Pandemic Religion: A Digital Archive

Collected Item: “Godly Play via Zoom”

Title

Godly Play via Zoom

Narrative or description

For several years the idea of offering Godly Play – a method of spiritual formation grounded in research on children’s spirituality and play – in a virtual setting has been floated, primarily as a means of training leaders/mentors in remote or rural areas who don’t have easy access to in-person training. I admit, I was a skeptic from the start, even as one among a group of trainers who explored the topic – especially as such a key element of Godly Play is the relational, community component.

Then came COVID-19, with virtual gatherings being the only way to connect, and I have, so to speak, taken the plunge. At last count, I’ve offered 12 Godly Play sessions via Zoom in just the past several weeks. It’s been a steep learning curve, and each time I’ve discovered something new about the mechanics of it … but I’ve also made some discoveries.

What I’ve seen is that, while this new way of gathering for Godly Play is not the same, it can be nurturing and spirit-filled. We’ve had, in most sessions, a mix of intergenerational experiences that wouldn’t have otherwise happened. We’ve gathered as a community – “building our circle,” experiencing a story presentation, wondering about the story together, sharing in prayers, and offering blessings and goodbyes. During the “wondering time,” thoughtful responses have been given and received by all age groups, ranging from preschoolers to those in their eighties—and, rather than what often happens when children are put on a pedestal or laughed at or just otherwise seen as “cute,” there’s been a level of respect among the generations and the sense that all are on equal footing. One wondering this past week (which I share with his permission) came from a fourth grader who, because of his significant challenges to express himself in the usual ways, uses a letter board to communicate — "I'm pretty sad about Jesus," he said [in reference to his dying on the cross], and "I'm not sure how I fit in." The stories we share, and the opportunity to make meaning through wondering as a community, offer us the chance to wrestle with the existential issues we all face, including our need to belong. This child named that longing, for all of us I believe, especially at a time when we cannot physically be together. Thoughtful wondering among adults and children continued – both out loud and in the “chat,” and was interspersed with periods of silence.

I’ve found that in these online sessions we've had participants show up — both adults and kids — who have never, or rarely, given Godly Play a try in person, including some of our parents who are for the first time getting a peek into what it’s like being “in the room where it happens” (even though we’ve often offered such opportunities in person). In part, that may just be a matter of how easy it is to join the session — you can decide right at the last minute — but whatever the reason, participation of newcomers has been noticeable. The child I mentioned above has never been able to participate in person in the way he was able to online – perhaps this online experience will be a bridge to his involvement in the flesh, or maybe this will just be a different way for him to participate going forward. In either case, I’m seeing this as a way to provide access to those who, for whatever reason, are not able to show up in person.

Looking toward the future – which is hard to do more than an hour or two at a time right now – while none of us knows how this pandemic and physical distancing will end, I don’t imagine it will, nor should it, all end in a big splash with everyone overnight being ready to gather in crowds. One of the questions we are considering as staff and leadership of our church is, “What practices/ways will we discover in this time that we want to hold on to?” – a corollary, I think to the Godly Play prompt, “I wonder what we can leave out and still have all we need …” I am wondering whether we will want to continue to offer these online/live sessions – not instead of but as an alternative – even when we begin to go “back to normal,” whatever and whenever that will be.

Images include the story “Exile and Return” and the Screen Share we offered in closing of the “Faces of Easter” Lenten series.

Note: Godly Play materials and images are copyrighted. The Godly Play Foundation has been supportive of efforts to share virtually and has offered guidelines for doing so on its website: https://www.godlyplayfoundation.org

Date

2020-04-17

Community

Burke Presbyterian Church

Denomination or tradition

Presbyterian

State or territory

Virginia

Name

[private]

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