Sparks of Hope: The Christmas Resource

Breathe fresh life into the Christmas story with Sparks of Hope, a brand new nativity resource from storyteller Julie Wilkinson.

The Zephaniah Trust is pleased to present our brand new Christmas resource for 2017. 

Sparks of Hope: The Christmas Resource is a collection of original scripts and stories from our storyteller, Julie Wilkinson, which can be used in churches, schools and communities to share the Christmas story. Contents include two all-age nativity scripts (The Historians’ Nativity and The Innkeeper’s Nativity), The Walking Nativity script, and The Midnight Nativity (a set of stories for the stillness and the quietness of Christmas Eve).

Every script and story in the resource book has been written, tried and tested within a church context, resulting in a collection of engaging, dynamic pieces that have been proven to work. Each piece comes with a set of explanatory notes including helpful production hints to take the strain off nativity preparations.

Copies of the book cost £10, plus £2 p&p, and can be ordered direct from the Zephaniah Trust on 01274 533732 or
What they say…

“The sure sign of an authentic storyteller is that they coax us to remember ‘the sparkle and the special’ of that which we may have forgotten, or misplaced. In Julie Wilkinson’s stories and dramas centred on the Nativity, it is as if we, the watchers, become child-like innocent again, eye witnesses to the ‘hidden sparks of glory’. Through Julie’s lyricism the familiar account becomes newly told, revealing moving depths of wonder and revelation. An ‘atmosphere’ of grace is unwrapped, and hence, becomes a gift for us all.”     
Stewart Henderson, poet and broadcaster

“With her characteristic flair, humour and storytelling genius, Julie Wilkinson has here provided a fabulous resource for the Festive Season that will engage the hearts and minds of all ages. Whether your focus is to share the Christmas story in your community; to add spiritual depth to the Carol Concert; or simply to bring a bit of sparkle to a tired old Crib Service – Julie’s helpful production hints, clear stage directions and lively scripts do most of the hard work for you! So crack out the crooks; untangle the tinsel; dust off the donkey and get ready for an Incarnation Celebration that is joyful, poetic and profound. Now … where did I put that star?”     

The Revd Canon Clare MacLaren, Canon for Music and Liturgy – St Nicholas’ Cathedral, Newcastle

“A really great resource – the Walking Nativity is inspired, why should walks of witness only be reserved for Good Friday? The style is light and in The Historians’ Nativity, I appreciated referencing the difficulties and history of the biblical story of birth. Julie’s materials are brilliant in looking for something that engages, tells the biblical story and invites humour. They are explained well and  allow those that are planning to have a good overview of what they need and how to put it together well. They are the complete package.”     Revd Kezia Robinson, Home Mission Enabler – Yorkshire Baptist Association, and Minister – Wakefield Baptist Church

“Julie has the rare ability not just to bring the scriptures to life but also to shine a light on the commonplace and easily overlooked. She is skilled at presenting a serious message with deft humour and an extraordinary insight. Christmas in Wrose would just not be the same without one of these delightful offerings.”     

Revd Colin Blake, Vicar – St Cuthbert’s Church Wrose


Julie Wilkinson has been writing for as long as she can remember, discovered she was a storyteller in 2002, and has worked for the Zephaniah Trust since 2003. Since then, she has taken her traditional performance style into many schools, churches and community settings across Bradford and beyond, sharing Bible stories and folk tales, original material and borrowed stories. She has a gift for bringing stories to life, discovering the magic within the mundane, and connecting with audiences of all ages. She is a firm believer in all-age ministry and is committed to the premise that adults have as much to learn from children as the other way round. She grew up in a Methodist church, spent her young adulthood in a Baptist church, and is currently connected to an Anglican church, where she arrived via GraceSpace, a fresh expression. She is part of a small community called Meadhall, who gather regularly around God’s table and God’s story.

The Zephaniah Trust is a small Christian charity using music and the arts to “take light into dark corners” across Bradford and beyond. Every year, our team of part-time workers reach over 10,000 children in schools throughout the city, providing assemblies, lessons, workshops, events and more. Founded by John Froud in 1994, the Trust is committed to working with those of all faiths
and none to make the world a better place. 
Contact us on 01274 533732  or

Freestyle Part 9

Part 9 of our Easter Freestyle Series
By Zephaniah Associate, Poet & Broadcaster Stewart Henderson

Two haiku for Easter Sunday

A haiku is an ancient Japanese ‘precise’ poem, being a 17 syllable, 3-line verse consisting of 5 syllables for the first line, 7 syllables for the second line and then back to 5 syllables for the third line. Traditionally, the subject matter is about nature and the emotional response to such.
In the two haiku below, Stewart Henderson has adapted the haiku template for us to consider the ‘bouquet’, and ‘deep magic’, to quote C.S. Lewis, of Easter Sunday.

1) Abracadabra 
        now you see him…now you do;
        can’t see how it’s done

2) Inhale the sweet air.
        How can the very dead be 
        here and luminous?

Copyright c Stewart Henderson 2016 

Freestyle Part 8

Part 8 of our Easter Freestyle Series
By Zephaniah Associate & Founder of the Raise Project Carol Barwick

An Easter Carol (To the tune of Away in a Manger)
Away on a hillside 
The Lord did decide
To take up His cross
And to give up His life
His friends stayed there with him
Ate food and drank wine
So they would remember
This heavenly sign 
Away on a hillside
The Lord heard the jeers
The cries of Barrabas
The questions, the tears
And then Pontius Pilate
Delivered the news
The end would be nigh
For the King of the Jews 
Away on a hillside 
Between love and strife
Our lovely Lord Jesus
Laid down His whole life
The stars in the bright sky
Gave way to the Son
Who then rose to Heaven
To sit on His throne 

The above is a response to my son’s obsessive need to sing Christmas songs at all times of the day and night. In March. So having attempted to make him sing We Wish You a Merry Easter and Jesus died for you… it got me thinking about Carols and why there aren’t any at Easter. 
The verb of Carol is “to sing or say something happily” so I wondered if that was why there were no Easter Carols despite there being many glorious and triumphant hymns (the one about angels in bright raincoats was always my favourite as a kid – can you guess which one that is?).

This got me thinking about joy at Easter. Is it truly possible to en-joy a story of pain and death?

The dictionary definition of the verb enjoy is as follows 
to experience with joy; take pleasure in:
He enjoys Chinese food.

So here’s the thing. I run a business raising self-esteem and confidence of all ages and, much like my fabulous friends at Zephaniah Trust, I also do storytelling although mine are interactive sessions specifically for under 5s. We really enjoy our sessions – we enjoy the stories and the songs! 
As we approached Holy Week, I became aware that I needed to pick an appropriate story for our big Easter session. It may well be questioned from an outsider’s point of view whether a story of death could ever be a joyful thing to share with little children. But as a Christian I believe that the story of Jesus’ death is the ultimate story of hope and future happiness. So I set about finding a story that would be appropriate to read in my Easter story session. Strangely enough Julia Donaldson didn’t seem to have any stories about crucifixion, and the story I ended up doing last year (when I was feeling less brave) was about a rabbit who poos instead of laying eggs (the book is called Rabbits Don’t Lay Eggs, don’t ask). Other standard Easter books had pictures that were either too graphic for little ones or didn’t talk about the real Easter story at all choosing to talk more about chicks and bunnies. So with help from a friend I decided to use a simple toddler’s re-telling where the children tell the story of Jesus’ death by acting it out through an American pageant. It was fine, cute even. But I didn’t think I would enjoy it. I didn’t know if the children would enjoy it. In fact, I was really unsure about the story that I had picked and whether it was right to share the real Easter story at all…
It was as people arrived however that it became obvious that they were really pleased that the true story of Easter was being shared. It was lovely to take such an important and yet simple story and turn it into something so packed full of joy and happiness. I was aware that with little ones I wanted to downplay the death and turn up the volume on the happiness and then I realised – this is actually the meaning of Easter in a nutshell (or an eggshell…). Yes, Jesus died – a horrible, brutal, painful death (I actually believe that when we talk about Jesus coming to earth to die it is just as important to realise that he died to himself long before he died on the actual cross) but He also had the most beautiful, glorious resurrection which we will be hearing more about on Sunday. Easter is full of joy. It is to be en-joyed! 
As a final thought I will leave the Dairy Milk advert to make my final point…
This is what happened at Easter time. Joy was set free. Forever.
 Happy Easter,
Carol x

Freestyle Part 6

Part 6 of our Easter Freestyle Series
By Zephaniah Associate & Founder of Parable Arts Jon Buckeridge

Good Friday

Good Friday has always seemed a strangely insensitive name for a day so wracked with pain.  I’ve never considered it likely that any of the people there at the time would have named the day “good”, so there must have come a strange point in history where this suddenly became the accepted vernacular and our mourning process was neatly scheduled for us, the day before.  “That’s it, folks, get your sadness out of the way on Thursday; no grieving or mourning will be permitted after 12am.  Come Friday it’s time to move on to seeing how good this all is!”
Perhaps this is just my own flawed and fallible faith-journey but I struggle to see how anyone, in the face of such horrific brutality and enveloped by the crushing realisation of inevitable death, could possibly keep their eyes on the good of the situation.  From my reading of the Bible it strikes me that most of the disciples had missed the point of Jesus’ plans and teachings time and again and no matter how clearly he spelled it out (“OK guys, it rhymes with ‘Smooshifixion’!”) they still didn’t see this coming.  So utterly were they convinced that Jesus would lead a crusading revolution to restore Israel’s glory that seeing his death must have seemed like the end, not just of a life, but a dynasty; a dream; a destiny.
All of this leads me to ask, where’s the “good” in this?  Oh I know the real answer, I am so thankful for the work of the cross in my life, on a daily basis, but the label “good” seems to infer that the bad doesn’t matter, or that we’re not to focus on it.  It was a fleeting flash-in-the-pan, before the glory to follow… Try telling that to Mary, at the foot of the cross.  One of the greatest sins of Christendom is to tell the story of Jesus in such a way that it loses the raw, visceral realism it was founded on; we believe this is about real people in a real time and real circumstances but we tell their stories as dispassionately as a children’s book, and in doing so we rob it of its relevance and resonance.
This time last year I was fortunate enough to be asked to direct a Black-Country-wide passion play called Good Friday, using community actors from churches all over the region.  It was a musical production written by some incredibly talented folks from one of the local churches, with a whole host of professional musicians and artist, like myself, coming together to build the production for the actors to perform. Now those who know me will know I have a strongly-professed hatred of musical-theatre, and all its works, and I am convinced the world would be better off if Andrew Lloyd Webber had decided to become a solicitor.  However, I leaped at the chance to get involved in this production; not only because I love working with non-professional actors and helping them to discover and hone their performance potential, but because this was a chance to lift the story of good Friday off the page and bring it back to life.  As actors and performers we strive for emotional realism and authenticity – even musical-theatre performers. We want to present real people in real moments, and we want to invite the audience to explore those moments with them. 
In directing this production I was brought into those events all the more.  I saw Mary’s wrenching desolation, Peter’s fearful shame, Judas’ regretful confusion.  All these things, and more, became real for me; real people going through real emotions and real confusion, faced with real fear and real doubt.  For me (and I hope for the audience as well) I was plunged into the all-too-human events of a day that was anything but good, and the story became far more than just words. 
Now, as I said, I know the actual reason why Good Friday is named as such but, as with much of life, it’s the examples of going through hard times that teach us some of our most powerful lessons.  This Good Friday there will be people who are struggling to see the good in their own lives; who are so weighed down by the trials and tribulations of their journey that Good Friday seems to be nothing short of an ironic slap in the face.  For those people a time where Christendom places an expectation of celebration can seem like a burden and obligation they are shamed to fall short of reaching, “I know I should feel good, but that’s just not where I am right now.  I have failed.”  The Bible teaches us we should praise God in all things, and approach Him with thanksgiving, but praise doesn’t always mean happy, and thanksgiving doesn’t always mean joyful.  The Bible also teaches us there is a time for all things, and that sadness and mourning are parts of life we must shuffle through as much as we stride through the good times, and it’s not wrong to be in that place now.  Jesus was a real person who went through real pain, so believe me when I say that He can draw close to you in yours.  Perhaps, for you, your praise is “thank you for being here with me in this.”  Perhaps, for you, your thanksgiving is “thank you that you understand.”  But above all things, the message of Good Friday teaches all of us that our prayer can always be “thank you that the pain will pass, and you will be there on the other side, just as you are here now.”

Jon Buckeridge – Parable Arts

Freestyle Part 5

Part 5 of our Easter Freestyle Series
By Storyteller Julie Wilkinson


Remember me.

Two words. In the dark of that close night, two words, as hands broke bread and offered it to them.

And in the days and weeks and months and years that followed, they remembered…

Hands that beckoned, welcomed, redefined them, from fishermen and tax collectors to itinerant revolutionaries walking in the borders of a blazing and unsettling light.

Hands that changed, transformed, and healed, banishing shadows from body and soul and clearing the way for divine restoration.

Hands that turned tables, overturned order, and brought peace, raising those who dwell in the dust to take their place at the banquet.

Hands that held wood, saw and plane, hammer and nails, hammered nails, held nails, knew nails.

Remember me.

Two words. In the dark of that close night, two words, and a mouth that drank from the cup and offered it to them.

And in the days and weeks and months and years that followed, they remembered…

Words that inspired, disarmed, and confused, offering a glimpse of a glory they couldn’t fully grasp.

Words that challenged, undid, and remade, taking the truth and cracking it open and leading them to its clear and unfathomable heart.

Words that compelled, and commanded, and called, to take up their tools and join the rebuilding of the kingdom.

Words that were woven, and spoken, and shouted, and whispered, and drawn painfully out, “It is finished.”

“It is finished. It is coming.”

“Take this and eat. Take this and drink.”

“Remember me.”

Matthew 26:17-30
Mark 14:12-26
Luke 22:7-23

For Julie’s retelling of The Last Supper, click here.

Freestyle Part 4

Part 4 of our Easter Freestyle Series
By Storyteller Julie Wilkinson

Enough is Enough

Jerusalem. The Temple.

The priest lifts the scroll, puts it away with the others, neatly, methodically, lined up on the shelf. He straightens an oil lamp. Brushes the fabric of his robe. Leaves.

He marches with long strides. Past the benches of the dove sellers, the tables of the money changers. His eyes rake their orderly rows, careful alignments. He allows himself a smile.

He moves rapidly, through the temple gates, into the courtyard. As he passes, people straighten, stand taller, shrink back, scurry away. But he notices not. Eyes forward. Feet in motion. Gait steady. Certain.

The words in his head match the rhythm of his steps. They call that man the Teacher.

 “… It is written in the Scriptures, ‘My Temple will be called a house for prayer for people from all nations.’ But you are changing God’s house into a hideout for robbers …”

He blinks, once, keeps walking.

“… I will not tell you what authority I have …”

His fingers twitch, imperceptibly, he keeps walking.

“… Beware of the teachers of the law …”

His pace quickens.

“… They like to walk around wearing fancy clothes … They like people to greet them with respect …”

A single drop of sweat beads on his forehead.

“… They love to have the most important seats …”

Fists clench.

“… They cheat widows and steal their houses … They try to make themselves look good by saying long prayers …”

Lips press together.

“… They will receive a greater punishment … The temple will be destroyed … Not one stone will be left on another …”

As he opens the door to his house, images flash through his mind. Tables overturned, benches flung aside, scrolls tumbled to the floor, a broken oil lamp, stones toppled. Cries. Chaos. Confusion.

The door falls shut behind him. His chest heaves. Enough is enough. This man must be stopped. 

Mark 11: 15-19, 27-33, 12: 1-12, 18-40, 13: 1-2, 14:1-2

Story first published on Julie’s blog, The Hidden Spaces, April 2011