My first exposure to Godly Play came at Duke Divinity School in the fall of 2005 in a class I was taking on the role of liturgy in Christian formation. In that class, I read Jerome Berryman’s Godly Play: An Imaginative Approach to Religious Education. That reading led to continued discussions about Godly Play with my faculty mentor, Dr. Fred Edie, one of the finest Christian educators of our time.
Several months later, I entered my first full-time ministry job as Minister of Christian Formation at First Bap- tist Church, Henderson, North Carolina. As part of that job, I was given responsibility for leading afternoon discipleship classes for about seventy children ranging from first–fifth grades. Not too long into my tenure, I was privileged to institute Godly Play. For five years, twice a week, I had the holy honor of sitting in circles of children as we opened up the stories of our faith to spend time in wonder.
Perhaps nothing more in my education or ministry has had a more significant impact on who I am as a min- ister today than my time working with Godly Play. Indeed, it was within the circle of Godly Play storytelling that I began to sense a call to preach. Before Godly Play, I was convinced I was not a preacher. For me, Godly Play opened up new reflection about the purpose of preaching. Much of my Doctor of Ministry work in preaching rose out of what I learned with children as we participated in the tradition of oral storytelling… that is of orally passing on the biblical story.
I struggle to put into words how dynamic I found the Godly Play program to be—it really is astounding. After a few years of gathering in the Godly Play circle, I witnessed children gain abilities to interpret and make connections within the biblical story that few adults in my educated church community possessed. I often called the Godly Play circle a school of prophets—for children were learning to apply the biblical story to contemporary situations in beautiful and creative ways. In other words, the story was sinking so deeply within them that they understood more than the surface facts or a handful of moral lessons; they really began to “get” what the God of our salvation has been up to since the beginning of creation.
A program like Godly Play is not easy to lead. Indeed, the Godly Play Foundation is quick to say there is a major difference between having story materials and using some methods of the program and truly leading Godly Play. To conduct Godly Play requires a high level of training by all involved and a commitment by the entire church community to support the program, its leaders and our children. It should come as no surprise that our lay leadership at UBC has committed to begin the program with excellence. In the last several months five UBC members, including our new Associate Minister, Kat Spangler, have given significant time toward training and are now certified Godly Play teachers. In addition, many of you have already given sub- stantial financial support to build the classroom (and we still need you to give to our budget to support the renovation costs the church has incurred to prepare our space).
Now, there are three things that we all need to do:
1. Join us on Wednesday night, September 4, for Godly Play Open House. Our trained teachers will walk groups through the room so that you can learn more about the program. If you cannot make it on Sep. 4,
talk to any of our teachers, they will be glad to explain more about the program.
2. Invite families and children to join us. Yes, we should be proud of the program and all we have invested in it. More importantly, we should be eager to see children in our community faithfully nurtured in the biblical story.
3. Pray for our children and leaders. Specifically, pray that our children will find themselves caught up in the good news of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ.
I am filled with joy and anticipation as we begin this new journey with our children. May we all find our- selves immersed within God’s story.