Review by Margie Barker
I was a teen in the 1990s, which means that I both read and created my own zines — small-batch, self-produced magazines on a single topic. We would use tape and pens and blank paper, carefully laying out the pages before finally using a copier to “publish” our work and distribute it to friends.
StoryMakers NYC makes zines for families and congregations on another level entirely. Its latest, “The Faith,” tackles the Apostles’ Creed in a quirky, aesthetically pleasing, interactive, thought-provoking way. The book is beautiful and designed with teens in mind, reminding me of the color and style of many popular graphic novels and YA novels. It’s easy for me to imagine the middle-school class at my parish using this zine over 10 (or more) weeks, or as the foundation for a confirmation class.
The zine contains 10 chapters that delve into the various parts of the Apostles’ Creed. According to the StoryMakers website, each chapter is structured in a similar way: “1. Truth, 2. Individual Processing, 3. Engagement, 4. Group Processing, 5. Truth.”
In chapter 1 (“What is a creed?”), the rhythm looks like this:
- What does creed mean, plus a brief history of how the Apostles’ Creed came to be.
- Several pages of activities to help process the idea of belief and what is important to each person, including space to create one’s “personal creed.”
- A Joan Didion quote.
- More activities, including one that lets teens process what they believe in, why, what they still wonder about, and what they’re unsure about.
- A comparison of creeds from Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism.
I appreciate the thought-provoking and engaging way the Christian faith is presented to teens. For example, in chapter 4 (“What did Jesus do?”), the engagement section contextualizes our “mini-deaths — like heartbreaks, disappointments, bumps along the road” — in the context of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
“With Jesus, we are protected from death itself and we can be freed from our anxious thoughts and burdens.” I also appreciate the space devoted to drawing, writing, and other creative ways for teens to process the material. StoryMakers takes seriously the need to ruminate and engage, both individually and in a group. It has made space for teens to explore the tradition and own a mature faith.
I see two challenges to using this zine in a parish setting: cost and training. One book costs $30 (there are discounts for buying larger quantities). For many parishes, $30 for a book, which is designed to be written in and thus not reused, is prohibitively expensive. This is not to say the book isn’t worth the cost; the real issue is whether most communities can afford such expensive material for one-time use.
The second challenge is a lack of clarity on exactly how to use the book in a classroom setting. There are no chapter goals or summaries, and there is no teacher guide to accompany the teen zine. The “rhythm” is not explicit anywhere within the zine, and there are moments when added Scripture, notes, or discussion questions would be useful.
This makes it difficult to hand the materials to volunteers and expect them to use it without additional support. StoryMakers prides itself on having “volunteer-proof” materials for its younger audience. There are guides for the children’s materials, and my understanding is that StoryMakers is currently working on a guide for teen materials. This will make a big difference.
I need to mention another important strength of StoryMakers: its responsiveness. I raised questions about how to structure a Sunday school class, and it immediately got back to me with answers to my questions and a 30-minute conversation about the zine, its intended use, and suggestions. If you decide to use this zine or other publications, StoryMakers will support you.
The Rev. Margie Barker is assistant rector of St. John’s, West Hartford, Connecticut.