Lots of us have been journalling with the story of Jonah this summer using the latest kit from Bible Journalling UK.  Then last week I got the chance to lead a workshop using the materials with a room full of teenagers and their leaders. I used to be an experienced youth worker but I must admit I’m extremely rusty these days. I wasn’t at all sure how it would go. So I pitched up at Glenalmond School on one of the hottest days on record and unloaded the car in the sweltering heat.

I’d adjusted the kits to include lots of rainbow-themed supplies knowing that these young people have a strong sense of social justice and would understand the inclusive symbolism that rainbows have these days.  As I spread scrapbook paper, stamps, ink, washi tape, glue and a myriad of other art supplies over the tables provided, I was thankful that the art block was in shade and relatively cool compared with the air outside. It would be a calming place to work.

As everyone came in and sat down there was plenty of cheerful banter.  Most of them were familiar with the Jonah story from Sunday school but they were all new to Bible journalling. In my attempt to introduce them to the possibilities I definitely talked too much. However they got stuck in covering their journals with good humour and were soon deep in the imagery from the story. One of the differences with this group was the variety of materials they were using. I always say in my introduction that if there’s anything you need but can’t find, just ask. It’s easy to miss the one crucial thing you want in a room filled with supplies. When I work with adults it’s very rare for people to ask for things – they obediently use what’s in front of them. One by one the young people came up to me and asked for things that weren’t immediately obvious: string, plain white paper, ink, acrylic paint, a sponge. Whilst it’s much easier to run a workshop without the constant requests, I love it when people do ask for things – it shows they are working with their own innovative ideas, owning the creative process and pushing the boundaries a bit. I hope these young people don’t lose their ability to think outside the obvious ‘box’ at as they get older.

I was impressed by the variety of images they explored between them: a page of whales, a shipwreck, a wild goose flying free, a row of bunting, a page of geometric shapes (beautifully masked between the painted sections with washi tape), to name just a few. One of the joys of creative journalling is the way it celebrates our individual differences. You all start with the same few verses and end up with as many different representations as there are people! We had to virtually throw them out at break time! They were so intent on what they were doing.

The creativity continued to flow after the break. We sympathised with Jonah running away. We felt sorry for him inside the fish.  But some of us also thought that the withered plant kind of served him right for being so prejudiced against the Ninevites.

Led by an incredible bunch of volunteer leaders, these young people are able to live out true Christian values at camp in a way that they would never experience at school. The whole ‘Glen’ experience is a model of inclusivity in the way that the people there love one another. There’s a beautiful atmosphere of unconditional love and acceptance amongst them. They seem to have an innate understanding of God’s love for everyone, whoever they are, whether they conform to social ‘norms’ or not. One person cleverly made the link with 1 Corinthians 13, decorated a page and copied out some of the verses. They fully understood the lesson of the plant and the worm. If only all the decision makers in our world could do the same!

Eventually we came to a stop in time to have a chat before the end of the session.  “Every church should have this”. “That was actually fun”.  “I thought this might be really boring but it totally wasn’t”.  Somebody explained that this had helped them ‘make God in my own image’, by which they meant that when we use images that we personally understand we can relate to God. When we are constantly confronted with the images of others, it’s difficult – off putting even. It can turn us away from faith. The journalling draws us closer to God because it allows us to explore in our own way and understand.

We got talking about how we would change the church if we had a chance. The consensus seemed to be that we needed room for more interaction, more creativity, more flexibility of space and form, different ways of learning and praying, and more comfortable seats! I encouraged them to find ways of discussing this with their church leaders where they lived. It’s hard to please everyone all of the time. I’ve been a church leader myself and I know the challenges. But these young people who inhabit the world we are trying to reach out to have very valuable things to say. I pray that we as a church will listen.

Thanks to everyone at Glen ’19 for letting me join you and special thanks to the journalling group for getting stuck in and giving me permission to post the pictures.

You can get the Jonah journalling kit here

Come to the Jonah workshop: information here

Jonah Journalling with Teenagers at the Scottish Episcopal Youth Camp

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