By Lucy Robinson
Knitted with love by Susie Walton, these colourful sheep are helping the children of St Saviour’s parish engage with the Christmas story.
The children will act as shepherds as they follow a ‘Sheep Trail’ around the Burnside Village Shopping Centre during Advent, locating the sheep that have been placed in twelve shops.
They record each sheep’s name and location in a booklet as they go and while Susie says their main enjoyment is in the process, as an extra incentive for engagement those who complete their booklet are eligible for a prize.
“We have been concerned that so many children don’t know the story of Christmas,” Susie says.
“So we were searching for a way to get the message across without being too forceful about it.
“It appeals to the children – they love the colour of the sheep and the excitement of following the trail and it’s just really promising that they are so positive and excited.
“And after all it ties in with the twelve days of Christmas, and the Lamb of God.”
Her fellow children’s ministry volunteer Beth Walton and teacher Katy Phillips, helped adapt the idea from the ‘Messy Nativity’– a concept of the UK’s ‘Messy Church’ movement that aims to make the Christmas story fun and accessible to children.
Children are encouraged to colour in the Christmas pictures in their booklet and read an appropriately abridged version of the story.
“I think will be it really fun,” Nate Fonseka, 7, says.
“My favourite thing about Sunday School is the activities we get to do.
“I’m excited to find the sheep because they are soft and cute and I like looking at the colours.”
It’s been a true team effort to make the fun possible.
The wool to knit the sheep has been largely donated by families in St Saviour’s parish, Katy has headed negotiations with the Burnside Village traders and since March, Susie has spent countless hours knitting in her living room.
“When I finish a sheep they look so cute that I always say ‘You are beautiful’ and give them a kiss,” Susie says.
“My volunteering for Church is pretty much my life these days because I haven’t been able to do in the past.
“It’s filling a real need for me and hopefully this is bringing joy to others.”
The trail will run from Sunday, November 30 to Saturday, December 20, with the children who participate encouraged to attend a children’s nativity service run by Katy on Christmas Eve.
Last year’s service incorporated the sheep from the 2014 Sheep Trail.
“Little children dressed as shepherds came onto the stage carrying the sheep – it was just precious,” Katy, who is also the Priest’s Warden of St Saviour’s parish, says.
“This has been a great story of fellowship.
“We don’t have very many children at the parish but they are the future of our Anglican faith so we try to make it the best quality we can for them.
“Having seen what a success it’s been for us as a parish, we’d like to see it become more of a community event – to really broaden the idea of Advent and Christmas to the community.”