Thursday, May 26, 2016

Door Person?

Adapting things from one culture to another can be tricky. What means one thing in one language can produce wholly different thoughts in another. For example, anything connected with a pig in English is automatically negative. But in German, that's not necessarily true. A pig is often associated with good luck, and when someone gets lucky, you tell them that they've "had a pig" ("Du hast Schwein gehabt!").  Interesting, huh?

So it is with Godly Play. I've been doing Godly Play courses in German since 2013. Each time when I explain the role of the Door Person  (the official name of the Co-Teacher in the Godly Play classroom), I get uncomprehending looks and end up having to almost apologize for the name. The term originally came to be, because this adult greets the children at the literal door to the Godly Play room, and then opens a metaphorical door for the children by helping them get ready to meet with God in community. 

When a door is understood as a symbol of opening up new possibilities, it's a great name. However, the literal translation in German,Tür-Person, has very different connotations. People think of a bouncer or a  guard - someone who keeps people out. And the word "door" itself can also been viewed as a boundary rather than an opening. (Which that may have been part of the originally reasoning for the word in English, since GP deals with existential boundaries, and a door is both an opening and a boundary.) Because of this confusion, at our last Trainers' conference, we spent a great deal of time talking about how to best describe this role in the future. 

In true Godly Play style, we set up a room on the floor with the People of God figures, and began playing with the roles. We then listed off  the characteristics of a Door Person to the side. 

We came up with these characteristics:

- he/she opens things up for the children, i.e. literal things like jars of glue, and metaphorical things like possibilities (in the sense of enabling and empowering)

- he/she cares for the children and the community

- he/she supports the children on their spiritual journey and the development of community among the children

- he/she observes the children and is aware of their needs

- he/she works to provide a safe atmosphere for the children, again both literally and emotionally

- he/she releases the children to their parents at the end of the lesson and into the world with God's blessing 

Then, we asked ourselves, what kind of word in German would also be best for the children? After brainstorming, we finally settled on the word "Begleiter", which means "one who accompanies". While that may not seem very child-friendly to English ears, it's a very common word in German. As a child here, there is always some adult accompanying you to go somewhere. And it better encompasses the qualities listed above. 

Hope you've enjoyed hearing some of our journey in cultural adaption!


  1. Thank you for sharing this! I wish I were still in Finland and could easily ring up some folk there and ask how much discussion they've had about terminology. I know some of them use "ovivahti", which is the word for "doorkeeper"...

    I love that you used Godly Play materials in Wondering about what term to use!

    1. I loved being a part of the discussion above with the other trainers. It was intense with both arguments for and against changing the term. What tipped the scales in the end was asking, "What is the term that the children themselves will understand?"

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment, Storyteller!

  2. Thanks for sharing your work ! As s trainer in Australia I know we often wrestle with the name door person and have to clarify the difference between that and bouncer. Very helpful to use Godly Play materials to wonder!