“Backstage at the Circus”- a community festival prayer space

Picture 1Wallingford Baptist Church, supported by other local churches had the opportunity to run a circus-themed prayer space at Bunkfest, a community festival on the first weekend in September.

Bunkfest, a folk music festival, has been running for around 18 years and has grown incredibly during that time. It is a free access event with the focus on one of Wallingford’s parks but uses many other venues around town.

God has been good to us in the Wallingford Churches and has created many opportunities with Bunkfest since first having a tent on the site around 10 years ago.  Through using the gifts and creativity of church members, artists, sound artists, designers, poets and musicians we have built a good relationship with the event organisers. In the last few years this has included an open-air Sunday morning service on the site praising Jesus as people with blurry eyes and slightly sore heads wake up in town.

Picture 2

So what has been happening? Through providing free activities for children and adults, like lantern making, a text-a-line festival poem, a lantern parade at the end of the festival, a drop-in Living Room space and in recent years, prayer activities, we have tried to do church outside of the church walls. Actually it’s church with the tent flaps wide open and encouragement to be yourself through these activities. The theme this year was ‘Who do you want to be?’

Picture 5The prayer space was in a smaller tent accessed from our main marquee through a wardrobe. The space was designed to look like a back-stage dressing-room with vintage-style circus banners depicting a strongman, a trapeze artist, a clown and a ringmaster.

People were encouraged to spend time in each area thinking about aspects of identity. There were practical things to do. For example in the strongman area, people were encouraged to think of weights and burdens they were carrying and imagine putting them down for a moment. Dumbbells helped do this. In each of the areas there were Bible verses about Jesus wanting to help and be involved with people.

Picture 3Our aim was that it would be accessible and thought-provoking for people of faith or no faith. We also wanted all ages to enjoy it. We were really pleased with how it was received. Many people went through it – some staying only a short time and others dwelling there for quite a while. One lady would not leave and her friends had trouble getting her out because of the peace she felt in the space. Thank You God! Families enjoyed using the circus costumes to dress up.

Picture 4We would be happy for others to use our circus-themed prayer space ideas. We learnt a lot as we saw how people interacted with it. We recognise our explanations were a bit too wordy even though we’d edited them as we prepared. We also realised that visitors used the prayer space in ways we hadn’t expected, such as dressing-up using the props. We felt it was important not to be prescriptive but to engage with people wherever they were at. We’re now also hoping to adapt the activities to use the circus theme for a primary-school prayer space. We are very thankful to BeSpace for their support and loan of materials.  We continue to pray for ongoing opportunities to create prayer spaces in our local schools and community spaces.

Esther Mason & Gordon Buss (Wallingford Baptist Church)

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