On July 21-24, Godly Play Trainers from around the United States were joined by Godly Play Foundation representatives and special guests at the Cenacle Retreat and Conference Center in Chicago for a weekend of training and support. The Godly Play Foundation plans and sponsors yearly gatherings for the College of Trainers to expand skills, foster fellowship and deepen collegiate relationships, and to wonder together.
Sharon Greeley, Godly Play Trainer and Chair of the 2016 Trainer Gathering Planning Committee, wrote before the event: “We will seek to come close to God and one another, grounded in the language that unites us – while remaining open to the Spirit who goes where it will.”
Greeley is based in York, South Carolina. She has been a Godly Play practitioner since attending a workshop with Jerome Berryman almost twenty years ago and has been a Trainer since 2000. A sub-committee of the Board’s Education Committee, the Planning Committee also included Trainer Susan Mallison, who holds Core Trainings and Volume 6 Workshops across the Midwest, and Seattle-based Trainer Cindy Spencer, who has launched Godly Play programs in five churches ranging in size from mission to cathedral. Bringing many decades of collective experience and nurturing relationships to the process, the Planning Committee designed a contemplative weekend rich with learning, praying, playing, and reflection.
The chosen theme was “Nurture the Nurturers,” with the assembled group deeply considering how best to nurture each other as colleagues and Trainers while seeking to nurture the spiritual growth of the children, parents, and congregations for whom Trainers care. In keeping with that theme, those Trainers who could not attend where never forgotten, but were remembered continually throughout the event.
“Where do Trainers recharge?” Greeley asks. “How can they reconnect and stay nurtured between Trainer gatherings?”
The Rev. Canon Gil Stafford, Ph.D and D.Min served as presenter and worship leader to nurture explorations and wonderings. Stafford, commended by Jerome Berryman himself, came to the Trainer Gathering fresh off a stint as storyteller and chaplain at the Diocese of Arizona Family Camp. Stafford is the author of When Leadership and Spiritual Direction Meet: Stories and Reflections for Congregational Life (2014). At the U.S. Trainer Gathering, he shared insights he from his own life, and sometimes sat on the floor to tell a Godly Play-style story.
The Rev. Cheryl V. Minor, Ph.D, newly appointed Director of the Center and also a Trainer shared an overview of completed and upcoming revisions. Participants previewed some upcoming changes, including new lessons that will be included in the new editions of Volumes 2 and 3 of the Complete Guide to Godly Play. They also saw changes to several existing lessons, which will become available in the Spring, and offered feedback on others. Changes to materials were discussed and ideas suggested for the new materials for the six new lessons that Jerome Berryman is writing now.
W. Lee Dickson, MBA, who became the Foundation’s Executive Director in January after years as Board President, offered updates from Godly Play Foundation on organizational structure, upcoming changes in the College of Trainers, Godly Play Español, and Godly Play around the world. Dickson announced that the Foundation is on track to exceed 70 trainings in 2016, setting a new record. She introduced Jeannie Babb and Teresa Phares, already well known to many of the Trainers as the registration team, and they offered a hands-on technology workshop during the weekend.
The Gathering schedule included time for large and small group sharing, with a Plenary of Plenaries covering both Core and Advanced training topics. Time was included for case studies, reflection, enhancing relationships, and enjoying Chicago together.
There were, of course, many stories shared in the style of Godly Play–some that you may find in the Complete Guide to Godly Play and some that are only used for training. Just as the structure of Godly Play Training is itself a Godly Play circle, so the Training Gathering reflected the shared culture and the deeply held belief that story circles unlock imagination, and imagination is the path to an even better future. The shared language of wonder is one all Trainers speak. Wondering together is a beautiful way to break open old ways of thinking, to reach across emotional divides, and to gently nudge ourselves and others toward alternate ways of seeing the world.
Twenty-one U.S. Trainers were able to make the journey for the weekend in Chicago. However, the circle felt even larger and stronger than this, because of all the other names invoked so often–in prayer, in thanksgiving, sometimes with laughter, and always with love. Perhaps the circle of Trainers might be more like a spiral, working ever deeper and ever more inward even as it expands ever upward and outward. I wonder.
The next U.S. Trainer Gathering will take place in Denver just after the 2017 North American Godly Play Conference.