Our church was in the midst of giving our nursery a fresh, new look and as this project took off, we found ourselves wrestling with ideas of what to include for dramatic play. After visiting a kindergarten classroom and watching the children play “house,” it dawned on me that kids mimic adults in everything they do. We have play kitchens, tool benches, vacuums and fishing rods. This is how kids learn about the world around them. All of a sudden, I could just imagine how kids could play “church” and experience church in a tactile environment!
Pretend play gives children an opportunity to practice adult roles, solve problems and act out feelings they can’t yet express in words. So why not engage children in what they see happening during sanctuary worship, but in a size that is functional for them to play?
After brainstorming with Mimi Larson (the Children’s Ministry Catalyzer for Faith Formation Ministries), I discovered that play churches had already been created in some European churches such as the Diocese of Edinburgh, Linköpings Cathedral (Sweden) and St. Catherine’s Play Church in Malmö, Sweden. Here at Covenant CRC (Edmonton, AB), plans were drawn up and a team put together to build our own version of a play church. We completed the project and set it up in November 2021. Children have been given everything they need to play at church; equipment includes a kid sized pulpit, baptismal font, communion table, pew and piano. Accessories that children can play with inside are a bible, hymnbook, baby in baptismal gown, pitcher, wine cups, grapes and bread, microphone and seasonal play items like an Advent wreath and Lent manipulatives. There are even “stained glass” windows and colour changes for the liturgical cloth on the cross.
Originally our Play Church was for kids ages 0-2, but with the nursery temporarily closed due to covid, we set it up in the foyer. In this location, it was open to all ages and we noticed kids aged 1-10 playing before, during and after worship services, but also throughout the week with other ministries. In this visible area the message is clear that children are important and valuable members of our church family. Children can be seen preaching the gospel, baptizing babies and lighting candles during the Advent season in their church. I hope that Play Church will lead to greater amounts of imagination, enhance children’s curiosity about the church they worship in, and grow in their knowledge of how and why we worship. And by extension, I pray that children feel encouraged to be involved and thus grow in their faith and relationship with Jesus.
This article is made possible through a partnership with CRC Ministries within Canada.