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John 6:1-13

We all know about the feeding of the 5000. Jesus is surrounded by a great crowd who have come to listen to him, and he provides them all with a meal, starting from five loaves and two fish: a small boy's lunch. It's a great miracle of creation, and it's a sign of Jesus' overwhelming generosity to us.

At St James' Muswell Hill we wanted to re-enact that miracle, but not in a way that suggested it was a magic trick. (It wasn't a magic trick - it was a miracle.) So I made loaves and fishes paper chains. When it came to a suitable point in Will's talk (Will Hunter Smart was our Associate Vicar) he produced what appeared to be five loaves and two fish from a picnic basket (the paper chains were folded up, you see) and then they were unfolded and passed down the church, so that everyone could have a loaf, and all the children could have a fish. We wrote on our loaves Jesus said 'I am the bread that gives life' (John 6:35 in the children's Bible) and took them home to stick on the fridge. (Sorry about all the brackets in that paragraph.)

It wasn't a terribly dificult visual aid to put together. But it was quite a lot of work - the church building is about 16m from front to back, and with 600mm long loaves and fish, and two all age services, I needed to produce 300 loaves and 120 fish.

The rolls of coloured paper can be bought online (search for "fadeless art paper") and cost about £2.55 for a roll 0.6m x 3.6m. Larger rolls are available; the paper always comes in handy. I used orange paper for the loaves and a selection of other colours for the fish: they were rainbow trout, ha ha.

You have to iron the paper. If you don't it won't unroll and lay flat - it keeps curling up. Use a steam iron on the cotton setting. If you have to stand by the kitchen window, in full view of the street, keep your back to the window. Then you won't see people thinking, "That man's ironing wallpaper."

Then fold up the paper in a zig-zag so you get six thicknesses. You may want to vary this if your paper rolls are different lengths, or if you want different size loaves and fish. But six thicknesses is about the limit for cutting out comfortably with a pair of scissors. (I tried ten thicknesses and trapped a nerve in my thumb. It felt numb for a week afterwards).

You can use this template so that all the loaves and fishes are the same shape. Print it out and enlarge it on a photocopier so that the loaf is 600mm wide. You'll need to use two bits of A3. Stick the paper to a bit of card and cut it out.

Trace round the template - you should get five strips of loaves or fish per roll paper. That's 30 altogether, or enough to stretch the length of St James's. Make sure the six thicknesses stay lined up - I put bulldog clips round the edge to hold them still. Join the strips with sellotape to make one long strip.

Finally add some U shaped marks to the bread to represent the dents in the top of the loaves, and a face and gills to the fish. I used a black paint marker, which was the thing I came out of the London Graphics Centre not having intended to buy. Paint markers are less smelly than spirit based markers, and they seem to last longer.

You can listen to the talk - and the rather strange sketch that preceded it - on the St James' Muswell Hill web site.

ironing the paper
Ironing the paper. It starts off rolled up and, if it had its own way, it would stay rolled up.


marking out
Fold the paper zig-zag fashion: with a 3.6m roll you will have six thicknesses (three zigs and three zags)


help from kitten
If you have a kitten, she will help you. This is Sylvie.

loaf and fish
When you have cut out the bread and fish, use a felt pen to make them look a bit more realistic, or at least a bit more like cartoon loaves and fish. Ellen said, "That's the happiest bread I've ever seen!"

passing the fish
Here are the paper chains being unfolded at the 9.30am service (view from the sound desk at the back).

passing the fish
At the 11.15am I deserted my post at the sound desk and took a photo from the front.

loaf on the sound desk
Jesus said, "I am the bread that gives life."
That's my loaf, on the sound desk.


Desert island church by John Parker. Contact me via the about page. Text and images copyright © 2014 John Parker www.desertislandchurch.co.uk.