There was once someone who said such amazing things and did such wonderful things that people followed him. They couldn’t help it. They wanted to know who he was, so they just had to ask him.
So begins the beloved Parable of the Good Shepherd in the Godly Play repertoire. As we approach Good Shepherd Sunday, we invite you to come closer. Lean into the circle as the lid comes off the box that is the Godly Play Foundation. I wonder what’s inside?
Once when they asked him who he was, he said “I am the Good Shepherd . . . I know each one of the sheep by name.”
Sometimes when the storyteller asks the children about the story, a child may say, “I wonder if I’m the sheep who was lost in the dangerous place. And the good shepherd is you, coming to find me.” It is disconcerting, and profound, to remember that we are all both shepherds and sheep. You shepherd children’s spirituality when you support the Godly Play Foundation. But what is the Godly Play Foundation? We are people: a lean team behind a very big ministry.
Lee Dickson, MBA, first encountered Godly Play nearly twenty years ago. She became a teacher, then a Trainer, and is now Executive Director for the Godly Play Foundation. Lee is guiding the Foundation into greater maturity with a sharper vision and strong relationships internationally. For Lee, Godly Play is both a ministry to children and a personal spiritual practice that infuses her life with grace and wonder.
“I show them the way to the good grass.”
Training and communications are our good grass, and our part time team accomplishes big work. Last weekend, the Rev. Regan Schutz, Director of Communications & Development and Director of U.S. Training, was ordained as a deacon in The Episcopal Church. Teresa Phares, Registrar and Director of U.S. Membership, was her ordination Cantor. This May, Regan and Teresa both graduate from the School of Theology of the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. Teresa will receive a Master of Arts in Theology and Regan will receive her Master of Divinity, continuing her path toward ordination to the priesthood. Regan recruited both Teresa and Jeannie Babb, Communications Developer, from the School of Theology. When Regan told Jeannie she was seeking ordination to deepen her commitment to the spirituality of children, Jeannie wanted to be part of that mission. She joined the Foundation as Registrar, and then moved to a role in communications as Teresa came on board to streamline many of the training registration functions and launch our Membership program.
“Where there are places of danger, I show them how to go through.”
The Rev. Dr. Jerome Berryman and his late wife Thea Berryman founded Godly Play and pioneered the ministry through early challenges. Unsatisfied with the closed, uncreative children’s programs he found in his studies, Jerome embraced Maria Montessori’s principles and harnessed the creative process to write stories for the entire church year. He trained others in his methodology, eventually establishing a U.S. College of Training to form ever-widening circles of new storytellers.
While the College of Training focuses on the praxis of Godly Play, Jerome also wanted the Foundation to continue developing and publishing theology, research, and methodology to deepen our understanding of how children encounter God—to deepen our practice of Godly Play. Thus, the Center for the Theology of Childhood was established as the academic and publishing arm of the Godly Play Foundation. Part library, party visiting fellows program, and part story lab, the Center provides space for the continued development of theory and practice.
In 2016, The Rev. Cheryl V. Minor, Ph.D., was named director of the Center. In another part time role with big work, Cheryl coordinates the publishing, academic, and research activities of the Center with the support of Jerome Berryman, who now holds the title of Senior Fellow. Under Cheryl’s direction, a second edition of the stories is underway. This new edition of The Complete Guide to Godly Play represents the wisdom of twenty years of classroom experience. Cheryl also serves as Materials Consultant for Godly Play Resources so that the work of the Center comes full circle to reach Godly Play programs in churches, schools, hospitals, and care facilities. As a storyteller and a Godly Play Trainer—and through her many committee appointments—Cheryl helps to connect all those who love Godly Play so that we can move forward with stories and materials that are pedagogically aligned and true to the spirit of wonder.
In the beginning, when there was nothing but words, Jerome and his younger brother Tom Berryman worked with Mike McCown and Connie Herl—who may have packed your last Resources order—to make the materials. They used wood and quality natural materials in keeping with Montessori principles.
“Connie’s first lesson was ‘Good Shepherd World Communion,’” Mike remembers. “It is still her pride and joy. Mine was the calendar of ‘How the Church tells time.’” Teresa Arnold, another dedicated employee who has invested many years in Godly Play’s genesis and evolution, manages receiving, shipping, and customer service. Teika Arnold, a graduate of Fort Hayes University, has now joined the Resources staff, bringing skills in the creative arts. Perhaps you will attend her workshop at our 2017 North American Conference in Denver this June.
When you tell a Godly Play story, each item you touch has been lovingly crafted in the United States, often in a cottage industry in someone’s home. The pieces are assembled in Ashland, Kansas, and carefully shipped. The profit from the sale of materials through Godly Play Resources is used by the Godly Play Foundation to support training scholarships and fund research and development at the Center for the Theology of Childhood.
“I would go anywhere to look for the lost sheep.”
Godly Play is practiced in over thirty countries on six continents. The Rev. Canon Dr. Andrew Sheldon, Godly Play Advocate for International Development, first encountered Godly Play through his wife Amy Crawford, the Executive Director of Godly Play Canada. He works with our established global Godly Play organizations, and shepherds new countries as they journey through training, translations, and standards, building our circle even wider.
Wherever Godly Play is practiced, in the United States and abroad, in churches, in schools, camps, hospitals, and perhaps in your home, we at the Foundation are so glad we are together on this spiritual journey to carry the Christian language to children and adults worldwide. We are so thankful that the Good Shepherd leads us, we who are both shepherds and sheep.
Godly Play is changing the world by teaching us how to be in relationship. To accomplish this crucial ministry requires communication, membership, education and people. It requires dollars. In today’s economy, our theology of money must recognize that dollars = ministry. To give is second nature to the faithful, and giving is what keeps the circle turning.
Now I wonder if you have ever found the good grass?
I wonder if you have ever had to go through a place of danger?
I wonder if you have ever been lost?
I wonder if you have ever been found?
On this Good Shepherd Sunday, please consider making a donation to the Godly Play Foundation to support the ministry of those serving Godly Play practitioners across the globe. Your donation will be used to bring training to remote locations as well as to your backyard. Your support furthers theological and pedagogical research that benefits all who seek to know God, and establishes more points of connection for the myriad circles blossoming far and wide.
We thank you for your support of our ministry, and we thank you for making the ministry of Godly Play your own. The growth of Godly Play has been a grass-roots movement, a testament of the program and the life it brings to the church; your role in its growth continues to be significant. Thank you for your ongoing gifts of time, funding, and continuing education. Our circle is stronger because of your participation in it, and together we will reach each child and indeed change the world.
Every donation of $200 or more will allow the Foundation to scholarship an under-resourced church into the Membership Circle so their teachers, parents, and clergy can become formally connected to the larger circle through online webinars, Member communications, and Member discounts. This is an incredible gift to a whole church who is working hard to minister to their flock, and to form their children in the Christian language and understanding of relationship that is gained through Godly Play.