Monday, May 11, 2015

Experimenting with the Pentecost Story

Okay, Godly Play storytellers, see something strange in the picture above? 

"The Mystery of Pentecost" ("Das Geheimnis von Pfingsten" in German) is a story that I've written extensively about it on this blog in the past. First of all, the German version of the story is quite different from the original English version. Secondly, in my experience younger children or children who aren't very well acquainted with GP have verbally expressed their discontent with the use of the apostle's shields rather than real figures in the story. 

Jerome Berryman writes that his decision to use the apostles' shields instead of People of God figures is to give the story, which is by all accounts difficult to understand, a parable-like approach. I understand this and see the reasoning behind it, but I do question whether this is the best way for younger children or children new to GP to experience the story. I've also heard some of my other colleagues here in Germany express the same sentiment. 

When planning this year's Spring Godly Play Club, I knew that none of these children had heard this story (in Godly Play form) before, and only a third of the kids were familiar with GP at all. So I decided to experiment. I decided that I wanted to try telling the story with People of God figures rather than just the apostles' shields. However, I do think the apostles' symbols are important to see and know about, so I wondered if I could use both, unsure of whether or not the use of both would be distracting. 

The German version of this story starts out with Jesus' ascension rather than the Tower of Babel analogy. Jesus gathers with the disciples on the Mount of Olives. As I began to introduce the disciples, I told the children that each disciple had a shield with a special symbol on it that told us something about that disciple. I added that they could find out what the symbol meant during the Response Time with special control cards that explained the symbols. The children were very attentive and seemed to track with me rather than blurting out frustrated questions which had been my experience in the past. 

As I prepared the felt "house" that the disciples return to after Jesus' ascension, I added a Wondering question. I asked the children how they thought the disciples felt after seeing Jesus ascend into heaven. The children were responsive, and we talked about the possible reactions.  I think it was a good call to have this question in the middle, because the story is almost like two small stories within one, since our German version starts with Ascension.

There was more Wondering this time than any other time I can remember telling this story. That may just be because this group of kids is extremely verbal, but I think the combination of real figures and the apostles' shields helped the children to identify more with the story.

What was their favorite part? "When Jesus went up into heaven."  "When the apostles went out of the house and started telling people about God." "When they went into all the world to tell about Jesus."

In addition to the usual 4 Wondering questions in the Sacred Story genre, I also added this one: How do you imagine the Holy Spirit? One first grade girl answered, "I think he is like a bird flying in the wind, who helps people when they are in trouble."

This boy matched the shields to the control cards to find out about each apostle. Then, he began playing with the materials and rearranging them. I love this image that he created- it makes me think of the church as a house, a safe place where a family lives, which is what the church can be. 

Have you experimented with the Pentecost story? If so, how have you told it differently?


  1. Dear Sheila.
    I am working with the Danish version which is translated from the English version with the tower of Babel. As we also celebrate the ascension here I would love to read the German version, but my German skills are not good. Do you know if your version is available in English?

  2. Hi there, Thanks for stopping by! Unfortunately, we don't have a version in English. If you e-mail me, I can give you some more details about how the story goes. sheilaingermany"at"