Catechesis of the Good Shepherd – the first decade 2006-2016

Deacon Carey with Catechesis 3rd to 5th grade.

What was Christian education like for youth prior to “Catechesis of the Good Shepherd”? In 1977, the curriculum was the United Church composed of six week teaching blocks. It was resource intensive requiring a staff of 21.  Materials had to be purchased for each level.

There were 2 services at St. George’s – 9:30 Contemporary, 11 family. Classroom education time was short 10:30-11am.  Two years earlier a practice developed where children attended church but left before the sermon for additional activities while church was going all

The numbers have not increase. In 1977, there were 89 enrolled including kindergarten, ages 3,.4,5 and grades 1-6.  In 2016, 78.

Children very little direct church experience and it may not have been connected to the lectionary.  By 1989, the Christian education and Worship commissions after reading Children in the Parish Eucharist, affirmed the role of children in church to promote spiritual growth and learning. Follow-up meetings were held in April to make worship meaningful for all. These included special sessions for children and parents which help the children become more involved in the liturgy and visits by clergy to the classroom. Crayons worksheets would be available in church and a booklet At God’s Altar, an illustrated breakdown of liturgy for children throughout the service

Rev. John Westerhoff spoke later in 1989 on “Building the Faith Community.” By 1993, the Vestry desired for increased library resources and more time – to move the Christian education an hour earlier and to make more connection to the Book of Common Prayer

A pamphlet in the fall of 1999 described Christian Ed at that time. The youngest children focused on people in the Bible (Samuel, David, Solomon, Jeremiah) and as children grew older relationships were added- families, actions, and events. Later by 4th and 5th grade, ideas of covenant, prophecy, miracles and parables are introduced. Old youth 6th and 7th focus on the readings of the day and for teens “Pressure Point” blending in studies and the relevant issues of the day. The content is not that different from what was presented in Catechesis.

Catechesis of the Good Shepherd was a change in method and less in curriculum.  It was full of developing links to other parts of life at St. George’s and back to the family. One of its successes has been get more families interested in their child’s spiritual education as many are interested in their academic and physical education. It was a way for adults and children to contemplate and enjoy the presence of God together.

Catechesis originated in the Catholic Church. Sofia Cavalletti, along with her colleague Gianna Gobbi, began to work with children in 1954 in the area of children’s religious formation. Cavelletti was a scholar or Hebrew for adults and a member of the Vatican Commission for Jewish-Christian relations. A mother asked her to give religious instruction to a 7-year-old. She consented after initially refusing. The experience would change her life. Gobbi was a teacher in Montessori schools which led to the Catechesis method to be Montessori based

Cavelletti saw in that child, a way of being in the presence of God that is unique to the child and a gift to the adult who stops long enough to notice. “It has been observed that children, even from the earliest age, eagerly seek religious experience and find fulfillment in the deepest elements.  It is the joy of the children’s encounter with God that has given birth to the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. “(St. Georgian, Sept 2010)

The focus of the program is to deepen the child’s existing relationship with God; to encourage the formation of a personal prayer life; to participate fully in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church.  Cavalletti s background in scripture made it possible for her to present God to the child in a way that opened a plethora of ideas and images that the child could grasp and comprehend

In 2011 the following appeared in the newsletter. “The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is not a religious education “program” or “curriculum” so much as it is a particular way for adults and children to contemplate and enjoy the presence of God together.” The method is rooted in discovery where the child discovers spiritual life on his/her terms and speed.  There is a minimal amount of adult direction needed

The newsletter described the basic concept. “They learn the stories of our faith, the prayers and songs of our liturgy and of the deep and abiding love their maker holds for them.  The materials are simple, handmade, often by parishioners.  Each material is designed to isolate key elements, yet like the parables themselves are left open for each to come to. We give them access to art materials to allow them to express themselves.  “

The Rev. Robert Gastel, Rector of the Church of Angles, Pasadena, California described the basic goal as quoted in the St. Georgian.   “The goal of Catechesis is to help the child fall in love with God by his or herself. the image of God is Christ, the Good Shepherd, who knows his sheep, calls them by name..”  Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is Christocentric, everything else finds meaning in Him. Old Testament lessons enter as the child matures and is able to understand history and closely follows the Church’s lectionary.

Gay Rahn who became Associate Rector in 2005 brought the method with her. The method encompasses children age 3 through seventh grade but St. George’s would initially end the program with grade 5. When Gay served in Memphis, she had read an article about it and took a group to an atrium in Mississippi. After that they implemented it. In 2006, A pamphlet explaining the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd was placed in the narthex. The program was cost effective. Other programs emphasized making copies of materials and ordering curriculum each year, but Catechesis did not.  It tended to require fewer teachers.  The problem for St. George’s was recruiting and training teachers but having the space to maintain it.

The space needs reemerged in 2006.  Catechesis required a larger space with objects that needed to be remain in place.  They also need the wall between two rooms removed to create one large room. The old music room the basement would be an atrium on Sunday by 2009 with the end of the renovation

Another requirement was organizational. Between 2005 and 2006, St. George’s former Christian Education and Youth Commission was transitioned into three commissions for adults, youth and children. The youth commission would include our Journey to Adulthood programs and Sunday night Youth Groups. Catechesis would be a part of youth initially but go to the new commission on children’s formation.

Carey Chirico was hired in Feb., 2007 as Director of Children’s ministries.  She brought an education background as a Masters of education, plus practical experience of a decade of teaching Christian education. In addition, she had worked within the church culminating as Senior Warden in the church in 2006. She and Marcia Kole, another longstanding Christian Education were sent to training.

The program was described in the May, 2007 newsletter “In the first and second grade classroom work is beginning on Baptism and the signs and symbols of Baptism.  The children will also be learning about the preparation of the cruets for the Eucharist and doing this work for themselves.  Third and fourth graders are exploring the moral parables of Jesus.  The fifth graders are continuing their study of the Cenacle, the Latin word for the Upper Room, and the work they have been doing researching and creating clay models of the apostles. 

Catechesis training takes place in “Atriums,’ Montessori’s name for a place of spiritual learning.  In 2009 this is how it was described in the newsletter.” Atrium 1 is the “Good Shepherd Atrium for children in preschool.  They learn the love of the Good Shepherd

“The first and second graders will be with Mike and Marcia Kole and Charlotte Moore in room 104 and 105 using a combination of the Catechesis and the Episcopal Children’s curriculum.  Level II of Catechesis, teaches them about sacred history, the gifts of God and begins the moral parables.

“Our third and fourth graders will be in our Level II Atrium, room 102 with Lance Roeske and Gay Rahn.  Third and fourth graders move into talk about the prophets and more. They learn about  God in history as reflected in our communion.

“The fifth graders will downstairs as well in a Level II/Level III atrium, room 101 led by Brady and Carol Nicholson.  Finally, our fifth and sixth graders are moving thorough the Episcopal Children’s Curriculum. Originally the training was split between two levels.  Having children on one level allows the sharing of materials as activities. “

Child care was extended 8:30-12:30pm. From 9:55- to 10:50am – age grade classes were held from preschool through 12th grade. (This would be extended in the fall of 2016 as the 11:00am service gave way to 11:15).

The developing of the child’s spiritual life with Catechesis was also helped by earlier changes for the role of children in church. By 2006, there were more specific roles for children within the service:

  • Be part of the gospel procession
  • Sit up front on the floor, on the steps or in the choir stalls following the gospel procession
  • Help set the table by bring up the chalice and paten and other items used for Eucharist
  • Sunday school children will write the prayers of the people. 

As the program matured it developed and fostered other links to life at St. George’s which wasn’t seen at the beginning of the program:

  1. The “Feed My Sheep Project” teaches the children about the St. George’s food pantry and the need for emergency food that exists in the community. They will be asking the congregation to donate a food item several times a month. The children will take these baskets up for blessing at the services and the food will later be stocked. During the summer of 2008, in the Great Summer Night event “We collected canned goods for our Feed My Sheep Pantry. Each child wrote out its family’s grace, copies of which will be included in every bag of food we give out.”
  2. Catechesis led to increasing presence of children who volunteer within Outreach ministries at St. George’s. Rally for Service, Community Dinners and The Table involve many of our children particularly on school holidays.   In late 2015 the children held a fund raiser to benefit the local SPCA and St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.  Parents donated supplies and the children assembled jars of cocoa and brownie mix to sell during coffee hour. They raised $300 In 2016 an outreach group “Kid’s Care” was formed by Carey. She described it as follows – “The club will be for first to fifth year graders.  We will meet on a Sunday when the older children sing at the 11 am service so they will already be at St. George’s.  We will have lunch, conversation and then tackle an outreach project together.”

  3. Children’s music was added to the mix on Sundays. Chris Forzano and Sherry Newman began their work with a children’s music program on Sunday as an alternative to trying to find a day during the week for children’s music. Pieces would be performed at a service.

    By late 2008, children’s music became a paid staff position, Director of Children’s music from Becky Stewart (Sept, 2008-Aug, 2011) and then Robin Roberson from Dec. 2011.  During Becky Stewart’s stint, this was mainly for the younger children with rehearsal time 11:00-11:30am, the Dragon Fire Singers (1st to 5th grade children), who offer to Christ a children’s anthem on the last Sunday of each month during the 9 a.m. service and during communion.  The older children were invited to “sit in” and reinforce the younger students work.  

    Robin continued the Sunday morning music but also made the switch to Sunday afternoon, 4pm for the Royal School of Music children’s choir program for grades 2 to 8.  The response has been positive from the parents and we look forward to having the children sing in worship on a regular. In addition, Robin provided both music and Morning prayer with the 3rd, 4th and 5th graders and then works with the younger children. For Morning Prayer, children help choose a psalm, readings, prayers and songs.  The service takes the last ten minutes of each class.   A child preacher was added to the service.  By 2015, children were writing their own prayers of the people and enjoyed being leaders.  “This level of knowledge of our traditions and participation in our liturgy can only help children to connect more fully to our worship here at St. George’s.” 

  1. By 2013, a two child teaching duo offered a short prayer service at the end of class each day. “The children take turns with this duty, leaving class and working with Robin Roberson, our children’s music director, to design the short service. They choose a psalm, readings, prayers and songs. The service takes the last ten minutes of each class. A child preacher was added to the service. “This level of knowledge of our traditions and participation in our liturgy can only help children to connect more fully to our worship here at St. George’s.” 
  1. Links to Bible classes. During the summer of 2008, Carey and Gay taught an adult Bible study class utilizing materials of the Catechesis

  2. Communion retreat during Easter which was a daylong retreat begun initially by Carey and Marcia Kole. 2016’s event was described as follows – “Twelve children ages 6-9 attended a day long retreat about the Eucharist in Sydnor Hall. The day began with bread baking and concluded with a family Eucharist attended by the children’s families.  Multiple people volunteered and led activities and a treasure hunt which took the children all over the church as they learned the names for our spaces.  The children wrote out letters inviting someone to be a prayer partner during the weeks remaining in Lent.  All the letters have been given out and we hope to unite the children and their adult prayer buddies after Easter. 

  3. An Easter service began during at this time, “Liturgy of the Light.” By 2015, it had attracted 127 children and adults moving to the church.  Instead of just a supplemental service for children it had become the main Easter service for some adults.

  4. Links to the Preschool. The preschool began using Gay and Carey as chaplains, offering a catechesis lesson and involving the children into the seasons of the church year. “.. this year we offered a lovely Ash Wednesday service that included our preschool age families as well into an exploration of water, oil, light and ashes as we started the journey into Lent.

    Some of the preschool teachers have been involved in training for catechesis. It is a demanding program. “This course requires 90 hours of class attendance and homework outside of class as well as offsite observation hours. By September 2015, of the seven teachers, three are certified in Level I with two more in training currently.  Two are level II certified and are in training to be able offer Level III. Overall the preschool and catechesis program helped to stimulate enrollment in both areas.

Parents were increasingly involved in late 2011.  Carey asked all parents with children in the 3-5-year-old atrium to volunteer once every two months in the Atrium as assistants with training preceding. This eventually led to a reservoir and teachers when Marci Kole had to bow out of teaching at the end of 2011. The use of catechesis expanded into baptism preparation classes

Prayer Table

The program creates links to the home with Christian supplemental activities such as creating prayer tables which they did in 2015 handing out bags with all the elements for a home Prayer Table.

They also added social media presence in 2014 on Instagram – goodshepherdintheburg.

The numbers from this program have been difficult to reconcile using both enrollment and attendance figures.  Enrollment could be tracked. They reported 74 children “signed up” Jan, 2011 for preschool through 5th grade. A drop off occurred by 2012.  Only 50 were enrolled in September, 2012. Beginning in 3rd and 4th grade they found the program competes with outside sports scheduled for the same time on Sunday.  

The word “participating” began to be used rather than “enrolled” In September, 2014, “We have fifty children on the lower level of McGuire Hall participating in Sunday morning programming, ages three to eleven.  We have seven regular Sunday morning leaders and six additional volunteers planning to be present on a rotating basis.  “

The numbers of children enrolled appeared to be increasing through 2015 and 2016. By March 2015, 76 were participating compared 50 participating or enrolled in September, 2014. By March 2016, enrollment was up to 88 from at 76 from March, 2015.  

Attendance seemed flat between 2015 and 2016 in March at 55.

The main problem that Catechesis face in 2017 is to deal with increasing space demands. For the first half of 2017, the 3rd-5th grade used space at the Princess Anne Building. Catechesis is space intensive with its many objects and needs “to spread out.”  

They attributed the increase in numbers to a “cross pollination between church and the preschool.” There were seasonable events for both parents and children at Christmas and Ash Wednesday as well as weekly classes.

Catechesis was a break from the past in method but also reflected thoughts and discussion of Christian education over the 30 years.

  • Children needed to have a presence in church to complement Christian education learning. They were not necessary to leave prior to the sermon.
  • They needed to participate in the Eucharist.
  • Christian education needed to be longer.
  • Christian should be extended outside of the Sunday morning hour.
  • Christian education should complement and connect to other ministries within the church.

After 10 years, catechesis has worked because it is a sign of the overall philosophy of St. George’s – to be welcome to the presence and contributions of the many.  It has connected to the many parts of St. George’s. As a program of education, it has allowed children to develop their own relationship to the scriptures, the Book of Common Prayer and other parts of Episcopal Worship using simple objects that they can make meaningful.  

The programs encourage them to look outward and apply the teachings of teaching of the Good Shephard. They have connected what they have learned to other outreach and other educational ministries, such as the preschool. Children over the last decade have played a greater role in the church in service and helping develop content, such as prayers of the people.  

Finally, Catechesis has been extended outside to their families which have volunteered for one of the atriums or constructed prayer tables at home.