I admit, while I like to plan for the future, I also look to the past. Recently I have been cleaning out boxes that have been in storage; boxes full of papers and notes from conferences and classes of years gone by. The cartons have included books, mostly old titles regarding “Religious Education,” including a number written by Dora Chaplin, a woman who paved the way for many of us Christian educators.
Dr. Chaplin, who was educated in England, taught at General Seminary from 1953 until retiring in 1971. In 1964 she was named a full professor, the first woman to become a full professor at the Episcopal seminary. Before that she was affiliated with the National Council of the Episcopal Church. She died in 1990 at the age of 84 and was a well-known writer of articles on religion and spirituality as well as the author of several books, including ”The Privilege of Teaching” (Morehouse-Barlow, 1962) and ”Children and Religion” (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1948). It is of this first book noted that I would like to share some “back to the future” insights.
Written more than fifty years ago, the content of her books exhibit the language of her time: masculine language for God, women as teachers, men as ordained, and Sunday School as a growing phenomena of the Church. While today is different: inclusive language for God, women in ordained leadership, and church attendance along with Sunday School participation declining, much of her theses can still apply to today. So here are some nuggets to ponder . . . remember this was published in 1962 . . .
From time to time the Forma Facebook Group has a post from someone (clergy, youth minister, Christian educator) who is asking if anyone has a “rubric” for what children should learn in each year of “Sunday School” (or whatever you call it). I don’t want to disparage anyone who asks such a question; we live in a culture of moving from one milestone to another and having to “prove ourselves” in our accomplishments – especially if you want to “move on” to the next step, phase, class, or even graduate with that degree. And often employment, promotion, or a raise is determined by our success. But honestly, this question drives me nuts.
For those of you who have known me for years, I get this sort of question all the time. What curriculum should we be using? What should we be teaching? What does the Church (in my case, the Episcopal Church) say we need to teach? To that I always answer, “There is no one answer. Tell me about your context.” What would Jesus say? “Love one another.”
I don’t want to rehash my mantra here. (I’m saving that for other subsequent posts in the coming weeks as I dig through old boxes of books, articles, and research papers written.) But I will share what I have learned in my 40 years of ministry – benchmarks don’t form disciples of Christ.
Last week I took two days off to spend time with my
just-turned-four-year-old granddaughter. The best I can describe it was two
days of wild imagination. We decorated an Easter tree with tiny bunnies, eggs,
and chicks that I got out of storage, spent an afternoon at a playground
followed by ice cream, visited Grampa at work, read books, and pretended a
whole lot. Tea parties, colorful scarves, hide and seek, and discussing all the
Disney princesses filled our days.
“The leader does not offer answers but offers space for children to wonder”
resonated with me in a new way. He describes Godly Play as a
“face-to-face and intimate art”
and while we are
“all designed to create meaning, . . . the art of wondering is forgotten.”
As a grandmother (and editor of faith formation resources),
I hope our churches (and families) continue to wonder with children. By giving
children a safe space to explore creation, God, and our sacred stories, we are
helping them enter the mystery of all that God intended for us – we are beloved
children. By giving myself real time off to just “be” with Mackenzie, I too was
renewed and reopened to the possibilities that only our imaginations and wonder
Our Taizé services, held several times a year, have traditionally been attended by adults. For the service scheduled midway through Lent we wanted to make it more of an intergenerational event. How could we make Taizé more experiential while retaining its contemplative nature? How might we introduce Taizé to families with children? How could we tap into scripture with baptismal and Lenten themes paired with the music of Taizé? This and other questions led to our creation of a Taizé Intergenerational Liturgy held on the afternoon of the Third Sunday of Lent at my home parish, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Wilton, Connecticut.
Our team (Marissa Rohrbach, rector; Fiona Smith Sutherland, music director; Becky Hudspeth, children’s and youth minister; and myself) created two other events this program year (The Way of Love and Advent) and wanted to build upon those. Then two of us saw a post on Building Faith by Charlotte Preslar entitled “Creating Prayer Bottles” that had been developed as a sensory prayer experience before Lent began. We knew we had found our experiential, contemplative missing element for our Taizé service.
In advance, we ordered our supplies and sorted all the “pieces” in little containers for easy use with little hands and less mess. We set up a simple focal point of tables of various sizes and heights, with chairs surrounding them on all sides with ample room to move between them all. Around the perimeter of the chairs were six 6-foot tables, while near the entrance the piano and small adult choir and an instrumentalist sat. Battery-powered candles (the ones that looked like they had flickering flames) were scattered on the focal tables and piano. A variety of icons were placed on the tables as well as small terra-cotta pots filled with sand. A large clear glass bowl was filled with water and placed on the center of the largest altar table. Scattered on the floor were tall bottles filled with warm water and a basket of thin, long tapers (candles). Torches (from the sanctuary) stood on either side of the tables and our processional cross was placed in the center back of the room.
If it’s April it must mean I need to update my curriculum charts. So here’s the first installment, focusing on resources that I would consider curriculum for children – meaning they include lesson plans for a teacher to use in a formation setting. By children I mean those between the ages of birth (nursery) through age 12 (5th grade).
With every year comes some new resources while others cease to be published. There has definitely been an uptick in the number of curricular products now available as downloadable documents, either as pdfs or editable docs. Illustrations are more modern and represent more diversity, although I sometimes wonder if publishers are jumping on the “Disney Wagon” in making everything look like a cartoon, including a princess or two. Costs are definitely going up (the cost of paper has skyrocketed this past year due to tariffs); perhaps another reason why downloading materials is becoming more prevalent.
In any case, here is the April 2019 Curriculum Chart for Children. In my research, I did discover more than is presented here. For example, I have chosen not to include one product (I won’t share name or publisher) that offers a giant poster called “From Adam to Jesus” which is a direct family tree and timeline of how Jesus descended directly from Adam and Eve. And I won’t share one that includes a mission statement that “the Old Testament is fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ.” To ease your processes in evaluating and choosing curriculum, here are my tips: