Journeying in the Desert: Abraham and Sarah:
We were keen to try out an event that had similarities to the creative fellowship of Messy Church but reflected some of the thinking behind Godly Play and our All Age Worship with Prayer Stations. This was our first attempt!
Our church is an awkward cross shape with two medium sized transepts. The nave is long and narrow which makes drama difficult.
Using a screen that the whole congregation can see is impossible. We have no loo and only an outside tap.
However we decided to use the church as a venue as the children and parents/carers who came to our pre-school service were used to it and felt comfortable there. Our local primary school children were also used to coming to church for school services and curriculum visits. Although there would be heating and lighting costs we would not have to pay for hiring another venue such as the school hall.
Another consideration was the idea of sacred space. Each week I try to create a Godly Play room in a variety of settings within the school - with only partial success. The church has been the spiritual centre of the village for 750 years, which means it naturally has the atmosphere that I find so much harder to create in a secular environment.
The majority of families who came had links with us through our pre-school service, while a few had links through our All Age Worship.
As we have a good relationship with the school, we asked the school choir if they would like to come along and sing for us.
They were keen to strengthen their links with the community and were pleased to do so.
The children in the choir were used to the Godly Play approach through sessions at school and knew several of the team of helpers, as friends' parents, Godly Play storyteller and doorkeeper or as lunchtime assistants.
Although we put up posters, distributed flyers and advertised in the parish magazine only a couple of children came as a result of this.
We decided we would try for 4.00 p.m. on a Sunday, mainly because we knew the children had so many after school activities on weekdays.
Gathering:We began with a short opening prayer and then sang "He's got the whole world in his hands"
Drama:A short drama about Abraham and Sarah's journey in the desert
Choir:The school choir sang a couple of songs
Craft and activities:We had a variety of activities including food, craft, prayer stations and free response
Closing response:We came back together for short prayers and to sing "One more step along the world I go..." We finished with a blessing
In our naivety I think we imagined the children would come in and sit quietly with their families, waiting for Footsteps to begin...
The reality was not a bit like this. Helpers arrived early with their children and the choir arrived early to collect choir T-shirts.
Twenty minutes before the start most of the children had arrived and none of them were sitting with their families...
We had set up a couple of prayer stations at the back of the church and we sent several of the children there to explore them and write prayers. Other children who were used to free response from Quiet Club and Godly Play at school settled down with the response materials or drew and coloured. Although it was chaotic, it wasn't disorderly and when we sent them to sit with their families the children settled down quickly.
The drama was based on the Godly Play story "The Great Family".
Adult actors took the parts of Abraham and Sarah and travelled up and down the nave, while the narrator told the story.
At Shechem and Bethel, Abraham stopped, went aside to pray and then built an altar out of stones because he knew that God was with him.
We then allowed Abraham and Sarah to speak for themselves.
They told of their childlessness and the arrival of the three strangers from the desert who promised them a child. The drama finished with the child Isaac running up the aisle to Abraham and Sarah.
The school choir sang "My God is a good God... " and "I can go the distance..." from the Disney Hercules film. The school choir teacher had chosen these songs to fit in with our theme.
Craft and activities
Star decorating:"I will give you countless descendants, as many as the stars in the sky"
We created star shapes by using lolly sticks. (We made two equilateral triangles which were then stuck together.) The children decorated them by winding wool around them, using felts tips or sticking on jewels or feathers. An extra wool loop meant they could be hung up.
Star printing:We made our own star stamps by cutting star shapes out of foam dishcloths and sticking them onto blocks of wood. We provided yellow, gold and silver paint and black paper.
Sand art:"... the grains of sand on the seashore..."
We bought a selection of plastic tubes and bottles. A few were designed in shapes such as shells especially for putting coloured sand in, but the majority were plain tubes.
The children filled the containers with layers of coloured sand. This was a very popular activity and we almost ran out of tubes.
Painting faces:We wanted to include a more skilled activity for older children so we used water colour paints and paper for this. In the event all the younger children wanted to do it as well!
Fun with food:We got the idea of making ziggurats (temples found in the city of Ur) out of sandwiches from Messy Church Book 1 (Lucy Moore).
The slices of bread were ready cut in a variety of sizes and the children added their own fillings - which included cheese, jam and chocolate spread. They created the pyramid by using increasingly smaller slices of bread.
Warhammer models:Painting Warhammer models was another idea from Messy Church Book 1. We felt the link with the story was a bit tenuous but on the other hand we had a couple of very keen Warhammer enthusiasts... and the activity certainly proved very popular, especially with boys from the choir.
Free response:The children from school were used to free response from Godly Play so we put a variety of response materials (wooden rainbow, felt squares, shimmer stones, building blocks etc) in the chancel and invited them to create Abraham and Sarah's journey. We also had a table with art materials.
Hot seating:We wanted to make the event all age rather than just something for children.
We asked the actors playing Abraham and Sarah if they would be prepared to be hot seated and have people come and ask them questions about their experiences...
We set up two prayer stations at the back of the church to create a quieter, more reflective space.
Prayer Station 1:As many as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore... ... but each one of us is precious to God...
You may like to write a prayer on a star and hang it on the net... You may like to take a star as a reminder that you are precious to God...
Prayer Station 2: A place to say sorry:Water is very precious in the desert... Water symbolises being washed clean and made new...
There may be something you would like to say sorry for...
You may like to take a stone and place it in the bowl of water as a symbol of saying sorry and being forgiven by God...
Our prayers were short and included a signed response led by two of the children "Lord in your mercy... hear our prayer". We finished by singing "One more step along the road I go..." with the choir providing a soloist for the first verse, followed by a blessing.
As we have no kitchen facilities we finished with a bring and share tea with pizza, cheese savouries, sausage rolls and cake.
How well did it work?
The children loved it!
We had about 50 children, ranging from babies and toddlers to 12 year olds and perhaps the most striking thing was the enthusiasm with which they all got involved in the activities.
It helped that we had such a wide variety of activities, which varied from detailed painting of small models to star printing which was effective even with very small children.
We were glad that we had included free response as some children who were not keen on prescribed craft activities were perfectly happy to work with the response materials.
It was however complete chaos!
When the activities began we had a complete bottleneck in the nave crossing...
I had spent some time the previous day experimenting with where to put everything but realised afterwards I could have spaced the activities much better around the church. The prayer stations at the back of the church were not visited, except briefly at the beginning.
I had included some "wondering questions" on the boards I had prepared for each activity. I think I half hoped those leading each craft might ask "I wonder which part of the story you thought was the most important?" or "I wonder if there is anything we can leave out and still have all the story we need?"
In reality I don't think anyone even read the questions, let alone asked them; everyone was far too busy getting stuck into the craft!
We had to persuade people to visit the hot seating, and those who went along were church members who had come to support or help with the food.
However we felt it was important to include it as an option, as we wanted an all age event.
Despite the chaos, we found the children (and adults) settled well for the quieter parts of the event: the singing of the choir and the prayer time.
Although the bring and share worked well for the food, we did have long queues. There didn't seem to be a quick way round this; we asked under 5s and their parents/carers to go up first but everyone else had to wait their turn - though all seemed to be very patient and good humoured about it!
with thanks to Rowena Berridge, Philip Tait, Anna Shepherd and the rest of the Footsteps Team