“Hey, Miss! What you doing here?” The words of one young boy entering his local church for the first time and seeing a face he knows. His class is visiting the church as part of the R.E. curriculum, and he’s never been inside this strange looking building before ... but here’s someone he knows. It is that lady who comes into school and helps do the best assembly of the week. They have lots of fun hearing stories from the Bible; sometimes even dressing up and taking part themselves.
All over the country, lots more “Misses” (and “Misters”) are doing the same thing, as part of an Open the Book team. Teams can be small (2-3) or large (20+), but members are seldom children’s workers, ordained or specially trained; they are just Christian folk who share a desire to tell the stories that they treasure to the children who live in their community. In small villages the local church can form a small team from their members and arrange with their local school to present an assembly, or Act of Collective Worship, every week. In larger villages or towns denominations often work together to create teams to go into all the local primary schools, so no school gets left out.
What is “Open the Book”? A programme of weekly assemblies that simply storytells the Bible – based on handbook with a short script to start and finish the assembly, while The Lion Storyteller Bible by Bob Hartman provides most of the stories. A 3-year programme, which can then be repeated, has been published:
- Year 1 gives an important overview of the Bible showing how “The Big Story” is formed, telling the stories in chronological order from “Creation” to “Ascension”.
- Years 2 and 3 are modular; following themes using Old and New Testament. Extra stories have been specially written for Open the Book to supplement The Lion Storyteller Bible.
Churches with few children in their services or Sunday Schools have made real steps with Open the Book to build a bridge between church and school. This can become a two-way street, and schools are now bringing the children into the church.
Opportunities to strengthen this community link are many: teachers bring the children into the church to learn about the building and the Christian faith; the schools hold assemblies in the church at Christmas, Easter and End of Year. The church, through the Open the Book team, invites children and their families to come to the different festival services. There has been a growth of special events prepared by churches to help the children learn more about festivals, e.g. Experience Easter. Open the Book team members are often fully involved in all these events.
Team members themselves become valued as part of the school family. They are asked to help out with listening to readers, sharing local memories, providing oral history, attending school plays, being invited to Christmas parties and going along on school trips. They become ‘famous’ within their local area and are accosted in the street (Hello, God! I like your dog), on the bus (This lady knows all about Jesus) and in the supermarket (Look, Mum; that lady’s a leper).
Simple, visually effective, presentation of stories - bringing the children into the action - stirs their imaginations and speaks to their hearts. The stories, told simply without teaching or preaching, can help the children form a biblical image of God.
All understand the desire to pass on good stories. The Open the Book storytellers share the desire to pass on their faith story to the coming generation. When they were children, someone took time to tell them the Bible stories; and they want to be a similar link that keeps the Big Story going forward into future generations. They commit time and energy to “enabling every child to hear the story of the Bible at school in their primary years”.
The Open the Book resource books are only available to registered teams.
Details on how to register and obtain the books are on the website: www.openthebook.net.
Dianne Brookes, National Coordinator, Open the Book
Research by the Arthur Rank Centre in 2010 revealed numerous Anglican lay people who were on local teams of Open the Book volunteers, who indicated:
“Open the Book training ... was very helpful, and we are using it in quite a few of the village first schools in [the two benefices].”
“It is the best thing we have ever done!”
URC ministers in the West Midlands and Methodist ministers and training providers in the North East use it, and are positive about it:
“It is a good resource for schools’ work and assemblies, being story-based and self-contained.”
“Open the Book has got ordinary church members enthused and involved.”
An excellent story of how Open the Book works in very rural North Devon can be found here.
In many cases a very good working relationship is built up between school and church/team, with the school staff getting quite involved. In one school in Gloucestershire the deputy head actually produces a sheet for the children after each Open the Book session, with some photos, a summary of the Bible story and the prayer.
The vicar of a couple of rural parishes in Gloucester Diocese has been following the developments of Open the Book and has had some very positive experiences, about which she has blogged. She also includes a prayer for the commissioning of a new Open the Book volunteer team. Find this by clicking here.