Godly Play Materials: An overview by Jerome Berryman (slightly adapted for the UK context)
One of the many misunderstandings about Godly Play is that it costs a lot of money. What it does cost is a lot of time, awareness, consistency, an appreciation for the method, and the time it takes to become fluent in the presentations. That is all very difficult to be sure, but it is not pounds and pence.
What about the materials? Aren’t they important? They are very important but not absolutely necessary. There is a lot of Godly Play in Africa. They make their materials out of what they have or just put down something in the circle for the children to focus on and let their imaginations do the rest. Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world and there is a lot of Godly Play there. They make their own materials but mostly they just gather and tell the stories with reverence and wonder. They are closer to an oral storytelling tradition than we are, but the point is that Godly Play is much more than the materials. What do you really need, then?
To begin, it is important to have a copy of the second edition of Teaching Godly Play, How to Mentor the Spiritual Development of Children (2009) so you can master the method. While this is going on you will also need to begin learning the presentations in The Complete Guide to Godly Play Volumes 2, 3 and 4. If you have no materials, use your hands as if you did have them. If you can “see” the materials with your imagination, sometimes the children can too. At least, that has been my experience when I have worked or practised without materials.
In your monthly teachers’ meetings practice the stories and the method with each other and “talk children.” The description of the method in Teaching Godly Play will help you find a good balance between firm clarity and openness within constructive limits for working with children. You will also begin to see how the deep structure of a Godly Play class reinforces and evokes the way most Christians worship. You will also want to refresh your Godly Play room, even if there are no materials there. It communicates a lot about how you welcome children. It is also important to keep learning and to support each other as you move forward. You might want to call your monthly teachers’ meetings “play practice”. This is fun, deep fun, like children enjoy when they play seriously.
There will come a time, however, when you begin to buy/commission the beautiful materials designed for Godly Play. When that time comes, remember that most of the materials will last for over 30 years. I just retired a set of parable boxes from the model classroom at St. Gabriel’s in Denver to the archives of the Center for the Theology of Childhood. Thea and I used them for over 35 years. They were still fine. The “retirement” was mostly for sentimental reasons.
So please divide the start-up cost for each material by 30 (years) to get the annual cost. You will also find that many people will happily donate money for these materials and local carpenters will love making them as a ministry. Cut out pictures from the catalogue. Blow them up and display them
for a Godly Play fair to raise a little money each year. Imagine what it would be like to have your own children use the same materials you did when you were a child! Godly Play is for the long term. It is not the “latest thing”.
There are also other ways to cut the costs that have just become available once again. Godly Play can now provide you with the unpainted materials, copies of the artwork, and the do-it-yourself kits. If you have any questions about the materials, please contact any of our accredited trainers in the UK for the latest advice and to help you find a way to make this work for the children in your church or school.
Jerome W. Berryman
Center for the Theology of Childhood