26 February 2013

a flock

He calls his own sheep by name
from John 10:3

Thanks to Pinterest, this morning I came across a blog post written back in 2010 by the Jealous Curator. It's about an art craft by Christien Meindertsma, which speaks to the individuality of sheep.

She created a rug out of large, knitted hexagons. Each hexagon was made from the wool of one, single sheep, and using all the wool from one shearing.

   © designboom 1999-2012, some rights reserved

To emphasise the individuality of each sheep, Meindertsma knitted each hexagon using a different stitch. She's done other projects in the same vein, knitting a sweater from the wool of a single sheep, for example. But this rug didn't just represent each individual. Since she also then put all the hexagons together into a rug it represented the whole flock as well. In fact, that's her name for this project - "flock".

I wonder what the work of your church looks like to Jesus, with each member's output individually recognisable and also connected with the whole.

13 February 2013

ashes to ashes

photo (c) Pikku Arkki Valokuvaus, used with permission

Trinity Communications, over at CatholicCulture.org, say:
On Ash Wednesday small children are thrilled to receive ashes. We can tell them simply that ashes are placed on our foreheads to remind us that someday we will die and go home to heaven.
It's a post worth reading in full.

Similarly, Carolyn, at Worshiping with Children, writes, The imposition of ashes is amazing to children, but she also notes that:
Other than Good Friday, Ash Wednesday is probably the day on which children are least expected or planned for in the sanctuary. 
And she has excellent suggestions for how to change that.

In the Church of England, as priests mark you with ashes, they say, Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. In Finland, (Lutheran) priests tend to say something like, Receive the cross, a sign of repentance. If you feel that your child will not cope well with a heavy emphasis on mortality and death at this time, repentance is an alternative theme to emphasise. (This is something also said by both blogs that I linked to above.) Carolyn also mentions the theme of belonging. Many Roman Catholics assume that ashes mark someone off as Catholic; they certainly mark us off on Ash Wednesday as a certain kind of practicing Christian.

All this to say, I hope you'll feel able to take your children to church today. Or, if in the United States, even to seek out Ashes to Go.

licensed photo, used with permission
© Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk
*     *     *     *     *

For me and for my church this year, we've already had a stark reminder of our mortality: one of our church wardens was found dead yesterday morning. It would seem that she died in her sleep. She had attended a council meeting less than 24 hours before her death and seemed as fit as ever. I believe she was 72 years old.

To my mind Madeline was one of the friendliest and most welcoming people at that church. She could be very frank, yet also came across as accepting. She seemed to be someone you could rely on entirely - an excellent church warden in that regard!

The church organist announced loudly to a small group of us that Madeline had planned her funeral some years earlier, right down to a set of hymns that he claimed had been chosen expressly to annoy him: hymns she knew he didn't like playing. I hope he is able to chuckle about it rather than find that hurtful. If so, I will chuckle along as well!

UPDATE: I checked, and our priest says that the organist "liked the idea of the hymns and will remember Madeline with fondness as he plays." That's exactly as I had hoped it would be.

12 February 2013

sacrificing everything

Ian Ruhter, a former pro-snowboarder, spent all his savings to create the world's largest camera and set off on a road trip across America. Using a collodion wet-plate process which costs him $500 a shot, he photographs landscapes, cityscapes, and the people he meets along the way. Delightfully, he is equally respectful of the homeless man with a drinking problem as he is with the seven-year-old "miracle" girl who survived a very premature birth.

This film draws a deliberate and unsettling parallel between Ruhter's total commitment to his project and a drug addict's single-mindedness.

SILVER & LIGHT from Ian Ruhter : Alchemist on Vimeo.

As soon as I this question from Ruhter in this video, I knew I wanted to post it here:

If you had been searching your whole life for something you love, what would you be willing to sacrifice?

You'll surely guess what my immediate association with that question was!

When he found the great pearl...
he went...
and exchanged...
everything for the great pearl.

Rebecca Ramsey gave her kind permission for me to reproduce this photo,
taken from her blog, The Wonder Circle.

I wonder... What, if anything, might you be willing to sacrifice everything for?

10 February 2013

What about Epiphany?

My apologies - this post would have been more timely had it appeared about a month ago. But I've decided against waiting another eleven months to post it!


I've only just discovered Chuck Knows Church, a series of comically informative videos about church customs, especially those of American liturgical churches. I should warn you Godly Play folk that they're not at all Montessorian. But I've gotten a kick out of them.

Here's the first of the series, on the topic of Liturgical Colors:

I quite like the parallel that Chuck draws between Epiphany and Pentecost, one which isn't made in the Circle of the Church Year (Godly Play) lesson. On the other hand, the Godly Play lesson does introduce the less obvious observation that just as Lent prepares us for Easter, so also Easter prepares us for Pentecost. So there are positives to be found in both lessons.

The Circle of the Church Year, like other Liturgical Action lessons, is meant to be adapted to the customs of the church in which you present it. As written, it reduces Christmastide to a single week or even day, and ignores Epiphany altogether. That works reasonably well if you're in a tradition or denomination which goes straight into Ordinary Time after Epiphany, but is more problematic for those of us in the Church of England, for example, who observe Epiphanytide (and use white as our liturgical color) right the way up until Candlemas in early February. Repainting the blocks would be simple enough, but adapting the words of the script is trickier.

artwork done by a young teen during Response Time

I'd be interested to hear from those of you who observe Epiphanytide: How do you present the Circle of the Church Year?

(For what it's worth, here's what I've done in the past.)

07 February 2013

it gets better

The title for today's entry evokes the videos for bullied teens, but really it's inspired by somebody called "Sweeter than Southern Tea", who wrote a comment on one of my older posts. I had written about being exhausted after a Godly Play session, and Sweeter asked, How long did it take for this to kind of even out? We are just beginning Godly Play... lately it seems as though each Sunday ends up being a circus.

Well, Sweeter, It gets better! 

Here the children are being silly by being
exaggeratedly still and quiet at a church service (!).

I was working with young children, some younger than 3. The oldest was four when we started. I had more girls than boys, and small numbers. All the children were generally well-behaved and inclined to do what they were told. That said, they spent a LOT of time exploring the boundaries of what was accepted in our classroom.
  • I am very glad to have made it clear from the start that we walk more slowly than usual in this space. I tried to remember to praise children who did that, and to remind (rather than reprimand) children who didn't. So that was a rule that never really got tested.
However, I had much more trouble introducing the concept of sitting cross-legged (criss-cross) to show that we are ready. I let the children experiment with what was allowed, and treated almost every posture they got into as a serious attempt to do the right thing. Maybe that invited more challenge than I'd have gotten otherwise; I did find it frustrating some of the time. (The kids seemed to think it was a highly amusing game.) But I came up with my own boundaries that I enforced. One of my adult helpers found it uncomfortable to sit cross legged, so the rule for everyone was that as long as legs were crossed it was ok. To sit with legs straight out in front was acceptable if your legs were crossed (at the ankle). Merely having the toes of one foot crossed over the other was not. Sitting backwards (facing out) was not acceptable. Hands had to be on knees. Hands on feet was not acceptable.
  • It helped immensely when I found a song for getting ready on the My Montessori Journey blog. My own adaptation of the words (to the tune of "Frère Jacques") was Legs criss-crossed, Legs criss-crossed, Hands on your knees, Hands on your knees. Quiet on the inside, Quiet on the inside, Ready for the lesson, Ready for the lesson. At the line, Quiet on the inside, the song gets (and stays) quieter, so that if we sing it a second time we end up whispering the second half of it. 
Within a couple of months it was no longer necessary to sing the tune through twice (the first several times that we only had to sing it once, I complimented them on getting ready so quickly). 

The other thing that helped enormously was holding an all-age service in the Godly Play style. When I explained to the adults how we show that we're ready I announced, N can show you how it's done. For a moment my heart was in my mouth, but there was no silliness at all. The child went straight into the ideal position, proud to be "in the know". And my recollection is that the children were better about the getting-ready position in the lessons following that one. 

photo by see-through-faith
  • Every time I've told a Godly Play story for children, at least one adult has commented on how well the children paid attention. So sometimes it might be worth getting started even if not everyone is, strictly speaking, "ready". Particularly if you're telling a desert story, moving the sands around as you begin the story can be mesmerising. 
It might be tempting to look up to make sure everyone is engrossed in the story but paradoxically this is the worst thing you can do. Keep your eyes and your attention on the story figures! Jerome W. Berryman recommends that the first thing you should do if a child loses focus is to make sure that you yourself have your focus where you need it, and sometimes the child will then be drawn back in.

This post is at risk of rambling on and on. So for now I'll just make two more points.
  • Something else that Berryman says is that it's ok if you spend your whole session just on forming the circle. Sometimes it is a circus. Sometimes what the children seem to need is just some time together, getting attention, being treated as though they are important and valued, and forming a tiny community together. And that brings me to my second point.
  • I always found something that I was pleased about in every session. Having debriefing sessions with see-through-faith (my faithful adult helper) allowed me to get another perspective on things but even before that I was always thankful for some little breakthrough or insight, some piece of work a child had done, some touching thing a child had shared... And when I think now about what our Junior Church achieved, the biggest thing is that I became friends with these children. They are always glad to see me at church, and often want to tell me their news. They know that they are important to me, and they know that they belong.