Playing With God

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‘So Abraham Took Hagar’: A Children’s Retelling of Abraham

Materials for children that retell the Bible in the context of faith formation (‘Sunday school’, or catechesis) receive much less attention than Christian media for adults, which is ironic in a world that periodically debates issues of ‘radicalization’, or ‘biblical literacy’. As with Disney animated films, there appears to be a general assumption that Christian materials are wholesome, or at least innocuous. Research findings which increasingly call into question the innocence of blockbuster animation can reasonably be inferred to apply to faith formation materials: if commercially successful narratives aimed at children have a demonstrable effect on developing minds, so must narratives encountered in Religious Education and Sunday school.[1]

In the summer of 2017 I obtained a SURE[2] research scholarship to research Godly Play, one of the catechetical packages used currently in the United Kingdomsupervised by Professor Hugh Pyper, and Joanne Henderson-Merrygold. Godly Play comes from the United States, and is popular with churches and schools around Sheffield, including the Anglican Cathedral. It is also extremely successful as an activity in dementia care settings,[3] and has been used in hospital environments as an aid to emotional well-being. [4] This article will give some methodological background, and present examples from the Godly Play text, which illustrate the study’s findings, before offering some concluding thoughts.

Most of the attention Godly Play has received has focussed on its methods; it is one of the rare (if not the only) method of children’s catechesis which does not rely on leading questions. It is designed to foster independent critical engagement with the story: the children are free to voice any response at all, and are encouraged to articulate their criticisms and concerns. There is a body of literature examining Godly Play within the context of childhood spirituality. In the UK this is mostly associated with Rebecca Nye,[5] but the study found nothing scrutinising the content of the ‘scripts’ which are used. This is important because the method relies on reaction to what is presented, and the format is powerfully ritualistic in its sequencing, scripting, and choreography: the frame strongly suggests the authority of the material, and invokes liturgical and religious tropes.[6]

To read the remainder of this article, which is published in ‘Sheffield Gender History Journal’ go to 

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