The Otley Deanery Children’s and Young People’s network has been very active over the past few years.
One of its ventures has been the Open the Book initiative by which teams of people from the various Anglican churches go into the local primary schools to tell Bible stories so that at least our children will be familiar with many biblical references.
Those of us who are of mature years were taught these stories when we were children, but for at least two generations such material has not been part of the general school curriculum. However, the Judaeo-Christian stories are the basis of our culture and young people can be at a disadvantage if they have no idea what a Damascus Road experience is or why the painting of a voluptuous woman with a man’s head on a plate has some significance.
We have a team of retired people who go into Ashlands School every fortnight to take the assembly for the Key Stage One children, the children from four to seven years old. Otley Deanery has gathered together a wonderful collection of props that we can use. Samson’s hair will be grows before the children’s eyes and Elijah is be miraculously kept alive by ravens. The walls of Jericho fell down in a spectacular way last year and the elder son of the Good Samaritan found himself sharing a trough with some very endearing pigs! You can imagine what fun it is for us to read and enact these stories.
Sometimes we need help from the children. We have a team of five people and we needed eleven brothers for Joseph when they went to Egypt to buy corn. It didn’t seem to matter that some of the brothers were girls but it did matter when Joseph was once played by one of our women because we knew one little girl had gone home to say that the day’s story had been about a lady called Joseph.
The children are always attentive and remember so many details. We start with a song, have an introduction, perform the story and end with a prayer. It takes ten minutes to quarter of an hour and the Head usually gives out her notices at the end. We are now very used to being in school on Monday mornings at 8.45 in time to set up the props and to dress up in the sometimes very elaborate costumes.
It’s amazing how often we are recognised in the street and in the shops but if a mother looks amazed we have only to explain that we go into school to “do” Open the Book. We have done a couple of performances with some interested parents in attendance to reassure them that it was all quite harmless.
We are starting to recruit some new members to take over from those of us who aren’t agile enough to throw ourselves on the floor and get up again! We can guarantee that it is a very worthwhile project in which to be involved even if the early start can come as a shock. But there are always the school holidays………