For several years our church has held a short service during the morning of Good Friday which is intended to be particularly welcoming to children and young families, while inclusive of all ages: typically, up to thirty people would attend. In the past this took the form of a ‘journey to the cross’ in which we moved together between prayer stations set up around the church, with brief readings recalling key moments in the story, spoken prayers and an invitation to collect a symbolic object – a scented leaf, a small map of Jerusalem, a piece of matzo, a picture of a cockerel etc. – to help recall each stage on the journey. As we walked from station to station we sang a simple Taizé chant.
In 2019 we received a grant from a charitable trust which enabled us to buy the materials for the ‘Jesus and Jerusalem’ story (in Volume 8 of the Complete Guide to Godly Play) from St Michael’s Workshop, Bowthorpe. We often use Godly Play materials in our Sunday morning children’s groups and decided to experiment with using the beautiful new resource in the larger context of the Good Friday service. For various reasons we opted not to structure this as a conventional Godly Play session: many people in the church valued the established format for worship on Good Friday and we did not want to discard that entirely, and conversely few in the congregation were familiar with the format of a whole Godly Play session including circle-building, the story, wondering, free response, feast and blessing. It was agreed to integrate the ‘Jesus and Jerusalem’ story with elements from the ‘journey to the cross’ liturgy.
Floor space is limited within our small church, which has fixed pews, but we were able to gather in a circle in front of the communion rail, with children seated on cushions and adults on pews behind them. The storyteller sat on the floor, but with enough distance that those seated on pews could see the materials clearly. While we had lost the experience of moving ourselves on a journey around the church, this would be replaced with the gestures of the storyteller and the imaginary journey with Jesus and the disciples around the city of Jerusalem. From a practical point of view, this arrangement was more inclusive of the older people, some with mobility problems, who found it difficult to walk between prayer stations in previous years.
We divided the Godly Play script into sections, pausing after telling the part of the story for each day of Holy Week. After a short silence, the priest led a very brief reflection and spoken prayer, then we sang a chant while passing round baskets containing the small objects – each person had been given a small bag to collect them in, if they wished. The prayers and choice of objects were more directive than usual in Godly Play, but still allowed some space for individual interpretation.
A few adults commented afterwards that the Godly Play presentation had helped them understand the events of Holy Week in new ways, placing the New Testament stories within the much longer history of God’s people; for others, it was the first time they had really thought about the geography of Jerusalem and the surrounding area where Jesus lived and taught. Most of the responses were unspoken but it was evident that the materials had invited a deep and reflective engagement.
In 2020, of course, our plans for Good Friday along with everything else were thrown into disarray by the COVID-19 pandemic. We were still very early in the transition to online worship which would soon become our norm. Happily, the ‘Jesus and Jerusalem’ liturgy lent itself quite well to video format. We recorded the story on video, and several of the children made audio recordings of the prayers and reflections at home which were illustrated with Giotto paintings of the life of Christ (echoing the art work familiar to children from the Mystery of Christmas story) and photographs taken by a friend of the congregation during a recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Musicians from the church recorded the chant, and we were able to piece these all together using some basic video-editing software – a quickly-acquired new skill! – in time to post on YouTube for Good Friday.