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Adapting Godly Play® for Quaker settings

Extreme care must be taken whenever considering making any changes to Godly Play® story scripts, materials or movements for any setting.  The Faith & Play Working Group spent three years testing and editing the stories in their first volume.  A Godly Play trainer once said that Jerome Berryman spends five years working with a story before releasing it, and he is said to have quite a number of “failed” stories in his home that he never released. Considerable discernment and testing has already gone into the stories that are available for you to work with.

Storytellers must have an element of trust in the method and in the power of the stories themselves, and trust in the power of the Spirit to work in and through the stories in often mysterious ways.  Teachers are free, however, to make stories their own, and scripts need not be followed word for word.  This means that narratives are to be prayed and reflected on well before telling them so that they become part of the storyteller and are not simply external narratives.  “Making them our own” does not mean anyone is free to rewrite stories to fit personal tastes and theologies.  The Bible stories and parables are what they are, and if any storyteller is so uncomfortable with a narrative that he or she cannot tell it without significant rewrites, then someone else should tell it, or it should not be told until the storyteller is “ready.” 

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To rewrite or be heavy handed in editing is little different from pre-digesting the material and interpreting it for children.  One thing that makes Godly Play scripts so beautiful for Friends is that they are generally amazingly free of such indoctrination!

That said, there are a three or four changes to Godly Play scripts or story materials that the Faith & Play Working Group feels are appropriate to make.

Changes the working group recommends for the Parable of the Good Shepherd

In the notes on the materials for this story in The Complete Guide to Godly Play, Volume 3, we read that “three irregular black shapes made of felt give the rough appearance of a mouth and two eyes when put together to form the dangerous place.”  The script calls for the storyteller saying that in the three black pieces “there is no light at all.”  The Faith & Play Working Group suggests that storytellers avoid any possible association, whether overt or subtle, of people of color with danger.  Surely, this is most definitely not what Berryman intended anyway.

Instead of a black sad face, a storyteller might use laminated drawings of sharp and heavy rocks to indicate places of danger.  The rocks could be gray, brown and white or marbled.  When the materials are initially brought out of the parable box, the storyteller could comment on how sharp, heavy and dangerous they look.  Quaker storytellers, including members of the working group, have different ways of modifying the materials for this story, and the working group would be interested in hearing what you are doing if you have made changes.  Still, the story itself has integrity and power; any alterations should be minimal.

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Changes some storytellers may want to make in The Parable of the Sower, volume 3

The visuals for this story are highly linear.  The sower methodically, perhaps intentionally, sows in different types of soil, and in the directions, the types of soil are lined up in a straight line. This is not the way any farmer sows, and surely Jesus’ original audience would not have visualized the parable this way.  An option is to have a path winding through several types of soil so that the seed naturally falls on different types of ground. Whatever visuals you use, we strongly recommend that you change "the sower sowed on . . ." to "some of the seed fell on . . ."  The seed was cast liberally and fell on various kinds of soil; it was not a matter of multiple sowings.  This change in wording is supported by the biblical reading itself. 

The visuals also include three different sized bags of grain, and in the wondering the children are invited to wonder which size bag goes with which type of ground.  Careful reading of the parable in the Bible suggest that perhaps only the good soil yielded anything, sometimes a small harvest, sometimes medium and sometimes large.  An option is to omit the bags of grain and the wondering questions associated with them and ask instead, “I wonder what makes the good soil good.” And “I wonder if the rocky (and thorny) ground will always be rocky (thorny).

When a Friend told this story in winter of 2008 using these wondering questions, one child said something like this:  “Maybe the rocky ground does not have to always be rocky.  It might take a long time, and a lot of patience.  Maybe somebody could start taking the rocks out.  And then the ground would have to be opened because the seed has to be able to go inside.  If it isn’t broken open in some way, the seed just sits on top and the birds get it!” 

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Changes some storytellers might want to make in the story of The Exile and Return, volume 2

The script for this story indicates that the people of God in Jerusalem thought the temple was “the only place where you could pray to God.”   Some Quaker storytellers do not feel they can say this line with integrity.  Yes, it was only in the temple that animal sacrifices for the atonement of sins could be made.  Yes, it was only in the inner chamber of the temple that the high priest could perform certain duties for the salvation of the people.  Naturally, one would not want to get into the theology of all of this with three year old children, and Berryman does avoid this.  But it is not accurate to say the people felt they could only pray in the temple.  The Hebrew scriptures are full of prayers spoken in other places, and adult males practically wore their prayers on their bodies.  One possible solution is to say “the people thought the temple was the best and most powerful place to pray to God” and leave it at that.  Another solution, possibly a better one, would be to focus on the temple as the house of God, and say "The people thought that in all the world the temple was the only place where God was at home."  Then, at the very end of the story, say "Some stayed in Babylon, because they found that God was there, too."

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Changes some Friends may want to make in both The Mystery of Christmas story, volume 3, and in Faces of the Journey I, volume 4

Some Friends may trip over the words “God became a baby” and references to Mary as “the mother of God.”  One Friendly way to handle this might be to say “God chose Mary to be the mother, and the Living Word became a wordless child.”  We are still talking about a great mystery.

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