In my last post I wrote about churches where the emphasis is on having “fun”- especially in outreach to the community and in working with children. It is easy to see the problems with this approach and criticise; it is far harder to write about what to do instead.
This is not because I have no idea what to do, but because it is difficult to avoid writing as if I have reached a point of arrival.
Experience has taught me that every time I think I have arrived, God sweeps me on somewhere else. I have only just started to realise that I will never actually arrive. While there may be a few rest stops in calm pools along the way, I am unlikely to stay there long. In a few months’ time I may look back on what I have written and wonder how I could ever have thought that.
But for now, for me, everything depends on context. I am called to this place, this time, these people. At this brief staging post on the journey, what can I offer that is more than fun?
Currently, working mostly with children and families who are not church goers, I have found that it is story that is central to everything I do. Children and adults can engage with stories without having to believe them. Stories can work with all ages and are fundamental to who we are.
Reynold Price wrote: “A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens – second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter. Millions survive without love or home, almost none in silence; the opposite of silence leads quickly to narrative, and the sound of story is the dominant sound of our lives.”
Stories work in ways that explanation and exposition do not, for they give people space to make their own meaning.
After story, I prioritise prayer. Sometimes we sit in the circle and ask if anyone would like to pray aloud or in their head. We try to include a time of silence. Usually what is offered is a prayer station to do with the story. Some people, both adults and children, take part in this, some don’t. I’m not sure it matters.
Creativity is my third strand. Although we include some “fun” activities what the children (and adults!) do is very much a choice. Some of the craft activities are a choice within the activity – a collage using particular colours, scratch art crosses, building a model hut. A completely free choice using the materials available is always an option.
Community? In some ways this would be my fourth strand. But while I am intentional about story, prayer and creativity I am less so about this. In some ways I don’t want to tie us down, give us a label or put up walls enclosing those who fit the criteria for belonging. For now, it feels more like journeying together; children and adults are free to drop in and out. I suspect a more intentional community might look like something different.
In other contexts, and in the past, I have focused on different things – experimenting with worship, working with under 5s, creating sacred space… But for now, story, prayer, creativity and possibly community underpin all I do to offer something that is more than fun…