Exploring baptism through Godly Play
In church the baptism service can be very effectively framed around the Godly Play Holy Baptism presentation.
Baptism is such an important beginning and should be seen as an opportunity for follow up, rather than just an end in itself. Godly Play is such a rich resource for nurturing discipleship and spiritual development and can be used in the following ways.
Using Godly Play in Baptism Preparation
Godly Play has informed much that I have done in my ministry as an Anglican priest and I and many others have found it to be a rich resource for baptism preparation.
The Godly Play approach is about so much more than the particular story that is chosen to be told, because above all it is about creating a safe space where real play can happen and more about God can be discovered. But in my experience the Holy Baptism Presentation has been very accessible and a great favourite with children.
Using the Holy Baptism Presentation
- With a family in their home, especially if a child rather than a baby in arms is being baptised. Also if there are older siblings. After doing the Godly Play Presentation it may be appropriate to leave the materials with them for a week or so to be played with.
- In church, the week before baptism so children are prepared and know what to look out for.
- On the anniversary of a baptism.
- On the Sunday after Epiphany -– The Baptism of our Lord, it could be presented to church – and the congregation invited to remember their own baptism.
- When schools visit – using it to explain baptism to them.
Issues to bear in mind
- Godly Play gives information about church practice, but different denominations do things differently so you may need to make changes to reflect their practice.
- Children will want to play with the material. How will this be facilitated?
- Freedom issues re: matches, oil, water etc.
In schools and in other multi-faith contexts it is perhaps not appropriate to say ‘remember your baptism’. Alternatives might be ‘Receive your light’.
Godly Play as Baptism Follow Up
As already mentioned, Baptism is such an important beginning and should be seen as an opportunity for follow up, rather than just an end in itself. The follow up may be:
- With the family or a Parent and Toddler group.
- At home with children who are unable to attend church.
- Presenting a Parable such as The Good Shepherd and then lending out one of the ‘Stories of God at Home’ sets
- First session of a confirmation course
- Lent Group for adults
Christian initiation of a different kind!
When I was in West Yorkshire we had a Godly Play Group which met weekly in the local council Primary School. It had been running for some time when a parent spoke to me after a Godly Play session and asked if I could help her. She said that neither she or her husband were religious but they realised that what the Godly Play sessions were doing for their young daughter of about 7 years old, was very good and was there some way they could affirm this? I said I was sure there was and arranged to go and meet with them all one evening in their home.
I took with me an outline of a baptism service, a thanksgiving service and a service of blessing from an Iona liturgy book.
We talked and looked through the various resources I had brought and together they decided they wanted the service of blessing with at its centre a Godly Play Presentation. I asked the girl to think about which one she would like. I rather hoped she would choose The Good Shepherd or one of the parables. However when I got in touch a few days later I found she had chosen the one ‘about Egypt’ – ‘The Exodus’. It would not have been my choice but I was rather stuck with it!
On a Sunday afternoon we gathered in church – in an open carpeted area at the back of church with pews and seats in a large open semi-circle (around the font). There were about 45 family and friends of the little girl.
We began the liturgy and then went into the Godly Play presentation of the Exodus which uses the desert bag. Adults and children responded to the wondering in a wonderful way. At the end of this story the matzo bread was passed round and people were invited to take a piece and taste the story. We then continued the liturgy.
At the end the girl came and asked if she could have the matzo bread and basket. As people were chatting and drinks were being taken round I suddenly caught sight of the girl going round to all her guests taking the matzo bread and saying to each person ‘taste the story’. This certainly felt a Eucharistic Feast. At that point I realised that the girl had certainly chosen the right story for that occasion.
The liturgy I had used for the above was The blessing of children (without baptism) by Joanna Anderson, from: The Pattern of Our Days: Liturgies and Resources for Worship, Edited by Kathy Galloway, The lona Community
The Rev’d Liz Cannon