I’ve just led a workshop on Interactive Christmas, an annual event that I directed at Rosefield Uniting Church in Adelaide for five years in the 2010s. Here’s an outline with links. Interactive Easter was the first event in a seqeunce, both a community stand-alone experience and also a kick-starter for our monthly Alive@5 all-age worship and learning community. The following December we started Interactive Christmas. Rev Phil Hoffman, the minister at the time, was a co-conspirator and encourager, and the title was his idea. Thanks to Rev Jock Dunbar for adding his enthusiam. Alive@5 was a bit like Messy Church, but with some significant differences in terms of worship, learning and theology which were important for us. Some of those are reflected here.
WHAT IS INTERACTIVE CHRISTMAS?
- An all-age event in which people Experience the Christmas story, Engage with its texts and characters, and Express their responses in a range of ways
- A particular focus on families with pre-school and primary school aged children
- A way to engage with people in the congregation, connected with the congregation, and in the wider community
- A multisensory, multimedia, participatory event
- A mixture of story, imagination, creativity, reflection, fun, prayerfulness, conversation and learning
It involved a team of up to 20 people, mainly over 60 years of age, and was attended by 60-80 people of all ages with varying levels of connection to our church. Many grandparents brought their grandchildren. Some folk became our Interactive regulars – we would see them twice a year for these events.
- Interactive Christmas was held on the first or second Sunday in December. We recognised that many people go away over Christmas, and we wanted to connect with them while they were still around
- Sunday afternoon, 5.00-7.00om. Come when you like. Stay as long as you like. Leave when you like.
- An activity trail with a designated entry and exit point.
- Free choice of most activities – choose what you wish, stay as long as you like, leave when you like
- Some themed texts/symbols/activities in some years – stars/light, angels, peace/hope/love/joy
- ‘Take home’ stuff – things to make, symbols, prayers
- An emphasis on hospitality, interaction, conversation
- Budget of about $1000, of which $200-$250 was available to pay guest artists if needed (musicians, storyteller, face painter)
- No charge for particpants
There’s a write up of each event with links to materials on my old blog Mountain Masala. [Right hand column under Worship Resources]. Also a Photo album for Interactive Christmas, Easter and Live@5 here. Some promotional postcards here.
FOYER & WORSHIP SPACE
- Entry was via the foyer (bottom) and exit via the Youth Room (top right).
- The Foyer Activity and storyelling time in the Worship Space (aka Sanctuary) were timed at 15 mins each.
- The Foyer activity was one craft activity designed to take at least 10 minutes – making and/or decorating a star, angel, etc.
- Every 15 mins a new group is let into the Worship Space and the group for the Worship Space there goes into the Main Foyer (and beyond) for activities.
- The Worship Space is where we welcome people warmly and begin the telling of the Christmas story with music performance (soloist, choral group, band), drama/storytelling/video. The aim is to open up the story, so we focus on the Annunication or some other aspect and leave the birth of Jesus for the Youth Room (the final room/scene). Some of the dramas are in my worship book Deeper Water.
- In the later years we added a 30 minute alternative segment aimed at our Mainly Music families, with the leadership and style of the program with which they were familiar. So the Mainly Music families come early and then head into the Main Foyer.
- The Main Foyer usually featured craft activites – gifts to take home (decorating candles, Christmas cards), clay making (What do you remember from the story?), a computer with a Belkin Rockstar Headphone Splitter (we use them lots) and cheap headphones with Christmas movie clips to click and play. (eg. Holy Moly) One year were making Origami Peace cranes to become part of a Christmas tree. Another eyar we had a giant world map where people could place a Christmas tree to show where they came from and write down something of their cultural customs at Christmas. Also Face Painting. You’ll find lots of Christmas craft links on Sandy Brodine’s Pinterest page.
- The Kitchen was a place to make something edible to take home (or eat straight away!). Nothing particularly religious here, despite my best hopes, just hands on fun and tasty mess.
- The Creche for a couple years was a photo studio where we had the box of Sunday School dress up. Children and adults could dress as a nativity scene and have their photo taken. The photographer later emailed them the photo. The purposes of this were about learning/naming the characters and aspects of the story and creating a memory of story and yourself in it. One family came back every year to have their photo taken again and again.
- We also had some music options in the Creche in other years – making a Christmas Rap on a phone using Autorap by Smule. A Fruit Keyboard using Makey Makey on which you could play “Silent Night”. Really!
The Creche in other years was also one of our ‘dark spaces’ with nativity scenes, a shoe box pinhole art gallery with nativity images from around the world, a light box where you could write messages of peace, a cardboard box gallery wall of art, Christmas decorations and video clips. Ambient music, art, mood lighting. These rooms (see below) are always my favourite play spaces.
ROOMS 4 & 5
- This area was always a dark, reflective, imaginative, prayerful space. To have a sense of wonder, you need darkness and light. These rooms were sometimes set as one room, sometimes as two (moveable intertior wall).
- Prayer stations – Five or six stations at most. Ambient music. A biblical text, a reflection, symbols (sand, video, candles, images, laptops, headphones, art materials, all kinds of stuff), and an activity response. People were allowed into the room in pairs. (Yes we had a door monitor. Thanks Phil.) A child must be accompanied by an adult. No more than a total of 2 people per station in the room at any time. Details if you click the link at the top of the post of the links at the bottom.) Below you will see a station about refugees using material from Magnus Wennman’s Where Children Sleep.
- Nativity scenes – We asked people to lend us nativity scenes and they happened to come from all over the world. We displayed these along with Christmas tree ornaments – stars, angels, nativities etc (no, not santa or reindeer). Again, candles for lighting. We wanted a sense of wonder and for people to need to peer at them.
- Art – reglious art of the Christmas story from different eras and cultures.
ROOM 1 could also be divided into up to four rooms. We varied it over the years.
- Craft activities – Christmas cards (on year we had a calligrapher to write in them), Christmas decorations
- A story tent with childrens story Bibles and Christmas story books. We started with a cushion corner, then tried a big tent with a Storyteller, then a smaller tent (pictured with an electric campfire) where you could read stories to one another.
- Story-making – Rory’s Story Cubes (with some added Christmas symbols), a Nativity story sand tray – here you tell the story yourselves and re/imagine it as you wish.
- The stable / cave / room at the inn. The last room is the culmination of the story trail with the birth of Jesus. This room had timed entry. We would wait until there were enough people – not too many, not too few – to let them in for about 10 minutes.
- Inside the room was scaffolding covered with black fabric, with fairy lights hanging and a large star, hay bales, a manger with a rope light around it. One year we had a singer-songwriter (Leigh Newton), one year we had a storyteller reading reflections from Iona. For three of the five years, the same family provided us with a baby Jesus!! Thanks Luci and Mark for your forward planning! Yes, three of their four daughters have been baby Jesus. There was also a host who had a spoken part. Ambient instrumental music played in the background. I have to sat that people were always spellbound in this scene. Save the best till last.
- Take-aways. Each year people received a laminated, take-home blessing prayer that they were invited to say at the Christmas meal table. For a few of the years people also receive a symbol. One of our resident artists (Grace Mitchell) designed a laser cut nativity scene and a “Shine” Star (see below). Another year we gave out Blue Christmas stars, another a golden bauble. My hope is that people have part of the Jesus story hanging on their tree and it also serves as a remiend of this experience. To have the takeaway as local home-grown art was also special for us and hopefully special for them. Yes this was a cost item in our budget.
- Tennis Courts BBQ: People would then exit outside where a BBQ and cool drinks were on offer. Adults would engage in conversation and kids could run around on the courts if they wished. Relaxation, laughter, community.
Shine Star and Nativity Designs copyright Grace Mitchell.
The program evolved each year, but we developed a pattern which made things easier. People would take on similar roles each time, and they really loved being volunteers. We had no hesitation in bringing in some outside ‘talent’, and our guests had a great time. We had cupboards full of leftover materials that we recycled in various ways. (The best time to buy Christmas stuff is early January!) We kept thinking about getting an animal nursery as well ( you know, the ‘stable’ vibe) but it was usually too hot on the tennis courts in December, and frankly, we didn’t need it. There was always a great buzz around the place. People really looked forward to this event.
We started our planning around September. We didn’t have an organising committee. When we had started, I wanted to design the event in a way that would teach people what was possible. After the first year it was possible to assign roles to people, confident that the role suited them. Depending on their gifts, they could design or activity or competently prepare and lead an activity that was given to them. The fact that Interactive Christmas continued without me at the helm showed that people ‘got it’ and could run it and vary it as they wished.
The scope of this kind of event is really about its size. You could easily run a smaller event with fewer activity options.
- Entry activity
- Plenary session where you ‘tell the story;
- A few activities in different rooms – just make sure vary them and maintain a focus on exploring the narrative. And a bag in which to take things home.
- A final room which is a memorable experience of the birth of Jesus. Don’t forget a ‘take home’ smyobl or prayer or both.
- Hospitality and food afterwards, with people feeling that they can leave when they choose (ie. outdoors)
Thanks to all of the folks at Rosefield. You know who you are. And a special thanks to our dear friend Maureen Jenkins who was a force of nature. You are remembered with great love. And thanks to Yvonne, Maddy, Ellen and Grace who became part of this in oh so many ways.
For more program information click on these.
- Interactive Christmas 2011
- Interactive Christmas 2012
- Interactive Christmas 2013
- Interactive Christmas 2014
- Interactive Christmas 2015
If you like this, please check out my worship book Deeper Water which has some of the materials and lots of other stuff including seasonal material, drama scripts, blessings and 11 original songs. You can see lyric videos of several songs on my Vimeo site here.