A story of introducing Godly Play to the whole church
The Storyteller’s story
Following my core training I was keen to introduce Godly Play to my church, St John the Evanglist, Upper St Leonards, in Sussex. Like others, I was really fired up to get things going. Initially I used Godly Play stories when it was my Sunday to lead the children’s session, once a month at most. Since those early days 10 years ago we have a group of three trained storytellers. All our children’s workers are willing to be part of the team that share Godly Play on Sundays and enthusiastic about this approach to developing spirituality with children. Today the church has requested that Godly Play be the main focus for our children’s Sunday provision.
To help in this process over these years I introduced Godly Play to the wider congregation, to small groups in a variety of settings including the Parish weekend away, prayer groups, PCC and an adult Theology group. Some time later I was asked by the Rector to bring a story to the main Sunday worship service so that the whole congregation could begin to understand what the children were experiencing in their group. He wanted the adults to experience something of this for themselves.
A Godly Play story has twice replaced the sermon at the all-age service. The first story I shared was Creation, using an enlarged version. A number of children’s workers and other willing members held up the black felt as I unrolled it during the telling, whilst they gradually added the plaques, holding them firmly in place in front of the black underlay. The initial interaction prompted by the question about the biggest gift was acheived using a microphone. The later wondering was done silently by individuals in the pews.
The second story was the parable of The Mustard Seed. This took a bit more planning in advance. We used a flip chart and attached a large black sheet to some cardboard as the base. All the story pieces were enlarged. The large yellow seed shape was attached to the black felt with Velcro. The tree, birds and nests were also attached with Velcro. Although the tree was quite large in my hand, the congregation was not close enough for this to really matter. They joined in with the wondering at the start and then at the end some more wondering was shared.
On each of these occasions the stories were already familiar to the children who participated freely alongside the adults. The congregation did engage, and respond interactively. It was a good experience for our Godly Play team too and these experiences have helped to make Godly Play a bigger focus for the church, with the rector keen for St John’s to be a beacon for Godly Play in our locality.
The Rector’s story
I am delighted to say that Godly Play has been an important feature of our life together in Christ at St John’s for some time now. I had actually been aware of it for many years, having experienced it as a teaching weekend when training for the priesthood. As an adult in theological education then, I found it to be entrancing and filled with wonder. It certainly suited my experiential and story- led personal exploration of the Faith. So it was a real joy when Alison Day approached me about introducing Godly Play here. Prior to the lockdown it had become the main provision for our youngsters, we had other people trained up and were developing improvements to our existing space to further enhance the experience. I particularly love the way that people, young and old, are encouraged to inhabit the story and to make their own sense of it in a spirit of prayerful wonder. As soon as we are able, we will be continuing, allowing Godly Play to enable that meeting between us and God. One last thing. We are a funny sort of Anglo-Catholic, Evangelical and Inclusive bunch here and the combination of word and sacrament at the heart of Godly Play so much echoes the multi-sensory joy of the weekly worship. A perfect fit.
Fr David Hill, Rector at St John the Evangelist, Upper St Leonards