31 July 2012

Play and Pray - advice for parents

These are some thoughts I've had after our first couple of months with a Play and Pray area in our worship space. This experience has been with a small group of children aged about 3-6.

Advice for parents
  1. Remind your children ahead of time about expected behavior.  This may vary from church to church. I ask children to keep their voices down to an absolute whisper except when the congregation is singing (or passing the Peace). Apart from Communion, I ask them to stay in the Play and Pray area (and to move slowly and quietly).
  2. Come a little early. Your child might well want to share some news with me, or make small talk. This is easier to do before the service has started. Coming early also allows the child time to orient themselves and settle down. (If you come too early, though, we might not have finished setting up yet!)
  3. Leave your child's own toys at home. We have selected the Play and Pray materials with care. Just as our worship space is not like your living room, so our "toys" are not like all the other toys your child has at home. In fact, I like to think of them as worship materials rather than toys.
  4. Once you've dropped your child off, sit elsewhere. The Play and Pray area is as much for you as for your children in that we want to give you the freedom to listen to the sermon without worrying about your kids. If there's a huge discipline problem, I'll come get you. Otherwise, please assume that I'll deal with it. Give me and your child the freedom to do our own thing. 
  5. Let your child know they may make their own choices. In my Play and Pray area, children choose for themselves what to do most of the time. The only exceptions are that we stand to listen to the Gospel, we may greet each other at The Peace, and we all go forward for Holy Communion or blessings. At other times, children may want to follow along with what the other congregants are doing, or watch what the priest is doing. They may choose to read a book, to color, or to work with our worship materials. They may want to pray, look around the space, or just sit quietly. It is their choice. 

p.s. Re-reading this after posting, I find it all sounds very stern. I'm sorry about that. My goal with our Play and Pray area is to help your children feel that they belong and that they matter - in church, to our congregation, to God! I enjoy worshipping with them. Thanks for bringing them to church!

30 July 2012

a disappointing alternative?

Yesterday we weren't sure whether any children would come to church (one family is away, another had only just returned from holidays and were jet-lagged), and then we found out at very short notice that "our" chapel was in use by another priest so we were moved elsewhere. Vandriver and I managed to dash in just in time to grab a few things from the storage cupboard (located *in* the chapel) to carry to our temporary location, and I set up and then sat within a scaled-down Play and Pray area anyway, just in case any children did come.

location as usual, just behind the first row on "the Gospel side"

Happily, two showed up. They had been away most of the summer and this was their first introduction to Play and Pray. Although I would say that on the whole things went well, the 4-year-old turned to me during the service and asked, When are we going to have Junior Church again? Caught off-guard, and needing to whisper, I answered non-committally. After the service, at church coffee, the 4-year-old contentedly informed me, I think we'll have Junior Church next week. I'd like to have asked what aspects of Junior Church / Godly Play she prefers over Play and Pray (I have several ideas, but they are mine not hers), but as it was, I just tried to explain that it'll be Play and Pray at least until the autumn.

If her parents are reading, perhaps you'll inquire about her preferences if this topic comes up again. If somebody does start up Junior Church again in the autumn it'd be good to know what aspects work well for the children. And in the meantime, it may be that the church can make some changes to the way we do Play and Pray to incorporate some of what different children miss.

And other readers - what do the children in your churches like and dislike about being in church for adult services as opposed to going to Sunday School or other programs designed for them? (Don't know? Why not ask?)

25 July 2012

Guest Post: Chameleon Godly Play

(aka Adjusting Godly Play to Fit the Context!)

Sheila, who blogs at Explore and Express, has been a guest blogger here before. I think we may be at the core of a sort of mutual admiration society. We are both ex-pats living in European countries, both discovered Godly Play here in Europe, and both brought it to our churches more or less single-handedly. In many ways, though, Sheila's managed to take it a good deal further than I have yet. She's taken it to schools and forests, she's done it in German and English and even in Russian. So when we first got the idea of trading guest posts (this was ages ago, because then we then got all caught up in the idea of an Eastertide guest post series and postponed these one-off posts for another time), I asked if she'd write something about adapting Godly Play to different contexts. Thanks so much, Sheila, for all your encouragement and enthusiasm, and for writing this guest post for me.

At school.
Chameleons have always fascinated me. They change their color in various social situations and to blend in with their current setting. They’re also a good metaphor to describe my life since it was „taken over“ by Godly Play several years ago.

One of the many personality tests that I have taken over the years describes me as a „Maximizer“. That means that when I put the time and effort into learning something, I figure out how to use the heck out of it.: ) Much like a chameleon, I figure out how to make whatever I am doing blend with the current setting.

In my kitchen.
Godly Play is no exception to this. After falling in love with this concept for religious education, I justified the time, energy and money I put into it by using it everywhere possible.  Since 2009 I have told Godly Play stories to children (both in church settings and in public schools), drug addicts, women involved in prostitution and „normal“ adults, all on two continents and in three languages.

How does one go about adapting Godly Play to fit a particular environment? I’m no expert, but here are a few things that I have learned along the way:

1. Know your audience.  Find out as much as you can about how they think and what makes them tick. Get a feel for how they will respond to the various elements of GP. Then you can expand on certain elements and tailor others. If you are telling a GP story in another culture or setting that you haven’t yet visited, do a little research beforehand to find out these things. 

2. Decide what is doable and be flexible. Ask yourself, „What can we leave out and still have everything we need?“ If, for example, your setting rather than your audience has changed (ex. going from an indoor setting to the park in summer), then you may have to pare down your supplies or expectations. At one point my „room“ for children’s church changed from a large kitchen to a tiny bedroom. I had to pare the creative phase way down to just crayons and colored pencils. But you know what? The kids still responded to God and drew thought-provoking things.

3. Pray and listen to God.  That might seem obvious, but sometimes we get so absorbed in the materials and learning the story that we forget this one! Having God’s perspective always bring fresh ideas.

Wondering with children in Irkutsk, Russia.

There is still so much more to learn! Storyteller and I would love to hear how any of you have adapted Godly Play to different settings. Please leave us a comment or link to any of your ideas.

22 July 2012

another baptism doll

I've written here about finding and purchasing my baptism doll, and her/his christening gown. (The doll is anatomically correct, but he/she wears bloomers so that children can decide for themselves what the doll is.) While at the same flea (super-)market last week, I bought another one for our Play and Pray area at church.

This doll came wearing a badly stained dress but since I wanted to get a christening gown, that didn't worry me at all. The doll was also wearing a pair of white and pink shorts, which will be kept for now as an undergarment. This doll is a bit different than my first one - slightly smaller, mouth pursed for a bottle, one tuft of hair on the forehead, and a little more ambiguous anatomically. I didn't take time to hunt right through the market for the "best" doll (it's an ongoing struggle for me to curb my perfectionist and "maximizer" tendencies), but chose this from among three dolls at the same stall. This one was simply the one most like the one I had already, that the children were used to.

Now that I think about it, there would be advantages to a considerably smaller doll. A smaller doll would be easier to store, and more manageable for small children to work with. Here are two (poor-quality) snapshots of children working with my original doll. They cannot lay the doll in the crook of their arm as I do when I demonstrate what it would be like to baptize a baby.

girl holds doll under left arm, grasping water jug with right handGirl struggles to keep hold of doll while opening oil jar.

On the other hand, it would have been harder to get a christening gown for a smaller doll. I was pleased to see that the doll clothes stall where I'd found the gowns the last time was still in business. There was a smaller selection this time, with only two gowns for sale, both with pink ribbons. So before I take this to church I'd like to replace the ribbon with one in a more neutral color - maybe green? 

baby doll, wearing long white gown with long pink ribbon decoration

Even on this doll (only slightly smaller than my other one) the gown is a little too big. [They're marketed as fitting a "Baby Born" doll.] The sleeves have to be pushed back up over the fingers to the wrists, and the neckline is large. But if I get a rush of energy and determination I could unpick the back placket and re-sew it (by hand - I don't have a machine) to give a better fit. Or I might just leave it - it's not impossible as it is. I gave the doll a wash before clothing it in this new dress and the tuft of hair went all funny... but I managed to curl it around a beeswax taper (!) which held it until it had dried into a cute curl.

Close-up of baby doll, with curl on its forehead. Its sleeves come down to its knuckles.

19 July 2012

off topic: Finnish Taizé chant

In the (church) news this week in Finland is the singing of a Finnish song by the Taizé community at Evening Prayer on Saturday. Many Taizé chants have been translated into Finnish, and sung by Finnish speakers at Taizé, but this is the first time they have used a chant which was composed in Finnish from the start.

The words of the song are from Psalm 119:105: Sanasi on lamppu, valo askeleillani. The literal translation into English is "Your word is a lamp, a light to my feet". Yep, English takes twice as many words to say this as Finnish does. 

Taizé evening prayers are broadcast weekly by the Cathedral in Cologne / Köln (scroll down the left sidebar and click on the service for the date 14/07 - or I think this link might take you straight there). The song comes about six minutes into the broadcast (06.25, if you want to jump straight to it). 

photo of Taizé prayers by "sasa1976"

*     *     *     *     *

If you'd like to take this opportunity to learn a verse of Finnish then the double letters should be pronounced as longer than single letters, and every word has first-syllable stress. (That's when speaking; it's usually less clear - at least to me - in songs.) So that's SA-na-si (neither s should sound like a z) on LAMP-pu (hold your lips shut for a silent microsecond in between lamp and pu); VA-lo ASK-el-eil-la-ni. Again, you ought to hold that double-l for a beat before ending the word with ani. I believe that that little syncopation in the second repetition of the song would sound more Finnish if the sound the international Taizé worshipers lengthened were not the vowel "ei" but the "ll".

17 July 2012

"streets" of gold

I'm aware that my posting has slowed down a lot recently. I so appreciated Leslie's recent comment saying that she was behind in her blog reading - at least that was one person who hadn't been frustratedly checking in here asking themselves whether I was ever going to post again!

On Sunday I carried out an assignment relating to my ordination training - to construct a creative liturgy, appropriate to your own denomination for a main service. I chose the theme of "Salvation History", drawing upon the set reading of Ephesians 1:3-14. At two points I tried to involve the children in using fabric to change the atmosphere: I asked them to help me swathe the congregation in dark blue tulle to represent the chaos and waters spoken of in Genesis 1 so that we could meditate upon the time before Creation (Eph 1: 3-6) and later to lay down strips of sparkly golden material under people's feet, representing the heavenly streets of gold (Rev 21), for a reflection upon the End of Time (Eph 1: 10 & 14). 

photo kindly taken by Rami Rekola
This was, shall we say, a qualified success. I would have needed considerably more fabric for one thing (we had a lot more visitors than usual), but more importantly, I did not take the time to explain properly to the children what I had in mind. I should have done a little practice with them ahead of time, especially since two of them arrived nice and early this week. I also should probably have asked the (older) visiting children whether they would have liked to help as well. Still, I keep reminding myself that this is the whole point of training - to learn from one's mistakes.