A child is dressed in a minister’s robes. Another is cradling a doll in a Christening gown. A toddler is exploring the cross on the altar with his fingers: this is the play church project, inspired by children’s altarscapes in Sweden, is perhaps the first of its kind in the UK, and is now about to tour the Edinburgh Diocese.
Claire Benton-Evans, the Diocesan Youth and Children Officer, says, “The play church is about engaging children’s interest and encouraging them to learn through play. It is designed to help children explore worship and wonder about God and his amazing family, the Church.”
Similar to the way that young children explore life by playing homes and shops with child-sized kitchens and grocery stores, Edinburgh’s play church is made up of a beautifully carved and engraved altar, with drawers for items used in various church services. It will be portable, travelling to six churches in the diocese each year.
The project has involved congregations and creative people of all ages from across the Diocese of Edinburgh. A small team of clergy helped Claire Benton-Evans to design the unique play church. The altar has been built by Edinburgh’s Grassmarket Furniture, a social enterprise that helps to transform the lives of the volunteers who develop their skills in its workshop. An eleven-year-old from one of the diocesan churches designed the banner that will hang behind the altar and a local rector created this design in fabric, along with all the play church vestments. A wooden cross has been carved especially for the play church. Some church groups have sewn decorative frontals and altar linen, while others have donated everything children will need to play at baptisms, weddings and even Holy Communion.
The Bishop of Edinburgh, the Right Revd Dr John Armes said,
We all learn through play, especially children. I suspect this was partly what Jesus meant when he encouraged us to be like children. To learn to look at the world through new eyes and to subvert the tired old ‘adult’ ways of organising things. I love our new Play Church initiative. It’s a wonderful development in the life of the whole diocese. It underlines that children are welcome in our services and are encouraged to be involved in their own way. May it also offer us the possibility of seeing faith through their eyes.”
On Saturday 12 November, Edinburgh Diocese’s play church project was launched and blessed in a special all-age service with the Bishop of Edinburgh at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh. Music was led by the ever-popular Fischy Music, and the blessing was streamed on Facebook Live.
Video and photos to come shortly.