Why I like the St. Andrew’s Stars

We’ve just completed the first season of the St. Andrew’sStars (You can catch all the episodes at www.youtube.com/standrewsstars) with awonderful Academy Awards Gala. I thought I would do a bit of personalreflection on the group and what I find good about it.

A successful Method

The St. Andrew’s Stars have been a great success. It hashelped to make the church experience much more meaningful for many of our kidsand it helps them feel that they are making a significant contribution to thelife of the entire congregation (because they are). They are being treated aspeople who have something important to add to our worship. After all, no oneelse could do what they have done for us.
Many have told us that they have found new meaning in theBible stories that they have helped to tell. And in many cases they certainlywill not forget these important narratives. I would like to explore here someof the elements that make this method so successful.

A “Sprinter” Event

Church consultant Kennon Callahan has written about a shiftthat has occurred in our generation. In former generations, a majority ofpeople had what he calls a marathon mentality. When they decided to activelywork to make a contribution, to support a cause or to minister to people theyapproached it with the mind of a runner of marathons. They were like thetortoise in Aesop’s fable who knew that “slow and steady wins the race.” Theyvalued things like long-term commitment, diligence and perseverance. These are,of course, the kinds of people that church has depended on down through theyears – the people who have filled our committees, sung weekly in our choirsand freely made membership commitments.
But Callahan notes that today people of this marathonmentality are increasingly rare. Instead we meet people with a sprintermentality. They are no less passionate about being involved and making adifference in the world. But they are much less likely to make any sort of long-termcommitment to do so. They want to work in short bursts – one day events, shortterm projects, seasonal involvement for example. When they are involved theyare like a sprinter who devotes every bit of energy that can be mustered intocreating speed. But then they can withdraw from action for long periods.
The church has long been good at providing opportunities formarathon minded people. But there is a great need in our times to offeropportunities for people enter into the life of the church as sprinters. Andthis is perhaps especially true for children and for their parents. Kids arejust so busy these days and their lives are so heavily scheduled that it isvery hard indeed to count on their consistent attendance for anything. Perhaps thisis one of the reasons why the St. Andrew’s Stars works. We take our actors andvolunteers as they are and when they are available. If all they can give us isan hour, we can still give them a chance to contribute to something meaningful.
And yet at the same time, the method has some built inincentives to help people to move towards a fuller participation in the life ofthe church. If the participants want to see the video that they helped make,they have to attend worship the morning that is presented. If they want theirfriends or family to see it, they must invite them. And if, immediately afterthat service another filming is taking place, it will leave them with anincentive to attend again.

Giving credit

Everyone craves recognition. And in the church (perhaps dueto a misunderstanding of the true nature of humility) we are often slow orparsimonious in giving praise to our people. But in St. Andrew’s Starspresentations credit is always something that is given first and that leaves anaftertaste. And you can be sure that people notice. Every time the kids seetheir names on the big screen they point and smile and you can tell that theyfeel important. Older kids might react more nonchalantly, but the recognitionthat they receive (and that is echoed within the congregation) does have animpact on the way that they see themselves.

A Biblically Centred Activity

We always begin with the Biblical text; nevertheless, we donot allow the Biblical text to constrain us. We are quite happy to reset thestory into a modern context, to introduce anachronisms (like the disciplesgetting their information from the internet or cell phones) or to tell the storyto fit with a very specific interpretation or application of it.
Also, because of our decision to take and use whoever comes,we are very free with our casting. We do not cast by age or gender or othersimilar considerations. Sometimes this means that a key character like Jesus ora king is played by a girl or a male character is rewritten (on the spot) as afemale or vice versa. In one sense, this is a necessary way of proceeding givenour method. (And, honestly, if we didn’t do this, the girls would so rarelyhave significant roles!) But in another way, it has helped to communicate animportant message – that, no matter who we are, we can all find ourselves in these important stories.

A very flexible method

When you create your own scripts, you also feel very free tochange your scripts. When I go into a filming, I often have a fairly clear ideaof what the final video might look like, but I am often surprised with thefinal outcome. Often this is because of the ideas of our actors. The directortells them to do something or say something and they do it but in a way that isquite different from what was expected. You ask them for a bit of sadness andthey weep uncontrollably. You ask them to pretend that they have just beenhealed from being lame; they jump up and run around yelling, “I can walk.”Their ideas are usually very good and you’re best to let them improvise whenyou can.

Builds on the strengths of a small church

Often, in order to reach its full potential, a ministry withchildren or youth requires a large pool of kids to draw from. You just need acertain critical mass to create the necessary interest or excitement. But theStars have benefitted from being able to draw from a smaller pool. This hasmeant that every actor who wants to has been able to have a starring role or asignificant supporting role, everyone has had a turn behind the camera andeveryone has a strong sense of making a significant contribution to the finalpresentation.

Not just an add-on

The St. Andrew’s Stars have been successful because thefinished videos are fully integrated into the worship service. They are notsomething extra that is added on as an afterthought – not as something thatmight be nice to watch but that had nothing to do with anything else that issaid or done in worship. Most often it is the Stars’ presentation thatintroduces the themes and ideas that are picked up and run with through therest of that service. This is made especially clear when images from the videosare used to illustrate the sermon. These presentations allow us to look atthose themes and ideas in unique ways and from new angles. You can find thingsin biblical stories through drama that you simply cannot find by reading themor listening to sermons preached on them.
Sometimes things are added to services – anthems, solos,stories or readings – that are nice and enjoyable to listen to but that don’treally connect with the rest of the service. You might enjoy them, but youwould not really notice if they weren’t there. A Stars’ presentation wouldleave a definite hole if it weren’t there because it is integral to theplanning of the entire service.

Letting kids make a significant contribution

But above all St. Andrew’s Stars have been important becauseit allows our kids to make a contribution to worship that is truly meaningful.Sometimes, unfortunately, congregations can be somewhat patronizing with theirchildren. We love to chuckle at their amusing answers to questions in achildren’s story or to ooh and aah when they sing for us (even if they’re alittle off key). But we’re not really ready to let them teach us something newor change our opinions on something. In that sense we are not really ready tolisten to them and children and youth are quite able to sense that.
A St. Andrew’s Stars presentation allows our kids to speakdirectly to the congregation andto get a message across to themthat perhaps no one else can. They allow our children to play a key role in communicating the message of life. It creates the kindof opportunity that we need much more of inthe church.