Tucked away in a darkened room, down a long hall in a church in the heart of Edmonds, is a place where it’s always winter but never Christmas.
The place is Narnia, the wondrous yet terrible land made famous by author C.S. Lewis in his classic tale, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” from his allegorical Christian series, “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
For the past five weeks, Edmonds United Methodist Church has transformed its Sunday school rooms into scenes from the book that has enthralled generations of readers with the adventures of four brave, young Londoners who ventured through a magical wardrobe on a mystical journey into the never-ending war between good and evil.
The Sunday-morning series is just one – but admittedly one of the most popular and elaborate – the church has offered since it began a new method of teaching about three years ago, according to the Rev. Marta Schellberg.
Schellberg, an associate pastor who oversees children’s ministries, missions and social justice for the church, said the rotation method is designed to incorporate all the senses and learning styles. She learned of it several years ago and with the help of what she calls her “dream team” of volunteers, designed a model that would work for the approximately 150 children in kindergarten through sixth grades who attend Sunday school at the church.
Sandy Lingenbrink, Jene Sanders, Jeanette Murphy and Schellberg meet weekly, months before a series is introduced, to design it. Although their approach is much less expensive than purchased curriculums, it requires lots of volunteer hours. “The church has been just wonderful in embracing the program,” Schellberg said, adding that there is a place for everyone, from set designers and seamstresses to cooks and carpenters.
“Rotation model takes all the different ways we learn to tell the story,” Schellberg said. The fact it doesn’t rely on ordered steps to teach a lesson allows children who miss one or more Sundays to still benefit from the story being taught, she said.
Every Sunday, the children experience a different way of learning a lesson from the story on which a series is based. Computers, hands-on art projects, movies, cooking sessions and interactive plays with elaborately costumed adult actors are ways the stories are spun. Schellberg said the method also gives Sunday school teachers a break and spreads their work over many hands.
Volunteers say the fact a Hollywood movie version of the book soon will soon be released makes the timing of the Sunday school program especially good. All of the church is getting involved by reading the story, Schellberg said.
The centerpiece, literally, of the church’s adaptation is an oversized wardrobe, replete with hanging fur coats through which the children push to enter the land of Narnia. The chest was custom crafted to fit a classroom doorway by a member of the congregation, Cordell Haughlie.
Entering Narnia through the wardrobe “and wearing the fur coats” was the favorite part of the vignette for Stephanie Dickerson, 8, who’s favorite character in the book is Lucy. Once through the wardrobe, children experience the snowy forest and the cozy abode of Mr. Tumnus, who takes tea with Lucy in one scene of the rotation. Role-players are adult members of the congregation.
Stephanie expressed disappointment that she missed church the Sunday her class whipped up Turkish Delight with the Queen of Narnia in the church kitchen.
Her sister, Carissa Dickerson, 11, who has read the 55-year-old classic twice, said the five-week series has been, “really good. It’s like you’re in the book. It’s terrific.”
After viewing the drama, an instructor leads the children in a discussion about the message in the scenes they just viewed. “In this story, they talk a lot about how we are each beautiful children … all beloved children of God,” Schellberg said.
Next on the dream team’s agenda: the story of the journey to Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus Christ, followed by an account of Jonah and the whale.
Looks as if volunteers in the set-design department have their work cut out for them.