The Holy Circus and the role of Playfulness by Daniel Adams

The Holy Circus and the role of Playfulness by Daniel Adams

‘Entering the circus we step back into a world ruled by enchantment – where magic existed before morality, wonder before worship, pleasure before piety, and amazement before practicality’
(Sam Keen in Learning to Fly).
[sulpture by Paul Manship]          

As the Holy Circus has now been running for six months, I would like to take this opportunity to share more about the thinking behind this new Sunday School ministry at RUC. Firstly, why the Holy Circus?
 
Ivy Beckwith (in Postmodern Children’s Ministry) observes that much of the Church’s ministry to children today is ‘broken’ because it remains heavily dependent upon an 18th-century educational model, which is rigid, closed and determined by the teacher or the curriculum, ‘forgetting that much of a child’s spiritual forma­tion is affective, active, and intuitive.’ Historically speaking, Sunday schools were initially developed as a way to educate the poor in the basics of reading and writing, providing under­privileged children with a place to go on Sundays (the one day of the week they weren’t working), where they could be supervised and get a basic education while receiving religious instruction. Their function was prima­rily that of a school. And while this was necessary for its time, the Church has largely continued to hold onto this model today, ‘with children still sitting around a table, still doing fill-in-the-blank worksheets and still memorizing scripture verses’ (Brian Kirk, www.rethinking youthministry.com).
 
In short, many children’s ministries are broken because they have failed to adapt to changes in culture over the past century. Most of the children in our community now go to school five days a week and don’t need another day of school on Sunday. They don’t need another teacher and another lesson. Instead, they need spiritual mentors who can be guides for them along the journey of faith. They need a safe place to explore and experience the tremendous mystery of faith that Christians celebrate. Thus it is high time that we rethink the purpose of religious education for children. If our primary goal is not simply to pour dogma into their heads, but rather to be companions with them on their journey of faith, then our models of ‘Sunday school’ need an honest, faithful, and creative revisioning and reshaping. And this reshaping must be guided by the way in which children truly grow and develop.
 
Responding to this situation, Jerome Berryman, the director of the Center for the Theology of Childhood, insists that we incorporate play into our religious education as an essen­tial element for the spiritual forma­tion of children. He argues that play engages the whole child – hands, heart, mind, emotions, senses, intui­tion – and facilitates spiritual growth within an emotive, active and open environment.
 
By engaging the whole child, play essentially reaffirms an intuitive way of thinking and knowing, a deeper kind of knowing which transcends reality and impacts the soul (or the whole being of a person). When we play we are invited into an imagina­tive relocation, drawn into an experi­ence of transcendent reality, tempo­rarily absorbed in delight, forgetting the troublesome feeling that we are ‘only’ pretending (Kenda Creasy Dean in Practicing Passion). In this way, play connotes freedom, it ‘liberates rather than tranquilises, awakens rather than anesthetises’ (Dean). Play engages us while overtaking us, it ‘seizes us, therefore, not by force, but by ecstatically drawing us beyond our present reality into an alternative, non-anxious, delighted consciousness determined by God’ (Dean). Exploring the mystery of faith through play thus gives children the freedom to partici­pate in the direction of their own faith journey, by simultaneously playing the roles of both student and teacher.
 
RUC’s Holy Circus seeks to embody precisely this kind of thinking about children’s ministry. As a metaphor for the coming Kingdom of God, the Holy Circus is an expression of the cosmic playfulness of God’s creation and the glorious alternative vision of a world turned upside down. Upon ‘Entering the circus we step back into a world ruled by enchantment – where magic existed before morality, wonder before worship, pleasure before piety, and amazement before practicality’ (Sam Keen in Learning to Fly). The Holy Circus is, therefore, a celebra­tion of our shared communal story and God’s cosmic story brought to life through the medium of various creative arts and play activities (symbols, music, written and drama­tised narratives, film, dance, baking, pottery, and much more). Ultimately, through this story- and play-focused programme we hope to facilitate the spiritual formation of our children.
 
The following six elements are ways in which we hope the Holy Circus will have a particular influence on the spiritual care and formation of our community and its children:
 
• stimulate and nurture the imagi­nation of our children (as well as the wider community);
• create a sense of belonging by building new relationships as well as deepening existing ones;
• invite children into God’s story by encouraging them to wonder about God, themselves and the world.
• create a safe non-threatening space for questions and feelings to be shared and trust developed;
• create an environment where children can engage difficult questions around values, faith and the Bible in creative and playful ways.
• foster a deep sense of justice and love for the world;
 
The Holy Circus is a community-wide initia­tive and we warmly welcome and invite all to share their talents and gifts. Each week, a biblical story or theme is presented in the service during the children’s talk, and then creative input for teaching, music, games, art, etc., is provided to help bring the story alive with the children during the Holy Circus. We are openly inviting new people who are willing to offer their talents to the Holy Circus. Whether it is a creative talent or the facilitation of an art, drama, music or food activity, or even a willingness to offer time and service in prop creation or prayer support as a contribution to the Holy Circus.
 
The Holy Circus is an inter-genera­tional exploration in playfulness, so no age group is excluded and no theolog­ical training is required. It’s an oppor­tunity for the community to minister to each other through their gifts and passions. If you are interested in joining the Holy Circus team please contact me (079 303 6462 or comelet­sdance@gmail.com).
 
Daniel Adams