"I'd learned that what I thought the moms wanted was probably not what they wanted at all. And what they wanted was changing as their children grew. The spiritual and practical support of other moms remained important, as did the playgroup."
A Learning Process
Two years ago, a mom asked for my help starting a weekly Bible study. She wanted to talk about how scripture influenced her daily life and meet other moms raising children in the church. She also wanted a play group for her child. The Bible study I imagined (and implemented) required preparatory reading. Moms showed up with infant-filled car seats and heavy diaper bags.
The ice-breaker introductions were lively but the discussions fell flat. Turns out, it was hard enough to get a baby dressed and in the car; the mothers (they told me after a few indulgent weeks) didn't want homework, too. So we started watching NOOMA videos (by Rob Bell) and discussing them while the babies slept on the floor.
A few more mothers joined the group. The babies learned to toddle and talk and push the buttons on the T.V. One boy started to bite. It became harder to entertain the children and watch a DVD. We re-assessed. I'd learned that what I thought the moms wanted was probably not what they wanted at all. And what they wanted was changing as their children grew. The spiritual and practical support of other moms remained important, as did the playgroup. (No one wanted to hire a babysitter.) But now the women wanted ideas for sharing faith at home. Getting a child dressed and in the car was still hard; making it to Sunday services sometimes seemed impossible. Was there a way to "take church home"?
Involving the Children with Picture Books
We began to read (together, with no prep) the upcoming Sunday Gospel. We discussed what the readings meant to us and how to share them with our children. We involved the kids more directly by using a resource created by the William Smith Morton Library and Union Presbyterian Seminary called Storypath, which offers ideas (in the words of the website) for "Connecting Children's Literature with our Faith Story." For each Sunday reading, a companion children's book is suggested. We now read both Scripture and a picture book. Some of the children are too busy playing - or nursing - to pay much attention but we've found the children's book is often the best part of the discussion. It helps us see the Gospel - and the children - in a whole new way.
Planning a Session
The prep work for the study is simple. I check the Storypath website, choose a children's book (sometimes making substitutions) and make a trip to the public library if necessary. I write down a couple of discussion starters. The mothers "take church home" but also "bring home" (be it a teething baby or a question about potty-training) to church. The Bible study has become what that mom envisioned two years ago - Scripture-based, relevant and realistic (it's always okay to show up late or in sweats!).
Boykin Bell is the Director of Christian Formation at Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.