Sacred Texts’ Cath Kennedy talked with Clare Williams, the Children and Young People Resources Editor for ROOTS, the ecumenical worship resources publisher. How does a team of only six go about preparing original resources to be used with all age groups and backgrounds?
It always seems to be busy at ROOTS. When I called Clare to set up our chat, I asked if she was working on anything in particular, she commented that she is always working to several deadlines. Even without knowing this, it is easy to imagine that an organisation that is a partnership of denominations and organisations (The Methodist Church, The National Society of the Church of England, The United Reformed Church, Christian Education, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and The Welsh Sunday School Council) which aims to cater for the broad needs of faith communities, puts a lot of effort into co-ordinating and balancing differing requirements and expectations from users of varying ages and social backgrounds. Coordinating such a wide variety of essentials seems a complicated process, so how does a small team manage to produce an integrated package of resources every month without encountering any tensions?
Clare explains that the editorial process for an issue of ROOTS begins with the RCL (revised common lectionary) readings assigned for the relevant period, since this is integral to the liturgy in many partner churches. Bible notes are commissioned from a theologically qualified author, and these then serve to orient reflection and discussion when the team of writers meets for a writers’ conference. During the conference, the team considers how the lectionary texts apply to faith communities today and share ideas to form a plan which will be developed over the next few weeks, as they prepare their drafts and submit them for editorial appraisal. Several rounds of back-and-forth between authors and editors follow before the new resources are ready for publication.
Beginning with a discussion of the biblical text and its theological background serves several purposes: firstly, it ensures that any doctrinal difficulties or controversies have been anticipated and discussed before writers spend time developing their ideas. Secondly, it ensures that the team have a plan for producing a co-ordinated set of resources which can be mixed and matched according to local needs. Thirdly, it ensures that all the resources, (including those for children and young people) arise from the same quality of theological reflection.
In my own research I have often come across children’s resources which rely on tradition to select Bible stories and retellings and draw on notions of biblical literacy rather than theology. This can produce sessions themed around the patriarchs of Genesis, for example, with the result that Sunday school sessions bear no relation to what the adults are doing in the next room. Not only does this suggest that children are effectively not part of the church, but it can mean that the values implicit in teaching to adults are not reflected in the content being presented to their children. Clare recognises this picture, and is keen to point out that ROOTS’ commissioning process aims to prevent these issues in its materials. Beginning from a common theological reflection should, in theory, ensure that not only are all materials constructed around the same texts, but that they convey the same values regardless of the age group catered to.
Clare’s own background is in schools and youth work, and she has training in teaching and ministry. Before becoming Children and Young People Editor at ROOTS, she worked as Education Officer for St Davids Cathedral and Children and Youth Officer for the Diocese of St Davids. Currently, she works from home most of the time, but travels around the country for the writers’ conferences for each edition. Travel is necessary because the writing teams are deliberately recruited from around the UK, broadening the perspectives represented. This regional and social diversity is another strength of the editorial approach which Clare feels leads to more diverse content and ideas and brings varied applications to themes which tend to recur year on year. For example, rural authors often have a particular perspective on agricultural matters, leading to insightful treatments of some of the parables and Gospel stories, whereas authors from deprived urban communities often explore questions of discrimination and structural injustice from different angles to writers in the countryside. Clare considers that the variety of perspectives available from regionally dispersed authors amply justifies any inconvenience the travel may involve. She says it is a unique process which is also a fun and engaging way of bringing these resources to life.
Producing a package of materials which children/youth leaders and ministers can use and adapt for 52 weeks of the year requires more than theology; the practical and cognitive needs of adults and children need to be catered to. Although Clare and ROOTS writers spend a lot of time devising varied activities and ideas for worship and learning which are user-friendly for ministers and leaders who do not have specialist training to work with children, ROOTS anchors its materials on David Csinos’ Spiritual Styles (identified in his book Children’s Ministry that Fits, published by Wipf and Stock in 2011): ‘word’, ‘emotion’, ‘symbol’ and ‘action’. These four distinct yet overlapping avenues for knowing God emerged from a six-month research project that involved interviewing children about their spiritual lives. By applying this theoretical framework which specifically addresses children’s spiritual development, the writers and editors aim to ensure that the resources do more than occupy and amuse.
With around 12,000 regular users, ROOTS is clearly meeting needs and keeping its users happy. Many subscribers do leave feedback through social media or correspondence, and ROOTS recently surveyed users on all aspects of their experience. The results of this will be reflected in the reshaped formats of ROOTS which will be rolled out from January 2021. In the meantime, you can assess the materials for yourselves and email feedback (firstname.lastname@example.org) as during September, ROOTS are offering free access to all resources via their website which is accessible by clicking here.
All images provided by ROOTS and used with permission.