A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to participate in a Sunday morning’s Godly Play session. Godly Play is a curriculum that utilizes objects, ritual, space, and activities in order to stimulate wonder and wondering.
On this particular morning, the story was baptism. After the children sat in their circle, each on a special mat, the teacher, Genya, began to wonder out loud where the story was located in the room. This is clearly part of the Godly Play technique: “Where is story about baptism? Is it with the sacred stories? No. Is it in the Parables area? No. That’s right! It is in the liturgical lessons area.” Everything, from how the story is told to where the story’s supplies are stored, help children to learn the layers and nuances of our faith.
Genya laid out three felt circles, naming each of the parts of the Trinity as she did. She then put symbols on each circle: a Christ candle, a wooden bird and scented oil, and a pitcher with water and bowl. My first favorite part was how she explained the Holy Spirit. After she moved the wooden bird through the air, she had the kids smell the oil: You can’t always see the Holy Spirit, but like this smell, you know it is there.
The children then named a baby doll and watched as Genya baptized it. She lit a candle (similar to the ones we use on Christmas Eve) from the Christ candle to symbolize the doll’s baptism. Then each child said their own names and lit a candle (some held onto them, some preferred to have them set into a bowl with sand).
Then came my second favorite moment: rather than just blowing out the candles, and so blowing out the blessing of baptism, Genya explained that the light was simply being transformed. Using a candle snuffer, the kids could see how the flame became smoke. And smoke, Genya explained, moves all around us, bumping into us when we least expect it.
Genya then invited the children to think about what they wanted to “wonder on” for the rest of their time and then go do it: drawing, playing with another story’s elements, hearing the baptism story again. (The desert stories’ sand box is a perennial hit, I learned.)
The sacrament of baptism is complex and Godly Play doesn’t dumb it down for kids. Neither does it tell them how they should think or what they should believe. Instead, they meet the elements with all of their senses and are given permission to respond in their own way – and as that smoky, bumpy blessing guides them. The kids were completely absorbed the entire time and so was I.
I hope that you will consider being trained as a Godly Play teacher. I guarantee you will be blessed to offer that blessing.
Eileen Gebbie, Senior Minister
Ames United Church of Christ
Godly Play Team
Hannah Hannover, Minister to Children and Families and Genya Coffey, Christian Education Team Coordinator make up our current team of guides and storytellers. Both have attended workshops in order to receive certification from the Godly Play Foundation. They will take turns authoring the blog posts found here. Interested in joining the team? Be sure to let them know through the contact page.