Monday, June 6, 2016

Let the Children Come!

In Children's Spirituality: What it is and Why it Matters by Rebecca Nye, the author makes the case that children spend time with God differently than adults and that God also spends time with the children in a different way than with adults. But what does that look like practically?

Well, for starters, we consider the way children engage with the world in general. They play, respond to outer stimuli, explore through the 5 senses, and imagine. It's no great stretch to think that children relate to God in the same way, or that God might make himself known to the children using these same things. 

One of our volunteers in children's church told me a story about her just turned 4-year-old daughter. The little girl had recently heard the story where Jesus implores the disciples to let the children come to him without hindrances. A week or so later, she gathered up all of her marbles and put them in a small basket. She then spilled them out onto the sofa, loudly said, "Let the children come!",  and gently picked up each marble and returned it to the basket. Over the course of a week, she repeated this "game" several times. 

Though we have no way of knowing exactly what was going through this little girl's head, the story about the children coming had obviously caught her attention and she intentionally explored it further through the medium of play. And she didn't need any special, expensive toys either. Just a few simple marbles . . . 

Monday, May 30, 2016

The First Church (Acts 2: 42-47)

What was the first church like? Was it like our church? What did the people together do back then? 

To introduce our children to the early church and pick up where the story of Pentecost leaves off, I developed a "Godly Play-like" lesson based on Acts 2:42-47. (Please note that I am careful not to call this a Godly Play story, as "Godly Play" is a brand with a copyright. If you make up your own stories, please call them "Godly Play-inspired" unless you have permission from the Godly Play foundation to do otherwise.) 

Using the materials from the Pentecost story, we began with Jesus' friends receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, and moved on to Peter's sermon, which led to the very first church being birthed. 

There are a lot of great things in this passage, but honestly it can be just a boring to-do list if not communicated in an interesting way. To add a playful element into the mix, I turned the passage into a guessing game by making wooden discs with clip art that represent all of the activities of the early church listed in Acts 2. 

I put the discs into a drawstring bag and let the children one-by-one pull out a disc and guess what the picture might represent. The drawstring bag added an element of mystery (like in the GP story, "The Mystery of Easter"), and almost every child enjoys a good guessing game. 

After we had looked at every disc and talked a little about each thing that the early church did together, I asked the following Wondering questions:

- What thing about the early church do you like best?

The majority of the children liked sharing, helping, and eating together best!

- Which of these things does our church do together?

- Are there some things that that you see among the early church that you don't see at our church? 

In answering these two questions, the children replied that you could see pretty much everything in our church except for signs and wonders. It was a very hot day with no air conditioning, so unfortunately, the kids were getting too restless to wonder about why that might be. But I'd be very curious to hear their answers. : )

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Door Person?

Adapting things from one culture to another can be tricky. What means one thing in one language can produce wholly different thoughts in another. For example, anything connected with a pig in English is automatically negative. But in German, that's not necessarily true. A pig is often associated with good luck, and when someone gets lucky, you tell them that they've "had a pig" ("Du hast Schwein gehabt!").  Interesting, huh?

So it is with Godly Play. I've been doing Godly Play courses in German since 2013. Each time when I explain the role of the Door Person  (the official name of the Co-Teacher in the Godly Play classroom), I get uncomprehending looks and end up having to almost apologize for the name. The term originally came to be, because this adult greets the children at the literal door to the Godly Play room, and then opens a metaphorical door for the children by helping them get ready to meet with God in community. 

When a door is understood as a symbol of opening up new possibilities, it's a great name. However, the literal translation in German,Tür-Person, has very different connotations. People think of a bouncer or a  guard - someone who keeps people out. And the word "door" itself can also been viewed as a boundary rather than an opening. (Which that may have been part of the originally reasoning for the word in English, since GP deals with existential boundaries, and a door is both an opening and a boundary.) Because of this confusion, at our last Trainers' conference, we spent a great deal of time talking about how to best describe this role in the future. 

In true Godly Play style, we set up a room on the floor with the People of God figures, and began playing with the roles. We then listed off  the characteristics of a Door Person to the side. 

We came up with these characteristics:

- he/she opens things up for the children, i.e. literal things like jars of glue, and metaphorical things like possibilities (in the sense of enabling and empowering)

- he/she cares for the children and the community

- he/she supports the children on their spiritual journey and the development of community among the children

- he/she observes the children and is aware of their needs

- he/she works to provide a safe atmosphere for the children, again both literally and emotionally

- he/she releases the children to their parents at the end of the lesson and into the world with God's blessing 

Then, we asked ourselves, what kind of word in German would also be best for the children? After brainstorming, we finally settled on the word "Begleiter", which means "one who accompanies". While that may not seem very child-friendly to English ears, it's a very common word in German. As a child here, there is always some adult accompanying you to go somewhere. And it better encompasses the qualities listed above. 

Hope you've enjoyed hearing some of our journey in cultural adaption!

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Child's Image of God

Children's images of God fascinate me. I learn so much from them. 

Below is a picture that a 5-year-old drew of Jesus in Response Time at church yesterday. Our story in children's church was about the fruits of the Holy Spirit, and not directly about Jesus. This child may have drawn a picture of Jesus, because we had talked about the Holy Spirit and how we didn't have a picture to show the children of this member of the Trinity, but rather examples from nature that tell us what the Spirit is like. 

That's one of the aspects of Godly Play that I truly cherish. The children get to choose what they want to draw or create without the pressure to do something based on the day's lesson. There is room to explore with the Spirit's leading without having to "produce" something. 

Perhaps this five-year-old was trying to work out a concrete picture for herself what God is like. In any case, she drew a picture of a very joyful Jesus dancing among the flowers and butterflies. No strict or harsh religious figures here. Someone who is approachable that she would like to play with. 

Frieder Harz, a German pastor and religious educator, writes about how faith in children often begins with a sense of security and safety. Being in a parents' arms, where she or he is safe, loved and cherished, is the early "language of faith" that babies and toddlers soak up. Being valued by the church family and taken seriously build upon these early experiences. 

I am thankful that the message this child is getting from her parents and her church family is one of a loving, grace-oriented God. May this beautiful image stay with her all of her life. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Pentecost Nature Tables

It's still Pentecost here in Germany! We get Pentecost Sunday and Pentecost Monday as well. I slept in, went for a long jog, and now we have the rest of the day to hang out together and read books. A perfect day - gotta love public holidays in Germany!

I found an old draft of our interactive Pentecost nature table from 2015 that for some reason I never posted. So I thought I'd share it with you now. It focuses on the Great Commission part of the Ascension and Pentecost stories.

Some of you will recognize the apostles' shields and end scene from the Godly Play Pentecost story where the apostles are filled with the Holy Spirit and go out everywhere to spread the good news of God's love. To make the table interactive, I place the shields and pictures of the 7 continents in in a basket, and encouraged my family to place the shields and continents where they wanted and say a prayer for the people on that continent. (Okay, I know there are no people on Antarctica, but my kids are concerned about penguins and their well-being!)

This year, I just did something simple. Again, I used Godly Play materials, this time from the Good Shepherd and World Communion story, to remind us how God's Spirit fills us with strength and love to do his work throughout the earth. I also placed a blood-red peony (called a Pfingstrose - "Pentecost Rose" in German) and a jar of cool shells and rocks on either side of the communion figures. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Images of Pentecost

Because I'm such a visual person, works of art often help prepare me for worship. Here are some lovely Pentecost images that I found around the web. (I tried to find the artists' names to credit them, but I couldn't find all of them.) They are lovely, and I hope that they inspire you as much as they are speaking to me right now. 

Pentecost Frontal,  Wells Cathedral, UK

Sochi Wannabe, The Bamboo-Emptiness-Flexibility and the Holy Spirit
Click here for a beautiful meditation on this work of art. 
Blessings on your Pentecost celebration and journey with God in this season! May His Spirit refresh and renew!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Great Expectations?

A couple of Sundays ago during Response Time, I sat down next to 5-year-old Grace, who was staring at a blank sheet of paper.

"Sheila, what should I draw?" 

"I don't know, Grace. What do you want to draw?"

"I don't know." Sigh of frustration from Grace.

I then asked her if there was anything from the story this week (we'd just heard the Godly Play Baptism lesson) or the week before that wanted to pop into her picture. No. What about drawing something from her week that she didn't want to forget? That struck a chord, because she had just celebrated her birthday. She then began to draw the treasure hunt that she and her friends went on at the party. She carefully drew the playground, the tree that they passed by, and the sandbox where the treasure had been hidden, explaining the whole story to me as she drew. 

When she had finished, a question suddenly came to me. "Grace, do you think God ever invites us to go on a treasure hunt with him?" That question was met with laughter and a "What?!!"on her part. But then, we began to talk about how that might happen when God invites us to play with him. 

That conversation and those thoughts stayed with me over the next few days, and I found the imagery particularly fitting for this time leading up to Pentecost.

I continued this conversation with my children's workers at church a couple of days later. What is it that we loved as children about going on a treasure hunt? The thrill of running around and searching? Being together while on the hunt? The treasure itself? The suspense of what the treasure might be?

Jesus had his friends go on a treasure hunt that began on Easter Sunday. The following painting by French painter Eugene Burnand is a snapshot of this treasure hunt. It is of Peter and John rushing to the empty tomb on having heard Mary Magdelene's report that Jesus is somehow alive. 

I love the expressions on their faces: childlike, full of awe and expectation, agitated almost to the point of being a little frightened -  wanting to hope, but afraid of deep disappointment. So like children on a treasure hunt.

Then, over the next 40 days, he appeared to them at different times until he ascended to his Father. And just before he left, he told them to wait, because the real treasure was coming. 

Just like in the biblical story, we and the children are also on a treasure hunt together during this season of Pentecost.  But it's a slightly different story, our story woven into the fabric of God's narrative.

When was the last time we expected something new or unexpected from God? 

What would help us and the children to find the treasure?

And what might the treasure actually be?

I'll leave you with Ephesians 3:20 that God "is able to do exceedingly more than we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work in us."