Use Harry Potter to Talk about Christianity, says Youth Worker
Church youth worker finds faith in popular culture with Harry Potter's magic.
Published 18 July 2007
A new resource guide published yesterday by the Church of England suggests youth leaders should use the popular Harry Potter series of books and films as a launch pad for exploring Christian themes within church youth groups or Sunday schools.
The first six of J K Rowling's Harry Potter books have sold more than 325 million copies in 200 countries. On the eve of the launch of the seventh book in the series, the resource - published by Church House Publishing - enables youth leaders to use extracts from the books and films to draw parallels with daily life and help young people discuss 'big issues'.
By using scenes from the films in which the characters have to make tough decisions to prompt discussion within the group about moral choices, to extracts that demonstrate the power of words and their impact on others, the book is packed full of creative ideas for using the books as a basis for Christian teaching.
Other ideas in the book - written by Kent youth worker Owen Smith - include discussing stereotypes of what is 'normal' to examine how living a Christian life might cause a young person to stand out from their peers.
From theological concepts such as sacrifice and mercy, to everyday issues such as fears and boasting, each of the 12 sessions introduces a short clip from one of the Harry Potter films to provide a basis for that hour's discussions and activities. The sessions include Bible verses that present the Christian perspective on the theme, and prayer activities drawing on the topic.
The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev Bishop John Pritchard, commented: "The excitement and anticipation generated by the Harry Potter books show just what a great storyteller J K Rowling is.
"Although the fictional world of Harry Potter is very different from our own, Harry and his friends face struggles and dilemmas that are familiar to us all.
Bishop Pritchard added, "Jesus used storytelling to engage and challenge his listeners. There's nothing better than a good story to make people think, and there's plenty in the Harry Potter books to make young people think about the choices they make in their everyday lives and their place in the world,"
In his introduction, Owen Smith acknowledges that some Christians have expressed concerns over the influence of Harry Potter, but argues that engagement with the phenomenal success of the series is more productive than criticising it from the sidelines.
"These sessions draw parallels between events in the world of Harry and his friends, and the world in which we are seeking to proclaim the gospel to young people. The magic in the books is simply part of the magic that J K Rowling has created, in the same way that magic is part of the world of Christian writers such as C S Lewis.
"To say, as some have, that these books draw younger readers towards the occult seems to me both to malign J K Rowling and to vastly underestimate the ability of children and young people to separate the real from the imaginary," Smith argues.
The book is designed for use with 9-13 year olds - an age group that is increasingly fashion-aware and worldly-wise - and for which youth workers particularly struggle to find quality material. The resource will be available for churches to purchase from a range of Christian and general booksellers in time for the summer holidays.
"This book is spot on target, taking the hugely popular Harry Potter culture and using it to explore key issues for young Christians," comments Nick Harding, Children's Ministry Adviser for the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham.
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