Godly Play for the elderly: supporting spiritual wellbeing

Stories for the Soul was offered as an additional training day to Godly Play WA’s full core training opportunity over the Australia Day long weekend. Trainer Judyth Roberts was invited by Rev Jeni Goring, Acting Senior Chaplain at Amana Living, and Godly Play WA’s Rev Chris Bedding, to present an introduction to this adaptation of Godly Play at St Mary’s Anglican Church, South Perth.

Godly Play is a Montessori method of Bible storytelling. Research studies in the United Kingdom (UK) into where Godly Play was being used, discovered that there was significant growth in its use in aged care as it was supporting the spiritual wellbeing of elderly and frail people who are often living with dementia.

‘Stories for the Soul’ describe ‘spiritual wellbeing’ as “belonging to a community in which we can be ourselves and our story is valued – where our feelings and emotions, our search for meaning and purpose, our sense of awe and wonder, our creativity, our beliefs and our relationships are supported.”

Members of the circle are asked, “I wonder where you see yourself in this story?”

This allows reminiscences to follow, exercising memory. The creative nature of the responses, carefully planned, have the potential to engage elderly people in the ways of children long forgotten;  the stories of God’s people connects with the person’s own experience and relationship with God.

The nature of the physical environment experienced in aged care necessitated the adaptation from the Godly Play process, hence the change of name to ‘Stories for the Soul’. The floor level, low  voice volume, no eye contact nature of storytelling in Godly Play needed to be changed to allow elderly people to fully engage and respond to the stories; so low tables, eye contact, written labels and clear raised voices became part of the circle’s set-up, and extra awareness regarding inclusion and comfort.

Godly Play, in my congregation, is adult focused although, children occasionally attend. The arrival of ‘Stories of the Soul’ in Australia, and the opportunity to see Judyth present this adaptation of Godly Play, to me, was an opportunity to learn how to adapt what we know. Although the focus of the day was for those working in aged care, rather than worship with adults, the experience presented potential for extending the skills of Godly Play storytellers into other areas, maybe to those members of our congregations who are unable to come to church anymore and especially if the desired primary school age group is absent from church life.

Margaret Johnston

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