Imagine being able to teach and tell the Great Story in the place where big parts of it began. That’s the experience I had on the last day of July 2015. The opportunity came the day after I completed an inspiring pilgrimage at St. George’s College centered on the “Palestine of Jesus” course, which included visiting all the major New Testament sites. The next day, I enjoyed an equally wonderful Godly Play introduction at the college. Most of the pilgrims from my church had left, but Lesley Markham (a Godly Play practitioner, St. George’s College board member and, incidentally, wife of the Virginia Theological Seminary dean) stayed with me to serve as doorperson and general helper.
We had 15 folks sign up, BUT—a lesson for us about life in Israel/Palestine—there had been violence on the West Bank the night before, and a crucial checkpoint for several of the group was closed, so they could not come. A second group coming by chartered bus from the Galilee had a breakdown, and when they got a second bus, that driver would not accept a Palestinian who had a day pass and a “green permit.” The documentation was in order, but the driver would not budge and so the whole group turned back.
Despite reduced numbers (about 7), those who attended had a rich time. The Rev. Dr. Rodney Aist, Ph.D., Course Director at the College and the force behind this event, was there the whole time and it was an introduction for him, too. We also had a priest who had studied at VTS, a young woman about to start university, a young man also bound for university who was interning at the adjacent cathedral, a youngish mom from Jerusalem who did not seem to have much English (though others translated when needed), and a young man who came late and left early and—I don’t think—understood much of what I said (the cathedral intern knew him and helped him out). We were also joined by a seminarian and a bishop’s assistant from the UK who had been with me on the “Jesus” course.
Lesley and I did not try to create a Godly Play room (too much to pack!) but did a good job of creating a focal shelf and a Godly Play “mood” for the room. We were able to bring/assemble/create the three stories I told: Great Family (with a nod to Robby St. John for my new desert bag!), Parable of the Good Shepherd, and Baptism. I showed Jerome’s LOGOS video and a short PowerPoint of my classroom that included slides of a few others to give them a sense. Most of the parishes in the Diocese of Jerusalem (some are in Jordan and Syria as well as Israel) will not have dedicated space, but the people there were enthusiastic about finding ways to make it work.
We sent participants home with a make-and-take for the Great Family (four of GPR’s lovely new People of God each), felt and prints for the Parable of the Good Shepherd, and scripts for all three. We know that hearts were moved and seeds were planted. The young man bound for university, in particular, was spellbound by the parable. “This is the first time I’ve understood it!” he said.
My dream for the future is to get someone from the Diocese of Jerusalem over to the US to attend a core training. A Training of Trainers is way too advanced at this stage, in my opinion. Rather, we need an Arabic speaker to fully immerse in Godly Play and become an advocate and mentor/coach. The greatest expense, of course, would be transportation, but if money and time can be found, I know an anonymous donor who would underwrite the cost of core training.
So, this is a work in progress, with many obstacles but much faith and hope. It’s a small beginning, but it is a beginning, and we know what happens when small seeds are sprinkled into fertile soil.
The Rev. Dr. Rosemary Beales
US Godly Play Foundation Trainer