Sacred Space for Godly Play

by Jeannie Babb

light on church pew

Liturgical spaces help us come close to God

Where do you go when you need to pause, ground yourself, and reconnect with the Holy Spirit?

Sometimes I like to slip into an empty church and walk up the aisle, watching where the sun slants through the windows and lightly touching the wood of each pew until I find a place to kneel. I notice how the space feels sacred even when empty of the souls who have invested it with such meaning. A church is a people, not merely a building; yet I find holiness in this very space set aside for worship, as if the wood and stones are saturated with so many prayers from thousands and thousands of services.

Another place I find that sense of reverence is in the Godly Play space.

Like the church, the Godly Play room feels different on a weekday morning with no children queueing up in the hallway—different but no less holy. A band of light reaches through the window, highlighting a sacred story on the shelf or glinting off a gold parable box, depending on the season and the hour. This wide sunbeam honeys the floorboards. It warms the deep blue rug where come Sunday, a group of children I love will settle in an almost-perfect circle of folded legs and tucked elbows. I can almost see them—the way they’ll forget themselves entirely and lean in to the story. Between the storyteller’s syllables, the silence will be as perfect and expectant as it is right now, as I walk into the empty room and find a place to kneel or lie down or simply lift my hands and pause to remember that I am God’s.

Godly Play space at Otey Memorial Parish in Sewanee, TN

I wonder what this place could really be…

I wonder what this place could really be? I wonder what makes it feel so holy, even if I’m standing outside looking in, with no one in the room at all? Like the nave of the church, it is a place where I have experienced the presence of God and the love of my community. But there is something else here, too. The Godly Play room, like the church, is a liturgical space.

Liturgical spaces are designed to help us come close to God and prepare us for God to come close to us. While the Godly Play room is designed for children (the shelves are low, the surfaces are smooth, safe, and non-toxic), it is beautiful and avoids either rigidity or silliness.  Every item in the room contributes – or it may detract, if disorderly or inappropriate. The appearance of the room, as well as our actions and words within the room, signal our intentions and set the expectations of those who enter.

girl facing field of canola

Stories break open our circle of meaning

In the Godly Play room, our management of time, space, and relationships seeks to create an environment that is both “open” and “boundaried” (The Complete Guide to Godly Play, Volume 1, page 53). Consider how the doorkeeper helps children cross the threshold from the busy communal space of the hallway into the more bounded space of the Godly Play room. The storyteller then invites the children into the circle  – and that circle is circled by the stories themselves. The safety of the circle gives children the confidence to allow a story to break open their own circle of meaning. It offers them the freedom to wonder.

I hope you can join us for our second Member webinar, “The Godly Play Environment: Talking about the Godly Play Space with US Trainer Cynthia Hill” on Monday, February 27, 2017, at 2pm.  (If you’re not a Member yet, you can join in time for this! There’s a February new member’s gift, too — two sets of our new “Children’s Guide to the Holy Eucharist for the Pew” cards.)

Below are some additional resources on the Godly Play environment:

Godly Play room

Liturgy signals our intentions





9 thoughts on “Sacred Space for Godly Play

  1. Karen Poole

    Not sure where we are to ask our questions for Mondays Sacred Space for Godly Play… question I continue to work with is the placement of the doorperson…..inside the door or outside the door…..before the threshold or after the threshold?
    Our name tags are outside each room….but not sure about the doorperson placement.
    Second question…….do parents come in the room at the end of the hour……or just at other times…..when classes are not “in session”?
    Buddha boards……for what age?
    How many per classroom?

    1. Regan Schutz

      The doorperson sits just inside the door as a gatekeeper to keep the space of the room safe and sacred. If children wear nametags, they should get them on before greeting the doorperson–the mutual blessing at the door is the final entrance into the room.

      At the end of the session, parents should come to just outside the door, tell the doorperson their child’s name, then the doorperson invites the child to say goodbye to the storyteller, and then the doorperson before leaving until next time. The orderliness of the ritual keeps dismissals predictable and maintains the sacred space of the room.

      Buddha Boards are great for all ages–a tutorial for everyone at the beginning of worktime will ensure that they are used properly. Two is a good number for a room.

  2. Karen Poole

    I too find an empty sanctuary holy…..especially with shadows…..rays of the sun striking different places or objects or designs on the floor….or walls.
    But at the same time I am celebrating and giving thanks for the times others have gathered and we celebrate the holiness of God together.
    I pray in the Godly Play rooms as I work through them during the week….celebrating joys…..praying for wisdom.

    1. Teresa Phares

      Hi Juli! The webinar was recorded and is available to our member churches for later viewing. We would love to have Fairlington Presbyterian Church join our circle! For more information about Membership, check out this page.

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