Monday, October 26, 2009

I National Godly Play Meeting

Over the recent long bank holiday weekend (9th to 12th October), the first national Godly Play meeting took place in Madrid for teachers who are already committed to this method in Spain. I had recently returned from my travels in Malaysia to coordinate the event.

Fifteen people took part, coming from Barcelona, Galicia, Madrid, Menorca and Tarragona, and representing churches who use Godly Play in English, Spanish and Catalan. Special guest, Ulrike Labuhn joined us from Berlin. Ulrike, a Godly Play trainer in Germany, speaks good Spanish, having lived for a time in Bolivia.

The motto for the gathering was Ultreya!, the old pilgrim's cry of encouragement - Onwards!, and this mutual encouragement was really the object of gathering together.

Our meeting was structured in two main parts: 1) Looking backwards at the lessons learned on the way, regarding Godly Play practice, and 2) Looking forwards to the next stages of the continuing journey, especially as we travel together in terms of establishing common structures aimed at consolidating, extending and supporting Godly Play practice in Spain. As is common in other GP events, the programme was also based on the usual GP cycle: 1) Building the circle ('threshold community') - getting to know one another; 2) Storytelling - telling our own individual and corporate stories, as well as a full GP session; 3) Getting out our work - responding individually and as a group to different proposals, especially those relating to the development of Godly Play in Spain; 4) Feast - times of fellowship between sessions, especially at mealtimes and in the evenings. There were also brief times of collective worship each morning and evening led by different members of the group, as well as a leaving ceremony, in which we symbolically blessed one another and the children we represented, as well as all the children in Spain and beyond whom we also wished to join the Godly Play 'circle'.

Time was made available for the participants to share, often through visual presentations, the development of their own practice of Godly Play in their respective churches and localities, as well as resource materials which they may have made themselves. This gave us better insight into the GP classrooms that are already functioning, or being developed, in Barcelona, Madrid and Tarragona.

Our guest, Ulrike Labuhn, also gave us an overview of the growth of GP in Germany, with particular emphasis on the process of translating and adapting stories from volume 6 of The Complete Guide to Godly Play. Ulrike had already told us the German version of the story of Job in a previous session, which was rather different from the 'official' GP version that is found in the manuals. The developments in Germany were very useful to us as we discussed the future of GP in Spain. One of the main differences at present is the high proportion of professionals (teachers, theologians, therapists...) in the German movement, whereas in Spain the majority of GP practitioners are volunteer Sunday school teachers.

One of the doubts the group raised was the difficulty of going ahead with an organized structure for Godly Play Spain when there was a perceived vacuum of knowledge about GP internationally. This was seen to be part of a much wider problem, as there is so little being translated into Spanish about recent research and study in fields such as the theology of childhood / child theology and the spirituality of children, both of which inform the development of Godly Play and methodology in general. So, time was dedicated at the meeting to offering basic background information about these topics, as well as the international structures of GP, which are also presently in a state of renewal and development.

It was stated very clearly at the meeting that the most important thing for the practitioners was what takes place at ground level (literally) within the circle of children in a real-life Godly Play session. Everything else (e.g. training, resourcing, publications, associations, etc) were there to support such action. The vision was to help make it possible for children anywhere in Spain to join a Godly Play circle, and that this work be of an increasingly deeper understanding and higher quality. To facilitate such growth, we need to create certain structures. However, we certainly did not wish to create another organization simply for the sake of it!

Apart from the sessions on helping us to work towards a structured organization for Godly Play in Spain, there were also two workshop sessions: 1) Raquel García gave a practical demonstration on her work with adolescents, which uses an adaptation of the Play of Life model of psychodrama, developed by the Argentinian pyschiatrist, Dr Carlos Raimundo; and 2) Dr Raúl García gave a talk on the Therapeutic Power of Narratives, followed by a time of questions and answers.

In the final stages of the meeting, the participants reached agreement regarding the next steps to take towards setting up a Godly Play association in Spain. A representative group has been appointed to work on the statutes and aims of such an association, and another to find a place to hold the next meeting in Salou, Tarragona, probably for next autumn. Ulrike and I will work on a plan for accredited training (which was one of the major issues that the group felt was important to address in the short term). It is hoped that the next National GP Meeting will include an accredited training module and also a session in which the new GP Association will be formally created and the first board of directors elected.

So, there seems to be plenty of work to get on with in the coming months!

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