This year St. Brendan’s younger Sunday school class (for children age 3 through 2nd grade) will be using the Godly Play curriculum. (For more information about St. Brendan’s Sunday school program this year, check out last week’s post: Back to (Sunday) School). Godly Play is more than just babysitting or a children’s sermon. It is a chance for children to learn the language of Scripture and to develop a spiritual relationship with God and each other.
St. Brendan’s recently hosted two Godly Play workshops (one in August and one just last week) to teach St. Brendan’s members and other church leaders how to use and understand Godly Play. In case you weren’t able to attend one of these workshops but are still curious about Godly Play, here is a bit more information about what Godly Play is, how it works, and the experience it enables for our children.
According to the Godly Play Foundation, “the Godly Play method is a curriculum of spiritual practice exploring the mystery of God’s presence in our lives.” The description continues, “The Godly Play curriculum engages what is most exciting about religious education: God inviting us into—and pursuing us in the midst of—Scripture and spiritual experience. Godly Play practice teaches us to listen for God and to make authentic and creative responses to God’s call in our lives.” (http://www.godlyplayfoundation.org/starting-a-godly-play-program/)
Godly Play began 30 years ago as a variation of the Roman Catholic “Catechesis of the Good Shepherd” program for children. Since then, it is constantly being refined and revised based on feedback from children and storytellers (the adults who lead the Godly Play sessions). Today, Godly Play is used and adapted widely throughout the Episcopal Church, in other churches, and even in other religious traditions around the world. St. Brendan's began using Godly Play as part of our Sunday School program about 5 or 6 years ago. Joyce, a member at St. Brendan’s who coordinated the two recent Godly Play workshops hosted here at St. Brendan’s, commented, “When we started using Godly Play stories we saw a very positive reaction from the children.” They became more meaningfully involved and engaged in the stories through Godly Play, she said.
Godly play is a wonderful way to introduce children (or anyone!) to the stories of God and God’s people. It uses real objects and hands-on materials that the children can use to explore the stories using a Montessori approach. Godly Play encourages the children to enter into the story themselves—to explore, discover, question, and find meaning in these stories through their own experiences. Jerome Berryman, an Episcopal priest who started Godly Play, explained, "The goal of Godly Play is helping children learn to use religious language to know God and find direction in their lives while they are young."
In Godly Play, every part of the experience—from how children enter the room to the way items are arranged on the shelves—is intentional and designed to create a reflective and spiritual environment. The space and setting of the classroom and the process of storytelling, wondering, and reflecting are as important as hearing the story itself because they teach without words and encourage respect for the space, as well as the stories themselves. Through Godly Play, children are not told what to think or believe, but rather are encouraged to discover and explore their own experiences.
When children enter the room, they are greeted by name and invited to join the circle with the storyteller and the other children. The storyteller then presents the story using items that represent different aspects of the story. Storytellers are encouraged to be familiar with that week’s story so they can tell the story naturally rather than reading it. The Godly Play stories cycle through three genres: sacred stories (stories about God and God’s people), parables (metaphors and stories told by Jesus), and liturgical actions (such as liturgical seasons or particular acts like baptism). As part of the hearing of the story, the storyteller prompts the children to reflect and wonder on the story with “wondering” questions such as:
I wonder which part of the story you like best?
I wonder which part of the story is the most important?
I wonder if (figures) have names?
I wonder how (character) felt about …?
I wonder if you have seen something like this in church?
After hearing the story and participating in the wondering, children are then dismissed from the circle to respond to the story with individual work, such as retelling the story themselves through play using the story items or creating artwork. In Godly Play there are no assigned crafts or activities, instead, children are encouraged to respond creatively to these stories on their own or in self-directed groups. Godly Play encourages children to use religious language themselves to find meaning in their own lives.
Godly Play is an immersive experience and the best way to understand Godly Play is to experience it yourself! However, if you haven’t had the chance to be a part of a Godly Play program you can find more information at http:www/godlyplayfoundation.org/ or watch videos of a Godly Play session here: https://www.youtube.com/ channel/UCTFi5xLBbZ6OmANYKiDl03Q. If you would like to experience Godly Play yourself, consider volunteering to be a storyteller or a doorperson (an adult who helps greet children as they arrive).
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs” (Matthew 19:14; Mark 10:14; Luke 18:16, NRSV). Godly Play brings the Word of God to children in an intentional and spiritual format that allows them to be children—to question, to explore, and to play.
Grace and peace,
Annemarie, with special help this week from fellow Brendanite, Joyce!
P.S. You can now subscribe to the blog and receive the latest blog post in your email inbox each week. Just enter your email in the subscribe box on the right hand side bar.
A member of St. Brendan's since 2014, I enjoy being a part of this welcoming and giving community of faith. However, I am not a theologian, biblical scholar, or official spokesperson for The Episcopal Church. If you read anything on this blog that is inaccurate or contrary to the teachings of The Episcopal Church, please let me know! If you have any questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.