Monday, October 4, 2010

Godly Play

Yesterday at Montclair Presbyterian Church we had children and youth incorporated into the morning service. Instead of a sermon, the youth gave their slideshow and report from last summer's mission trip. The children provided some of the music, and young people of all ages participated in leadership.
Joy of all joys, though, *i* got to do a Godly Play story with the children for the children's sermon time. Godly Play, for those who don't know, is a Montessori-based education method for Sunday School, and we use it at MPC for preschoolers through 6th graders (in separate classrooms). It's not a didactic teaching style... the "teacher" is called a "storyteller" instead, and for most of the story they keep their attention not on the children but fully on the story they are telling through the use of toy-size props. The stories are very rich in the tangible sense... the story items are well-made of wood and cloth, with significant use of color. Most people's favorite item is the "desert box" (which is not a playground sandbox! but you might mistake one for the other...) where the various Old Testament stories of desert wanderings are all told. Following the story the storyteller will bring their attention back to the children and ask "wondering" questions - open-ended and creative. The children are then given free time to work on art projects, to re-tell a story with props, or to freely play with the story elements. They re-gather for "the feast," share joys and concerns, and pray. It feels more like church than it does like school, even Sunday School.

So I shared the story of "the Good Shepherd and World Communion," based on John 10 but incorporating Lord's Supper references, with a mixed group of children, at the front of MPC with all the grown-ups watching. Godly Play storytellers don't usually wear lapel mics, nor is there usually an audience, but circumstances called for adaptation. We had set the communion table with white and green linens, and in front of it we put a smaller, child-size table, also draped in white and green, and I told the story on that. On the story board was a tiny table with dollhouse-size bread and wine... so we had a table on a table next to a big table... a story within a story within a story. The Good Shepherd led his sheep around the sheepfold, over to the good grass, and gathered them around the table. Then I reached down and picked up a basket of people-figures and started adding people to the circle, until finally the table was surrounded by people of all races and ages and manners of ethnic dress.
At the end of the story I asked the wondering questions. The first two flopped - no responses - but then I asked "I wonder if you have ever seen such a crowd of people gather around the table of the Good Shepherd?" The littlest ones bantered back and forth "i did." "i didn't!" "well I did," until one child's voice rang through - "I see it! right here right now!" and we suddenly entered into sacred time & space.
We kept wondering. I wondered who was invited to the table, and was gravely informed by a little boy, "all the people, and all the aminals too." I repeated his answer for the group, with only slight spelling correction.
I wondered where the people came from, and whether the people were hungry, and what they might say when they got to the table. "Thank you!" "MMMMMMM!" "hi to the Good Shepherd." "yummy." "Thanks."

Spend as long as you will in confirmation classes and catechumenate, I will contend that these kids "get it" - the essentials of communion. The food is good, everyone's invited, we are one family in the Lord. What a holy moment, and a privilege to facilitate it.

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