Saturday, June 4, 2011

Godly Play 101: The Genres

When you are first learning about or trying to implement Godly Play, it can be a bit overwhelming! There seem to be many new things to consider that it helps to break it all into "bite-size" chunks.  That is what I will be attempting to do in the "Godly Play 101" series.

There are three main types or "genres" of Godly Play stories:
  • Sacred Stories ("Glaubensgeschichten" or "Stories of Faith" in German)
  • Parables
  • Liturgical Lessons
Each of these genres has a specific purpose and materials that make them easily recognizable.  

The Sacred Stories, many of which are from the Old Testament, deal with the theme of spiritual identity. In these stories we explore how God meets his creation both as individuals and as a community. We learn to ask questions about how the story of human history is intertwined with the story of God and what our place in this story might be. Also running through these stories is the game of "Hide and Seek" where, according to the Godly Play UK website, "the people of God are called into a relationship that proves to be both revelatory and elusive".

The materials for the Sacred Stories are simple, natural and beautiful. The wooden figures purposefully have no faces, so that the listener can use his/her imagination to fill in the blanks and come to his/her own conclusions. (In Godly Play, less is always more.) Probably the most famous feature of the Sacred Stories is the Desert Box (or Desert Bag) filled with sand used for many of the Old Testament stories.  Godly Play Deutschland has recently come up with an "Erdsack" or "Soil Bag" for stories that do not take place in the desert.  Stones, twigs, wool and other natural materials are used in these stories.

This is our desert bag being used for an Old Testament Sacred Story.
The second genre is the Parables told by Jesus, and these stories are meant to help us ask questions about the Kingdom of God.  What exactly is the Kingdom of God and how do we see and experience it? The style of the Parable genre help children to think creatively and, according to the Godly Play UK site, "see new possibilities".  The parables are also particularly effective with adults. Because many of us grew up with a few specific and limited interpretations of the parables, this genre points out time and again that no matter how many times we have heard the parables, there is always more to learn and consider.  

The striking feature of the material in the Parables is that the figures are two-dimensional.  This is done intentionally to give a storybook feel to them, since they are stories that Jesus told rather than being actual events that took place in history.  Also, the Parables are kept in a wooden, gold box that represents that value, timelessness and mystery of them. My favorite line in the introduction to each parable likens the lid to a door.  "Sometimes you knock and the door opens. But sometimes it remains closed.  I don't know why this is, but don't let it worry you. You can always come back again anytime.  And one day the door will open." (My translation of the German back into English.: ) )

Materials used for the Parable of the Sower
The Liturgical Lessons are the last genre.  These stories deal with the whys behind the rituals and traditions in church.  They help prepare children to take a meaningful part in church services and understand important sacraments such as baptism and communion.  Godly Play came out of the Anglican tradition, so depending on your particular tradition, you may have to tailor  some of the stories to fit your particular setting. 

The materials in the Liturgical lessons are usually three dimensional figures and objects placed on a felt underlay.  For example, in the baptism story, objects representing the Trinity are placed on three white, felt circles, and a doll is "baptized" to visually explain this sacrament.  Below is a lesson about communion that ties in the imagery of the Good Shepherd in Psalm 23 inviting the sheep to his table.

Materials for "The Good Shepherd and the World Communion",
a liturgical lesson about communion.
The Wondering Phase (Ergründungsgespräch) is also different for each of these genres, but I will try to discuss that in another post. 

Fellow Storytellers, please help me out by 
adding to the conversation.: )


  1. You've done a great job of explaining these. :) I'd only add one thing. Often we say that Godly Play teaches FOUR kinds of spiritual language: Sacred Story, Parables, Liturgical Action... and the fourth is *silence*.

  2. You're so right, Storyteller! I'm afraid, though, that silence is what I have been the weakest on teaching.: ) Maybe I subconsciously left it out!