Monday, 18 October 2010

Introducing children to the concept of Biblical literalism.

I'm putting together a timeline for the staircase, showing the stories we've done so far this year.  This is to help kids who don't attend every Sunday to keep up with what's happening, and to reinforce the teaching point that this is all ONE story, with its own arc and its own climax, not just a collection of anecdotes.

But I can't in good conscience pretend that Adam and Eve is of the same historical veracity as Moses.  I'm not a Biblical scholar - I don't know exactly what historical/archaeological evidence there is for the Exodus, but I know it's a hell of a lot more than there is for the idea of the Garden of Eden and the Fall.  And from the perspective of textual analysis, Adam and Eve reads like a myth, while the Exodus reads like a history.   For the younger kids, this isn't a stumbling block - they approach it all as a story that's more true than truth, and it all gets sorted out later on.  But for the 10- and 11-year-olds, who might be starting to think "hey, wait a minute ..." about some of this stuff,  based on what they might learn at school about evolution, or hear in the news about ranting Fundamentalists, or hear from their classmates, I want to be prepared for their questions.  And I don't want the timeline to look like it's exactly the same as a timeline they might see in History class.

So I've made a poster to put at the end of the timeline (there are pictures in the real one):

Is the whole Bible true?

That depends.  Parts of the Bible probably didn’t happen exactly as it says – for example, we know too much about evolution now to believe that Adam and Eve were real people.  But somewhere, there were two people who were the first “real” humans – the first people to become aware of God.  And the story of Adam and Eve can help us understand things about God, and about why the world is the way it is.
But the Bible isn’t all stories.  There are also parts of it that are laws – rules for the societies people lived in at the time it was written.  Some of these laws are very different from the laws we have now, and many Christians don’t follow these old laws.  For example, there’s a rule in the Bible that we shouldn’t wear clothes made of more than one kind of material!  I bet all of us have done that!

Jesus told us that God’s law was to love each other, and to love God.  Many Christians believe that following this law is more important than paying attention to thousand-year-old rules about things like what clothes to wear and what food to eat.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Good news!

We had a record TWENTY-EIGHT children in Sunday School today!  And our cake sale/tea party yesterday and today raised OVER 400 POUNDS for Christian Aid.

So this week's stars of the week are Steve Eggett, Jenny Davenport and Megan Bonetti, who did a lot of work putting together the various fundraising activities.

"Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life." - 1 Timothy 6:17-19

Monday, 11 October 2010

Deserts and sinners - this week's newsletter meditation.

The Sunday School today explored the story of Abraham and Sarah, and made quilt pieces showing the desert, to put alongside our “garden” pieces from the Adam and Eve story.  In all our lives, there are “garden” times – rich, productive, comforting – and there are “desert” times – alienating, difficult, lonely.  Yet for some people, including Jesus, the desert is where you go to be closest to God –in the barren landscape, where distractions are stripped away.

The Creche heard the story of Jacob and Esau, and Jacob’s dream of a ladder of angels.  Jacob is a deeply flawed person, yet God chooses him.  The Old Testament heroes are often weak, foolish, or even cruel.  But God still has plans for them.  If God can work through them, then there is no reason our own flaws can prevent him from working through us.

Sermon bingo!

Keeping children occupied during the sermon is always difficult.  In our "Let Us Pray" leaflet, we have a space available for children to draw a picture from today's lessons during the sermon, but this isn't always enough.  Some children aren't as artistically inclined as others, some days the Gospel may be more abstract than others, and sometimes the sermon just goes on too long for one simple picture to fill it up.

So yesterday a parishioner mentioned to me that she'd seen a letter in the Telegraph suggesting an alphabet game during the sermon - children listen out for an "A" word, then a "B" word, and so on, and write them down as they hear them.

I've changed this idea somewhat and added it to our "Let Us Pray" leaflet - now there's a gamecard for "Sermon Bingo" underneath the explanation of the Gospel reading.

The concept is simple - there are sixteen squares, in a 4 x 4 grid.  Each of them has a keyword on it.  Children listen out for those words and cross them off as they hear them.  If a child gets four in a row - horizontally, vertically or diagonally - they come see me after the service and I give them a prize (a sticker, a cheap toy, a sweet - I have these on hand as part of our resource cupboard).

The sixteen words and phrases I've chosen are listed below, but you can choose your own, and, if you're feeling REALLY ambitious, change them with the seasons.

This way, children can actively listen to the sermon, and pick up on key spiritual vocabulary at the same time.

















Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Harvest Home (plus! Stars of the week!)

For Harvest Festival, the Sunday School learned about the figure of "John Barleycorn," a Medieval personification of the wheat crop who was often celebrated in songs and rituals.  For more about John Barleycorn, click here, and to hear the song we used, click here.

Then we decamped to the kitchen to make fruit smoothies (crushing and breaking the fruit ourselves), spiced apple juice (again, cutting up various pieces of fruit), and bruschetta (note the inclusion of BREAD in this activity). We'll be re-enacting the violence of the John Barleycorn story, and, just as in John Barleycorn, enjoying the life-giving results of the food's sacrifice for us.

Note that BREAD and FRUIT JUICE are both featured. So that when we shared the food we'd made at the end of the lesson, we found ourselves naturally re-enacting the Eucharist - first we blessed the food, then passed around the bread, and then passed around the wine.

So here are the connections I hope the kids were starting to make, subtly, and without my spelling it out for them - they need to come to this on their own:

1. John Barleycorn = sacrificial death. The food we eat dies to give us life. Our life - in the most physical, basic, non-spiritual way - is given through the sacrificial death of others. The song relates to real life.

2. The death of our food is somehow given new life through our life, as we consume its energy - "they have worked their will on John Barleycorn / But he lived to tell the tale / They pour him out of an old brown jug / And they call him home-brewed ale." Especially if we celebrate and honour the thing that died to feed us. (Perhaps this is related in some way to care for God's creation ... and our dependance thereon ... ? Hmmm ...)

3. This is the physical reflection of the metaphysical truth that Jesus' death was sacrificial and life-giving. What John Barleycorn did, Jesus has also done.

4. This is symbolically re-enacted in the Eucharist - completing the cycle from physical (John Barleycorn) to spiritual (Jesus' death and resurrection) and back to physical (the Eucharist).

5. The natural cycle of death and renewal is echoed in the year. As we are now entering the yearly period of death and destruction, symbolised by Harvest and Halloween, followed by the "light in darkness" imagery of Christmas and the gradual re-awakening of Lent and Easter, this is a very appropriate time to start looking at the concepts of death and darkness, sacrifice and the natural order.

So here's the prayer we used to bless our smoothies, spiced apple juice, and bruschetta. Note the deliberate references to the Eucharistic Prayer and God's promise to Noah of a fruitful natural order.

Father of all creation,
Author of the sun and the rain, the seedtime and the harvest,
We bless this food that you have given us, that earth has born, that human hands have made.
We honour the living things that have died to give us life,
The fruit of the vine, the seed, the flower.
As we eat of their flesh and drink their juice, may we be renewed and made stronger.
At this crossing of summer and winter, this turning of the seasons,
As light turns to darkness and the days draw in,
May we remember that as the fruits of the earth have died to feed us
As your son Jesus Christ has died to save us
And that in the spring your light will rise again
As John Barleycorn rose again to become life-giving drink
As Christ rose again with the light of his new life
Which never dies, and which he shares with us
In his body and blood
At your table.


This week's STAR OF THE WEEK is Mary Townley, for taking on an ambitious Creche session that included feltboard storytelling, planting flowers, and making fruit salad!  She had help from Caroline Culme-Seymour and several of the parents, so thanks are also due to them.

Honourable Mention goes to Emma Chorley, who helped with the messy and complicated cooking in the Sunday School (carrying a heavy pot of hot apple punch across the community space!).  But she got the award last week, and you can't win ALL the time ... :)

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Sing to the Lord a new song.

This starts with a massive technological FAIL on my part.

I very responsibly made sure that "John Barleycorn" was available on YouTube before planning it into last Sunday's Sunday School lesson. My thought process was, "okay, so I'll just take my computer upstairs and play it there!"

Not remembering, at that moment, that "upstairs" did not have internet access.

When did I remember this fact, you might ask?

That would be 9:30 on Sunday morning.

Half an hour before the service was supposed to start.

Now, I didn't even have a working tape or CD player, so the fact that I'd relied on YouTube and left my recording of "John Barleycorn" at home is pretty irrelevant.

So in five minutes, I found a music downloading site that had the Steeleye Span version of "John Barleycorn," joined, paid the £9.99 subscription fee, and successfully downloaded the song.

The £9.99 gets me a month and 68 downloads. So I'm going to use my maximum number of downloads and then cancel my subscription before the church ends up getting charged £10 a month for the remainder of my life.

So here's what I've downloaded for the Sunday School's "Music Library" so far (these will be used in class, burned onto CDs for children to study at home before the Christmas pageant, and possibly used on "study CDs" for a future children's choir):

1. My Dancing Day
2. My Shepherd Will Supply My Need
3. We Are Climbing Jacob's Ladder
4. John Barleycorn (obviously)
5. Go, Tell It On The Mountain
6. Marching to Zion
7. Praise, My Soul, The King of Heaven
8. All Glory, Laud and Honour
9. All Things Bright and Beautiful
10. A Stable Lamp is Lighted
11. Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah
12. The Storm Is Passing Over
13. Children of a Heavenly Father
14. People, Look East
15. The Friendly Beasts
16. For All The Saints
17. Come Down, O Love Divine
18. He Who Would Valiant Be
19. Jesus Christ Is Risen Today

I have 49 downloads left. What else should I include?