Saturday, 12 December 2015

The Christmas Experience

My church has worked for some time now with the primary school in our parish, explaining something of what it means to be a Christian as part of the RE curriculum.

We've just done The Christmas Experience with Year 4.

The structure we use comes from the Diocese of Gloucester, specifically their Jumping Fish 'Experience' publication. (We've also used Experience Easter at the school).

The premise for the Christmas Experience is that through a number of different stations, the Christmas story is told, but the interactive element goes deeper than simply 'telling' the story.

We start with Preparation. The children are encouraged to share what kind of preparations are going on in their homes for Christmas - and told that one thing Christians do is prepare their hearts for the coming of Jesus, which often means saying sorry. As they wind shiny lametta strings around a fir cone, they're encouraged to think of something they need to say sorry for.

Then we move to the Announcement, set in Mary's kitchen. Mary was asked to do something she probably didn't want to, but she said yes to God - her response captured beautifully in the Magnificat - and here the children are encouraged to think about something they've been asked to do that was hard or they didn't want to do, and to ask for courage and strength to do it.

Promises looks at the Wise Men - that Jesus' birth was foretold and what the wise men brought as gifts; gold for a king, frankincense for a priest, and myrrh to anoint the dead. The children wrote down what they would bring to the baby Jesus, and the paper put into a gift box ready to leave at the manger.

Next is the Journey... It's 70 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a long way to walk and even worse when you're heavily pregnant. The children were asked about journeys they've been on and encouraged to think about those who have nowhere to stay at the end of their journey - particularly poignant at the moment given the scale of the refugee crisis in Europe.

The Message looked at the shepherds and angels. The angels bore a message of peace, and as Christians we share the peace with each other during our services. Every child was given a gift tag with a picture of an angel on it, and on the back was written 'To ..... Wishing you peace at Christmas, from .....'. The tags could be taken home and given to someone the children felt needed peace.

And finally, bringing it all together - The Gift. Jesus is often called God's gift to the world, because He was the means by which God set right the relationship between God and man.

The children laid their promises at the manger, and then we listened to Annie Lennox singing 'In the Bleak Midwinter', emphasising the words of the final verse;

What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.
If I were a wise man, I would do my part,
Yet what I have I give him -
Give my heart.

It always brings a lump to my throat, that bit, and as I was doing this last station it was a bit of a struggle to say what I needed to, but I did. (That's why I hate doing the 'deep and meaningful' bits of any service; talking about faith is hard, sometimes.)

The children seemed to get a lot out of the session and the teachers are always very complimentary of the team (a dozen of us altogether) who are prepared to go into school to run the event. In a society that is ever more secular, I think it's a good thing to explain my Christian faith to children - we can but hope that in years to come, teaching religious understanding and tolerance will help bring some of that peace that the angels spoke of, two thousand years ago.

God knows, the world needs it.

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