Missional pedagogy for kids – and adults

Participants at the Toronto conference get set to have the Godly Play experience. Photo: Diana Swift
Participants at the Toronto conference get set to have the Godly Play experience. Photo: Diana Swift
Published September 6, 2013

[This story first appeared in the September issue of the Anglican Journal.]

The storyteller and his adult audience sit cross-legged on the floor as he unties a beige cloth of white sand, which he spreads smooth, then swirls into dunes and forms into the walls and temple of ancient Jerusalem. Adding a chain and tiny figures, the Rev. Desmond Jagger-Parsons, a United Church of Canada minister from Kitchener, Ont., recounts the sack of the beloved city, the burning of the great temple, the forced march to Babylon, the captivity and the Jews’ eventual return.

Welcome to Godly Play, a tactile, creative, interactive approach to children’s Christian education and storytelling developed over 30 years by the Rev. Dr. Jerome Berryman, a U.S. Episcopal priest. Rapidly taking hold in many countries, this Montessori-like methodology helps children experience God by playing to their innate spirituality, imaginativeness and ability to learn through all five senses.

For the Rev. Canon Dr. Andrew Sheldon, parish priest at All Saints’ Kingsway Anglican Church in Toronto and a senior trainer with Godly Play Canada, the methodology is also an important tool in the faith formation of adults. “The adult volunteers often remark how Godly Play has been important in their own faith journey,” he says.

His story finished, Jagger- Parsons probes with questions, each beginning with the catch phrase “I wonder.” Responsesare thoughtful as the audience ponders the ancient tale’s implications-ranging from the impermanence of all manmade things to the potential of our fast-paced materialistic worldto be our own modern Babylon.

Jagger-Parsons was one of several multilingual storytellers at the fifth North American Godly Play Conference, held June 19 to 22 at Trinity College in Toronto. Other presenters used tablets and figurines to bring alive biblical events such as creation, exodus and Pentecost, as well as the parables of the sower, the good Samaritan, the pearl and the deep well.

Godly Play’s ability to harness children’s spirituality is also useful in the setting of pediatric hospitals and is easily adapted for non-Christian patients. Ryan Campbell, a Roman Catholic lay minister from Dallas, explained how biblical parables can help hospitalized children of any faith talk their illnesses. “I’ve used the parables of the good shepherd and the mustard seed in ministering to Muslim children,” he said.

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