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Runaway prophet, runaway success

Just when you think you know it all, you spend a whole day getting filled up with new ideas.

Elizabeth and I had the pleasure of taking part in the 2nd Annual Worm Training Day, hosted by Westminster United Church in Whitby, and associates! Theme for the day – Jonah, the runaway prophet.

We straggled in a little late, and just caught the closing strains of worship band Stonesthrow. Guitars, keyboard and drums – they were really rocking out. Maybe it was the rock and roll instrumentation, but it gave me the idea for a confirmation class rotation. Will fly this past Elizabeth later.

I snagged a couple of muffins on my way into the Advanced Computer workshop. (Some may chuckle at this, but there was only beginner and advanced, no in between!)

It was run by resident, probably regional WORM guru Luanne Payne. Luanne, who is a moderator for the lesson exchange boards on Rotation.org, is a marvel. I have never received such a compact package so jam-packed with useful information.

She provided everyone with a cd of notes and more for the session. And while I have many of the programs she introduced us to, she had an angle for each program that even she had never seen before, until recently. Like uses for the slideshow function on KidPix (she even had 4 copies of the program that she had picked up for $14.99 CDN at Zellers). Shortcuts on adapting quizzes on Fall of Jericho. The eyeglasses function on Life of Christ. Okay, that was worthwhile.

Next I took in Nancy Clements’s Preschool workshop. Nancy is a treasure. She tells the group she has “taught this age group for 40 years, and I love it.”

Nancy in consult
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She has advanced arthritis, has had the condition since age 15, and a smile a mile wide. Describes herself as “yard sale-er, every Saturday morning. I saw three this morning. It was all I could do….”

The toddler room is a little kids’ paradise with refrigerator box boat, large and small dolls dressed as Bible characters, whale and fish toys and puppets, underwater scene borders, even a shower curtain, sand table, felt board with figures, bookrack and puppet theatre.

But wait, there’s more. There’s an antechamber where she has fun fish food activities laid out, a water table, a crawl through tube outfitted with sharp teeth and fins. She confesses she’s had trouble with the Jonah theme. “It’s not one I would choose for this age group,” she says, She cautions the group to tell their youngsters that God had a special plan for Jonah, so God sent a special fish that wouldn’t hurt him.

One young man asks if the little guys participate in the general rotation or if they just go to stations in the preschool rooms. Nancy says they stay here -- they don't like change. Another participant who has said she licences daycare, nods and fervently agrees. I point out that we included the very young in our rotations, and that with a consistent opening location and ritual and a youth shepherd who stayed with them throughout the weeks of the rotation, they were fine. They really looked forward to making cookies in the kitchen, or putting stickers on cards in the computer lab, or doing a puppet show. Nancy agrees this might be possible. I think of all the photos and movies we took that show it was.

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On sending us out Nancy says, “God bless you in your work with the children. It’s not baby-sitting. In how you are with them, you are sharing God’s love.”

She adds a story about a letter she received recently from a former student, now grown up. The students says she always remembered how fun Nancy’s classes were. Nancy was a true role model. She caused this student to lead a life of faith. Nancy gets choked up as she tells this story. Me too, that’s why I can’t remember exactly how it goes. But you get the idea!

Lunch break, then outside to compare notes and catch a few of the day's glorious rays. On our way back in we run into a woman who identifies herself as head of CE at the church. “How are you enjoying your day,” she asks first Elizabeth, then me a couple of minutes later. I tell her I am jealous of their wonderful, spacious new CE building. “It’s a blessing,’ she says, new within the past four years.

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I duck into the sanctuary for Joan Sanderson’s storytelling workshop. I overheard Joan telling some of the others that the church, her home church, was designed -- everywhere past the sanctuary firedoors -- "with Sunday school in mind.” Audible gasps in the room. I’m serious. Wouldn’t that be a dream come true!

What can I say. Joan holds a place in my heart forever for referring to Northrop Frye. She drops many other pearls of wisdom:

“My goal as a storyteller is to “foster compassion in the children,” she says. “Culture tells them to look out for number one.”

She reminds us that Bible stories and folk tales share a common heritage in the oral tradition. “They don’t have to be memorized,” she says.

She has 16 point list of storytelling tips. Among them she emphasizes “Do not change the author’s intent,” let the story stand on its own. She paraphrases an anecdote about a rabbi, who one being asked for the meaning of life says, “Questions bring us together, answers divide us.” Joan tells her classes to listen to the story and go home and think about the questions after.

She worries that stories may be “wiped off the slate of remembrance.”

We have a lot of fun creating a story for telling out of some construction paper tree, apple, house, blue cloud and snake shapes she gives us. Ideas: Give the kids key images from a Bible story to frame their own story around. Add shapes to a central image. I like how advises us not to use too many props. Elizabeth takes away a brochure for the Storytellers School of Toronto. We are both pretty buzzed after Joan’s session.

Last comes the Music workshop that all 60 or so participants attend. This is led by Luanne and team. We break into about five groups and work up different variations of ‘Who did swallow Jonah,” using kazoo, hand bells and boom whackers, chimes (with instructions on how to cut your own set), tambourine (small ones picked up cheap at Dollarama), and a rap.

Then we do a Pentecost chorus type of thing, coming in with whirling sound tubes and tissue paper flame sticks on cue. There are lots of great hand outs here including ordering info for Boomwhakers, hand bells, hand bell music and more from Waterloo Music, books on signing, websites, cds, places to get and prices on instrument. Even a colour coded hand bell (or boomwhacker) card for ‘Who did swallow Jonah (Luanne whipped this up on the computer).

We head home early, pretty tired in a good way, wondering just how and when we can put all our new ideas into practice.

One thing that should be clear from this report is the extraordinary amount of dedication that makes the work of these CE leaders successful. I don't know if it's possible to create an atmosphere of dedication to draw more of that out of the people who work with our kids.

I do know it's possible to run rotation with less success if the program is disorganized. Or if the culture in which it is occurring doesn't offer enough support or respite for these dedicated people.

Huge thanks to Luanne and colleagues for taking one more big step toward building up that culture of dedication.


-- April 21, 2007

All original text 2004 - 2014, LD McKenzie

For a brief site ed's bio, click here:

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