Friday, August 31, 2012

Godly Play: Paul's Discovery

Most Godly Play storytellers present Paul's Discovery, about the life of the Apostle Paul, in the spring after Pentecost. But because our church plant only has two Sunday gatherings a month, we finally got to it in July. This is a longer story that gives some historical background into Paul's world. It emphasizes the drastic change that occurred in Paul and why he so was transformed. 

As you can see, the materials are reminiscent of The Faces of Easter, about the life of Christ. Like Faces, it is a biographical story told with pictures laid in chronological order.  The red underlay reminds the listeners of the Holy Spirit and the season of Pentecost. 

To make the panels, I ordered prints by the German artist, Juliana Heidenreich, from the Diakonie Leipzig, the Godly Play supplier in Germany. I then mounted them on wooden panels, and finished them off with a coat of matte varnish. 

Because this story is so long, I chose to tell it in two parts. On the first Sunday, we heard the first three panels that depict Paul's early life up until he meets the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus. 

Although the children present had heard the story of Paul's conversion many times in children's Bibles, they hung on every word of the story. When I stopped after the third panel, they begged me to go on. But since I wanted them to really have a chance to digest what they had heard, and because I had not yet had a chance to memorize the rest of the story (!), I gently told them that I would continue at our next children's service. 

At our next gathering, I told the second half of Paul's story, which deals with how he was  transformed by God's love and able to teach others to love as well. The listeners also hear about Paul's calling and how he used all of his gifts to do what God asked of him. 

Everyone knows that working with children is very unpredictable. While they hung on every word of Part 1, they seemed quite distracted during Part 2. During the Wondering, one child was a bit upset that no one knows exactly how Paul died. 

Another child drew ships both times during the creative phase, perhaps due to a combination of hearing about Paul's shipwrecks and a recent visit to the Deutsche Museum in Munich, which has a vast collection of historic sailing ships.  I love seeing the connections that children make!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Godly Play: St. Elisabeth of Portugal

I must admit that I was not previously familiar with this fascinating woman's story. Living in Germany, I am much more familiar with her great-aunt, Elisabeth of Hungary (known as Elisabeth von Thuringen here in Germany), for who this Elisabeth was named. Elisabeth of Portugal was ahead of her time intellectually, politically and environmentally. 

This Godly Play story comes from The Complete Guide to Godly Play: Volume 7 by Jerome Berryman. Peter Privett pointed out to me that each of the saints in this volume have a difficult childhood experience in common. Elisabeth's was family intrigue and in-fighting. Through it all, she learned to be and remain a peacemaker. 

Each of the objects above represent something about Elisabeth's life:
1. map of Portugal -  Although Elisabeth was a princess of Aragon, she married Denis, king of Portugal at age 12 and became his queen
2. rose - Elisabeth consistenty refused riches and gifts throughout her life and gave everything to the poor. Legend has it that one day when Denis demanded to see the gold coins in her apron that she was planning to give away, they turned to roses. 
3. pine tree - Denis and Elisabeth planted pine trees along the coast to prevent further soil erosion.
4. donkey - Elisabeth bravely prevented her husband and oldest son from killing each other on the battlefield by riding a donkey in the middle of the two armies. 

In my own background research for the story, I found out some other interesting things about her. Elisabeth apparently received a great education as a child and was adept at languages and singing. In this article, I read about her engineering and architecture skills as well. Elisabeth not only funded hospitals and other institutions for social well-being, but designed and oversaw the actual building process as well. 

Her marriage was not an easy one. Denis was said to be a philanderer and the dispute mentioned in the story with his oldest son came about as a result of the father's favoritism shown to an illegitimate child.

During the Wondering time, my children were very verbal. This has not always been the case with the other saint stories. They were shocked that Elisabeth married so young. And both seemed impressed by her courage to come between two armies ready to tear each other apart. (Living in Europe, they have seen lots of medieval weapons in museums and can picture somewhat how terrifying it must have been!)

Above all, Elisabeth knew what it meant to love her neighbor, even if it cost her a great price. She knew how to make peace an active thing. And I pray that we will follow her example and continue to allow God to transform us into active peacemakers as well. 

Click here to read how I made the materials for this story.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Making St. Elisabeth of Portugal

My latest saint story from The Complete Guide to Godly Play: Volume 7  by Jerome Berryman is about St. Elisabeth of Portugal. She is also the first female saint that I've worked on. (Thomas Aquinas and St.Patrick are the other saint stories I've made materials for.)

For Elisabeth I chose a  slender peg doll that I thought looked a bit more feminine. And drawing inspiration from internet pictures, I made her painted her green and then made her coat from blue felt and her crown from gold pipe cleaner. 

In my other sets, I have always included a wooden cut-out of the saint's home country borrowed from a wooden puzzle of Europe that we own. Wouldn't you know that the Portugal piece is missing?

What to do? If you have been reading this blog for a while, I'm sure you saw this coming. I think that all Godly Play storytellers eventually become woodworkers at some level. While I still can't claim to be a woodworker, I did pull out the fret saw and cut a simple square out of plywood to paint Portugal on. 

I then painted a map of Portugal and outlined it with a Sharpie.

More on the actual story later!

In the next few months, I hope to make Mother Teresa of Calcutta and St. Teresa of Avila as well. We'll see how far I get!

Linked to Keep Calm Craft On at  Frontier Dreams

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Schulanfang / Starting School!

I've had little time to be in this space the past few weeks and here is one reason why:

Congratulations, Sweetheart!

We have a new "Schulkind" (school child), and she is absolutely loving the first grade.

As I've written before, Germans know how to make starting your school career special. The thing that my daughter is holding is called a "Schultüte". It's a gift for the first grader-to-be and is chock full of candy, school supplies and toys. 

Most schools, including ours, have a special ceremony on a Saturday where the kids are officially pronounced school children and meet their new teacher, who will be with them at least until the fourth grade. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and all kinds of people come. 

Since we don't have any relatives around here, we invited our daughter's godparents. Later on in the day, we hosted a grill party for our daughter and some of her friends. 

I hope that this was a day that she'll always remember!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Godly Play 101: Wondering

This is the latest installment in a series called "Godly Play 101", in which I share some of the basics of Godly Play. (For you non-Americans, "101" is  the number for an introductory level course at university.) Our topic today is "Wondering". This is the part of a Godly Play lesson where we have the chance to respond to and go deeper with a biblical story through open-ended questions.

Storyteller from Wonderful in an Easter Kind of Way graciously agreed to write this article for me some time ago and I have been saving it for just the right time. Since I am now drowning in the middle of beginning-of-the-school-year prep for my English classes, this seemed like a great time to post it! Take it away, Storyteller . . . 

Godly Play storytellers signal the end of the lesson and the opening of a time of reflection by pausing for a moment and then raising their eyes to make contact with their listeners. They say, slowly, thoughtfully, I wonder...

Each genre of Godly Play story has a slightly different set or style of Wondering Questions. I call these questions, but they aren’t phrased as questions, and that’s deliberate. Everyone is encouraged to wonder, everyone is free to share their responses, but nobody is ever pressured to answer.


    • Although I initially thought of the Wondering as “the Verbal Response Time”, it does not have to be verbal. Young children may simply point, for example to show you what they liked the best. (As the Storyteller you might choose to name what they point at, but you can also just echo their pointed gesture, or touch or even lift what they’ve indicated: This? Mm-hmm!) The "Faces of Easter" lessons encourage non-verbal responses in which children make connections between these lessons and other stories or materials in the room (although Sheila has also blogged here about some lovely verbal explanations given during this lesson).
    • Wondering can open us up to truly big questions, but it’s good to start off with ice-breaking questions, even if they sound silly. I wonder if these sheep have names. Nye says, “A facilitator who accepts whatever they say is … likely to encourage children to feel safe to say more, and to risk saying things that are really hard to express, which is often the nature of deep spiritual material.” (Children’s Spirituality, p.38)
    • So we do not ridicule, but accept any answer that is earnest or honest. Once, in setting up the Parable of the Good Shepherd, a child suggested that the square made of brown strips could be a television. After I had told the story and started the wondering, when I wondered what the sheepfold could really be, someone answered, “their home”. So I wondered aloud, I wonder what it is about this place that reminds you of home? The first child joyously shrieked, the TV!!
    • As I’ve written in a post on my own blog, the question about leaving things out (in particular) makes room for expressing disagreement and discomfort with the story. Our scriptures contain stories of those who wrestle with God, or bargain with him, or sulk about his actions, or even deny him under pressure. Such doubts need not mean the end of our relationship with him - far from it!
    • Berryman’s advice is to end the Wondering before the circle has spent all its energy, while there is still wonder in the air. What that means is that you don’t always get to all of the questions recommended in his scripts, not even when there are only four of them. The Wondering is a bit like the wind (or the Holy Spirit!); it can eddy and swirl and suddenly take off in an unexpected direction and you might find yourself following up on some of what has been raised: I wonder why that is? Entering into the spirit of the activity is far more important than sticking to the script.
    • Remember point 4. The Wondering is not an time for review - I wonder who remembers the name of the city Abraham came from? Nor is the Wondering a way to enforce a common interpretation - I wonder what the moral of this story is? Our wondering always has to be genuine.
    • Remember point 1 as well. After you ask a question, leave a little time hanging so that everyone has a chance to consider it. But if nobody seems inclined to respond, go ahead and ask the next question. Look around the circle with interest (sometimes people new to Godly Play are not sure whether they are allowed to speak), but without creating pressure. If you feel that your circle members are not engaging with these questions (even inwardly), it is probably time to put the materials away. But remember Mary - sometimes people just need to treasure these things, pondering them in their hearts. Godly Play honors that.

I wonder if you have any experiences of Wondering that you'd like to share in the comments.
Thanks, Storyteller! 

For more Godly Play basics, see these links:

Godly Play 101: The Space

Godly Play 101: The Genres

Godly Play 101: The Language of Silence

Friday, August 3, 2012

Spiritual Styles in Children

I've alluded to this topic before, but never written a post devoted exclusively to it. So here goes . . .

The field of children's spirituality is producing some fascinating new research. Last year, I read a book by David Csinos, Children's Ministry that Fits, that has profoundly affected how I seek to mentor children on their spiritual journey. 

It seems that children, like adults, have preferred "styles" or avenues of connecting with God. Csinos identifies four of these in his book:

1. Word-based: Children who express their spirituality best in words. They like to verbally process what they are thinking, love learning Bible verses, respond to stories and mini-sermonettes.

2. Emotion-based: These children connect with God through their feelings. Music and the arts help them to do this. Laughing, crying and outward expression of emotions are important to their spiritual expressions.

3. Symbol-oriented: These children love the mystery involved with worship. They love to stare at candles and figure out what things on the walls of churches mean.

4. Action-oriented: Children who want to do something for and with God. They are the movers and shakers who want to feed the homeless, do trash pick-up, and raise money for a good cause.

Perhaps there are even more spiritual styles in children and I would add to the list:

 - Nature-oriented: I have encountered several children who feel closest God when surrounded by His creation.

I think it is important to recognize that children are diverse individuals. What helps one child connect with God may not work for the next. And sometimes children grow up feeling like they don't fit it at church, because the church speaks mainly to one or two styles.

Learning about all of this has convinced me even more of concepts like Godly Play and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. These types of spiritual mentoring are holistic and address more than one style. They can also help a child learn to worship in ways that are not geared toward their main style.

Are you aware of or able to discern the spiritual styles in the children you mentor? How do you meet diverse needs within your group?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Guest Post: A Baby's First Year in the Church

Today's guest post is from Sarah Douglas at the Spiritual Child Network, one of my go-to websites for ideas and inspiration. Sarah writes this about herself: "I am a children's minister, working as a volunteer in a small Anglican village church. This involves me in co-leading All Age Worship and taking a group of children for Junior Church. I also lead a preschool service and lead Godly Play and a lunchtime club in a local school each week. I am especially interested in All Age Worship, working in schools and finding ways around the particular problems of small churches with few facilities. I am married with three children and work part-time as a teacher." Sarah's post chronicles the first year in the life of a baby in their congregation. Reading this made me smile so much and long to be a part of welcoming everyone, regardless of age and ability, to worship God. Unfortunately, many of my own church experiences have not been this welcoming to young children and especially babies. May Sarah and Penelope remind us that each and every person in the Body of Christ is important and has something to contribute.

A Year with Penelope

Penelope is the youngest of a family of four, who come along regularly to our family services.    Her brothers and sister are used to taking an active part in our services, which take place in the round and have been influenced by the principles and practices of Godly Play. This reflection started when I noticed how absorbed three month old Penelope was in what was going on in our services.  It led me to wonder:  Who do we consider to be part of the church? Is anyone too young to be part of the worshipping community?  

4 weeks: Penelope’s first visit to church was unremarkable – she slept throughout!

8 weeks: However her next visit to church was in a starring role.  It was Mothering Sunday and we acted three scenes to show the story of Hannah.  Penelope’s mother was Hannah and the first scene showed her childless at the Temple at Shiloh being confronted by the priest Eli.  Our second scene was after the birth of baby Samuel, where Hannah tells her husband that she will not go to Shiloh again until she goes to take Samuel.  Hannah walked down the aisle with Penelope showing everyone the baby she thought she would never have.  Penelope clearly loved the attention she was getting and responded happily to everyone’s smiles of welcome.

Three months: After Easter we were back to our ordinary twice monthly family services which are very visual and interactive.  Penelope was awake for these services; she would sit on mum’s or dad’s knee and watch everything, completely absorbed in what was going on.  As she was awake we offered her a shaker or bells during the hymns and Penelope’s five year old sister made sure she joined in with the songs and music.

Eight months: We had quite a long gap over the summer and by the time we came back Penelope was crawling.  No longer happy just to sit and watch she wanted to crawl off. Because of the nature of our service everyone was happy for Penelope to crawl around – when she started towards other areas of the church someone would field her and bring her back.  On one occasion the worship leader fielded her and sat with Penelope on her knee during the Bible reading.

Nine months: When Penelope was given a shaker she didn’t just shake it but rocked backwards and forwards to the music.  During our time of confession the children take symbols up to the altar (a tin of beans, a cup of water, a picture of friendship).  When the children gathered round in readiness to take up the symbols, Penelope crawled over to join them.  I found myself saying, “Sorry Penelope, you need to be able to walk.”  But afterwards I thought – does she?   Penelope thought she should join in everything – loud moans when she was sat on her parent’s knee during the creed – she wanted to go and look at the candles that were being lit by the older children. 

Twelve months: We had another long gap at Christmas which was taken up with the Christingle, the Nativity play and the Crib service.  Penelope was a little over one when she came back to family services.  She was still determined to join in – and to sit on the floor with the other children rather than on her parents’ knee.  She was now confident enough to join the others and play with some of the toys in the children’s area while the adult talk was going on.  The Godly Play stories fascinated her and she would sit quietly on someone’s knee (providing this was at floor level!) to watch.

But is this worship? Worship for me involves coming close to God and my own response to Him.  Sometimes I am on my own, perhaps walking along a beach, at others I am in church, a member of the worshipping community.  

We can never tell how close a person is to God but it seems unlikely that the God we worship does not come close to small wordless children simply because they cannot speak.  In some ways words confuse our relationship with God, we may always be so intent on explaining everything and defining our terms that we limit him.  Small children often seem able to take a short cut and bypass words.  They dance with ribbons to express their joy, watch intensely as the candles are lit and hold out their hands for the bread.   

It seems to me important that Penelope was accepted as part of our worshipping community.  This was symbolised for me on the occasion when the worship leader picked her up and sat with her on her knee during the Bible reading. She became “the child in the midst”.  Penelope belonged in the circle of worshippers, and everyone there simply accepted this.  In particular her brothers and sister clearly considered it important that from very early on Penelope should have the same opportunities for joining in worship that they did and made sure she was included in everything that was going on.  Perhaps we took our lead from them?

Baby Penelope watched and responded to our worship from a surprisingly young age.  She prompted me to start rethinking what we do when very young children and babies are present.

Sarah Douglas