Godly Play – The spiritual life of children
At our little church on the corner, Tehachapi Community UCC, we have a new Sunday school program, 'Godly Play', that teaches children how the traditions and stories of religion are all about their own growing feelings and experiences. I never went to Sunday school when I was a kid. I never learned to practice a specific religion, but I know now that simply being logical does not make a person 'happy'. A good human knows about logic and science, but also knows about complexity and spirit, the deep things that make people cry, or laugh, or love and care for each other. Adults understand that religion teaches the difference between logic and spirit, and children in our Sunday school can learn it, too.
In Godly Play children hear and then play with Bible Stories in a sacred space, a play room dedicated to children's spirits.
This is what it is like: The chattering kids come out of the regular church service and gather in the hall outside their room. The 'door-person', an adult, says hello to each child and asks her or him if they are ready to begin. Inside, the storyteller, the only other adult, is prepared and sits waiting. The room is set up so that the materials are all in reach of the children, at eye level to them, available to them. There are also shelves and cabinets with biblical objects and boxes containing story materials. The children slowly and quietly come into the room, say hello to the storyteller, and sit down in a circle on the floor. The storyteller lets there be silence and then tells the story. He says something like, "Watch where I get the box with today's story so that you know where to get it when you want it in the future." The storyteller gets the box, sits back down, and removes from it figures and objects as he speaks. It is still quiet afterwards, and the storyteller asks questions, not to test, but to hear whatever responses the children have. "I wonder where you are in this story." If a child responds, the storyteller only repeats what the child said.
Children have an innate sense of God. The Bible stories have innate human wisdom that affirms the stories that people have inside themselves. As I tell ancient stories to five year olds, to ten year olds, and hear their childish responses, I sense them internalizing the ancient ideas that have been retold. My first time storytelling, I told the parable of the Great Pearl. What pleasure there was to hear the children wonder what sort of thing could have such value that one would give everything for it.
The circle of the children is sacred; the words of the children are sacred. After the story, the storyteller invites the children to 'work', which means to do the godly play: to use the boxes of stories for their own play, or to do a craft of their choosing, probably with the idea of today's new story in mind.
With enough time, there is a feast. The children put their work away, reform the circle, and pass out ironed linen napkins, little glasses of water, and crackers. After the feast, the door-keeper and storyteller say goodbye and send the kids back out to the world. Everything that happens in the room is a ceremony, and a sharing of the spiritual. The kids get it. Children need to know that their feelings are the same feelings that the ancients in the Bible had. The program is Christian, but children's feelings are universal; I think the methods of Godly Play would work in any spiritual context.
Godly Play is a program created by the theologian
Rev. Dr. Jerome Berryman. More information can be found on the web. On Sunday, August 16, at 10:30 a.m., Tehachapi Community Church's service will include
The community is invited to visit our little church located at 100 East E St., Tehachapi, and understand more about Godly Play.