Setting Up a "Play Church" to Create Worship Wonder

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Several months ago, as our grandchildren began attending Sunday school again, our three-year-old grandson spotted the sanctuary and was drawn into the space as he passed by the open door in the hallway. “What’s this place?” and “What’s this?” he kept asking as he ran from the baptismal font to the organ to the communion table to the pulpit. 

Only then did we realize that for two years he had not been in the sanctuary, and he was too young to remember anything before that. A few weeks later, he and his older brother began “playing church” in the small chapel on their way out of the church. One would play the piano while the other would go to the pulpit and pretend to preach.

When I read the CRC News article, Grant Makes Way for Sacred Play, it immediately resonated, and I couldn’t wait to set up “Play Church” for the children in our church. We know that play is how children learn, and what better way for them to learn to worship than to watch and participate in worship while following along with their own sacred play?

We have a room across the hall from our sanctuary where people sit when being in the sanctuary seems difficult for whatever reason. It’s a lovely room with a sofa, chairs, rocking chair, and large-screen TV where one can watch the service.

I ran around the church gathering all the props I could find to resemble our worship space and the items in it. I knew whatever I used needed to be unbreakable and safe. I found a small doll wrapped in a white cloth in a closet, and ran to the kitchen to find a metal pitcher and a large plastic bowl for the baptismal font.

I gathered paraments no longer in use in our sanctuary, a wooden cross used in Sunday School, a Bible, a hymnal, an olive wood chalice, a basket with a pretend loaf of bread from our preschool play kitchen, a battery operated tealight in a set of hands (for the Christ candle), a couple of clerical costumes from our costume closet, some wooden furniture from the church basement to use for the pulpit and font, silk sunflowers in a pot, a toy microphone, and a keyboard that doesn’t work since we didn’t want it to make sound anyway.

The final touch was to paint a stained-glass window looking out into the courtyard.

And now I wonder...how children will use this space?

I wonder...what part of worship they will like best?

I wonder...what part of worship we could leave out and still have all that we need?

I wonder…and wonder…

In an unexpected turn of events due to last minute teacher cancellations, I told the story of the walk to Emmaus in our new “Play Church.” As we discussed recognizing Jesus in our everyday lives, and the gifts of God we sometimes fail to recognize, one child noticed that the white stole the pastor was wearing matched communion cloth in our “Play Church” as they watched worship on the screen in the room.

Returning to the sanctuary to participate in the sacrament of communion was particularly poignant as we were participating now in that special meal when the disciples’ eyes were opened. One little girl gently picked up the baby from the play baptismal font, insisted on taking the doll into the sanctuary and tended to it all during communion. Since I was sitting with her, I had the privilege of having my eyes opened to new ways of forming faith as we shared this sacred moment together.  

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Beautiful! Thank you, Cindy.