27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” (John 20.27)
I’ve always wondered why Thomas got the name Doubting Thomas. Is it simply because he needed tangible proof and physical evidence of Christ’s resurrection? Maybe it wasn’t so much his doubt that motivated him to demand such physical evidence, but his desire to participate in the miracle. After all, Mary Magdalene got to see Jesus. The other disciples got to see Jesus. So, then why does Thomas get stuck with the reputation of the doubting one simply because he drew the short stick and had to get the coffee while the others were locked up safe in fear for their lives? (Who knows why Thomas wasn’t there, but I can only imagine if he is that unlucky to don a nickname then he must have been just as unlucky to go run an errand.) I, myself, find the need to have tangible interaction with my faith, my belief, and even my doubts. So much of faith requires us to believe in something we can not detect with our five senses. Especially in times when the world around me bombards me with so much physical evidence to doubt my faith, I need something to physically cling to in order to find strength to believe. How can we engage and interact with our faith in ways that is real and relevant in our lives? One way is through rituals like communion, baptism, and laying on of hands. These rituals hold significant symbolism, gives us an opportunity to think about our call as God’s children, and reminds us of who God is.
Six years ago, my Head of Staff went on sabbatical. During his time, he traveled around Europe and attended churches having St. Thomas Mass. It was a postmodern style worship that began in Europe, targeting what they called “doubters,” hence the name. Their goal was to give opportunity for people to encounter their faith in a way that was tangible, meaningful, experiential, and reflective. Adapting from this model, we began offering interactive prayer stations on certain Sundays as a way to engage in God’s word and intentionally connect with our faith in tangible ways. We’ve been offering these opportunities for four years now and it is a great way to offer worship that is intergenerational, reflective yet active, and creative. The sermon time is used to set up the focus of the prayer stations. Then, in place of what would normally be “prayers of the people,” we invite people to participate in any or all of the prayer stations at their leisure. Because all ages can participate, we don’t offer Sunday School on Interactive Sundays. This gives families a wonderful opportunity to worship together and engage in faith conversations. For visitors and those who choose not to participate, they are free to remain seated and are invited to listen and sing taize style music. For those who desire and need prayer, pastors stand in the back for personal prayer time.
Planning the interactive prayer stations has also been a wonderful opportunity to engage our confirmation kids as well as those who are interested in using their creative gifts for the church.
Here is a sample layout of the stations:
Here is an example of an interactive prayer station I designed for preschoolers on Pentecost.
- blow on your arm or have someone blow on your arm. What does the breath feel like?
- Make a paper fan. Fan yourself and feel how the air moves along your body and face.
- Take a pinwheel and blow on the pinwheel. Watch it turn and move.
- Close your eyes and feel the fan blow on your face, reminding you that God is always with you.
Here is an example of three interactive prayer stations for adults and older kids that we did for the story of Mary and Martha.
Learn or memorize a breath prayer. As you exhale, pray to yourself referring to Creator (God), Redeemer (Christ), Sustainer (Holy Spirit), or other. As you inhale, use a verb to express the kind of transformation you desire to experience in your life with “me” as the last word. Let this prayer be as consistent or ordinary as your breathing. Take a few moments to allow this prayer to become part of you. Invite God to keep this alive in your faith journey.
Station two: Engage through Your Giftedness
Taking pipe cleaners, make an action figure or two to symbolize both your God-giftedness and the justice-sharing that God has uniquely called you to do in your community, family, relationships, the world or realm of activity. Reflect for a while now on the significance of all this. Invite God to keep this alive in your faith journey.
Station three: Immerse through Listening
As you “sit” on the floor at Jesus’ feet like Mary, consider the value of simply soaking up his presence. Take a floor tile and write a word representing the gift you receive by simply sitting and listening or the feeling you find by reflecting upon his company. Take time now to let this find a home in you. Invite God to keep this alive in your faith journey.
Our next Interactive Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent. Although, we haven’t figured out what all the stations will entail yet, the ones for ages 2-4 will include providing children’s books about the birth of Christ from different perspectives of Mary, the Shepherds, Wisemen, and even the animals; decorating ornaments with symbols of Christmas to put on the sanctuary tree; and making an Advent calendar out of bubble wrap.