Tag Archives: Church School

Decision Time: The Future of Your Sunday School

For my entire life I’ve been a Christian educator. Whatever you may call it: Sunday School, Church School, Religious Education, Christian Education, Education or Formation Hour (the names have changed throughout the years depending on the understanding and purpose of what we are “doing” with/for children on Sunday mornings), I believe we have come to a turning point. For some this may be a reckoning moment that things may never be the same again in our churches – at least on Sunday mornings. Welcome to the future – it is today.

In the various denominational Christian formation Facebook groups I participate in, the big question that is being asked with a variety of responses are: How are you going to hold Church School (or whatever you happen to name it) when we go back to our buildings? How do we keep our classrooms clean? How will we get small children to wear masks? How much hand washing will be required? Fill in the blank with your most pressing question of bringing children (and youth) back to church when September rolls around and / or your church building opens for worship.

Yes, parents are overwhelmed with home-schooling and distance learning. Doing formation at home has added to that burden, even though many churches and educators have found creative ways to send materials to homes such as “lessons in a box” dropped off on the family front porch, using Zoom for telling Godly Play stories, or emailing a lesson with creative ideas to do together as a family using stuff easily found at home such as crayons, glue, scissors, markers, paper, or LEGO-bricks. But how are we engaging everyone in a household together that isn’t seen as another “thing that has to be done”? How are we helping form disciples to learn about and follow Jesus during this time?

Perhaps parents want to simply drop their kids off for Church School while they have some peace and quiet in the sanctuary. We want life back the way it was before COVID-19. I live in Connecticut about 50 miles northeast of New York City. We were part of that first “gigantic red circle” you saw on the nightly news in March and April. Thankfully, our state governments took things seriously and we have been social distancing, wearing masks, and washing out hands since March. We entered Phase 2 of our reopening in mid-June and will not be going to Phase 3 in mid-July as planned due to the rise across the rest of the country. For the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, our church buildings remain closed for worship with some doing socially distanced worship outside with families sitting far apart on blankets or their own lawn chairs while masked (12 feet apart). I don’t see us worship inside our buildings anytime soon – even with our “numbers down.” Oh how I wish the rest of the United States had learned from our hard experience this spring.

empty church pews

Let’s face it, we are now living in a new normal, which means Church School needs to reinvent itself now. And expect a resurgence this fall, if we ever get a handle on the ever-increasing rise in cases across our nation.

I’ve written about this plenty of times (see my 5-parts series Christian Formation in a Changing Church post five years ago, particularly Part 3 about a new ecosystem). In recent months on this site since we’ve been figuring out how to support one another while in quarantine I’ve suggested numerous resources. Looking back on what we’ve been doing and what we can be doing, I suggest this:

The Church and Christian Formation leaders are called to:

  • Focus on the spiritual nourishment of our congregations for all ages. For me, this means worship. Liturgy is formation. We hear God’s Story alongside (if the preaching is good) our own story. But worship needs to be accessible to all as family units sit spread out in the sanctuary, with chairs set at a distance or pew spaces roped off. Theresa Cho of Still Waters wrote an excellent article: Children in Worship: It’s More Than Coloring Sheets and has numerous pieces about creating intergenerational worship. We need to focus on how we can engage all ages safely in worship before planning how we will open up classrooms to small group learning. After all, segregated learning / formation is a relatively new phenomena in the Christian tradition (as well as Jewish and Muslim).
  • Support households (of all ages) in learning scripture and praying at home. That might mean making sure every household owns a Bible and prayer book (or has access to both via the internet – but let’s get away from our screens!). If someone else reading or praying is an access point to families, develop a calendar with links for them to hear scripture (such as The Bible Project’s Church at Home or Godly Play stories told on YouTube) and prayer (such as The Mission of St. Clare or Praying with Children. Create your own videos of instruction for families and individuals to guide them how to use (and read) their Bible as well as tools for prayer. The Church has failed in many ways to teach adults these skills and tools. Here is an opportunity.
  • Recognize that not all have the technology or time to engage. Those who need to put themselves at risk as they are front-line workers and those do not have the option to work at home (especially our siblings of color what are disproportionately sick and dying of this disease) need our support. How can we put our faith into action by helping food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and any number of services that are being overtaxed? It is easy for our (predominately white) congregations to want things back to normal when there are plenty of Black, Latinx, and Asian folks struggling to survive.

As a leader in your faith community, how will you set an example for re-envisioning the future?

Images: header by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash; top photo by Jens Lelie on Unsplash; bottom image (Matthew 25) from cruzablanca.org – Hermanolean;

Planning for 2014-2015

calendarIt’s not too soon in our congregations to being mapping out the events, activities, and lesson plans for the coming academic year (2014-2015). Most school systems already have next year’s calendar of holidays and vacations out, so it’s the perfect opportunity to do that program planning now that you know when everyone (who is able) heads to the hills for Spring Break or decides to take a hiatus (intentionally) from church on a three-day weekend.

For the past ten or so years I’ve put together a planning calendar focused on the Sunday lectionary readings, along with the season of the year and any event that may be occurring during the week (President’s Day) or that Sunday (baptisms).

Each year I published this (in pdf form since that was the only way to embed it in my now dormant “Living IN-Formation” newsletter, I would be inundated with e-mails from folks asking for it in a Word document so that it could be tweaked and customized on a computer instead of filled in by hand. I’ve heard you!

So – here is the Education Planning Calendar for 2014 (June) – 2015 (August)! (updated on May 15 with corrections)

And don’t forget – now is the perfect time to evaluate this past year and review your curriculum choices, renewals, or search for August/September’s new start! You’ll find all your helps in Building Faith’s Resource Room!

The Curriculum Challenge = The Sunday School Challenge?

var73Many of you know that every 18-months or so I conduct a curriculum survey. I began the practice during my tenure as Children’s Ministries & Christian Education Coordinator in the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut as a means to determine what curricula was being used in congregations in the diocese as well as learn what needs churches and their leadership had that I might be able to offer assistance. When I was called to a new position as Christian Formation Specialist for Church Publishing in 2007, I continued the practice, only offering it church-wide and across denominations.

Perhaps more than anything else, I’m known for the curriculum charts I produce every Spring that gives an overview of a growing list of curricular resources: their theology, publisher, content, format, cost, age-level, and more – all in a handy-dandy multi-page chart. Now my survey results are also looked at with interest. They aren’t scientific, and any true statistician would find all sorts of flaws in my process. But I believe over the years I can see trends. And I hear from real people with real joys, concerns, and questions.

About six months ago I was contacted by Christian Century (the only print magazine I now subscribe to). They were interested in an article about what types of curriculum are being used in mainline churches today. They were interested in what their editorial board were surmising was a greater interest in Godly Play. Would I be able to write a piece? Wow. What an honor.

So, many drafts and edits later, my article has appeared in the February 19, 2014 issue of The Christian Century. I knew it would be coming out soon, but didn’t quite know when. Until I got my bi-weekly e-mail of the issue via e-mail yesterday, listing all the articles. Volume 131, No. 4 is entitled, “Theologians in Residence.”

Read my article:

What Reaches Children? The Sunday School Challenge.

I didn’t choose the title, but perhaps it does speak to the issue facing our church today. I invite your to post your responses on the space offered on The Christian Centuries website / Facebook page and join in the conversation!

The Episcopal Christian Educator’s Handbook

CEHandbookIt’s been years in the making as I’ve been culling through file folders full of handouts, worksheets, lists, and post-it notes. Coming early November, my latest book, “The Episcopal Christian Educator’s Handbook” should be arriving in Cokesbury’s warehouse and hopefully in Amazon’s stockpile (but one never knows with Amazon).

It was fun to assemble and quite a challenge to determine what to include and what to leave out. Trying to make it ‘light’ but informative and useful, as well as categorized in a way that would make sense to a volunteer Christian educator, I had to lay out the page titles on my dining room table before submitting my final draft for publication. Continue reading The Episcopal Christian Educator’s Handbook