Minecraft camp helps kids learn biblical themes

Kids read stories from the Book of Genesis in the Action Bible, a graphic novel rendition of scripture.
Kids read stories from the Book of Genesis in the Action Bible, a graphic novel rendition of scripture.
 on April 29, 2024

Church hosts program during March Break

Embarking on a journey where faith meets pixels, seven young people at St. George, Allandale spent their March Break diving into the world of Minecraft to bring biblical themes to life.

The idea to use Minecraft in a faith context first struck the Rev. Ken McClure, incumbent of St. George’s, during the pandemic. “I did something online as kind of a digital video utilizing Minecraft with my son. I got a sense that it could be used creatively, biblically,” he says.

He got the chance to reflect on that idea last fall when he attended a retreat with the Rev. Lorenzo Lebrija. Mr. Lebrija is the executive director of the TryTank Research Institute, an “experimental lab” for church growth and innovation in the Episcopal Church. Joining other clergy under Bishop Riscylla Shaw’s oversight, Mr. McClure participated in workshops designed to explore ways to foster growth and creativity within his community.

“The whole point was to flesh out ideas, the spaghetti-at-the-wall kind of ideas,” he says.

Sharing his thoughts with his colleagues at the retreat sparked a well-timed connection. When he heard about what Mr. McClure was planning, the Rev. Dr. Michael Peterson, priest-in-charge of All Saints, Collingwood, offered up equipment from his parish.

“The good folks at All Saints, Collingwood were generous enough to donate six PlayStation 4s with monitors and controllers and all of that stuff,” says Mr. McClure. “Suddenly it was very feasible to be able to do something. So I thought, OK, let’s try it for March Break.”

With equipment covered, Mr. McClure turned his attention to developing a week-long program using Minecraft to explore biblical themes. Minecraft is a sandbox-adventure video game, which means that players enter a world with no fixed goals and endless possibilities as they explore, gather resources and build. There are also different settings that can raise or lower the difficulty.

Using Minecraft to build and explore biblical themes

“In creative mode, you have access to everything within the game to be able to build whatever you want and do whatever you want within the game. There’s no life, there’s no death,” explains Mr. McClure.

In survival mode, players need to mine and collect resources that they can use to build, with various levels of difficulty. “You can be in Peaceful, in which case you’re not being attacked by things and you’re not starving, or you can be in Easy and you are being regularly attacked by small things and have to eat regularly,” says Mr. McClure.

His program paired Minecraft with the Action Bible, a graphic novel rendition of scripture. The group of seven kids started each day together looking at stories from the Book of Genesis before pairing off at desks around the room to build in Minecraft.

The first day focused on creation and the Garden of Eden, and players spent the day in creative mode, with no enemies and endless resources. “Most of them got bored by the end of it, which is exactly what I wanted because it gave them the opportunity to think about the temptation a little differently, the whole consumption of the fruit a little differently,” says Mr. McClure.

“They were ready to leave the garden by the end of it, although every single day afterwards they wanted to go into creative when things got difficult, and invariably one of them would say, ‘You can’t go back to the garden.’”

On the second day of camp, the group looked at the line of descendants out of the garden and their survival. Appropriately, they were playing in Minecraft’s survival mode on a harder setting, with frequent enemy attacks and scarce food.

“They had to determine whether or not they were going to work with their partner or if they were going to work against their partner. Most of them did both. All of them came around to the idea of cooperation by the end, but over the course of the day there was competition in every single group,” says Mr. McClure.

Day three began the large-scale projects that the kids would work on for the remainder of camp, tied to the stories from Noah to Abraham. Each group built a structure that reflected a phase of the stories in Genesis: a city, a massive farm, two temples, and a house built into a mountain and filled with every possible kind of animal.

“At the end of the week, they each shared their builds with everyone else, and each of them, without my prompting, identified the themes they were doing within that,” says Mr. McClure.

Over the past several years, many churches around the world have recognized Minecraft as a potential tool for faith formation. Mr. McClure says this is partially a result of the limitless nature of the game.

“It does have this kind of orientation in a form of creation, if you will – a digital representation of creation,” he says. “It gives them a really tactile ability to explore the geographical aspects, to play in the story, basically – not to just read it or think, but to play in it.”

That approach has received overwhelmingly positive reviews from the participants at St. George’s and their parents, all of whom said they’d want to join future camps. Given the high interest, Mr. McClure says he’d like to run a Minecraft camp again, focusing on a different set of stories to build on the foundation of Genesis. He’s also open to putting together a group that meets regularly, including parents.

“It’s one of those games that parents do play with their kids, so potentially utilizing it as some kind of activity to form a family group, maybe once a month,” he says.

When he thinks about how quickly he was able to get the camp off the ground, he says he’s grateful to Bishop Shaw for offering the clergy retreat that helped bring his idea to life, and for her ongoing support. “It really kind of lands home how impactful that stuff is, that some excellent things can come of out of those moments,” he says.

His advice to other parishes considering an idea like his is simple. “Do it. Try it. Talk about it with other parishes. You don’t know who has something, who’s going to be able to help you out,” he says.

He also encourages church communities to help each other, like All Saints, Collingwood helped St. George’s. “See what you can do to help when you hear about something like this. If you have something you can throw at them, throw it at them,” he says. “It’s wound up being fairly easy to do because there was just this availability of support. So try.”


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