The past few years have been a wonderful time to reimagine how we as a church are offering programs. Those of us leading Children, Youth, and Family Ministries have never been more creative, but we have also been very mindful to centre everything around God’s word.
During the pandemic, I found myself becoming increasingly interested in the Godly Play program for teaching Sunday School. The concept is simple: tell God’s stories—the stories of the Bible—and let the children explore through wonder and play.
Godly Play was created by Jerome Berryman and has been used for years by churches all over the world. Based on the Montessori teaching method, children are welcomed into a classroom where they are surrounded by materials telling the stories of the Bible. Each week, a storyteller chooses a story to share with the children and leads a time of “wondering questions” to reflect on the story. Participants are invited to take some time to explore, play, or create with the stories or art materials. The class ends with a small feast shared together.
The pandemic was the perfect time for me to train to become a storyteller. The more I learned, the more I fell in love. Although I did not have all the materials or space to run the program in full at our parish, I decided to integrate certain aspects for our children when we reopened before Easter.
At St. David’s in Welland, we have a variety of ages represented on Sunday mornings. Before the pandemic, three groups were active—post-pandemic, we decided to run one class with everyone together. The first time I shared a story with the children, I had a group of about 13 children aged 3–12. They were so excited to be back together again!
I picked a long story to tell. I was prepared for it to be a disaster. For 20 minutes I told the story of Jesus’s life (using only a few simple pictures) to a room full of complete silence. When we reflected on the story together, they had beautiful answers! We finished by giving them paper and colouring tools and letting them draw anything they wanted. The kids drew pictures of the River Jordan, the devil holding bread to tempt Jesus, symbols of communion hidden in a picture of spring—this was the moment I knew we were on to something.
Over the next few months, the kids kept asking for more stories. Since we are not set up with all the pieces to tell all the stories, we built them as we went. Parishioners were making wooden figures and helping me sew pieces to keep up with the children’s excitement. I heard kids using names and telling parts of stories from previous weeks as they connected them to the current week. Parents told stories of kids coming home thinking about our “wondering questions” and questioning other people’s answers. They were listening and thinking!
I have not been able to tell a story every week with the children—the materials needed for some stories can be difficult to make or find—but you can see their eyes light up when they realize there is a new story to share. My job as the storyteller is to hold a sacred space for the children to hear God’s word and allow them room to be spiritual, just like adults in church. For me, the beauty of Godly Play is the simplicity: God’s stories are so good that they are all you need.
Alison Steele is CYFM Coordinator at St. David’s, Welland