On Palm Sunday 2019, the children and youth of Trinity Episcopal Church in Menlo Park, California, were invited to dive deeply into the story of Jesus’ passion by engaging Stations of the Seven Last Words. Each participant was led through the stations wearing headphones and guided by a recorded meditation. The audio included children and youth reading associated scripture passages, instructions for interacting with items found at the stations, and questions for further reflection.
A Note: If anything in this article is considered creative or worthwhile, I credit The Rev. Angela Compton-Nelson. At a Forma Conference in 2018, I participated in a workshop that The Rev. Compton-Nelson led based on her creation of an experiential Stations of the Cross. It is the inspiration for all that I describe.
Coloring Posters from Illustrated Ministry
Initially, this began with youth coloring Seven Last Words posters from Illustrated Ministry as a meditative practice during Lent. Over a couple of weeks of coloring, I remembered The Rev. Compton-Nelson’s workshop. My colleague The Rev. Aaron Klinefelter and I decided to create experiential stations using the Seven Last Words, including a self-guided audio element like one might find at a museum.
Details & Logistics
Scripture, Script, Audio
For the scriptural focus for each station, we used words found on the posters or used text from their broader Bible passages. From there, we reviewed each selected scripture and decided on a corresponding physical item or action that could connect with the scripture and colored image. We used the voices of children and youth in our recording, hoping it would help those listening relate more deeply with the experience and offer a sense of familiarity with this new thing they were doing.
Here is some text from Station Four:
“….we find Jesus being mocked. Jesus must have felt alone. …. At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. Then at three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
Try putting on the mask so that you can get a sense of the darkness of this moment for Jesus. Is there a time you felt all alone? Is there a time that you felt like people were mocking or making fun of you? Have you ever felt like God had abandoned you?”
Materials & Actions
Much of this experience depended on how we invited the children and youth to engage with images, scripture, and items or actions all at once. Particular emphasis was placed on the selection of items. We selected items and actions that we believed would connect clearly and directly to a station’s image or scripture. We also selected items and actions that we believed were distinctive yet not distracting. Often, we chose items that youth could keep and take home with them after the experience.
We ordered almost everything online. We were sure to purchase more items than the number of children and youth we expected so that everyone could take them home. We also were able to order a few sets of inexpensive headphones and MP3 players. We staggered our participants to limit the number of people in the space at one time. This allowed the few headphones and MP3 players to be used by more of our group members and helped to create a more worshipful and meditative space.
Photos of the Stations of the Seven Last Words can be found here.
A Few Tips
These kinds of immersive and interactive experiences will likely work well with most children and youth. Further, there are endless ways to adapt these types of experiences. A few of our takeways:
- When creating experiences, the more connected and in concert each component piece is, the better.
- Open-ended engagement that allows for wondering and wandering is best.
- Space that is prayerfully curated encourages people to pray and engage with God.
We believe that such immersive and interactive experiences within the walls of our churches can potentially impact our young people in such a way as to transform their understanding of faith, their relationship with God, and the ways they live in the world in their daily lives. Or as the young people heard in the audio recording in the Stations of the Seven Last Words, “You’ve reached the end of these stations, but your journey with Jesus continues beyond this place…”