An army of grandparents are helping thousands of primary children discover the Bible’s stories. Amazing!

When a small group of mostly newly-retired people began reading and ‘performing’ Bible stories in their local schools they had no idea where it would lead.

But, from that small beginning, some 800,000 children are now regularly hearing the Bible’s stories in more than 3,000 schools. That’s 1 in 6 primary schools in England and Wales.

Those in at the start included a retired accountant and a retired head teacher, with others drawn from four local Bedford churches. They were brought together by a local outreach volunteer, Dave Todd, motivated by constantly meeting children ignorant of the Bible’s stories.

Finding Bob Hartman’s Lion Storyteller Bible, moved things into a new gear – leading to the use of props and costumes to help bring the stories to life.

Roll on about 20 years and now there’s an army of no-longer-working ‘Tims’, ‘Junes’, ‘Daves’ and ‘Brendas’ dressed in bedsheets and towels round their heads. All so children can hear and experience the Bible’s stories and the truths they contain.

The initiative is now called Open the Book, with a three year rolling programme telling the stories in chronological order. That means, each year, a child can hear 33 Old and New Testament stories.

And it’s fair to say the majority of the now more than 17,000 volunteers are using their after-work years to be involved.

What’s the reason for such success? Julie Jefferies, Head of Open the Book says, ‘It’s due to the simplicity of the storytelling, the high fun factor and the dedication and creativity of so many volunteers’.

It’s also true that schools love it. More than 95 per cent of those questioned said they believed Open the Book had a positive impact on the school’s life.

It makes a positive impact on the lives of the volunteers too. Talk to Open the Book volunteers and they frequently use the word ‘fun’. But there’s much more to it than that.

Typical is Ruth McGeown, a beard-wearing storyteller in a brown dressing gown to play Jesus who says, ‘This has given me a heart for children and families in the school and we’ve started a prayer group. I feel I’m invested in school in terms of faith and prayer.’

Others speak of coming to see the Bible through fresh eyes as they present it in its simplicity to children.

Open the Book has also proved to be a very strategic stepping stone. More than a quarter of the churches involved with have gone on to launch Messy Church.

Now, under the supportive and enabling wing of Bible Society, Open the Book is going from strength to strength. However, despite the success, there’s still a long way to go. And the barrier is the need for more volunteers.

Julie Jefferies has a dream. It is to bring the Bible to life for every child in every primary school in England and Wales – reaching over 18,000 schools with 4.5 million children.

More than that, schools are open and waiting to welcome Open the Book.

Holding things back is the shortage of volunteers. Julie reports, ‘Every week we receive requests from teachers who want a team to come to their school. But there simply are not enough people volunteering’.

Could this be you? Or someone you know? An initiative for your church? A strategic and significant way to use your available time and willingness to wear a bed sheet?

If so, Open the Book would love to hear from you – even if it is just to get more information. Contact them at Open the Book.

That’s a decision Bill Sanderson, a retired chemist, is delighted he made. Though busy, he says, ‘I thought I’d give it a try, and I’ve never looked back. This is about bringing the Bible to life for a generation that don’t get these stories at home’.

Bill adds, ‘I have never been part of a drama group or anything like that. But since doing Open the Book, I’ve played God, Peter, the devil and everything. It’s true what they say, that it’s easier to be a baddie’.

For more ideas to make your active retirement years fulfilling see the AfterWorkNet web pages on Serving and Volunteering in Your Community – which includes more on Open the Book including a great video.

Have you an experience of volunteering with Open the Book? Do please share it here or with the AfterWorkNet Facebook group. Thank you.

Peter Meadows

Peter is AfterWorkNet’s Programme Director. He’s still working part time in his 70s, helping churches and resourcing inter-church initiatives. This is alongside enjoying his eight grandchildren, escaping to Spain and spending his kids’ inheritance.


  1. Been involved with OTB supporting the group and then being part of the school team for over three years. It’s great building relationships with Christians from other churches and with the schools. We’ve been invited to social events and to contribute to RE lessons. You get recognised by children in the street and at church events a great way of starting conversations with their parents

  2. I would love to do this! I don’t have the energy to start something new in Scotland, but has anyone else thought of it here?

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The word retirement is not even in the Bible. What is taught in scripture is transition. There is nothing that says you work most of your life and then get to be selfish for the next 20 years"

Rick Warren, PurposeDrivenLife