Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Godly Play Spain on Facebook

I have just created a new Facebook page on behalf of our Godly Play España national association. You can visit the page here even if you are not personally a user of this social network. On the first day of its creation, over one hundred people visited and 'liked' the page!

The Facebook site, as well as the Godly Play Spain blog, has been adjusted to the new corporate image of our national association. I hope you like that, too!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

New Godly Play Room

In a recent post I lamented the fact that we had lost our beautiful Godly Play rooms in our old chapel in Galicia (NW Spain). However, following months of moving around to hired halls, I am happy to report that we have finally been able to open a new classroom for the children at church which seems to be of a slightly more permanent nature -- at least for the remainder of this school year. It also means that I can once again programme training events on the same premises, so this is really good news for the development of Godly Play in this part of Spain.

Here are a couple of photos of the new classroom. The children are also very glad to be able to resume Godly Play in this new environment as they come together each week to engage with the stories.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Final day in Kuala Lumpur

The children at Breakthru Enrichment Station give a colourful performance 
at the end-of-year talent time and awards giving celebration
Following the Scripture Union Living Hope conference, the delegates from Latvia (Anita and Evgenia) and Spain (Paco, Toñi and myself) stayed on for a Godly Play workshop, which I led with Anita's help on Saturday, and worship at Bangsar Lutheran Church on Sunday.

The last day of our stay in Malaysia was quite intensive with a number of activities: Sunday worship and preaching, lunch with members of the church council, shopping, enjoying the end-of-year talent time and awards giving celebration, as guests of honour, at Breakthru Enrichment Station (a Christian-based school for children and young people who have learning difficulties and challenges), and finally a taxi to the airport. 

All in all, a wonderful finale to our trip!

You can see the pictures here

Godly Play workshop in Kuala Lumpur

This 8-hour introductory workshop, focusing on the Godly Play sacred stories, took place on Saturday 10th November 2012 at Bangsar Lutheran Church, Kuala Lumpur. Forty people, representing several different churches, denominations and organisations in KL, participated in the workshop. I was very happy to be able to lead the sessions with Anita Kazaka, an accredited GP teacher from Latvia. (We are both staff members of our respective Scripture Union movements in Latvia and Spain.) 

Following the workshop, the group of visitors from Spain and Latvia were invited to a meal at the Harvest Café run by the young people from the Dignity for Children Foundation, at their centre in Sentul. It was a joy to see Dignity's fully equipped Montessori classroom on the same premises, as well as their developing 'Bible Play' room, their particular version of Godly Play. Our conclusion was that there is so much potential for GP to take root in Malaysia and spread out to neighbouring countries in the Far East. They will undoubtedly need more ongoing training, which in the future could possibly be delivered by GP Australia.

More photos here

Scripture Union Living Hope Conference

Group photo of conference delegates
My recent visit to Malaysia came about through an invitation by Scripture Union International to help with the  Spanish translation at the Living Hope conference. Delegates would be arriving from Latin America and Spain, for whom translation would be required. It was a great joy to work together with Billy Clark, from SU Peru, who shared this task with me. There was also translation service for French and Russian speakers. 

Our work covered simultaneous translation of all the plenary sessions, preparing Power Point slides in Spanish, translating and collating discussion feedback from Spanish to English, voice over for the daily 90 minute video and audio broadcasts on internet, translation for one of the Latin American delegates at the children's ministry discussion group, a full day's translation at a meeting of the America's Region prior to the conference, etc.

The following is a report about the Scripture Union Living Hope conference from Janet Morgan (International Director of SU) and Colin Sinclair (Chair of International Council): 
«Living Hope Phase 2 brought together over 250 leaders from 108 SU National Movements, including Regional and International Council and staff, and 20 young leaders. This 5 day event took place in November 2012 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. 
From the data collected through our Phase 1 Community listening project we heard the voices of children and young people as they expressed their hopes and despair. We explored the impact of our changing world on SU’s mission as part of the mission of God. We listened to God, and to one another. 
In the translation booth
We recommitted ourselves to our aims, belief statement, and working principles. We have been strengthened in our resolve to ensure that our ministry with children, young people, and families is an expression of God’s mission to restore all of creation. We have been challenged to help people engage with God’s word in ways that speak into their deep‐seated values and beliefs, so that transformation is possible. 
We felt God call us to extend our ministry so that it intentionally includes families, and children and young people at risk, and those who live in other faith cultures. We felt God call us to greater interdependence between our national movements, and a willingness to be bold and take risks.
We felt God call us to develop leadership in staff and volunteers and especially young leaders at all levels and in every aspect of SU. 
Immediately after the gathering the International Council met for two days to ensure that the momentum of the event was not lost. We responded with enthusiasm to all that was shared. 
Living Hope Phase 3 has now begun with the appointment of a group to carry forward the outcomes and to bring initial recommendations to the International Team and Executive in Bangkok next February. 
We believe that people will have returned to their national movements and are already thinking through and working out ways to respond. 
You can find all the resources from the Living Hope gathering on the website and many continue to join the discussion on the Facebook page. New resources are still being added. 
Please continue to pray that God will make clear to us the next steps and give us the courage to obey as we move towards the 150th Anniversary of the beginning of SU in 2017.» 
Translating for Silvia (SU Honduras)
in the children's workers discussion group
The pictures here illustrate general shots of the conference as well as the more particular involvement of the delegation from Spain (Francisco Mega, Toñi Nevado and myself) in translation, interaction with other Spanish-speaking delegates, sightseeing in Kuala Lumpur, discussion with children's workers, etc.

Godly Play practice in Kuala Lumpur

Wonderful circle of special children!
Saturday 3 November 2012 was an exciting and intensive day for me in Malaysia. I had arrived in Kuala Lumpur the evening before, made my way from KLIA, the international airport, by express train to the city's central station, where I was picked up by my hosts, Phoebe and Yu Chiet. We immediately made our way to a Chinese restaurant for supper, before continuing to the apartment they have for guests, just across the hall from their own residence.

However, Saturday was when the fun really began, starting off with an amazing breakfast at an Indian restaurantt! I was then taken to the Breakthru Enrichment Station (BEST), a school for children and young people with learning dificulties and challenges, where Phoebe and Yu Chiet are directors. This was where I was asked to present Godly Play to a group of the children, with staff, volunteers and family members observing! I was very conscious that this almost one-to-one ratio of adults to children was not at all the Godly Play way of doing things. So, while the children were looked after by some of the staff members in an adjacent play space, I briefed the adults on the background of Godly Play, explained to them that what was about to take place was not normal practice, and ernestly asked them to be as quiet and unobtrusive as possible during the session with the children.

I needn't have worried too much... when the children arrived, we began to form the circle and they focused immediately on the story ('The Exodus') and remained so throughout the wondering, response time and feast. Only a couple of members of staff had to draw near to one or two of the children to help them re-focus from time to time. Altogether, the children, as well as mums, dads, grandmother, staff and volunteers, did amazingly well!

Sweeping up the desert sand!
During response time, many of the children drew and painted pictures. The 'desert bag' was also popular, of course. At clearing up time, I told the children that they were responsible for sweeping up the sand that had managed to escape from the bag, rather than the adult helpers. The children --mainly boys-- quickly found some tiny brushes and pans, and really enjoyed the game of getting all the sand back into the bag. In fact, laughter and fun was in the air from start to finish!

After the children had left with their family members, I was able to debrief the members of staff and volunteers, and listen to their own observations and reactions to the session. The comments were all very favourable. Here is a summary of what was later posted on the 'BEST' Facebook page: «It's amazing how the children were so engaged throughout the Godly Play session on 'Exodus'. Our team had a great time watching how the session was conducted for children who have various learning abilities, discussing our observation and learning after the session. We are thankful to the Lord for this wonderful opportunity»... «Thanks for your sharing in Malaysia especially with the children in Breakthru Enrichment Station.» 

BEST directors:
Yu Chiet, Lian Ai and Phoebe
Hopefully, Godly Play will continue to feature regularly at this school. A number of the dedicated staff and volunteers later took part in the Godly Play workshop I led the following Saturday at Bangsar Lutheran Church in Kuala Lumpur. So many of the principles of Godly Play seem to connect with the core values at Breakthru Enrichment Centre.

Following Godly Play with the special needs children, it was time for lunch at another restaurant -- this time Malay! (The range and variety of cuisine was amazing!) Then Phoebe and Lian Ai (the third director at 'BEST' and a former school teacher) drove me to another excellent Christian ministry centre that I had contacted before I left Spain. It was only a few kilometres away, but neither group were previously aware of the other's existence, which sadly is so often the case in big cities. After negotiating the heavy KL traffic and monsoon showers, we eventually arrived at the Harvest centre, run by the Dignity for Children Foundation in Malaysia, a ministry to the urban poor in Sentul, a district to the north of KL.

Revd. Elisha and Petrina,
 founders of Dignity for Children
The two adjacent and interconnecting apartment blocks house a church meeting hall, a Montessori infants' school, a primary and a secondary school, residential quarters, a 'Bible Play' space and the Harvest Cafe -- a restaurant and community space run by the young people themselves, as part of their vocational training. All this, and more (e.g. a sports ministry, called the Faisal Cup), is led by a highly dedicated pastor and his wife, Elisha and Petrina. They are passionate about the effects of quality education as a means of breaking the cycle of poverty. During their theological training in the States, they had come across Montessori education and later, whilst on a visit to the UK, were introduced to Godly Play. In just 12 years, they have been able to impact the lives of hundreds of immigrant children and young people from a variety of faith groups.

Petrina showed us the vast stock of wooden and rubber (!) figures she and her volunteers had made. As they had had no ongoing training or handbooks to guide them, they began to create stories in the style of Godly Play, especially adapted for Muslim children, which they call 'Bible Play'. The materials they have produced are intended not only for their centre in Sentul, but also for the 10 partner schools they have established in Sabah and Sarawak! Petrina and her team of young teachers were really thirsting for further training in Godly Play, and I was informed that a dozen of them had already signed up for the workshop the following Saturday.

Some of the 'Bible Play' materials
produced at Dignity
It was also amazing how the leaders from the two groups (Phoebe and Lian Ai, from Breakthru, and Petrina, from Dignity) were able to quickly appreciate the different but complementary ministries they each represented, and I felt really humbled that it needed someone from Spain to travel to the other side of the globe in order to become the catalyst that brought them together!

Later, Phoebe and Yu Chiet drove me south to the other side of the city, to the hotel where the Scripture Union Living Hope conference was to take place. But not before another meal at yet another restaurant - this time Thai. Evidently, in Kuala Lumpur, variety is the spice of life, in every sense of the word!

More photos here

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The Sower, the Seed & the Sustainer of Kingdom Growth

A child's representation of the parable (9
years old). The rather diminished sower
in the bottom left-hand corner exclaims:
"Wow, that was my seed!"
When I did the 3-day Godly Play core training back in 2003, the Parable of the Mustard Seed was the very first story that I learnt and presented to the rest of the group at the retreat near Evesham, in England. Since then I have always felt a close affinity with that particular parable, and I have often drawn comfort from the belief that it is ultimately God who plants the true seed which in time will grow in surprising and unexpected ways. This belief has sustained me as I have travelled thousands of miles over the last 9 years, introducing Godly Play to churches and groups here in Spain, and indeed further afield. To be honest, travelling all that distance in order to sit down on the floor and mysteriously move little painted figures made of plywood over a piece of felt underlay, hardly appears on the surface to be high impact ministry, and it's easy to wonder what the point of it all might be... if in fact there is one!

At the moment my local church situation does not offer a great deal of encouragement. Because of major division in the congregation and property dispute (yes, it sounds awful and the situation is very sad), the trustees of the chapel temporarily closed it back in April, including the two beautiful Godly Play classrooms that had been prepared so lovingly and prayerfully. These classrooms, although small, were rapidly becoming a national focal point, as people visited from different parts of Spain (our local area is a summer holiday resort) to see what a model Godly Play environment was like. So, without further access to these rooms, for the last three months before the summer recess I was setting up a Godly Play space in a hired hall each Sunday and storing all the teaching materials in my shed at home. But now at the beginning of the new school year, it seems that even this hired space is no longer available to us and the future of Godly Play here in Galicia is looking more and more precarious. It would be a great pity if we were not able to continue delivering this imaginative method of engaging children with Bible stories. After 2 years, the children were responding wonderfully and there have also been recent signs of interest in Godly Play from members of other churches in the area, including our local Catholic parish.

So, I wonder how fast the mustard seed is really growing. How long before the invisible growth beneath the surface of our perceptions becomes evident and palpable? How long before the shrub grows up so big as to turn into a little tree? When will the birds of the air come to make their nests in its branches?

Yesterday, someone from Uruguay wrote to let me know about her own recent adventures with Godly Play. Toni and her husband Matt have been serving as missionaries in Montevideo for 15 years, chiefly with an international agency called Christian Associates. We also have missionaries linked to the same organisation in Spain. When we ran our very first official Godly Play introduction in Madrid back in 2004, Sarah and April, two ladies from Mountainview, a Christian Associate church plant in the western suburbs of the city, came and were immediately 'sold' on Godly Play. They invited me to repeat the presentation at a house belonging to one of their missionary families, and to go on to train the whole team in the method. This led to several weekend events in 2005.

Shortly after that, Sarah and April were invited to share about Godly Play and to demonstrate a story at one of Christian Associate's annual international team conferences held in Europe. Toni was there and immediately caught the vision for Godly Play. "I was fascinated and told God I would be honoured if He would let me take this to Uruguay", she wrote to me yesterday in an email.

Toni's dream came true and she began doing Godly Play at Christ Church, the international English-speaking Protestant community in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. A Godly Play environment was established by a team of artisans who, she says, "used heart and hand to develop the materials". Toni also received help from Caryl Menkhus, a Spanish-speaking trainer from the States.

Seven years later, they are still deepening their own understanding of the method. However, an exciting development has been that Toni has been asked to share Godly Play beyond the Protestant community in Montevideo. "I have been blessed to share this precious way of mentoring children with several of the Catholic churches in the area", she writes.

However, the most surprising of these recent developments is that the Colegio Seminario, the biggest Jesuit church school in the city, with close to 1,000 students in primary alone, asked Toni to train all their teachers in Godly Play. As Toni explains in her blog, the rationale of the Jesuits who run the school is that, although each teacher is responsible for teaching catechism to his or her class, "they doubt that some of them even know Jesus. Godly Play not only seemed like the best way of leading kids into God's presence, but it also gave them hope that their teachers might experience Christ and find faith in Him as well!"

So, on the 8th and 9th of June this year, Toni and her friend, María, led a weekend Godly Play retreat together in Spanish, using the facilities at Christ Church, with the first group of 23 teachers from the school as well as other pastoral care workers. Just last week, the school's official website reported that "we are thrilled to have begun bringing Godly Play stories to our students, confident that it will prove to be an instrument that will help them deepen their relationship with God and grow in the faith".

Another representation of the parable by a younger
child (7 years old)... a multi-textured collage which
in itself is a parable of the connected international
growth that I am referring to in this post!
Now I'm sure that stories like this are happening all around us. But much is taking place below the radar of our awareness. Thanks largely to social networking I have been able to trace this particular example of 'mustard seed' growth with its various connections and chain of events. From Madrid to Montevideo! It's really amazing how a single seed planted in the Spanish capital in April 2004 is now potentially allowing hundreds of children to join the Godly Play circle in the capital of Uruguay.

Well, that story stirred up in me again the deep belief that growth is ultimately in God's hands. In fact, the 'three-in-one' God is the Sower, the Seed and the Sustainer of kingdom growth.

It is certainly encouraging to know that and to hold on to that belief when at times the local circumstances appear rather bleak!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Losing control!

A short introductory article of mine to Godly Play has just been published in the Scripture Union Europe Region News and Prayer Bulletin (April-June 2012), pp. 5-6.

At the time of writing, I am recovering from a grim experience I suffered recently – the theft of several personal items from my car. Events like these cause us to wake up with a jolt to the fact that, no matter how well we plan or take necessary precautions, we are never fully in control of the outcomes. It’s a relief to know, of course, that God is in complete control.

But what about losing control deliberately and systematically in our ministry with children? What would happen if we willingly let go of fixed aims regarding how, for example, our children should interpret Bible stories or what their responses ought to be?

Many educators would be horrified at the thought! Surely good practice is all about planning for and ensuring clear, measurable outcomes that can then be used to evaluate our work? And as Christian teachers or evangelists, isn’t our job to tell children what the Bible passage means and what it says about God, human beings, sin and forgiveness? Wouldn’t it be irresponsible to do otherwise?

However, this is precisely the approach to Christian religious education taken in a number of Montessori-based methods such as Godly Play®, where children are granted more responsibility for their own spiritual growth than in most traditional methods, and where teachers willingly take on a mentoring role rather than being overly directive.

So what does a typical Godly Play session look like? When the children have entered the room and are settled, the storyteller presents a Bible story she has learnt by heart, using as few words as possible. The story is told with a hushed tone of voice and at a slow pace so that the child’s imagination is free to latch on to the narrative. At the same time, the storyteller places simple wooden figures on a felt underlay or moves them around deliberately in a sandbox.

Then the facilitator encourages the children to engage with the story personally through a series of ‘wondering questions’: I wonder what you liked most about the story… I wonder what is important in it… I wonder if you are in that story or if any part of it is in you… I wonder if we can take anything away from the story and still have all we need…

This is in no way like a ‘quiz’ to find out if the children can produce the right answers. Neither does the Godly Play teacher seek to explain what the point of the story really is. Rather than bringing closure to the process via premature conclusions, the wondering questions are designed to open up avenues of discovery, which may raise more questions than answers. The ongoing reflective process is often more valuable than any immediate product – especially the teacher’s own preconceived interpretation of the Bible passage!

Godly Play® allows children the freedom to engage with Bible stories on their own terms – and most usually that involves the universal language of play. So, following the ‘wondering time’, the children are then invited to choose their ‘work’ response, which is invariably playful.

One child may choose to return to the story materials she has just seen being used by the teacher and retell the same story for herself. Another may prefer to go back to a story that has been presented previously. Others may choose to respond creatively using art materials, like paints or clay. Some older children, for example, in one of my Godly Play classes have recently learnt how to ‘cross stitch’ patterns for book markers using needle and thread. Sometimes this deep play is quite intense (even serious!) as children get engrossed in their activities and work at them quietly in different parts of the room.

This doesn’t mean that ‘anything goes’ in a Godly Play classroom. Not at all! There is a clear structure to both the physical environment (the order in which the story materials are placed on shelves around the room, for example) and how time is marked by set routines: 1) gathering and getting ready; 2) hearing the story, wondering and responding; 3) sharing a ‘feast’ (juice & snacks), prayers and Bible reading; and 4) blessing and saying goodbye.

Both storyteller and ‘door person’ (a second teacher) work in tandem to model expected behaviour and attitudes, like getting ready, handling the materials, wondering, respecting one another’s opinion, enjoying silence, etc. The storyteller may deliberately encourage children to make connections between different stories (“I wonder what would happen if we placed these two stories side by side”) or between their ‘work’ and the stories (“I wonder where your picture belongs in the classroom. You might like to walk around and think about which shelf to put it on”). In one sense, the Godly Play teacher does seem to have quite a bit of control and hopefully a lot of positive influence too. But she would resist giving children the ‘right answers’ about God rather than allowing children to discover God for themselves.

The founder of Godly Play®, Jerome Berryman, uses the term ‘playful orthodoxy’ to express the essence of this approach. The teacher certainly controls the order and manner the stories are presented, and this suggests orthodoxy. The Bible is allowed to speak for itself; thus there is great economy in the language used without added interpretations or explanations. Then play completes the equation.

’Wondering’ introduces imaginative engagement and playful response. And one of the features of play is that it cannot be controlled or used to achieve predetermined outcomes. Indeed, play can take quite unexpected twists and turns!

But won’t children come out with heresies if they’re allowed to interpret the Bible for themselves? This hasn’t been my experience at all. More often than not they surprise us with the range of their insights and their ability to draw out meaning in fresh ways. It’s true that children sometimes playfully test established ideas.

For example, after I had presented the Christmas story once using a simple wooden set of Nativity figures, and then wondered if there was anything we could take away and still have all the story we needed, one little boy suggested we might take the baby Jesus away! “Oh, that’s interesting”, I replied.

“I wonder if we can really celebrate Christmas without the Christ child”. There followed a lively discussion in which some of the children pointed out that many families do celebrate the holidays without necessarily having faith in Jesus. Finally, another little voice said rather solemnly: “But if Jesus wasn’t there, then the wise men wouldn’t have brought their gifts. So there wouldn’t be presents at Christmas time!” “True!” said the others, faces aghast at the thought! End of discussion. The little figure of the baby was promptly put back into the manger… and surprisingly, Santa was never mentioned once!

David Pritchard, SU Spain’s children’s worker, is also an accredited Godly Play trainer. SU Spain has been promoting Godly Play since 2004 and providing training for teachers and children’s workers in different parts of the country. Across Europe, a number of national Godly Play associations are being set up and there is a growing network of accredited trainers, who are available to lead courses and workshops on the theoretical framework as well as the practical ‘nuts & bolts’ of this method.

Photo credit: Godly Play on the cover of Notas Diarias, the Bible-reading material used in Spain. At the II National Godly Play Conference held last year, one of the participants presents the parable of the Good Shepherd to a mixed-age group.

Friday, August 05, 2011


I was feeling pretty tired after taking part in a week-long children's programme at the beginning of July. Then I was one of the speakers at an all-age holiday weekend from 22nd to 25th. So when the third summer event took place at my church in Castiñeiras (Galicia) --a weekend for young adults, called RenovAcción (28th-31st July)-- I wasn't intending to actually DO anything! The coordinator of the event had invited me to attend "simply to observe".

Hmm! Well, it wasn't long before I was fully involved again in yet another project! One reason was that the pile of stones left over from the all-age weekend were very inviting... and soon I began designing and organizing for the first time in my life an open-air Prayer and Bible Labyrinth, as well as several prayer and meditation stations inside the church building.

I found some resources for this from www.labyrinth.org.uk. With help from a few volunteers, it took us a full day to set up.

Based on the three phases of devotional Bible engagement: (i) entering (getting ready, shedding, openness, confession...); (ii) centring (engagement with the Bible text, lectio divina, meditation...; (iii) leaving (response, commitment, intercession, witness, integration, incarnation...), the labyrinth invites participants to get deeply involved in a dynamic and creative experience of encountering God through the Bible and prayer.

Each of the 'pilgrims' walked the labyrinth at their own pace - most spent at least 20 minutes, some over an hour, in the process. Before leaving the labyrinth, they wrote their comments in the 'Pilgrim's Journal'. In the end, the labyrinth experience was rated very highly by the young people in their overall evaluation of the weekend. Here's a selection of their comments (translated from the original Spanish):
"How time flies when walking these paths... just like life itself!"
"My life is like a labyrinth, but God knows perfectly well where I am."
"I need to learn how to be in silence and to enjoy it. It's not a waste of time!"
"I ask the Lord to help me find God's peace."
"A necessary spiritual exercise... a 'way' to purify your soul."
"The labyrinth has been a haven of peace."
"A time and place of quietness and thought."
"Thanks for helping me to speak to God in such a dynamic way."
"The labyrinth is a precious moment to spend with the Lord."
"Peace for the soul comes from God alone, who is the only one that can cover you like soothing ointment. This is what I discovered in this labyrinth."
"The labyrinth has helped me realise that I do not listen to God like I really should. It has given me a chance to be still and to spend time with God."
"I know that God is here speaking to me."
"Thank you!"
"Being in the centre of the labyrinth is fixing your gaze on God."
"Thank you, God, for being with me each step of the way. Great is your faithfulness!"
"I need to come back to You... The labyrinth reminds me of the place where I should be, where I am meant to be... I'm so sorry!"
"God is the active principle in our lives... in my life. Thank you!"

More photos can be found HERE

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Holy Family in Valencia on Pentecost Sunday!

As I travel around Spain (and beyond) leading training sessions on Godly Play, invariably my Holy Family set of figures journeys with me.

I am particularly fond of these materials. They were given to me in compensation for all the hard work I had put in organising the second European Godly Play Conference three years ago in Madrid. The set can be purchased from GP Finland (http://www.godlyplay.fi).

This time the figures ended up on the focal shelf at a church in Valencia (the First Evangelical Baptist Church), where they are in the process of setting up a new Godly Play classroom, but have still to make or buy their own material for the Holy Family.

It coincided with Pentecost Sunday, and the liturgical colour changed from Easter white to the red-hot underlay used on this special Sunday. I think the wooden figures look wonderful against the red cloth and the sky blue wall of the classroom!

More pictures are displayed here.