Each corner was covered with a mat (and sometimes a strategically-positioned chair leg) to help keep it in place. Spare mats were available by the "entrance", but they weren't really made use of this week.

I realized that my idea of putting all the materials around the edges was perhaps ill-conceived when I watched the smallest child labor to get past the other two to reach the colored pencils. (I praised him for carefully avoiding stepping on any artwork in doing so.) I then moved the pencils, explaining in hushed tones that it would be better to put them where everybody could reach them.

  • For an embarrassingly long time, I've had the materials for the Godly Play Jonah story on loan from a neighboring parish (fortunately, they had two sets). But I never put it into our classroom because I have trouble with that story. (Why? That's for another post!) But I brought it out for the Play and Pray area, along with an odd assortment of tiny stuffed animals in a basket - I couldn't find an ark at the flea market!

  • Our book basket included a storybook about Jonah and the Whale in English and a book in Finnish with a huge fold-out poster of  (a cartoon painting of) Noah's ark. When a child first bored of drawing, I silently drew his attention to the correspondences between the illustrations and our 3D materials.
  • Two very different sheep, both  found at the flea market for super-cheap (the cheap sheep?), stood alongside the book basket.

  • The pastor was very leery of bringing clay / plasticine / play-dough to the service, feeling that then children would need to wash their hands before coming to the altar and that would just be impracticable. Similarly, I wasn't convinced we'd be able to clean glitter glue off the blanket we were using. But we did have paper and card in various sizes, colored pencils, two kinds of crayons, and some stickers left over from Easter egg decorating.

  • On the chair closest to the altar I laid a green cloth (flea market place-mat), the Christ candle, and a basket of half-assembled cardboard Nativity pieces. As it turned out, nobody took any notice of this activity this week.

  • Also available but not used were the flip-book guides to the liturgy (I might place at least one of these into the book basket next time).
  • Because we were having baptisms that first week (a whole family was baptized), I had also brought along my own Godly Play baptism materials. But at the start of the service they were accidentally covered up. Just as the youngest's patience and attention was wearing thin and I was getting ready to bring them out... I recognized the strains of Jesus, Lamb of God and announced that it was time for communion. So we did fine without them.

When the time came for the baptisms themselves, I stood up and walked right up to the front of our space, encouraging the children to do the same. It was rather a long process, as each adult knelt to be baptized and was then robed in an alb by their godparent before the next baptism. As you can see, by the time the family father was being robed, only one child was really still interested. But when the baby was finally baptized and began to cry that got everyone's attention again.

thoughts for the future: One member of the church has already told me she owns a Noah's ark puzzle that she'd like to donate to us. Hooray!

It feels paradoxical to think that two or three children at a table will take less space than the same children coloring on the floor, but if we can figure out how to store them I'd like to consider getting a child-sized table and chairs. (Last year we tried having the children kneel in front of the pew-chairs and use them as desks, but this was disastrous because these wooden seats make extremely loud percussion instruments. A mere dab of a glue stick  reverberates around the chapel like a gun-shot.)

03 June 2012

Play and Pray Launch

Today our congregation launched the Play and Pray area for children to use during our regular service (we had a sort of trial run back in October). The plan is to have this all through the summer, and then to revisit the question of Junior Church (and/or carrying on with Play and Pray) in the autumn.

Our set-up has been inspired by Margaret's blog post about the Play and Pray area at St. George's Church, Campden Hill, and Carolynn's pages for the Spiritual Child Network.

I received *very* positive feedback from the adults after today's service! Even more importantly, I think the children were also positive about it.

(during the service)

One child wasn't sure what would be available, so brought her own coloring pages (and kindly allowed the other children to use them as well). My hope is to move toward more specifically church-oriented themes for future art projects (as well as encouraging free drawing, which some children also did today). In addition to coloring, the children worked with Godly Play story materials about Jonah, a storybook about Jonah, a collection of small stuffed animals representing animals on the ark, a large poster of Noah's ark, Easter stickers, our "and also with you" flags, and what is more they got to witness *three* baptisms!

I'll write a bit more about today's experience in my next post.