Godly Play in the Inner City of Columbia

By Kelly Strum
Koinonia, Columbia

Children have an innate sense of the presence of God. The Godly Play approach helps them to explore their faith through story, to gain religious language and to enhance their spiritual experience though wonder and play. Based on Montessori principles and developed using a spiral curriculum, the Godly Play method serves children through early, middle and late childhood and beyond.” (The Godly Play Foundation)

My dream has been that through the use of Godly Play, the story of salvation will be at the center of who we are and what we do in the life of Koinonia. That all of us—volunteers, parents, teachers, children—will learn to engage the transformational story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through WONDER. However, because of the expense of Godly Play, this initially remained just a dream.  The inaccessibility of this wonderful curriculum to ALL children has always saddened me.

I was comforted to read the words of Mary Hunter Maxwell, President of the Godly Play Board of Directors, who shares this same sentiment, especially in these days of rampant social injustice and racial disparities. She shared her thoughts on addressing racism as the Godly Play community and making the program more accessible to all in a letter on Facebook entitled “The Good Shepherd is Calling.” (click here for Godly Play Board President’s Letter )

I was struck by her honest critique and the challenge she issued to all Godly Play practitioners. Her goal is to ensure “that Godly Play is not just in this place or that place, but that Godly Play can truly be in every place.” She is also calling forth an anti-racism task force to address problematic artwork in the curriculum and any additional opportunities for growth and reconciliation.

 “I am deeply troubled by the stark whiteness of the community of Godly Play practitioners and, in particular, our leaders in the United States. I recently stepped into the role of president of the Godly Play Foundation board of directors, and it seems clear that God is calling all of us– the board, our trainers, and the church communities that use Godly Play with their children–into the work of anti-racism…” (Mary Hunter Maxwell)

I am happy to share with my CBFSC family that after receiving a $1,500 Missions Grant from Cooperative Baptist Fellowship South Carolina, Koinonia has taken the leap of faith to purchase Godly Play. What a great time for Koinonia to be involved in this larger conversation as well.

Meyers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte sold us many pieces of one of their gently used sets at 25% off. We are also in the process of ordering other sets through the Godly Play Foundation. Unfortunately, the pandemic has delayed our plans in terms of in-person training opportunities for our staff and volunteers; however, we have been able to participate in some virtual trainings. Our hope is to share some of the lessons with our After School group virtually this fall and winter.

We have dedicated a room on the Koinonia floor at Eau Claire Baptist Church as our “Godly Play Sanctuary” and we are eager to begin setting it up as soon as possible.

If you would like to learn more about Godly Play and/or you are interested in training opportunities that Koinonia will be offering as soon as they become available, please feel free to contact me at Kelly@koinoniaofcolumbia.org.

Wouldn’t it be remarkable if somehow, through our sharing of resources, all of our children could have the opportunity to experience the transformational power of the gospel of Jesus Christ through Godly Play?

Rev. Kelly Strum is a 2008 Masters of Divinity graduate of Lutheran Theological Seminary of Columbia (Baptist Studies Program). She was ordained to the gospel ministry at Eau Claire Baptist Church in 2007.

Kelly and her husband, Dave are the parents of two children whom they adopted at birth, Malachi (7) and Kamryn (5).

In 2017, after years of prayer and discernment, Dave and Kelly began the faith-based non-profit, Koinonia of Columbia (Asset-Based Community Development) in partnership with Eau Claire Baptist Church. 

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Godly Play uplifts CBFSC’s mission commitments

I first learned of Godly Play from Beth McConnell, pastor at Kathwood Baptist Church, and Carrie Nettles with the Julie Valentine Center in Greenville. I have been fascinated by it ever since. From the beginning of Koinonia, I have dreamed of offering this excellent program to the children in our After School and Summer Programs. It resonates deeply with the key theme we teach our children… “Welcome, Child of God!” and in fact, it uplifts all three of CBFSC’s Mission Commitments:

1) It cultivates beloved community because it teaches children to know and live into the history of salvation. When children begin to understand how their lives are connected to the larger story of salvation history, they begin to find their identity as “Beloved Child of God” and to see how we’re all connected through God’s story! This is the essence of beloved community.

2) It bears witness to Jesus Christ because it teaches the Gospel in a way that children can relate and understand, using 3D objects and the Montessori approach.

3) My favorite part about Godly Play is that it teaches kids to wonder and truly engage the story. There is nothing that could be more transformational for any of us in our development than to truly engage our faith until it becomes deeply rooted, personal and filled with meaning.