Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Happy fourth day of Christmas! Our annual Christmas Eve Pageant was marvelous this year! Thank you to all of the children and youth who participated for making the night so special. The pageant is a big undertaking and we are so grateful to the adults in our parish who helped to make the pageant a success:

Rev. Peter Faass, Our Priest
Graham Lanz, Director
Justin Miller, Music Director
Cathy Wolford, Asst. Music Director
Erin Pawlak, Costumes
Melissa Gleeson, Lunches

Thank you also to all of the parents and members of the congregation who helped serve food and guide sheep, angels, and wise men this year!

Here are some pictures of our Pageant for you to enjoy!

Everyone loves to say hello to the donkey
 before he has his big moment leading
 Mary and Joseph down the aisle.
 Dwayne (human) and Herbie (camel) are
honorary members of our congregation!

We love seeing the animals each Christmas!
We were blessed with many animals of our own this year!
The Star leads the way!
Angels prepare!
Shepherd and cow ready to go!
Our wonderful narrators take their places!

The congregation gathers!
Away in the Manger.
Mary, Jesus, and Joseph look on as we celebrate Communion.
The Junior Choir sang beautifully this year!

May the wonder and joy of Christmas Day continue to grow in you, and may God bless you in this Holy Season!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Advent and Christmas at Home

In this season of Advent is there a feeling of peace in your home? If not, you are not alone! This is such a busy time of year, and with so much to do it can be hard to create that quiet sense of expectancy and joy that Advent offers. And yet, with Christmas just around the corner, now is the perfect time to cultivate spiritual moments with your family.

My Mom is a deeply spiritual person, and has always had a gift for sharing the spirit of God with others. Looking back on my childhood, I'm amazed at the way that she juggled her many tasks, and still made herself present and available to my brother and me. She always seemed to find joy in each moment (she still does!!). And somehow she did all this without me noticing her effort!

Mom also had a special gift for creating moments of quiet peace and joy in our home around the holidays. I remember Sunday evening "services" we held as a family, praying and lighting our Advent wreath, choosing charities for our Christmas donations, and many evenings sitting together by our tree. Somehow in the midst of Christmas craziness Mom created moments where we could experience the wonder of Jesus and love of God as a family.

As an adult, I realize what a special Mom I have, and just how difficult it is celebrate Advent and Christmas at home. I read a lovely blog called The Magic Onions which often helps me to remember the joy of the present moment. Recently on the blog, the post Creating a Christmas Mood from another blog called Waldorf in the Home was recommended. I enjoyed reading this article so much that I wanted to pass it on to you.

The author, Esther Leisher tells us that creating a Christmas mood at home begins with preparing ourselves. This is something my mother knew well! Children are sensitive to our feelings, and I've noticed how quickly my anxiety and my excitement can pass through the house. This article is a great reminder that having a peaceful and open spirit in the holidays can help to create an atmosphere where contentment and joy can dwell.

Esther's suggestion that we create a dramatic moment for Christmas is such a good one, and again reminds me of so many special moments from my childhood. I loved hearing about the beautiful candle lighting ritual Esther created for her family and how it evolved as her children grew.

If you would like to learn more, I encourage you to read Creating a Christmas Mood and look for insights and ideas that can help you create spiritual moments in your own family. It doesn't have to be difficult! Simple things like gathering around the tree in the evening, lighting candles, singing songs, reading from the Bible, and praying together can awaken your family to God's presence! Make a plan and give it a try!

Many blessings to you and your family this Advent!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Fettuccia

How can we begin to grasp the History of the Kingdom of God? In November in the True Vine Atrium we gathered together for a work called the Fettuccia which tells us about three great moments in God's Kingdom - creation, redemption, and parousia. The work represents billions of years with a long thin grosgrain ribbon. Each ridge on the ribbon represents about 1000 years.

As we unroll the ribbon we ponder creation - the great and loving act of God preparing the earth, plants, animals, and people. We remember redemption - God sending Jesus to live among us, and his life of compassion, his death and his resurrection. And finally we consider parousia - that great moment still to come when Christ will return and God will be all in all.

In our Church, this ribbon stretches from one end of the building to the other - travelling from the Good Shepherd Room, through the center staircase and front hall, down the length of the center aisle of the Church and ending at the altar. This is an impressionistic lesson which allows us to "see" all those years - we peer from one end of the ribbon to the other and walk its length time and time again to identify moments in the History of the Kingdom of God.

This material is very satisfying to the children, and it creates a frame of reference for so many of the works we have done and will do in the future in the atrium. It brings together science and theology, and integrates them into a seamless reality for the children.

I love the way that this work gently draws us into moral questions. The final portion of the ribbon is the history yet to be written, which will end in parousia. Who is writing these pages of the History of the Kingdom of God? We are! So how can our lives help to increase the light of Christ in the world? This is a great question to ponder!

This lesson helps us to contemplate the vast history of the Kingdom with wonder and humility and hold it in tension with the fact that we matter! We are part of this great history and with our choices we can help to bring our world closer to the Kingdom that God desires.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

One More Map!

Geography materials are an important part of our Advent preparation in the atrium. Click on geography works in the atrium to read more about why we teach geography and the map work that we do in the Good Shepherd and True Vine Atria at this time of year.

In October, I posted pictures of the beautiful map work that the children in the True Vine Atrium were doing in anticipation of our Church pilgrimage to Israel. Since we've been back, Sarah and I have had a great time finding the places we visited on our maps and sharing stories about them with the children. Recently another child applied himself to map-making and did an amazing  job! I just had to share a few photos of him and his beautiful map with you here. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Advent Blessings

Are you ready for Advent? It all begins tomorrow, November 27th! I love Advent - it encourages me to focus on the spiritual meaning of Christmas, and it allows me to find peace in the midst of a very busy month. Of course, this helps me to help my family to do the same! Learn more about Advent with this short video from Busted Halo.

If you have an advent wreath it's time to pull it out! If not, stop by the Advent table in the Great Hall at Church and pick up a ring and a new set of candles. Just the simple act of having the wreath on the kitchen table and lighting it each evening at dinner or at bedtime makes Advent special. I know it isn't a great use of resources, but I have to admit that I am a firm believer in using new candles every year (rather than continuing to use old ones). Having never-been-lit candles in the wreath conveys exactly where we are in the season of Advent. Stop by the table to pick up a flyer about using an Advent wreath and about observing Advent in your home.

From Holidays to Holy Days: A Benedictine Walk through AdventRev. Peter is offering an online Advent book reflection on our Christ Church Facebook page this year! We are reading From Holidays to Holy Days: A Benedictine Walk through Advent by Albert Holtz, OSB. Each morning, beginning Sunday, November 27th, Rev. Peter will post a reflection on the reading for the day on Christ Church's Facebook page. Everyone is welcome to read along, and join the conversation by adding your own thoughts and reflections on our page. You can buy the book from Church Publishing or from Amazon. You can even download it for Kindle if you have one!

Booklets with daily meditations for children, adults, and families are also available at the Advent table at Church. Stop by and find something to help you mark the days as we prepare for Christmas! You'll be glad you did!

Peace and blessings to you this Advent!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

"Thank you" is at the center of so many of the prayers that we hear (and say!) in the atrium. Young children in particular are quick to thank God for good things in their lives.

Take a look at this beautiful set of gratitude cards that I came across in my blog reading this week. Included in this post is a great idea for using the cards in your family's celebration of Thanksgiving this year. What an easy and fun way to make the holiday more meaningful for people of all ages!

Wishing you many blessings this Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

First Grade Bible Presentation

Last Sunday Rev. Peter and I had the joy of blessing and presenting Bibles to our first graders and to two children new to the atrium! These are working Bibles that the children will keep in the atrium (after exploring them at home). Each child (first grade and above) has his or her own Bible, and it travels with them throughout their time in Christian Formation at Christ Church.

Children in the True Vine Atrium are in a sensitive period for language, and many are learning to read. Although we have explored scripture frequently with the younger children, we take advantage of this sensitivity to language by giving each child a Bible of his or her own to explore, and we present materials to the children that describe how the Bible was written and how it is organized. We also present lessons on how to find a passage in the Bible.

In the True Vine and Golden Thread Atria we have supplies for making bookmarks with ribbons or with card stock to mark favorite passages or to note the passage we are working with more easily, and each person can write in his or her Bible.

We look forward to giving the children their Bibles each year.  I hope you enjoy seeing a few pictures of this lovely moment in our parish!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Presentation Schedule

Because the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is an approach to the religious formation of children rather than a set curriculum, there isn't a specific schedule to follow week by week. Instead, over the course of our Catechesis training, we see and discuss every presentation. Ultimately we have a written 'album page' which describes the theological points, materials needed, and procedures for each presentation. Included with each album page is a recommendation for the age of the child to receive the presentation, the time in the liturgical year to present it, and presentations that should be seen prior to it.

At the beginning of each year, we look over the presentation lists, the records for children in the room, and the calendar, and map out our plans. Catechist Deb Schelling and I generally get together to create the schedule for the Good Shepherd Atrium, and I look forward to it every year. Tea, scones, and sitting outside in gorgeous fall weather are always important parts of our meetings!!

One of the real benefits of the atrium is the flexibility of the schedule. Catechists can change the direction of the group based upon the interest or understanding of the children at any time. In fact, because the materials are always present in the room, the catechist can choose to show a presentation in the moment if a particular child or group of children are pondering a theological question or appear drawn to a material. Our desire is always to follow the spiritual and developmental needs of the child in the atrium and the flexibility of our environment and schedule help tremendously!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Child's Prayer

Take a look at this beautiful prayer written by a seven year old in the True Vine Atrium. This was created spontaneously during work time in the atrium. It just takes my breath away...

"Oh God. Oh holy God thank you for life. 
Imagine what the world would be like without life."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Maps of the Land of Israel

The geography works are an important part of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd because they help us to remember that Jesus was a real person who lived in a particular place at a particular time in history. In the True Vine Atrium, the geography work is extensive, and children explore the regions, cities, and topographical features of the land of Israel using pin maps and booklets. In preparation for Christ Church's pilgrimage to Israel, many of the children have been making their own maps and researching and highlighting places our group will visit. These have been really lovely and I thought I'd share a few pictures here for you to enjoy. To learn more about geography in the atrium, check out this post on Geography.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Pilgrimage to Israel!

Twenty two members of Christ Church will be heading out on October 19th for a 12 day pilgrimage to Israel, and I am lucky enough to be one of them! I am so excited, and am busily preparing my family for my first extended absence, and Church for my two Sundays away! So much to do, but in less than a week I'll be exploring the Holy Land. What an incredible gift!

In preparation, children in the True Vine Atrium have been creating their own maps of the Land of Israel and plotting our trip. I'm really looking forward to sharing our experiences with the children and youth of the parish when we return.

If you've been to Israel before, I would love to hear any advice you have about sites to see, souvenirs to buy, and pictures to take, particularly those that you think may support our work in the atrium.

Our priest, Rev. Peter, will be posting pictures and writing about our trip daily. You can follow along on our web page under Peter + and if you are a member of Facebook on the Christ Episcopal Church Page. Please pray for me and for all the members of our group in the weeks ahead!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Little Surprises!

Today while I was cleaning in the True Vine Atrium I kept happening upon little vases of flowers that had been lovingly placed around the room. Sunday was our first session with flowers, and the children (and the catechists!) enjoyed them so much! Flower arranging is a great practical life exercise, and excellent preparation for future members of the altar guild! :)

Thank you parents for bringing us fresh flowers each week! I'm working on a new flower schedule, and will mail it to you soon. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy seeing some of Sunday's creations as much as I did!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Why Practical Life? Revisited!

Below is a re-post about practical life from over a year ago. (I've just celebrated my one year anniversary of blogging!). I though it might be helpful to our new families and to others who want to know more about practical life to post this information again. 

When we first began our atrium, I was skeptical about Montessori's Practical Life Exercises.  Don't get me wrong - I could see their value in a Montessori setting but I wasn't convinced that we needed them in the atrium.  We began with just a few basic activities, but I quickly discovered the spiritual dimensions of practical life, and now we can't get enough of it!  In fact, I first became interested in blogs as a way of hearing from some of the wonderful Montessorians on the web who write about their practical life exercises.  Setting up practical life, and changing it to meet the needs of the children as their skills develop over the year requires a good deal of observation and creativity, and I have come to enjoy it as much as the kids!

We have practical life activities in all of our atria, but by far the most can be found in the Good Shepherd Atrium (for 3-6 year olds).  Over the years, I have observed a strong connection between handwork and spirituality.  Pouring beans from one pitcher to another, moving water with an eye dropper, arranging flowers in a vase -- one only needs to observe a young child engaged in these activities to recognize the deep concentration, peacefulness and contentment that they can elicit.  Concentration, peace, and contentment are key attributes of prayer and meditation, and practical life builds up these attributes in the children better than anything else. As the child's capacity for concentration and joy in the presence of God grows, so does his or her ability to listen to presentations and mediate on the aspects of the Bible and the liturgy of the Church that we are offering in the atrium. 

In these first weeks, practical life will get quite a work out in our atria - and we catechists couldn't be happier!

For pictures of some of the practical life works featured on the blog this year, click here.