Telling the story of Easter with young people
Steven Payne, Apprentice Youth and Children’s Worker at St Catherine Neasden, got children and young people in the church involved in telling the Easter story.
When our Vicar Rob Harrison started his ministry at St Catherine’s, he conducted a wonderful all-age service on Good Friday, where the congregation was guided around various parts of the Church to a narration of the events of Jesus’ Death, with youngsters acting some of the characters while he explained the story. I thought this was a creative way to tell the Easter story, whilst actively engaging both young people and adults.
In my first year as a youth worker, I decided for Good Friday I would just do the same as Rob did the year before, where I would narrate the story and invite people to participate. It went well, but in my mind, it lacked substance. It was hard to give the congregation an image what the scenes were really like and lacked creativity. So, I was determined that next year, I would do better.
In January last year, my team and I sat down to discuss what we were going to do for Easter. For Good Friday, we decided to do an All-Age Stations of the Cross, but this time, rather than have us just narrate the story, the young people would dress up as the characters, act out the emotions of the characters, engage the congregation to put themselves in the shoes of the characters and encourage them to participate. The team raised the usual questions of “How would we get this to work?” or “Will it even work?” The problem wasn’t in materials and resources, but the support it needed to be successful. Once we shared our idea with our youth group, Young St Catherine’s, the young people were thrilled with the idea and desperately wanted to make it a success. They worked multiple weekends (including Saturdays) and gave their all to make the costumes and decorations. When I shared our plan with friends and colleagues, they shared very positive views on our ideas. Even my younger brother, who doesn’t regard himself as a “person of faith” had to admit it was good plan and he wanted to be part of the project. Not only did he design an amazing poster for us, but he also volunteered to be a character and as a result we had the perfect High Priest Caiaphas (he actually played the role very well)!
The time had come for me to announce our All-Age Stations of the Cross service. I didn’t just ask people to come, but I appealed to the congregation to support the children and teenagers who had worked so hard to make the service happen. Of course, I added the bribe of hot chocolates and hot cross buns afterwards (which is a tactic that rarely fails).
The day had finally come. We arrived at 9am to set everything up. By 10am, the atmosphere was as chaotic as you would expect, with people getting into costumes, waiting for late arrivals, missing bags, questions of bun shortage etc. Amidst the chaos, I noticed that the church was filling up fast, which looked to me like a normal Sunday as the congregation gathered. When were finally ready for the 11am start, it transpired that a mix of over 50 regular St Catherine’s people and visitors turned up, which was a huge surprise – we really didn’t think that many people would turn up. The pressure was on!
We took the congregation on a walk through the church to each station, where the young people expressed the situations and emotions of everyone involved in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. They did exceptionally well; the congregation could not only visualise the events but also put themselves in the position of Jesus Peter, Mary and Pilate.
To finish, we all gathered outside in the church garden where my Brother and I had assembled some rocks to form a ‘tomb’ and one of the children placed a candle inside it, to light on Easter Sunday. We all formed a circle around the tomb and as we prayed, we could hear the buzzing life of Neasden in the background, with the continuous sound of rushing cars, buses and people doing their daily routines, not knowing that on this day, their Saviour died for their freedom and salvation. It brought home to all of us that our task in sharing the story of Jesus’ life and sacrifice was even more vital that it ever has been before.
I learned some valuable things through this experience. Firstly, God uses anyone to tell His story. For our young people, God certainly used them, but also spoke to them through it, because something clicked. Not only were they taken into the past, they also felt God was there. They all said afterwards that through acting out the roles, they saw God’s love in action. Finally, I learned God never sets people up to fail, especially in sharing His story with others. This whole experience started off as something tiny, but blossomed into something significant as God worked through our young people. That’s what made our Easter fantastic.