Is Godly Play right for my church, place or tradition?
Godly Play is used within many different church traditions and expressions of church.
Having evolved from an Episcopalian context in America, Godly Play fits comfortably within the breadth of Anglican expression. The rhythms of the church year, its great festivals, times of getting ready and ordinary time are explored through liturgical lessons, including baptism and communion. These, and other stories, provide a chance to for the breadth of Christian language used in the Anglican tradition to be explored, including the languages of gesture, symbol and colour, as well as those of word and silence. These rhythms and foundations of church tradition are also reflected in the great sweep of biblical narrative that is covered by the Godly Play sacred stories and their suggested place of use within the church year. These stories run from Genesis to the Acts of the Apostles and beyond, and encourage the search for individual as well as collective identity and meaning within the ongoing story of the people of God. Through a spiral curriculum, participants in Godly Play are helped to create links between the biblical narrative, liturgical action and what they see and experience in worship. This provides the freedom to discover deeper meaning and connections between stories of faith and our own lives and enrich the great rhythms and sacraments of the Anglican church. Godly Play sessions traditionally follow a liturgical structure, beginning with a welcome, an opportunity to explore the Bible and respond, followed by a sharing of food and a final blessing. Recognising there are different expressions within the Anglican tradition, presentations can be reordered and if necessary, adapted to reflect the spectrum of church practices.
Assemblies of God
The UK Assemblies of God is a movement that believes that every individual should have the opportunity to have a growing relationship with our loving God. The spiral Bible-based curriculum of Godly Play allows for exploration of the Bible and self-exploration that nurtures spiritual growth. Each Godly Play session mirrors the format of our meetings allowing for a welcome, the sharing of the Word and a time to respond in many ways before taking part in a ‘feast’ that references the breaking of bread ,and finally, a time of prayer and blessing. The story is very carefully paraphrased Scripture with open-ended questions to facilitate exploration, allowing ample time for the Holy Spirit to move among those present. Godly Play has served AoG congregations in a variety of settings including children’s ministry, youth ministry, mission, family services, ministry to those in nursing home settings and ministry to the forgotten or marginalized. It does not assume a strong Bible knowledge: this is nurtured through the spiral curriculum, making Godly Play appropriate for all, from those with substantial Bible knowledge to those who are new to the Bible. Each session invites those present to enter into a dialogue between the Word of God, those present, their deepest self and God.
At the heart of being Baptist is a love of the Scriptures and an understanding of the liberty of each local church to discern what God is saying, to witness to that and to encourage each individual disciple to be part of sharing faith. Godly Play honours both the love of the scripture story and encourages learning and nurturing personal engagement with God through the story. It is useful in showing how the story from beginning to end fits together as one, exploring key themes and the significant people. It holds together the aspects of being part of community (being in the circle), sharing (through wondering) and the personal experience of God (response time). And what Baptist doesn’t love a good cuppa (feast time)!
No one size fits all in a Baptist context. The openness of Godly Play takes seriously enabling individuals to discover God in the ways that fit their personality and gifts. Godly Play encourages an outward expression of the growing relationship with God as well as the honouring the intimacy and mystery of the work of the Holy Spirit within us.
Godly Play introduces a sense of the Church Year which is often absent from Baptist liturgy beyond the main festivals which enriches the understanding of Baptist tradition and practice. There’s room for fun as well as quiet, imagination alongside reflection, playfulness and humour for the many different contexts within Baptist communities.
Methodists traditionally use a fourfold approach to Christian faith and its application to contemporary issues and to Christian practice. Known as the ‘Methodist Quadrilateral’ of Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience, it encourages Methodist people to discover the word of God through the Bible, and to learn from the rich wisdom of believers before us. We are called to love God with our minds as well as our hearts, and to think things through for ourselves. We need to listen to and be aware of differing points of view and use our own critical thinking to make sense of God’s world.
Methodism particularly stresses the importance of our own experience of God’s grace working in our lives. We gain wisdom and maturity from life experience, especially when we pray and reflect about our story with other Christians. Godly Play offers a way to encounter the word of God in the sacred stories of the Bible, as well as stories from our tradition (such as saint stories and liturgical action stories). Godly Play quite intentionally creates a safe space in which to wonder about these stories – and where we (or our story) may be in that story. There is opportunity to process and make sense of the sacred story, both internally and ‘out loud’ with others in the circle, as well as in a time of individual work done in response, without any attempt to impose a particular interpretation or understanding. Godly Play honours and values the experience of each participant in the circle, and regards all in the circle as being on a journey of learning together.
The liturgical structure and rhythm of the Godly Play curriculum supports the catechetical teaching within Roman Catholicism in parishes and schools. The approach, which starts by welcoming everyone into the community, then moving into breaking open the Word, exploring the Word through storytelling, wondering and creative expression through play, then moving into breaking ‘bread’ together through the sharing of the feast, echoes the structure of the Mass in a profound way. Godly Play lessons can be used to support sacramental programmes such as preparation for Baptism, the Eucharist and Confirmation. Godly Play can also be used within Children’s Liturgy to explore the Word, with the children then re-joining the main congregation in time for the Eucharistic Prayer.
Overall, the Godly Play approach supports children and young people in their faith journey, enabling them to learn about and deepen their faith at their own pace.
The Salvation Army has many expressions of worshipping community and social support settings. Within the Salvation Army, Godly Play trainers work by helping people to understand the key principles, enabling them to contextualise it for themselves whatever their situation.
The Salvation Army frequently works with the voiceless, those on the edge of society. In Godly Play they find a place of encounter with God, regardless of biblical knowledge or an understanding of church tradition. Anyone can engage in the experience of a Godly Play session and many find revelation and restoration.
Many of the people from The Salvation Army who take part in training have first encountered Godly Play through one of the special stories that Rebecca Nye has written about Salivation Army practices or significant people. The participants may not know anything about Godly Play, but the experience of a session has prompted them to find out more.
The United Reformed Church
At the heart of the URC’s strategy among children is a commitment and desire to enable children to Experience, Explore and Express faith in God. Godly Play offers a unique and valuable opportunity for children of all ages and is utilised by a number of individual churches and synods across the UK, with at least one synod offering its own dedicated Godly Play space.
The URC is a denomination of the reformed tradition, formed by the uniting of Presbyterian and Congregational churches and latterly Churches of Christ congregations, and embraces a wide spectrum of theological perspectives and practice. The Godly Play approach may not therefore be suitable in every context, yet its open enquiry and reflective approach to encountering God is very helpful. Godly Play fits well with the denomination’s understanding of the need for each individual to respond to God as part of a community of faith. The centrality of Scripture within a Godly Play session, the offering of a story within a circle and the invitation to do the work that you need to do in response, all fit well with the ‘Walking the Way, Living the Life of Jesus Today’ focus on whole life discipleship which is central in the life of the URC.
The high value that Godly Play places on children’s spirituality is vital and is in harmony with the denomination’s desire to see children play a full part in the life of the church – valued for what they bring that nourishes the whole body of Christ intergenerationally – as illustrated by the URC Charter for Children in the Church. The welcome and inclusion of children within the structure and ethos of the Godly Play approach is valued within the URC. The new Children and Youth Friendly Church scheme seeks to recognise and to affirm a local church in its welcome to, and inclusion of, children, young people and families across the life of a URC congregation.