Thursday, February 24, 2011

30 Hour Famine for Youth

Please keep Christ Church youth, their friends, and our youth leaders in your prayers Friday and Saturday as they take on the 30 Hour Famine!  This is our 8th year doing the famine.  Youth will begin fasting at 1:00 pm Friday and will meet at the Church at 6:00 pm for an overnight.  Friday night they will participate in a poverty simulation game, do some work around the Church, gather for prayer, and finish the evening with movies and games.  Saturday they will spend time visiting with residents and do some cleaning at our local "adopted" nursing home, gather for communion with Rev. Peter, and at 7:00 pm they will break their fast with a celebratory feast!

It isn't too late to sponsor our youth. Visit their team web page for more information.  Last year, our youth raised $1800 for hungry people around the world. This year they have set a lofty goal of $3600! Knowing our youth, and knowing the parish I think they just might make it!  :)

Abraham: A Man of His Time

In this post, Level 3 Catechist Lynn Winkelman shares some of her own preparation for presenting the Abraham materials to the nine to eleven year olds in the Golden Thread Atrium.

Honestly, I dreaded studying Abraham with the children and put it off until this year.  The reason for this is that I have never been comfortable with the “Sacrifice of Isaac.” Like many of you, I was taught that Abraham’s willingness to obey God’s command to kill his son Isaac was evidence that he was a great man of faith. I could never reconcile my own understanding of God with a God that would ask such a thing of a parent. My own daughter asked her father several years ago about this story and what he thought of the “test of obedience” given to Abraham. To my surprise, (because of the tradition I had been raised in), he responded that Abraham actually failed the test by agreeing to sacrifice Isaac. He told her that God never wanted death in his honor.

I came to a new understanding of this story in my EfM class ** and some new materials developed for the Level III Atrium that made the teaching of the whole story of Abraham, including the “sacrifice of Isaac,” congruent with the God of love and life.

The new scholarship on this story suggests that this was a lesson that was intended to show that human sacrifice was unnecessary and never acceptable to God. To understand why this lesson was important we must see Abraham as a man of his time and place. Human sacrifice to the Gods was practiced by many cultures in his part of the world, even sacrifice of ones child. 

So, it should not be so surprising to us that Abraham considered such a command a test of faith. The part of the story where God stops him from killing Isaac demonstrates that, for the descendants of Abraham, human sacrifice would never be a part of their worship or culture. This relationship with the one true God was different from anything Abraham saw around him.

Knowing this, I looked forward to presenting the study of Abraham to the children, including the story of Isaac.

** EfM or Education for Ministry is an ongoing course that meets weekly at Christ Episcopal Church. Speak with Leslie if you would like to learn more!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Golden Thread Atrium

With this post, I'd like to introduce Lynn Winkelman, who is our Level III trained catechist. Lynn is a wise and wonderful catechist and a gifted artist - she has made so many beautiful materials for our atria over the past eight years. Last summer she created nearly all of the materials she will need for her Level III atrium singlehandedly! One of Lynn's strengths is her ability to see and appreciate each child individually.  She is always the first to remember that a child's boredom or misbehavior is an invitation to the catechist to change herself or the environment to meet the needs of the children we are serving.

I've asked Lynn to share a bit about Level III, and what has been happening in her atrium this year!  The Level III atrium includes children in fourth, fifth, and sometimes sixth grade (depending on our Journey to Adulthood schedule).

The Level III Atrium, recently named the Golden Thread Atrium, is in its third year at Christ Church. It is now that the child is developmentally ready to begin the study of the Hebrew Scriptures and the rich theology that is present in these stories. Everything from their earlier atrium time has prepared them for this great undertaking. The major stories are divided over the 3 years they are in Level III. As an example, the first year I presented Creation, The Fall and The Flood. The second year we studied Moses and the Exodus. This third year we worked on Abraham from September until Christmas. We will also undertake a study of the four Major Prophets: Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Kingdom of God and the Mustard Seed

Jesus said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."
                                       Mark 4:30-32

A few years ago, when I was guiding a group of 3-6 year olds in the Good Shepherd Atrium an interesting phenomenon developed. First, one of the children would walk over to the kingdom parable shelves and pull out the tiny container filled with mustard seeds. Almost immediately another child would notice, and would drop whatever work he or she was doing to go and take a look at the seeds. Before long, the entire group would be gathered! Now this is not something we encourage in the atrium - our desire is for each child to work without interruption. But for a very long time, the draw of the mustard seeds was irresistible and awe inspiring. The children just loved looking at those tiny seeds! And I loved hearing their comments:  "They are so small!  How can they grow into that huge tree?  There is a great power in those seeds." and even "God has given the power to them."

The Mustard Seed is the first parable the children learn in the atrium, and it speaks so deeply to them that they return to it again and again. There is a profound movement in the children's understanding of this parable that illustrates the parable itself! It is a movement from something small to something great! At age three, children marvel at the small seed that can grow into such a great shrub.  Over time they realize that it is a power within the seed itself that allows it to grow, and they perceive God as the giver of this great gift. As they revisit this parable, they perceive this power, not only in the mustard seed, but in countless seeds, flowers, trees and bushes all around them. Before long they discover that this great power from God is at work throughout the world - and even in their own bodies! With each realization we ponder together what Jesus said - the kingdom of God is like this!

In the True Vine Atrium, with the 6-9 year olds, I often hear, "It's just like the mustard seed!" This movement to the "more" is very real for them and they easily connect it to other parts of the Bible, the spiritual life, their daily lives, and the life of the world. I've said it before, but I just love sharing parables with the children! So few words and such great discoveries!

Check out my last post to learn more about parables in the atrium!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Parables in the Atrium

Growing Time is parable time in the atrium! A parable is a short story which illustrates a lesson or a truth, and Jesus shared a lot of them with his followers! In the Good Shepherd Atrium, we hear parables about the Kingdom of God and learn what life with God is like. In the True Vine Atrium, we begin to synthesize the kingdom parables and we discover the moral parables, which teach us how to live.

I love pondering parables with the children. With parables, Jesus uses ordinary things to open up the mysteries of God. Parables naturally respect the capacity of each person because with their many layers of meaning, each person is free to hear and respond to exactly those meanings that he or she is ready to receive.

When we present parables to the children, we resist the urge to "explain" the meaning, because simple explanations take away the power of the parable and limit the child's ability to interpret for him or herself. Instead of restricting the parable we want to open it up for the children to ponder. Jesus' parables seem to lead to mediation quite naturally, and children often respond with a sense of wonder, and a feeling of deep peace.

Check back soon for more about the parables we share with the children in the atrium, and a little insight into the tiny seed you see in the photo above!