Making Sabbath school creative

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One exciting thing about travelling and visiting a new city in a foreign country is attending a new church. There is a curiosity, an awareness that we’re all one family of believers no matter where we worship in the world. It is interesting to see how things are familiar and similar, while at the same time being significantly different. There is also trepidation, nervous anticipation. Will anyone talk to me? Should I go to Sabbath school? If I arrive in time, which group shall I choose?

Recently I visited Newbold College church in Bracknell, England. I don’t know why but I’ve always been interested in visiting Newbold and on a recent trip, I managed to get the opportunity. I had taken a tour of the college late in the week and was staying in the area for Sabbath so I could attend church there. The campus itself features an old manor, Moor House, which has recently been refurnished; a grand old building ready for hosting events and a restaurant for the community on Sunday. When I was there the walls were covered with red ivy, a striking colour for the changing season.

The church itself however is modern, a low-set building with grass on the roof, skylights in the ceiling and a beautiful garden.

Unaware there were two services, I arrived early: half-way through the first service, and I sat in a small hall filled with chairs and tables, waiting for the service to finish and Sabbath school to start.

I was passed from the greeter to the pastor and followed a crowd of people to the other building on campus where they were holding adult Sabbath schools. I followed dutifully, with a little concern at the increasing age demographic of those I was travelling with.

Oh well, I thought, whatever happens next, I’m sure I’ll get something out of it.

Thankfully when we arrived at the doors of the hall (which were locked; we had to wait for a key), there were some people around my age. I met a friend from Facebook, who I had never met in person, a fellow writer and creative. He invited me to the class his sister was going to run for the first time—a creative Sabbath school. Intrigued I said yes, somewhat glad to have found some people I at least knew from the internet.

There were probably 15 of us and Karin, the class leader, explained that it might be a little different to what we were used to.

It certainly was. Karin has a background in art therapy, and she used those skills to great effect. There were movement and improv activities, as well as reflection and sharing times. Everyone was involved and everything pointed back to the lesson. The lesson, about the parable of the persistent widow, was brought to life and new light was shed in profound ways.

Was it awkward? At times a little. But it was already awkward for me being a visitor, so I just went with it. If you’re reading this and you are an introvert, you are probably cringing right now. But it wasn’t that bad even for the introverts among us. It was a safe space, Karin was kind and generous, provided room for people to participate or not, and the awkwardness soon gave way to appreciation, as people experienced a familiar Bible story in a new way. People went deeper more quickly than they might have normally, although their vulnerability was protected as it was not challenged or questioned; it just existed naturally in the space that was created.

It reminded me of the importance of creativity and innovation in the way we do Sabbath school. Not every Sabbath school can be run like that, and it may not be sustainable to do that every Sabbath. But as a test, an example, a hope to get people thinking and involved and engaged in a different way, it was a great success.

The value of travelling is that you’re exposed to new ideas and new contexts and it can help refresh and shape your own context as we all strive to learn and grow in our discipleship journey.

I’m glad I visited Newbold College church that Sabbath and I’m glad I went to Sabbath school.

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