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Created by Jerome Berryman, an Episcopal priest, Godly Play is a curriculum for ages three through twelve that engages children with the stories of the Christian faith. At CAPC we have begun using Godly Play for our Kids’ Church during our weekly Sunday celebrations for several reasons:
1. Godly Play is a way of being in worship with young children. It’s less about teaching what children have to believe than placing the priority on giving children the language to worship God, to name the Divine when they encounter God and to provides a way for young children to bring their lived experiences into dialogue with God. A Godly Play session follow the flow of a worship service. But it does so in ways that enable a child’s experience of worship and introduces the child to the stories and language of his faith. As each child recognizes that she is part of God’s story and that these are her stories , and as she is equipped with language, a child is able to consider and articulate meaning – to foster and share an inner spiritual life. They do this by experiencing God in the biblical stories and in the natural creative work of children: play.
2. Godly Play is play-based learning. Social scientists tell us, what we often forget in adulthood, that we learn best not with manuals or tests, but with and through play. Play is the way in which we appropriate knowledge for ourselves, incorporating deep truths into our being and way of being in the world. Godly Play invites children to play their way into a faith language, using simple materials that visually work out the telling of the story and help children engage their imagination.
3. Godly Play approaches sacred texts as story. In worship, God is central. We find meaning and order in relation to God. God’s Word is central in the telling of the story. In our culture we have built up the Bible to be a collection of texts that either you believe as inherent truth or reject as human creation. Moving beyond that polarization, Godly Play lifts up the power of story as a vehicle for experiencing truth, articulating it and claiming it for ourselves. Think about life. Most often we use and tell stories to explain the hardest things for us to get our heads around. Children hear the core stories of the Christian tradition (Biblical narrative, parables, and liturgical actions presentations) several times over the elementary years because as children grow and change so their understanding of these stores changes and deepens. As they learn the larger story they identify their own story, learning how they go together through work.
4. Godly Play uses creativity as work. Each class ends with a larger time of “work” – creative time for the children to work on and work out the stories that they’ve encountered in the class, or lived during the week. This is done through visual arts such as paints, clay and coloring; as well as through the telling of stories or the chance to find a different creative way to work on the story. It’s less a one-size-fits-all way of processing than an invitation to children to wonder how God is in their lives and how their life is in the world. Children are invited not to memorize a story, but to wonder about it, to wrestle with it using their imagination, emotions and emerging intellect.
5. The Godly Play Room is a special place to be: just like church. At the end of the work time, the children put away their work and gather together to read scripture, to give thanks in prayer, to have a simple “feast” (water and crackers), and to be dismissed with a personal word of affirmation. Children are given time to pray simply and naturally – to give thanks for what God has placed on their hearts in the course of the Godly Play session, as the natural prayer language of young children is that of thanksgiving. The space shapes what happens in it during Godly Play. It’s about the freedom to wonder, discover and grow; to learn a language in view of wrestling with the mystery and truth of faith which is best described as a life-long journey.
6. The Godly Play session is part of worship, not put in opposition to it. On the First Sunday of the month we worship all together, inviting the children to remain in worship with the entire community of faith. We aim to have children and family-friendly worship on this special intergenerational time. We also share communion, leaving the decision for children to partake up to parents, assuming that families are best situated to make the decision about communion participation for their children.
Here’s a brief video experience of a Godly Play lesson with Di Pagel of First Presbyterian Church Oakland, retelling the story of Abraham and Sarah.