A Seasonal Journey: Lent to Pentecost...
The chancel of our church is an area used for morning prayer, healing ministry, toddler services and a space for the choir to process through, but not generally used by most of the congregation, as the main altar is usually down the steps at the East end of the nave.
We decided to use the chancel to create a focus for Lent, which grew into an Easter garden, a well for Pentecost, and then flowed out into the church as the River of Life.
We made a desert in the chancel for Lent, using a tarpaulin covered in a thin layer of sand. A hose pipe running under the edge of the tarpaulin kept the sand from spilling out.
Each week a symbol was placed in the desert, linked to a sermon series and a Lent course. Some of the Lent groups actually met around the desert; others had a tray of sand as a focus.
Some of the mothers had their group in church during the day, whilst I led a course for toddlers in the vestry around a sand tray. I used the same readings and themes as the adult course, but explored them through story and play.
The children visited the desert every Sunday after the service, and the Junior Choir played with the sand every week during the break in the middle of choir practice.
Plastic and wooden camels from the children's corner mysteriously appeared in the sand at regular intervals.
During the final week of Lent, our cross, made out of a Christmas tree, was laid in the desert.
For Maundy Thursday the desert was transformed into the garden of Gethsemane with tall branches placed in pots around the edge.
A vigil was held around it after a shared supper.
On Good Friday the children (with some adult help!) made a tomb out of chicken wire and papier-mache. This was placed in the desert, and used as one of the stations in a liquid worship style service.
On Easter Saturday the children transformed the desert into an Easter garden. The garden was arranged so the cross stood in a sandy and rocky 'dead' area, and the tomb stood in an area blooming with flowers and greenery.
On Easter morning the crown of thorns hanging on the cross was replaced with a garland of flowers.
At the beginning of the service the children were invited to come to the garden and receive a sprig of rosemary dipped in water (from the jug used to fill the font for baptisms) and take the sprig to sprinkle the water over the congregation.
Older children took candles (lit from the paschal candle placed beside the garden) to give out to the congregation. During the service, children were invited to walk along the path through the garden and shine a torch into the tomb to see two angels sitting inside.
We left the Easter garden for a couple of weeks (with regular replenishing of flowers).
I used it for a toddler Easter service, during which children went hunting for wooden angels hidden in the garden.
During the service, we rolled the stone away, and we saw a beam of golden light blazing out of the tomb – as the sun started shining through the stained glass window behind it.
Next, we transformed the space into a beach, with rock pools and plastic sea creatures.
I led a toddler service around (and in!) the beach, based on the story of the miraculous catch of fish and breakfast on the beach in Luke chapter 21.
For Ascension we built a big mound for Jesus to ascend to heaven from.
During a toddler service, the children stood around the mound whilst a bubble machine blew bubbles up so we could think about Jesus going up.
Then I lit an old Paschal candle to represent Christ. I blew the candle out to represent Jesus' death, and re-lit it to represent the resurrection. Finally I snuffed the candle out to symbolise Christ going up to heaven and we watched the smoke spiralling up to the highest point of the roof – lit up by a shaft of sunlight.
Finally, the desert was cleared away, and was replaced by a well for Pentecost.
The theme was taken from the description of the water flowing from the temple in Ezekiel chapter 47; the idea of the well as a place of meeting and healing in John chapter 4, where Jesus offers the Samaritan Woman living water; and the description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation chapter 21.
We painted a children's plastic paddling pool grey, and surrounded it with fragments of masonry. We glued jewels to the masonry to resemble the jewels in the walls of the new Jerusalem.
Trails of small white stones spread out from the well, signalling the spread of the water that was yet to come. Lighted candles and red and white flowers (flame and dove coloured) were placed around the well.
Water bubbled up from the well with the aid of a garden pond pump. The children visited the well during the service, and at the end of the service people gathered round the well in quiet contemplation, listening to the sound of water and watching the sparkle of the light shining on the jewels.
A dove hung from the chancel arch, hovered over the well.
During the Pentecost toddler service, the dove was lowered down to the children's level.
We swirled bubbles and flame-coloured ribbons to symbolise the Holy Spirit coming to the disciples in the upper room.
A couple of weeks later, as part of a local festival based on the theme of Creation, the waters of the well overflowed into a River of Life (Ezekiel chapter 47 and Revelation chapter 22) and spread up the central aisle to the font.
The water cascaded from the well (with the aid of a garden pump), and down the chancel steps into a large pool (made using pond liner).
The flower ladies transformed the church.
The pool was surrounded by plants and flowers.
It was populated with models of birds and animals hidden in the undergrowth, and fish swimming in the water.
Here you can just see a robin, a water vole and a frog.
Our church is dedicated to St Andrew, and we have a beautiful African hand-carved figure of St Andrew holding a fishing net, which ususally lives high up in an alcove. This was brought down and placed in a boat beside the pond.
A real fishing net hung as an extension from the carved net and spread out onto the floor, with a rippling blue cloth representing the waves of the Sea of Galilee.
The river flowed up the central aisle by means of pieces of blue carpet, which were cut and taped down to meander a twisting course.
The flowers and greenery continued along side it, using the pews as a supporting framework.
The blue river lined with yellow and white flowers made a visual link with the chancel altar. This was covered in a white cloth decorated with a golden cross and blue ripples of water and fishes, standing behind the well.
The river arrived at the font, where water bubbled up (using a sprinkler attachment), and a cross and flowers were suspended above.
We based a toddler service on creation and baptism. We went on a journey, starting at the well, going down to the pool, and following the river up to the font, where we role-played the baptism of a doll.
The font was the starting point for visitors, who were invited to reach out and wet their hands in the waters of baptism. They were then drawn in to journey along the river's course, to experience the refreshing waters of the well, and travel beyond it to the Lord's table, and the spiritual nourishment and salvation offered by the Eucharist.
Photographs courtesy of Nick Moir, Victoria Goodman and St Andrew's Church, Chesterton
(Working with Nick Moir, Eleanor Whalley, and the ordinands, parents and children of St Andrew's Church Chesterton)