A pioneer minister’s story

Transforming Sunday mornings

As a minister, I regularly ask myself how our church community might grow deeper in their discipleship. Along with other pioneer ministers, I often sit with the question of why it is that sometimes we only allow certain voices to remind us about God’s beauty and don’t offer space for others? This is why the Godly Play approach is a gift to spiritual formation.

As I began to experiment with our monthly Intergenerational service, I wanted to inhabit the power-sharing, trusting, an exploratory approach which Godly Play models so well in a non-verbal way. Like the conversation Jesus has with the Samaritan woman at the well, I wanted to enable our whole community to take courage, to dare to ask their own questions, to listen and be listened to, and to continue wondering for themselves as autonomous disciples.

We drew on the flow of a Godly Play session, offering a welcome time, setting up a circle with all ages included, reading the story/passage, and then inviting wondering and response and finishing with drinks and snacks. 

But we invited anyone in the community to read the passage beforehand and prepare ‘The thing only you can bring’. Essentially, the whole gathering was about allowing space and time for people to share whatever they had brought in response to the Bible passage. As a facilitator, it was my role to respond with open, words or gestures, to clarify where needed, and to keep the reflection flowing. 

There were challenges along the way, especially for those for whom speaking in front of others is challenging. For teenagers, this is particularly difficult, yet I am drawn to this approach as it may model for them a community of faith that welcomes questions, wrestles with Scripture, and values different points of view. These will be essential life skills as they mature and grow in our diverse, international community.

We learned that listening to responses with which you disagree is never comfortable, but that it always offers the opportunity to learn. For some, the impulse to argue back or jump in with the ‘right’ response was very strong.

The intergenerational context made for some tricky moments around responding to what younger people offered. Initially, there was a tendency to applaud a younger person. We had to work hard to create a different environment in which the thoughts, playfulness, and creativity of a younger person were valued as deep thinking in the same way as a verbal presentation offered by an adult.

For those in leadership, we learned that for some of us, this approach can be challenging to our perceived purpose, our identity as teachers, and our function within a community of faith. 

There were wonderful riches to explore as we heard different voices from the people who don’t usually have an opportunity to share. Our faith in God was deepened and we were formed as a community of disciples as we learned to appreciate one another.

I am grateful for the values and experience of Godly Play storytelling in my own life and that of my children, which was a foundation on which to build this adventure that others are continuing to grow today.

Lucy Bolster

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