Engaging Parents with Religious Education

I have the impression that most parents don’t have a good idea about how much work is involved in organizing a Sunday Church school class and, especially, what kind of learning is occurring in that class.

Our approach to involving parents in religious education thus far has largely been, the “send things home” model, usually artwork and crafts made in class. If all the parent sees is the art project that the child takes home, then, perhaps, they believe that the whole class session was devoted to its creation. They might not see the story time, the reading and discussion, the Bible Study and worksheets that were worked on before the art project commenced.

One result of this vision of Sunday Church school is that parents might be thinking “not much is going on there,” and thus it’s an easy choice between participating in religious education or participating in some other non-church related activity.

Perhaps, if parents began to see that their children are learning in Sunday Church school, the choice would be harder for them. If parents could see that participating in religious education was helping their children understand their Orthodox Christian identity and talk about their Faith better, then they might see the value of the program.

So, how can we engage parents with their children’s learning? The key is for teachers to form a relationship with the parents of their students through regular contact. Telling parents what Bible stories and books are being read, what hymns and prayers are being taught, what saints are being included, what liturgical practices are being practiced, and more, lets parents see that there is more going on in Sunday Church school than what can be shown with all the glitter and glue.

For example, collect the email addresses of parents by class. Inform the parents that they will receive a message from the teacher about the topic of a lesson, with questions and answers for them to discuss with their children on the way to and from church. Short bullet points are enough.

Second, find ways for the children to show what they are learning to the community. For example, after the second graders learn the Lord’s Prayer, let that class come forward in Liturgy and lead the congregation for a few Sundays. When the fifth graders study saints, let them make and display posters about saints in the church hall. During a fellowship/coffee hour, have the children near their posters to answer questions from the parishioners. Of course, someone should announce that this is occurring and encourage parishioners to visit all the posters and talk to the students. Encourage the teens to participate in the St. John Chrysostom Oratorical Festival and deliver their talks to the congregation, if need be outside of the judged Festival itself. Consider adding the poetry and essay divisions and allow the students to publish their poems and essays on the parish website, in the parish bulletin, or make a special parish newsletter designed by the students.  At the end of the Sunday Church school year, over a series of weeks, have a few classes present something that they’ve learned to the congregation.

Involve the generations. Invite adults, especially senior citizens to classes to talk about their faith journey, how their faith influences their life. With younger classes, parents and grandparents can be those extra helpers, reading a story, comforting a child, or assisting with projects. Hold an open house during fellowship hour, allowing the parish to see what’s being taught.

Find ways to extend learning into daily life. Organize a book exchange/swap. Create a reading list for books that can be read at home. Create a list of tasks that students can perform at home, from helping with chores to leading a dinnertime prayer.

Over time, I believe parents will begin to see that Sunday Church school is teaching their children the Orthodox Christian Faith and Way of Life and see that this is the better choice for Sunday mornings.

 

Presentation: Go Beyond Your Parish Website

Archdiocesan Statement on the Protection of Women

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the Salesian Missions, Inc. recently submitted a joint statement for the 59th Session of the Comssion on the Status of Women (CSW), which is scheduled for March 2015. CSW is a function comssion of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). It is the principal global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women. Every year, representatives of Member States gather at United Nations Headquarters in New York to evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and women's empowerment worldwide. For more information about CSW please click here. 

OFFICIAL STATEMENT (Soon to be posted on the UN Website)

Introduction

As international faith-based organizations of the Christian tradition, and moreover as members of the human community, we regard the empowerment of women and gender equality as central components of the post-2015 development agenda. We acknowledge the progress made by Member States and Civil Society Organizations since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The Millennium Development Goals advanced the empowerment of women. The proposed Sustainable Development Goals of the Open Working Group augment the issue of women’s empowerment and gender equality. We support the continued strengthening of the efforts made by the global community to ensure the rights of women and girls through decisive goals, targets, and indicators. However, much work still needs to be done. The full participation of women at every level in setting the next development agenda is essential.

We believe that the global community must address the issues that impede development for all, especially women and girls. These issues include, inter alia, equal access to education for girls, infant mortality, maternal health, access to clean water and sanitation, the feminization of extreme poverty, and the denial of participation in both the private and public arenas. The Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women identifies the continued prevalence of violence against women and girls as the greatest threat to overcoming these obstacles and notes that such violence impairs and nullifies the realization of all human rights.

We reaffirm our shared interest in the empowerment of women and girls worldwide and the right of all people to peace, security, and freedom. All persons are entitled to live with dignity regardless of gender and/or sex. We insist that the pursuit of equality and recognition of this universal dignity must continue solely by peaceful means, while remembering and respecting the unique contributions of both women and men within various cultures, customs, and traditions.

Assessing the Problem of Violence Against Women

Violence against women, both physical and psychological, takes many forms, inter alia: domestic violence, violence in armed conflict, rape and sexual assault, violence during migration, in the trafficking of women and girls, and conditions of extreme poverty. All forms of violence result in the silencing of women, denying them the right of expression and full participation in the life of their families, communities, and governments. Violence of any form must be systematically addressed by all levels of society.

The physical, emotional, physiological, spiritual, and social consequences inflicted upon victims of violence cannot be fully communicated or understood through data collection. However, the study of violence against women does provide evidence that women and girls are disproportionately subjugated to many forms of brutality, some of which are culturally based. The statistics related to violence against women and girls have been noted:

·      According to the WHO, 35% of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence. In some national studies, 70% of women have experienced intimate partner violence.

·      The WHO global review of scientific data concluded that violence against women is a “global public health problem of epidemic proportions, requiring urgent action.”

·      The Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States has shown that nearly 1 in 5 women have reported experiencing rape in their lifetime. Over 42% of victims were first raped before age 18.

·      UNICEF reports that about 120 million girls worldwide have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives.

·      Data from the ILO shows that women and girls comprise 55% of the estimated 20.9 million victims of forced labour worldwide and 98% of the estimated 4.8 million victims forced into sexual exploitation.

·      According to the United States Department of State, 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year. Over 70% of trafficked persons are female and many are victims of physical or sexual assault.

·      The UNODC indicates that a disproportionate number of women are involved in human trafficking, both as victims and as culprits. Female offenders have a prominent role in human trafficking particularly where former victims become perpetrators as a means of escaping their own victimization.

·      The United Nations Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict has noted that the vast majority of casualties in modern conflicts and wars are civilian women and children. Systematic sexual violence against women and girls is regularly used as a means to achieve political and/or military objectives and as a weapon of war.

A transformative development agenda will only be realized when violence against women and girls is eradicated. Affected by a traumatic experience or the fear of imminent violence, women and girls cannot live their lives freely. The systemic use of violence inhibits the accomplishment of daily tasks. It is our shared responsibility as a human community to protect women and girls and cherish their profoundly indispensable contributions in and outside the home, both locally and globally.

In a spirit of love and humility, we condemn any and all forms of violence against women, including the silencing of women, the denial of full participation in society, workplace discrimination, sexual harassment and assault, rape, and murder. Research shows that women and girls are disproportionately victims of such violence. It is our responsibility to help create a universal culture that denounces all forms of violence against women and girls and protects them against such cruelties. Such a culture preserves our humanity and universal human dignity.

Recommendations

We believe that a strong post-2015 development agenda must be committed to eliminating gender inequality and promoting the empowerment of women. Recognizing our common but differentiated responsibilities, we recommend that Member States and Civil Society partner to:

·      Eliminate all forms of violence and abuse against all women and girls in public and private spheres, including human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation and/or forced labour as well as in military and political conflicts.

·      Eliminate the increasing feminization of extreme poverty by achieving full and productive employment and decent work for all women with gender equity, providing equal pay for equal work.

·      Ensure the provision of public services and adopt fiscal, wage, and social protection policies to progressively achieve greater gender equity.

·      Ensure women’s full, inclusive, and effective participation, providing equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic, and public life.

·      Undertake legislative reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance, and natural resources.

·      Move away from the soft law era through the adoption of legally binding instruments.

·      Enforce previously adopted legislative policies protecting women and girls from all forms of violence.

·      Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels.

The Orthodox Way of Life – Living Through Christ Each Day

There is this incessant misconception involving the way in which Orthodox Christians should live with blurred lines of confusion of what is right and wrong in terms of practice. As an Orthodox Christian, there is an emphasis on acquiring humility and patience, through continual prayer, repentance, and love towards one another. Unfortunately, this current epoch of an existence is far from what is expected from us as not only Christians, but as an entire population of humans. Through the rapid explosion of technological advances, medical science discoveries, social media hype, and celebrity idolizing behavior, humans are very lost, drifting far away from God. With all the distractions there are today, it is very easy to be possessed by the physical aspects rather than the spiritual ones.

 

People would prefer to stay home on a Sunday morning just to sleep-in long enough to watch a football game. Others, tentative about attending Sunday service, give their own children the choice of whether or not they want to attend Sunday School, as an attempt to “skip” church that day. There are even people who just stop going to church altogether just because they do not feel the need to go. The sad part about all these scenarios is that they are considered a normative behavior and these individuals see no problem with it whatsoever.

The enormous shift in values and tradition among most families today is quite alarming. The devoid of our Lord being center in our lives is an endangered practice. Being an Orthodox Christian is not only a once-a-year experience or private worship time at home. Life as an Orthodox Christian is a consistent, unending path with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ leading our way, according to His Will, and not our own.

Due to the many interruptions there are nowadays, we are forgetting why we are here. We are not alive for the sake of fulfilling the hedonistic tendency that has flooded the newer generations of human beings. We are the sinful salts of the earth that must attempt to grow in Christ and take life one-step at a time. The main problem we have is not only hedonism but also indifference. People seem to care less about purpose or meaning of anything. Some only want to take from life all that they can take, with no intention of giving anything back.

Going to church once a week is the very least Orthodox Christians can do to practice their faith. It is amazing what one liturgy service can do to someone. It could be one Gospel or Epistle reading, or even the priest’s sermon that can make a difference. A single phrase or message could be taken from that one-time visit each week to God’s House. It all sounds so simple. Yet, why is it so difficult to do?

It is only through our Lord Jesus, that we can be forgiven and allowed access into the Kingdom of God. However, we have only one lifetime to get this right. Heaven is an honor granted to us not an entitlement. Just because you are an Orthodox Christian, does not imply complete remission of sins if you do not actively practice the faith accordingly.

Beloved, you must understand that this life is only temporary. God can grant us life as quickly as He can take life away. Remember to put Jesus first always. Ask God before doing something that may change your life forever. Pray more, at least twice a day. Repent your sins and be sincere in your apologies. Ensure you treat others with dignity and respect, without expecting anything in return. Above all, you must love the Lord Jesus, with all your heart, mind, and strength. Do not forget all that Jesus has done for us, and place Him in the hope of our salvation.

How Do Homeless Kids Get Ready to Go Back-to-School?

As the new school year gets underway, parents and children know the anticipation and excitement that accompanies the first day of school: the simple joy of a new backpack, a new outfit, new shoes, or a clean notebook. Yet for many parents and children across the US, these items are luxuries they can’t afford.

It’s something we all know – that there are poor and homeless families who live in our own cities and towns.  But most of us don’t realize just how bad the situation is. 

Across the United States, homelessness and poverty are at unprecedented levels.  The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reports that since 2007, family homelessness skyrocketed by 20%. 

It’s important to define what is meant by “homeless”.  When we think about homeless people, most of us think of bums living under a bridge or winos begging for change.  But this is not an accurate picture of the homeless today.  Sure, there is a “chronic homeless” population that mostly lives outdoors, but the majority of people who are homeless today are working individuals and families with children who cannot afford to rent or buy a permanent home. 

According to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the lack of affordable housing is the leading cause of homelessness in every city, county and state nationwide.  A study by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty found that there is no jurisdiction (no town, city, county or state) in the United States where a working family of four, earning the poverty threshold wage of $24,000 can afford even a one-bedroom home at fair market rates. 

So where do these families live?  Where do you go if you’ve been bankrupted by an illness, lost your home to foreclosure, or just don’t earn enough to rent a suitable home?  Many cities offer family homeless shelters where families can stay together.  Other families live in motels, trailer parks, or camp grounds.  Families often live in the basements or attics of friends or relatives, while waiting to hopefully get placed in some sort of government subsidized housing. 

Wherever they stay, it’s not a permanent home and children tend to suffer the most from repeated transitional living.  What school will children attend if they have no permanent address?  How will the kids adapt, manage and succeed in their education if they have no stable place to live?  If parents can’t afford a place to live, how will they equip their children with the supplies, clothes and shoes necessary to attend school? 

About four years ago, FOCUS North America began working with school districts around the country to provide meals to poor children.  Almost every school in America has a free and reduced lunch program that operates during the day when children are in school.  However, over the weekend, many of these kids don’t get enough to eat.  To combat hunger over the weekends when the free lunch program isn’t available to kids, FOCUS packs up meals each Friday and sends these meals homes with the children so that they can feed themselves and their siblings. 

Through our work with school districts, we also learned that homeless and poor families struggle with another major item that they find difficult to afford:  Shoes.  Even a low cost pair of shoes from a discount store can cost $10 - $15.  And even $10 -$15 is a big expense for people who are living paycheck to paycheck. 


Thousands of homeless and underprivileged children attend an Operation Lace Up event in St. Louis on 8/2/14

Based on this, FOCUS developed “Operation Lace Up”, our national back-to-school program that has assisted 252,000 children in 250 school districts across 30 cities nationwide over the past two years.  Operation Lace Up gives children everything they need to get back to school and succeed in acquiring an education: back packs, school supplies, new athletic shoes, clothes, and even medical and dental checkups so that they can go back to school prepared -- and healthy. 

While FOCUS works on creating stability in these families’ lives by offering sustainable and affordable housing assistance (FOCUS helped almost 1,000 people assisted with housing last year) we are addressing the immediate needs that homeless children face each August as they go back to school. 

Each year, thousands of Orthodox Christians, united in faith and joined by a desire to provide action-oriented and sustainable solutions to poverty in communities across America come together through Operation Lace Up and provide much needed assistance to children in need.  Last year, the Metropolis of Chicago Philoptochos helped more than 25,000 homeless children get back to school in Chicago, St. Louis and Minneapolis.  Throughout California - in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego – and all across America, parishes, people young and old, and communities forged a wonderful partnership that stands as a witness to the practical nature of the Orthodox faith and our combined efforts to live out the commandments of Christ to love and serve our neighbor. 

This year, Operation Lace Up will continue to serve homeless and underprivileged kids throughout the nation.  To learn more, or to volunteer, please visit the FOCUS North America website: http://focusnorthamerica.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=307&Itemid=231

 

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