Can one change the text of a Godly Play story to fit one’s own church tradition or theological beliefs? That is a controversial question in the Godly Play world. Jerome Berryman wrote the Godly Play stories with his own Episcopal church background in mind. As a result, some of the ideas or interpretations contained within Berryman’s texts differ from other Protestant traditions as well as the Catholic and Orthodox traditions. The tension comes from a fear that Godly Play will be changed so much that it won’t remain Godly Play.
My personal opinion on the matter is that for Godly Play to be used on a widespread basis, the individual storytellers must be able to use the stories within their specific theologically context. Storytellers learn a text by heart, internalize it, and act it out in a sense to draw the listeners into it. Must of the effectiveness of this teaching method depends on whether or not the teacher really believes and stands behind what he/she is saying. Otherwise, the telling of the biblical stories becomes a fairy tale hour with no relevance. I was fortunate enough to have a trainer in my Godly Play training here in Germany, who told us very clearly that we had freedom to tweek the stories to fit our theological beliefs and that no one could expect to say something that we couldn’t stand behind. While Godly Play Germany as an organization is very concerned that the GP stories remain as true as possible to Berryman’s texts, it has translated all of his stories with variations for the both the Catholic and Lutheran traditions here in Germany in mind.
An example of how I have tailored stories to fit my context is the Godly Play baptism story. I absolutely love this story, but in our church tradition, we do not baptize infants. So when I told the story to our children, I explained that although many Christian churches baptize babies, our church only baptizes older children and adults who are old enough to make the decision themselves. Rather than using a baby doll, I used an adult figure from my daughter’s dollhouse and we baptized her. The children in our church plant were delighted with the story and played baptism with the dollhouse figure just as I have seen children play with the baby doll in other churches.
Another example is “The Faces of Easter” story that I have been telling in the Easter Club. While I think this story is just about perfect, my one criticism would be that it only gives very little information about the resurrection itself and is a bit anticlimatic. This did not sit well with me, so I added a few lines from the biblical text where Mary Magdalene and the women visit the tomb, find it empty, and receive the news from two angels that Jesus is actually alive. (When I do add to GP stories, I usually add things directly from the biblical text, because I figure you can’t go very wrong if your words are straight from the source!)
I recently volunteered to be a part of a research project by a graduate student in the U.S., who is researching how other Christian traditions are adapting GP into their context. Also, I will be taking part in a field study for Godly Play in the Russian language. So, I hope that I will have much more to say on this subject later!