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  • Jennifer Wheeler

Using the Pearls of Life with children: a case study

In his article in Homiletic (Vol. 44, No. 2 [2019]), "I Wish We Could Fast Forward It: Negotiating the Practice of Preaching," Linn Sæbø Rystad showcases a way on pastor in Norway used the Pearls of Life for preaching to children and reports on its efficacy. The following are excerpts from the article.

"At St. Emmanuel, the children were divided into groups of approximately five or six in each group. One group at the time was sent into the church. The church was filled with different stations, one for each pearl in the Pearls of Life bracelet (from now on PoL bracelet).

"At each station there is a pearl, some information about that pearl, a verse from the Bible or a poem, and often something the children can do. At the end of each station, they receive the pearl from that station. The children stay quiet except for when they ask questions about the pearls. At the post of the baptism pearl, they ask several questions such as, “What about those who are not baptized? Do they get a baptism pearl?” “Does God care about those who are not baptized?” “Can someone who’s not baptized be here at this event?” The leader, Eva, answers some of their questions, but not all of them. Sometimes she says that she does not know, or that they are asking good and important questions; other times she asks them back, “What do you think?” After the group finishes at the church, they walk over to the parish hall. They now have all the pearls to make a bracelet. In one of the rooms, the pastor, Eric, waits. He has the rubber band needed to complete the bracelet, and a prototype so that the pearls are put on in the correct order. While they finish making the bracelets, Eric asks the children about the experience they have had in the church. He talks with them about which pearl they liked the most, or remembered the best, and why they liked or remembered that pearl.

"In the worship service on Sunday morning, Eric opens the preaching event by showing a large version of the PoL bracelet to the congregation and telling them about what the children have been doing the day before. When he describes how he talked with the children about which pearl they remembered, he quotes himself saying, “Which pearl did you remember and why?” The hands of the children sitting in the pews shoot into the air. Eric looks a bit startled but turns to the children and lets them answer the question. He repeats this a couple of times. Then the preaching event continues with the reading of a children’s book that tells the origin story of the PoL bracelet. Eva reads the story while pictures from the book are projected onto the wall of the church. ...

"When asked about what she thought about during the preaching event on Sunday morning, Emily from the St. Emmanuel congregation answers:

Emily: Well, I thought about that blue pearl, the happiness one.

Interviewer: The blue?

Emily: Because I don’t like to think about sad things and things like that.

Interviewer: Why did you… what did you think about when you thought about that blue pearl? Did you have something to be happy about?

Emily: …Well, there has been some stuff going on in my family, stuff that I have not liked.

Interviewer: Mmm, oh, ok…

Emily: But now it seems like it’s going to turn out to be fine… and then I am happy, yes.

"Here we can see Emily both listening and interpreting. She listens to Eric and Eva and then uses the blue pearl to think about the stuff that has been going on in her family. Emily is interpreting what she hears in the preaching event and applying it to her own life, making the preaching event relevant to her. In other words, she knows how to x. Emily was not the only child in St. Emmanuel who did this. Several say that during the preaching event they thought of their bracelet and then something to do with their lives, and in the video you see at least one boy looking intently at his bracelet while Eric talks. This stands out from the two other congregations. ...

"Even though all the congregations deliberately use materiality with the intent of making the preaching event easier to listen to and more relevant to the children, it is only at St. Emmanuel that the materiality has this function. This calls for a different approach as to how to use materiality when preaching to children. Some of the preachers expressed a “gadget fatigue”: they knew they had to figure out some symbol to bring or make a drama when preaching to children. Others loved preaching to children because of the possibility these preaching events offered for using their creativity. Either way, when preaching to children all the preachers expressed the need to do something other than what they usually do. This way of thinking probably originates from learning that children cannot process abstract thoughts like adults can, which is true. However, this can unfortunately result in preachers putting too much confidence in the materiality and forgetting that words and materials need to work together. The children in these interviews also show that they reflect on complex and existential issues. The way the PoL bracelet is used at St. Emmanuel shows that it is possible to be both concrete and existential.

"At St. Emmanuel, where none of the children say that the preaching event is boring, and where several of them state that their ends are to learn and to learn more about being a Christian, they use the bracelet as a means of making sense of the preaching event.

"At St. Emmanuel, the PoL bracelet is used by the children to listen and interpret the different preaching events. The children are in no small degree helped to take part in the shared understanding of what the PoL bracelet means and how it can be used. This is done by first introducing the children to each pearl, then talking with them about which pearl they remembered best and why, and by using the bracelet actively in the worship service. The children are told that the pearls have names and functions, like the pearl of joy, but they are not told what kind of joy to associate with the pearl. There is an open room where the children can go in and appropriate the different pearls and fill them with their own intentions. ...

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