Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Godly Play: The Ark and the Tent

"Wow, so einen Kindergottesdienst habe ich nie erlebt!" ("Wow, I've never been to a children's service like this before!"), said the 10-year-old boy who was attending our Godly Play brunch for the first time.

It was one of those strange Sundays where almost all of the kids who regularly attend were absent and a new child showed up instead. He wasn't used to "getting ready" and my own kids were definitely pushing the envelope a bit to see what they could get away with. So, we had to start over getting ready  several times before we could even begin the story. It's just like that sometimes . . . : )

This Godly Play story tells a short history of how and why the children of Israel built the tabernacle. It starts off with the people of God deciding that they always want to have the "10 best ways" or 10 commandments near them. God directs them to build the ark of the covenant, but like all like other mysterious and valuable things of God (like Christmas and Easter), you have to be prepared to get close to it. Hence, the people of God build the Tent of Meeting and place certain objects in it to help themselves get ready. 

As I thought about it more and more, this is a great way to explain to children the reasoning behind the elaborate rituals that Israel instituted in the Old Testament. It lays a foundation for understand what the word "holy" means later on. And there are obviously parallels with "The Mystery of Easter" and the Advent story that children with Godly Play experience pick up on right away. 

That having been said, this story must have been painfully boring the first time I told it in 2010. I'm sure the kids found the tabernacle furniture interesting, but I just didn't get back then how to be "playful" when talking about something like the tabernacle. 

This time around, I played around with what to do. Each time a new piece of tabernacle furniture was introduced, the directions said to move the figure slowly towards the object. The text said, "You can't just walk up to something so precious . . . You need some way to get ready." So, at first I let the figure move nonchalantly  towards the ark of the Covenant in a "la-la-la" sort of fashion. Then, I stopped the figure abruptly just before it reached the ark and let it stare at the ark saying, "Hmm . . .?"  And then as I let the figure walk slowly back to its place on the right to emphasize the importance of getting ready. And I repeated this each time with each new object that was added. 

This seemed to make a really big impression on the children and their Wondering was very verbal and animated. When asked what they liked best, one child answered that he thought it was cool that you couldn't just walk up to something so valuable and that you had to think up a way to prepare yourself for it. And when asked what they could leave out and still have everything they need for the story, all answered that we could leave out the part about only the priest going in, adding that they found this "dumb". That, of course, sets them up to make some theological connections about why it was once that way and, at least in our Protestant tradition, no longer is. (Obviously, in Orthodox churches, there are still parts of the church behind the main altarpiece that only men or only the priest can enter.)

Everyone wanted to play with the tabernacle during the Response Time. Towards the end, it got turned into a time portal for a stop-motion film that my son was working on before our children's service began.: ) 

I am going to try and come up with a way to tell the companion story, "The Ark and the Temple", soon. I don't own a wooden temple - they cost almost 200 Euros - but I will try to either make a model out of cardboard or perhaps just show pictures. We'll see!


  1. Very nice! I must say I have certainly had plenty of those 'pushing the envelope' experiences myself with my children. Oh yes! Now then...this would make a good posting all of its own...two in fact...helping children get ready...and what happens when your OWN children are pushing every envelope in their collection...it must happen to so many of us...Your wisdom Sheila?!

    1. Hmmm . . . I don't think I have a lot of wisdom there. Just goes with the territory. Your own kids will always test the boundaries, because the relational boundaries are blurred anyway. Are you the teacher or my mother? It's confusing for them and for us.

      I'll look forward to reading those blog posts! ; )