By: Elisabeth Williams
At the heart of designing an intergenerational spirituality center is the concept of spirituality—a word that we are not always comfortable with as Christians in the Reformed tradition. To some of us, spirituality may seem mysterious or even summon visions of the occult; to others it might sound intellectually lightweight, at best. But in both cases we’d be missing the whole point of a spirituality center: it’s a place not for focusing on human spirituality but for seeking the Holy Spirit
In designing a spirituality center, I use everyday objects and activities—the ordinary—to engage with the sacred and to help the participant connect to the Holy Spirit. This practice works well with people of all ages:
- Children are open to the mystery of God, and they are naturally comfortable using objects and their imaginations to play. Stations that draw on the multiple intelligences and multisensory experiences invite children to fully participate and enjoy the experience of being in a place of prayer and meditation.
- Youth are often dealing with very deep questions of identity and their purpose in the world, so they’re not content with pat answers or willing to accept something without questioning it. To connect with youth, stations must allow for questions and acknowledge doubts.
- Adults need permission to relax and to just be with God. We are often so busy doing that we forget how just to be. We often don’t take “time to smell the roses” or to see the holy. Spirituality centers are a wonderful opportunity to pull adults out of their busyness and help them slow down and find God in the still small voice.
Spirituality centers can take many forms and shapes. What’s important in each of them is not how big or small they are but that they’re distraction-free.
- If you choose to use stations, you’ll want to make sure you have enough stations to serve the people who will be using them at the same time. That might mean one center is sufficient; it might mean you need as many as 8-12.
- Depending on the context, you may want to focus on a particular theme for the center.
- For the stations, use a variety of art, music, touch, smell, sights, and sounds, and so on; limit stations that require a lot of writing. You can find lots of ideas for stations at http://www.creativeprayer.com and on Pinterest.
If you have access to a labyrinth, either indoor or outdoor, you’ve got a ready-made spirituality center! Labyrinths appeal to people of all ages; all you need to do is walk. Rev. Pamela Bowles, a Veriditas-trained labyrinth facilitator, says,
“I always enjoy working with children and the labyrinth because my inner child gets to engage and connect with other children. Children bring such a pureness of heart, spirit, and joy to our lives and to the labyrinth experience. Being a part of that in any way is always such a pleasure and a real honor. Viewing the energy that the children tap into and play with when walking the labyrinth is like a step into the fountain of youth for an adult. They teach us to remember that life is filled with joy and that we are to have fun along the way in the inner and outer workings of our daily lives. At times I feel that as adults we forget the importance of this as we get so wrapped up in the axle of routine day-to-day life.”
A labyrinth can be used in a number of different ways. You can simply invite people to walk the labyrinth or set up prayer stations along the path. The first time I used a labyrinth with youth, I was teaching confirmation class. I planned for them to walk the labyrinth and then come to class for the lesson of the day. I was sure that they would finish quickly and was amazed to see how intent they were on the experience. Not only did they prayerfully walk the labyrinth, but when they had finished, many of them stayed continuing in prayer on the edges of the room. The labyrinth was the lesson that day!
As you plan your centers, don’t be afraid to try something new or something you think might not work for all ages. You may be pleasantly surprised like I was. The following tips may help :
- Remember, safety first: I love using candles, but if children are using the stations unattended, you may want to avoid candles. Or use floating candles, which will simply be extinguished if they tip over rather than burn down the church (something I have tried to avoid in my career as a Christian Educator)!
- Decide ahead of time if children will go through the center with their parents or another adult or teen .
- Decide if you will you need guides at each station to help with instructions.
To accommodate participants of different ages, you may want to include variations or several levels of questions to consider at each station. Children can do part one, youth can do parts one and two, and adults can do all three parts. With similar questions tailored to each group, participants will have a shared experience from which conversations can emerge. It may take extra work to make a spirituality center compatible for all ages, but it will truly be a gift to all.
Elisabeth Williams is a candidate for ministry of the Word and Sacrament. She is a graduate of Wesley Theological Seminary with a specialty in biblical studies. She has been serving in education ministries, working with children, youth, and adults in congregations in National Capital Presbytery. In addition to her congregational work in education, Beth has led workshops and provided the Spirituality Center at the Eastern Region APCE Spring Event several times. She is excited to be presenting the Spirituality Center at the upcoming APCE conference in Baltimore next February.