We brought play dough to the sanctuary for this week’s worship text, Jeremiah 18:1-11, “At the Potter’s House.” Because it was also Communion Sunday, children and youth remained in worship. Using Carolyn Browns’s suggestion to make clay available, we set up a low table at the front of the sanctuary, as we often do when children are in worship. Play dough, heart shaped cutters, and rollers were set out. Following the children’s time (where we introduced the idea of God as the potter and us as the clay), the children were invited to come to the play-dough table during the reading and message. Not only engaging and fun, the hands-on activity helped us to experience the reading.
I’ve written several times about the importance of play and tactile experience in faith development. I continue to witness the ways that children and adults engage more fully with the Bible through hands-on experience. Today I watched very happy children squish and smell the play dough. They were delighted to roll and cut and pinch and sniff. Even high school and middle school youth enjoyed playing along, helping the younger ones. It is easy to forget that something in our hands can help us listen better; the children were engaged through the entire sermon.
The dough we used was homemade, from a recipe that I learned from my mother. For less than a $1 of flour, water and salt, the recipe yields 4 cups of soft, smooth dough in under ten minutes. My oldest daughter made it with me on Saturday night. As we cooked and then kneaded the warm dough, it triggered happy memories of both of our childhoods. This family tradition brought us together to remember and share. She even asked about the Jeremiah reading!
At the end of the message, Pastor Melissa talked about the difference between fired, glazed, finished pottery and wet, mold-able clay. She said that we are not the finished pots, smashed on the potter’s floor. We are the malleable wet clay, able to be shaped into the fullness of who we are meant to be: people who love deeply, pursue justice, desire peace in all places, and actively seek the Kingdom of God. (I’m sure my paraphrase doesn’t capture her powerful message as well as she said it, but I hope you get the idea). As we were holding squishy clay, I hope that it provided the children with the tactile experience to make that imagery come alive through all the senses.
I give thanks that we are made to be hands-on, creative and imaginative people. I give thanks for the opportunities to witness children tasting and seeing, sniffing and smelling, as traditions and faith are passed from generation to generation.
How much richer will our faith experiences be when we have opportunity to play? Faith, like play, can be more experiential than academic. Growing and stretching the imagination through play is an essential part of human development, one that nurtures soul, mind and body. Part of a church’s unique ministry is to be a place that fosters play while nurturing faith.