Pentecost: Wind and Flame: a Footsteps event for schools
We began by talking about Christian belief in the mystery of God, who is at the same time Father, Son and Holy Spirit...
The Holy Spirit cannot be described in words so we use different symbols:
the colour red (a picture of a red star dust trail)
a dove (with a small wooden dove)
living water (we used a rosemary branch to splash the children with water from the "well")
fire (we lit a small fire).
We reflected on the possible meanings of the symbols - the power, energy and wildness of fire, the dove symbolising the comforter who comes to us when we are sad or in need of help... We asked for suggestions for the colour red and what they might symbolise - blood, roses and hearts were some of the suggestions...
We made the well by using a paddling pool and surrounding it with hessian.
We placed black cloths on the bottom which gave the illusion of depth when the water was added. Red and gold shimmer stones were scattered on the bottom.
The fire was lit last, with the children standing well back.
Our original plan was to use a brazier but in the end we went for the simplest option with bricks and grating on a paving slab.
After the introduction we did not return to this part of the churchyard and the fire was small enough to burn out quickly.
The children were given little red organza bags and a small felt flame to put in them. We then split everyone into three groups which then rotated around the different stations.
Station 1: The Upper Room
Our church has an outer vestry, a narrow space behind the organ. We cleared out the clutter and hung a curtain so that the space was in semi-darkness.
We wanted to create an atmosphere of waiting, not knowing what would happen next, as a reflection of the uncertainty experienced by the disciples after Jesus's ascension.
The story of the first Pentecost was told up to the point of the coming of the Holy Spirit, with wind sounds and red torchlight for the flames of fire...
"The disciples opened the doors and went outside..."
Everyone followed the storyteller past the curtain and into the chancel.
The altar was covered with a plain red cloth - I had originally intended to put flames on it, but ran out of time!
Under the red, yellow and orange arches of the rainbow was the small wooden figure of the Risen Christ, standing behind a table with miniature chalice and platter.
To the left was a flame banner and a pile of scrolls, symbolising the role of the Holy Spirit in inspiring Paul's writing. On the right was a tree hung with miniature wooden fruit (the fruit of the Spirit) with a dove at the top.
The story continued with the disciples rushing out to tell everyone about Jesus - in their own language.
"When they spoke about the fire, they perhaps said: atas (which is Persian) agni (which is Sanskrit) fotia (which is Greek) ignis (which is Latin)"
The children were given the word for "fire" in a different language for their little red bags. During the school visit we had children with different backgrounds so we made sure their languages were included.
We then focussed on Pentecost as a time of celebration. The children were invited to use ribbons, flags, torches and instruments as an accompaniment to the song "Happy" from Despicable Me 2.
Station 2: The dove
This station was a complete contrast to the red of the rest of the event.
Blue, white and turquoise sparkly cloths were used to create a calm and peaceful atmosphere.
A large white felt dove made by a member of the Church Schools team was placed on the focus table, alongside a wooden ark and rainbow ribbons.
A silver font filled with blue and turquoise shimmer stones symbolised water. To the right there was a "tunnel" covered with sparkly cloths and a rainbow door hanging.
"The Holy Spirit comes to us when we need comfort or help..."
We told two Bible stories which feature a dove: Jesus's baptism, where some people see a dove hovering above his head, and the story of the Ark where the dove brings the important message that there is once again dry land and green plants.
For both stories there was an emphasis on making a new beginning.
We asked the group if they thought it was hard or easy to make a new beginning, if there was anything they could think of that needed a new beginning (at home, in school, locally or in the wider world) and if there was anything we could do to change things for the better.
"The Holy Spirit changes and transforms things. Change isn't always easy. There is always a between time, a time of transition. What does a between time feel like? You may like to walk through our tunnel of 'in between time' and think about what it is like to be in a time of transition."
We created the tunnel by using a lightweight bamboo framework balanced between a screen and the window ledge. We draped screen and framework with black cloths so that there was only a dim light from the window. Inside the tunnel we hung strips of white organza, as a sensory experience for people as they walked through the tunnel...
At the end of the tunnel was a small area spread with black and white cloths. (It was behind the display, looking back at the dove and the Ark.)
"When the water covered the earth all the colour disappeared. The world was darkened to shades of black and grey. But as the floods went down, the white feathers of the dove shimmered in the sunlight and the colours of the rainbow were painted over the sky."
"The world changed..."
We invited the group to transform one of the black and white cloths by adding coloured ribbons, petals or sparkles. (Two cloths were left for the other groups.)
Then they each collected a small wooden dove for their red organza bags.
Station 3: The fruit of the spirit
This station was set up at the west end of the church by the font. We draped our prayer tree with green cloths and ivy and hung wooden fruit from it.
The font itself was draped in red and gold cloths.
"The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control..."
We talked with the group about how Christians believe that when someone decides to follow Jesus it is a bit like planting a seed - but it takes a long time for the fruit to grow. It might even take a lifetime..."
We then told two stories about people who had shown the fruit of the spirit in their lives. One was the story of Pope Francis who crossed St Peter's Square to embrace Vincio Riva, a young man whose skin disease meant people treated him as an outcast.
The other was the story of Bethany Hamilton, a keen surfer, who despite losing an arm to a shark went back into the water and a year later won a National Surfing Competition.
"There were frustrating times and times of uncertainty," Bethany said. "But I kept coming back to the basics: Lord, what do you want me to do? The Lord gave me a sense of peace about it."
The children were given the opportunity to plant seeds and they took a little foam fruit for their red bag.
After visiting the stations the groups stayed together.
They then moved on to a further round of activities - refreshments (including dove shaped biscuits), art response and outside activities with bubbles.
Art response: Flame
The children printed flames as an art response. They squirted shaving foam onto a paper plate and then they added a few drops of red, gold or yellow paint.
This was given a quick swirl with a paintbrush so the paints became slightly mixed. The material (which had been pre-cut into flame shapes) was laid on top of the shaving foam mixture.
The flames were lifted off and the excess shaving foam was wiped off with paper towels leaving a marbled effect.
One difficulty we had was preventing children overmixing the paint and shaving foam which resulted in flames in just one colour. An alternative would have been to use fabric dyes and swirl the mixture with sticks.
Our Pentecost event was called "Wind and Flame" so we felt we ought to include some activities to do with wind.
The groups had a time outside with a variety of bubble makers - bubble gun firing tiny bubbles, wand for larger bubbles and an extra large bubble maker. This also fitted in with our theme of Pentecost as a time of celebration.
We finished by bringing all the groups back together and using a large parachute. We talked about wind as a gentle breeze and a strong gale, how wind affects us and changes things and how wind is a symbol of the Holy Spirit.
We ended with a short prayer.
How well did it work?
We ran the event over three days and had approximately 130 children attend (some came twice!) - three clases from the primary school, the pre-school (for whom we adapted the stories) and an after school event as part of our Footsteps project.
The response was very positive - the children were interested and engaged throughout, both visiting the stations and in the art response - and especially the bubbles!
The team did find the event very intensive and thought that another time two classes from the school (or a class from school and the pre-school) plus the after school Footsteps event would be more manageable.
Most of the time we were not distracted by what was going on at the other stations - except that the "celebration" with music at the Upper Room station took place just as the leader at the Dove station was asking reflective questions! In future we would try to be more careful about this.
We found the timings worked well - all the stations finished about the same time which meant the groups moved around smoothly.
Our flower ladies were inspired by our theme and did us a pedestal and a couple of window displays which added to the atmosphere.
I also covered tables, altars and incidental spaces with red cloths and set up mini displays - a church, Jerusalem with the disciples, wooden flames...
From my point of view the worst problem was that we were not only at the height of the bat season but also had robins nesting in the church. This meant taking a lot of the display down or covering it up every evening - and then putting it all up again the next day.
I found it hard to switch from being the overall organiser into the more gentle and reflective role of storyteller at the Dove station and felt I rushed asking the reflective questions. One day I had someone to help me with the storytelling at that station which made things much easier.
Red Hot Pentecost: an alternative version
Red Hot Pentecost (on which Wind and Flame was based) was a Cambridge Church Schools Trust event offered to primary schools in Cambridge.
It took place in a very different setting - instead of our small medieval rural church we were in a vast, 1930s suburban church. The aisles seemed to be almost as large as our nave and the ceiling was about 40 feet above our heads.
This meant the Cambridge team had far more space to "play" with and noise wasn't a problem - the various stations were so far apart that we were never distracted by what was going on elsewhere.
Most days we had 3 classes split into three groups, which meant telling the story nine times over the course of the day.
Despite this I found it much more relaxing than the previous week as I was only responsible for one station (the dove) rather than the whole event!
In the centre of the church there was a large trefoil shape created from shiny cellophane, corrugated cardboard painted red and yellow, LED lights and small coloured stones.
"Red is the colour of life..."
The children were invited to come and sit around the focus while the leader explained the "Red Hot" theme of Pentcost. Red is the colour of beginnings, love, loyalty and suffering...
They were then taught a round (sung in three parts) to the tune of Praetorius "Jubilate Deo":
Red hot celebration
Light and life at Pentecost
After the singing the classes were split into three groups to visit the stations.
Station 1: The Upper Room
This story of the first Pentecost was told in a partly darkened room to create atmosphere.
The wind and flames were shown by shining a torch onto panels specially painted with UV paint - one for flame and one for wind.
The children made badges using LED red lights taped to a pin to symbolise their experience of Red Hot Pentecost.
Station 2: The dove
This station was set up in one of the side aisles and as we were able to draw the long curtains there was an increased sense of this being a place apart.
The main difference with this station (apart from the space) was in the creation of the tunnel! Instead of the makeshift arrangements we had had, this tunnel was created out of three metal arches (on special offer at a local garden centre). They were joined together with bamboos and then hung with white, pale blue and grey net and organza.
As before the tunnel was hung with strips of organza to create a sensory experience for the children and the exit was through the rainbow door hanging.
Station 3: The fruit of the spirit
The chancel was used for this station which was set up in front of the altar.
The large wooden cross was draped with red organza and a pathway with fruits, leaves and the names of the fruit of the spirit was created leading towards it.
On each side of the altar were two metal stands hung with fruit and leaves and golden ribbon. Large wooden flames were placed at their base and in between was the small metal tree hung with wooden fruit.
Photos to symbolise the different fruit of the spirit (joy, patience, gentleness etc) were spread around.
The materials for each child to plant seeds were laid out in a different part of the chancel.
Response and refreshmentsAs the Cambridge team was larger and had more space available the craft response seemed to be much better organised! A few drops of material dye were used instead of paint, with more consistent results (though this may have been partly because more children from Key Stage 2 came to the Cambridge event.)
Outside the church a brazier was set up, which was manned at all times.
Wood and charcoal were burnt on the lower tray and pitta bread was warmed for the children to eat on the grid above.
The children were given the opportunity to spread it with honey or chocolate spread (with precautions in place for any children with allergies.)
They could also add a variety of seeds from different countries as a symbol of all the different people who were there at the first Pentecost. Continuing the celebration theme they mixed their own celebratory drinks from juices and lemonade.
The third group were given the chance to play with bubbles and bubble makers and hoops.
The event finished with a reprise of the "Red hot Pentecost" song.
(with thanks to Rowena Berridge, Ali Booth and the team and also to Victoria Goodman and the Cambridge Church Schools Trust events team)