What do you get when you cross a Montessori style of education with Children’s Worship? “Godly Play”, of course!
So, maybe it wasn’t that obvious … but “Godly play” and its accompanying Children’s liturgy are not a new phenomenon. This style of Children’s Worship began to take shape in the 1970’s (Google “Jerome W. Berryman”).
Now if you were thinking like I did when I first heard about Godly Play , the “with it” side of you is thinking “Children’s Worship from the 70’s, isn’t that a little too ‘old school’?” While Godly Play’s simplicity, freedom, and Christ-centered stories would make it all too easy to defend the appeal of Godly Play for children even today, that is not my focus here. It is Godly Play’s eye for children’s spirituality that makes it essential for contemporary Children’s Ministry.
In her book, Children’s Spirituality: What It Is and Why It Matters, Rebecca Nye offers a basic definition of Children’s Spirituality focused on relationship:
“God’s ways of being with children and children’s ways of being with God” (5). Given this definition, play (as an essential act of children across the world), can have a sacred quality about it. Godly Play creators would propose that play is
“a natural language of childhood, and therefore a vital creative process through which Christian language can take root in a child’s life…good play is satisfying…can draw us into uncharted waters (imagination, deeper relationships), and can’t be forced…” (Nye,78).
Now, I have to confess that both as a Children’s Minister and as a mother this is hard to swallow. How can it be that the times that seemed filled with distraction, chaos, and messy exploration may be the most holy? How can it be that the times in which I have the least control and often some frustration, God might be able to best enter the hearts of his little ones and abide with them?
A recent example. For the season of Easter, I have a small tomb, rock, and wooden Jesus (standing arisen outside the tomb) on the children’s altar. It seems almost every time I turn around, a child is placing Jesus back inside the tomb. Grrr, weren’t they listening when I said He was alive! The still small voice of the Spirit, “But Eve, what is the message grownups are sending them? Do you even believe He is really alive? Can you understand the fullness of Life in Him if you don’t first begin with understanding Him in the tomb?”.
But as I’ve learned in my own spiritual walk, it is the moments when I try to take control of my life that I shut God out and I miss the treasure He places before me. I’ve also learned that it’s in the times that I truly listen to the children around me (often that means I get to play with them!) that my eyes are opened to God’s ways of being with them.