Rebecca L. McClain
I have been working in children’s ministries for over two decades and have definite favorites when it comes to pedagogy and faith formation. Godly Play has elements that I have loved and used, and when the title Graceful Nurture; Using Godly Play With Adults by Rebecca L. McClain arrived on my doorstep for review from the publisher, I knew I needed to dive in. With all of the flux in best practices for engaged faith formation as we emerge from the pandemic, I needed to see how this resource, which was published in 2017, could help us reimagine what faith formation with adults could look like.
Godly Play originated as a gentle and thorough curriculum/method of connecting children with who we are as God’s people. It is Montessori-inspired, and scripted in a way that allows children a chance to enter a community of learners, hear the story and wonder together with their co-learners, engage in independent work and response to allow them to dive more deeply into the story, and end with a community feast to send forth into the world. The same elements are brought into the adult methodology described by the author, with good reference back to all of the volumes of the Complete Guide to Godly Play. The most useful part of this resource for my work in faith formation is the layout of different options for use. One can choose a from a 12 week session, 90 minutes each to help adults new to their faith (called The Heavenly Banquet), a 6 week session to help prepare families for beginning Godly Play (called Dessert Only), a day and a half retreat (aka Slow Cooking), or a 12 week session with 60 minutes in each session (aka Coffee With Cream). Each option is tailored to the needs of distinct groups, but can easily be extended to meet the needs of your distinct groups. The basic layout of lessons is provided, but you will need copies of all the volumes of the Complete Guide to Godly Play in order to access the associated stories, wondering questions, and work.
This resource has been designed for use by those that are well versed in Godly Play. It is a wonderful enrichment tool and was written before the pandemic. Because we have been changed, I see the need for a few adaptations in order to make best use of this resource. I would plan a new work station; the playlist. It riffs on John Roberto’s work with playlists, and would be a short, curated list of 3-4 articles that speak to the theme and wondering questions for each lesson. Yes, Montessori pedagogy does not use our current technology, but I wonder if they had had access to it, would they have built it in? Given the fact that internet access is considered a household utility at this point in our culture (up there with electric and heat) and wasn’t so just 20 years ago, it is a logical next step to equate that with the increased daily use of it for research and other learning purposes. Providing adults with an alternate form of work that is reflective of their daily activities not only provides them with a familiar avenue of learning, but also the ability to revisit their work throughout the week if they have used their own devices. Additionally, I would add an ample-sized bookshelf that houses selected resources that would allow adults to ‘go down a rabbit hole’ for their work and research wonderings they have based upon the stories. Adding in additional ways of interacting with the lesson provides adults, who have more sophisticated skill sets than children, alternatives that are more in line with what they experience in their daily lives. I am thinking specifically of the Heavenly Banquet that is a class for adults that are new to their faith, but I also think that these options would work well with the other classes described. I would also love to try out the Retreat Option as a prelude to the Sunday Morning option. The retreat could be a time to create materials for use at home with the Sunday Morning option, allowing the class to be run in a hybrid format. Imagine the fun of setting this up and using it in a multigenerational format at a senior citizen residence or with a memory care unit. I don’t know that I would use a playlist to augment the work choices in either of those settings, but I would use the bookshelf of resources to peruse.
Graceful Nurture is a gift to the Christian education community. The author provides us with a springboard for reimagining how we can use Godly Play to reach all ages. Adults need the freedom to rediscover, wonder, and engage with the stories that build the foundation of our faith. Reading this resource is a booster shot of that, especially since the pandemic has taught us that people are only adding back in what truly matters to their lives.