When lockdown was announced in March 2020, I wondered what we would do about church – what would really meet the needs of my husband, our six children and me? We decided to do church at home using Godly Play as our inspiration. I had always liked the idea of ‘doing church’ in the family but had never managed or dared to do it. I always felt awkward or self-conscious. Now I felt an urgency that it was really important to place our family in a story bigger than just us at home – to acknowledge our reliance on God’s love, to be in solidarity with suffering, and to see ourselves as part of the Christian community around the world and throughout history.
Godly Play gave me a vision for how to make this happen. It didn’t matter so much what we chose to do, but the way that we did it. But to help you imagine us: we lit a candle, I told a story, we had some wondering, sang a song and then shared the feast with some short liturgy, and blew out the candle to finish. We sometimes did it indoors, sometimes in the garden. It took less than half an hour.
As a Godly Play storyteller, I know that I am responsible for creating and holding the atmosphere. Doing Godly Play in my own family was more emotionally challenging than doing it in church, but knowing that holding the atmosphere was a higher priority than whatever activity we were doing really helped me not to be so influenced by others’ emotions.
In Godly Play adults and children see themselves as fellow travellers on life’s journey, each in search of God’s kingdom. This feels so different from taking the role of the knowledgeable parent who shares insights; it’s such a relief! The Holy Spirit is our teacher, we can stop feeling the pressure of needing to be good enough. Once we admit we never will be good enough, then all of a sudden we discover that actually we are good enough! We aren’t perfect and neither are our children, let’s approach God who loves us anyway and can help us.
In Godly Play the story can be received on multiple levels. Our four-year-old could enjoy the same story as our teenagers and my husband. Godly Play stories are absorbing, for they engage the senses and help us see things in a new light. When we respond to ‘I wonder where you are in the story?’ then a familiar story can impact us in different ways, depending on what is going on in our lives.
And in Godly Play we don’t need to supply the answers. No one is expecting us to explain things, no one is going to argue or debate a point in order to win or prove something, no one minds if we’re not sure about something, no one even minds if we’ve got nothing to say! Godly Play offers a space for simple wondering and reflecting, and it doesn’t have to be out loud. In Godly Play we can hold silence and trust that all is well.
As we approached the summer holidays, various unanticipated difficulties began to enter our lives, I felt overwhelmed at everything that was going on and I didn’t have any brain-space for Godly Play stories. Family church was pared down to the feast and then wondering about things together, wondering how to see and follow God in what was happening. When I write it down, it sounds more special or religious than it felt – the reality was that it was very ordinary, quite light and normal and short, and with the usual sibling tensions. It’s enough, and it’s authentic. We’ll go back to stories or actual church when the time is right, and in the meantime, we can rest in the Godly Play atmosphere that was created.