The Story of Godly Play at Christ Church in Statford, CT
by Jeannie Babb
“What are you doing for children?”
This is the question the Rev. Scott Lee asks me when he learns I am the Christian Formation Director of Otey Memorial Parish.
“Godly Play,” I reply simply. Before telling him I also work for the Godly Play Foundation, I want to see what he’ll say about the ministry.
At the mention of Godly Play, Lee excitedly tells me how it has changed his church. Christ Church in Stratford, Connecticut, had very limited Christian education opportunities when Lee answered the call to serve as Priest-in-Charge. Only two or three children attended on Sundays, with one faithful mother greeting them each week.
After the death of Blanche Kent, the beloved parishioner’s daughter Lauren wanted to give the church a significant memorial. Thinking of Kent’s love for children, Lee suggested launching a Godly Play program.
He says, “Godly Play is the best the church has to offer for formation for young people. I also knew that it provides deep formation for the storytellers.”
Adults and children learn from the structure of the room as well as the stories, he notes. “As the storyteller, you are surrounded by the Scriptures, with the Holy Family behind you. The structure of the class is the structure of the Eucharist. If we could get Godly Play going for the kids, we would also be providing biblical formation for the adults in the room.”
From previous churches, Lee was familiar with Godly Play and Montessori methods in the Sunday school class. He tells of a child who, during the work time, decided to make a stick puppet of the blind man who received his sight.
The teacher looking on said, “I wonder why his shirt is purple, his jacket is red and his pants are green?”
“Well, his shirt is purple because it’s Lent,” the child answered. “He’s wearing red and green because when he got his sight back, it must have been like Christmas!”
Lee felt the gift in memory of Blanche Kent could offer such a celebration of wonder at Christ Church. The memorial gift provided sufficient funds to renovate a room, with all the shelves and properly configured space, as well as the stories needed for the first year. Lee says, “We put up a tree on the bulletin board in the parish hall. Each leaf had a Godly Play story and the cost. The gifts could be dedicated as a memorial.” The story baskets and boxes on the Godly Play shelves carry a small tag noting in whose memory the story was given.
Meanwhile, storytellers were recruited from within Christ Church. “Some even returned to the parish to become storytellers,” Lee says. U.S. Godly Play Trainer Linda Clapp led a series of three Saturday Commuter Core trainings, holding the first class at St. John’s Episcopal Church in nearby Stamford, Connecticut, because the room was still under construction. By the second Saturday training, the room at Christ Church was ready and the new storytellers were able to learn in their own environment.
At last the big day arrived – the first Sunday after Labor Day, 2015. Signs out front read, “Not your grandmother’s Sunday school. Come to Godly Play!”
“We were all set,” Lee says. “My prayer was that we would have some children show up.”
Christ Church planned to launch the new Godly Play program during the church service itself. Children were invited to sit on the chancel steps for the Gospel reading, after which Lee would join them and tell the first Godly Play story, the Story of the Church Year.
Lee says, “When I finished reading the Gospel, I turned around and there were more children seated in front of the chancel steps than I have ever seen in this church. Over twenty children, all ages, had gathered along with some parents and storytellers.”
Thirty-one children registered for Godly Play in the first year Christ Church offered the program. Soon the teens became interested in what was happening in that room as well. Since Christ Church does not have enough teens for a youth group, four devoted teens have been trained to serve as aides to several children with motor or development problems. They sit in the circle to assist those children, which also gives them an avenue to learn the stories and experience the reverence and wonder of Godly Play.
Excitement has grown as parents and teachers share what happens in the classroom. “It’s about the connections children are making. The things they say at home, tell me we are shaping their formation at a very deep level. Their minds are being filled with ideas and images, not with doctrine and dogma. It’s just the best thing in the world.”
Lee says, “The most godly faculty we have is the imagination. We are made in God’s image because God imaged us – God imagined us. We, too, have an imagination. Imagination is not a frivolous thing; it’s our most godly quality.”