Saturday, 8 December 2012

Advent Club with St Nicholas

Today we have been enjoying the story of St. Nicholas. We're a day or two late, according to my Dutch friend, but I thought Nicholas should definitely get a place in our Advent Club, and as my children get older, I am gently shifting their attention to towards him - not that I have anything against Santa -but Nicholas provides a different emphasis for them. There is a Godly Play story about St. Nicholas that I have seen, but I don't have that book. Instead I used this story which is from Barnabus in Churches, who provide some wonderful resources suitable for use at home or church, many of them freely available online. Quite a few are inspired by the Godly Play style of story telling.

Here are the materials I used. The story suggested using a red felt underlay, but to tie up with Advent, I decided to go for purple, which I believe is the colour used for the official Godly Play version. The objects I used to tell the story were a wooden cross, some coins (next time I would maybe use some foreign or old coins to deflect away the excitment at seeing cold hard cash!), a model of a boat - not having one handy I made a simple paper boat, which seemed to satisfy the children greatly.

 To explain Nicholas' work as a bishop, Barnabus suggested a woolen stole, but that would not have meant anything to our group. Bishops don't feature in their understanding of church, but I was able to say that this is a type of church leader, and that leaders are there to look after people like a shepherd. So I thought I would use the figure of the Good Shepherd - the perfect role model for any leader. 

Part of the story talks about Nicholas' work defending and explaining the Christian faith, helping people to understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Nicholas may have been part of the group that wrote the Nicene Creed. Again, this is something unfamiliar to the children, but I read a little of it out, and interestingly, one boy decided this was the most important part of the story - a budding theologian, I wonder?

For me, one of the things I especially love about this style of story telling is the chance to make the objects used. Here are the three money sacks that Nicholas secretly threw in to through a window to proved dowries for three poor girls. Made from felt, with leather thong to tie them (I sewed the thong into one side seam, so they wouldn't get lost), and filled with a few copper coins, they make satisfyingly tactile objects. The children were very keen to touch them!

Finally there is a 'present' which I kept fairly plain, in order that it wouldn't detract too much from the other objects, and St Nicholas himself. The story called for an icon, but I already had made this figure a year ago, from wool felt, pipe cleaners and roving. Seeing his red bishops clothing and pointed hat was a bit of a lightbulb moment for some of the group...

The wondering was interesting, and the questions Barnabus offer are good. One is ' I wonder what Nicholas found hardest about being a  bishop' - one child replied, with great perception, 'leading the church' - something I'm sure most bishops and other leaders would agree with!

Following the story we continued around the kitchen table with a variety of crafts, making decorations to hang on the wonderful sparkly trees we made last week. This Friday I will take them to decorate the tables for the Christmas dinner of our local Seniors club.

Something new for us all was making apple cinnamon dough. This was a bit messy but brilliant fun. These decorations can't be eaten but once dried, should last for several years. There is an excellent tutorial here.
We also strung some dried orange slices on ribbon, and by popular demand, glittered some more pine cones. 

As the children left, they found their shoes had been filled with a satsuma, some chocolate coins and also a little Nicholas card.

Sometimes a little word is all that's needed. The boys have their own advent calendars, but inspired by this I made some paper pockets which I paper-clipped to a string. For each day there is a very short Bible reading for Advent, just a verse or two. I compiled the readings for use at L'Arche, with simple themes such as hope, peace, joy and love. We have been pulling the readings out at breakfast and reading them then, then again at the start of dinner. In these busy days, with my mind in a hundred places, they have been the perfect nourishment, sustaining me and coming back to me often. I try some other Advent books and they are good too, but sometimes a little word is all that's needed.

Hope you're enjoying Advent too!

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Just in time for Advent!

The last time I took any photos was back in early September - a glorious day spent on a local beach - the pictures tell of swimming, rock-pooling, kite flying, beach combing and frying up bacon and mushrooms for sandwiches. What the pictures don't say is that there was a very strong wind that day or that sand got into my camera lens. The poor thing was understandably rather unhappy and made ominous crunching sounds. Oh dear....Three months later and one (almost) new lens later and I'm reunited with my precious camera again, feeling wiser and poorer!

So in the record of our family life we go straight from sand to snow, and right into Advent. The autumn has been a strange one anyway, and I have a lot to ponder this season. My husband was diagnosed with a form of epilepsy, which causes him to have a type of 'absence' for a couple of minutes at a time. We had seen the symptoms building up for a while, with no conclusive diagnosis last year, but with time it became obvious. Actually having this diagnosis gives us a lot of peace, because it could be a lot worse, and the medication he is able to take is working brilliantly well. The only downside really is that he is unable to drive this year, which sometimes requires a bit of planning, but we have been so grateful for assistance from friends, who have also been praying deeply with us. Thom has had to make various adjustments to his life, especially to have more rest, but in some ways it feels like a season of growth for him.

For me, Advent is very welcome, reminding me to wait and welcome the ways of God in our lives. I have felt very run down and especially tired this year, and it causes me to wonder about the one life I have to live. How I can live it as well as possible, in step with God's Spirit and the yearnings of my heart?

However, a particular source of joy has been the continuing discovery of Godly Play, and the possibility of doing small things well. I'm always so inspired by the Godly Play community, and especially by Sheila over at Explore and Express . As our church situations are very similar - just small seeds beginning to grow - we don't have weekly services, so often we do Godly Play at home as a family. However, Sheila's Advent Clubs seemed to be something we could offer to a few other children.

So today, and for the next three Saturday mornings of Advent, we are meeting in our home with five or six children. I can't tell you how nice it is to get to know these children better! Today, as it was our first time together, and we come from a totally non-liturgical church, I took the time to explain what Advent is, using the Godly Play story of the Circle of the Church Year and the Advent wreath - they were fascinated!

I also told the Parable of the Mustard Seed, which does feel very appropriate for Advent, all that waiting and growing...

In stead of an open response time, we were working on making some table decorations for the local Seniors Christmas Lunch, and for some house-bound folk in our church. The group responded really well to the idea of giving in this way. Today we took some rounds of a log, which the older ones drilled holes in, then 'planted' some twiggy stems. We all spent a very happy time painting, gluing and (lavishly!) glittering the branches, as well as some pine cones to hang on them. The photos don't do these wonderful looking trees justice! They really echo the icy ones outdoors.  Next week we'll make some more decorations

Another possibility for the children was to make a gift for the birds - which they had loved and wonderfully named in the Parable. We used more pine cones dipped in soft vegetable fat and then rolled in bird seed. You can find a simple tutorial here. We enjoyed a well-earned feast together, but it was just wonderful watching the crowds of different birds coming to enjoy their feast.

Wishing you a very joyful Advent!