Entries with tag religious education .

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.


Back to Sunday School Planning

The onslaught of  “back-to-school” newspaper ads and television commercials has begun. The beginning of another school year is just around the corner. The time has also begun to plan for another Sunday Church School year.  Here’s a checklist.

Meet with the Priest.  Are there any issues that he needs addressed this year? How will he want to be involved with the program this year that might be different from other years? How might he work with teachers on training matters?

Teachers and Assistants. Do you have enough teachers? Are all the teachers ready to start? Need to find a few more? Will they need assistants? Do you need any substitute teachers? Are all the background checks complete?  What about special programs: Oratorical Festival Chair, Music Teacher, Arts and Crafts specialists? Have you planned some meetings to deal with administrative matters? Have you planned for some training sessions? What will the focus be?

Lists. Do you have the class lists ready for each teacher? Student’s information (birthday, nameday, special issues like allergies), parents contact information (especially email), how they’ve offered to assist the program that year. Do you have a list of all the teachers, assistants, all the contact information.

Review the calendar. Set the days for registration, when classes will begin and when they will end in 2015 (include a day for preregistration for Fall 2015). Note the days for when Sunday school will not meet because of Church holidays (Pascha is April 12, 2015), vacation seasons, or special parish events. Note the days for special programs, like Christmas pageant rehearsals, the Oratorical Festival, retreats and service projects. Select days for teacher training meetings. Make sure that all of these are on the parish master calendar. Distribute the calendar to all in the parish.

Check the supplies. Will you have enough textbooks, teacher’s guides, Bibles, icons? Do you have enough materials, paper, pens, crayons, glue, notebooks, and all the rest. Take advantage of the back-to-school sales.

Are the classrooms and teaching spaces in good order? Are there enough desks, tables, chairs, whiteboards. Do some need repair or replacement? Are they sized correctly for the class? You don’t want the furniture designed for kindergarten to be in the space that you’ll use for high school and vice versa! 

Electronics. Do you have projectors and other display technology? Is it all working? Are all the cables in the right place?  Does the wireless network work? If it’s password protected, do you have the proper passwords?

Pray. Pray for the teachers, the students and their families. Pray that the 2014-2015 Sunday Church school year be a year of growth and learning for the teachers, the students and their families.

Prepare by looking back

Prepare by looking back

It’s the middle of July and in about six weeks, Sunday Church School at your parish may already be underway, or getting ready to begin another year.  There are many things to do to prepare: look at new resources, sort out the calendar of events, make sure all the supplies are in stock, start making announcements to families about registration, volunteering with certain events, and organizing the teachers and classes.  There are plenty of things to do to prepare.

But part of preparation should also include reflection on last year’s program. A question I’ve been asking a lot lately is “How do you know that your program is being effective?” At a personal level, the question is “How effective have you been?” 

Here’s a straightforward checklist of “Did I” questions that could help you reflect on last year and your work as a religious educator. (I have to confess I'm borrowing it from an article I saw in another magazine). It’s a tool that helps you review you. Each question should help you think about your efforts, consider how the year went, and give you the chance to say to yourself, “well done” and “need some work.” 

  • Did I pray for my students, my student’s families, my fellow teachers, my fellow parishioners, for our Church?
  • Did I strive to build meaningful relationships with my students and their families?
  • Did I communicate with the parents of my students, sharing with them the goals of the class, trying to offer ways to bring the lesson home?
  • Did I show my respect for my students by being as well prepared as I could be for every class meeting?
  • Did I keep the learning space inviting, colorful, showing off student work?
  • Did I observe the Feasts and Fasts of the Church in the classroom?
  • Did I spend time with other teachers and my priest, learning from one another?
  • Did I learn from my mistakes?
  • Did I have fun, enjoyed being a teacher?
  • Did I grow in my knowledge of the Orthodox Faith and the practice of its Way of Life?

Spend some time in prayerful self-reflection as part of your preparation. Look back before you look ahead.

Discussing Religious Difference

With the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Pope meeting in Jerusalem May 23-27, 2014  (for more information go to www.apostolicpilgrimage.org/ and blogs.goarch.org/), the issue of religious difference and dialogue will surely be on the minds of religious educators and youth ministers.

How should we deal the many topics that this event raises? For the purposes of discussion, and in the spirit of the meeting in Jerusalem, I’ll use the Roman Catholic Church as the example for discussing the issue with young people, but the principles should apply to discussing all sorts of religious difference.

First, remember the family context of the young people. Most likely, they live in religiously mixed households and families. The level of mixing could stagger you. One parent may still be Roman Catholic. If that parent has embraced Orthodox Christianity, that still means that one side of the family will be Roman Catholic – a set of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Other relatives may have married people from other Christian communities as well. This means that the tone of the discussion matters. Saying something harsh about Roman Catholics means saying something harsh about a beloved grandparent or other family member. As others have written, it’s very hard to disrespect another religion once you have family members who belong to it.

Remember the social context. Our young people live in religiously mixed neighborhoods and attend religiously mixed schools. Their friends, schoolmates, and teammates most likely belong to various religions. They may talk about their churches and places of worship, and their different religious traditions and stories. Once, I overheard a Jewish boy explaining a holiday to his Christian friends. The Christian boys started asking questions and comparing notes to Christian holidays. They all got their stories mixed up – the way nine-year-olds usually do – but these conversations are happening. Religious dialogue begins on the playground or in the carpool on the way to soccer practice!

This points to some principles to consider.

Form religious identity from the youngest age. The youngsters I overheard knew that they were Christians and Jews. They didn’t know too much or understand it very well, but they had a sense of their religious identities. They didn’t know too much about the other religions, which may be a good thing at that age. Exposing youngsters to too much difference too soon can be confusing. They don’t have the capacity to do too much comparative thinking. They can handle that not all people belong to the same religion or believe the same “things”. They can handle that we respect people of different religious beliefs, that they can be our friends and we can talk about our religious differences.

In the Orthodox context, emphasize that Orthodox and Christian go together for us and that ethnic identity may be a part of this, but that not all Orthodox Christians belong to your ethnic group. “Orthodox” helps us to understand what kind of Christians we are and that this is different from “Roman Catholic” Christians. Orthodox is the adjective before the noun. But we are both Christians.

Language and Information Matter. We should be careful about the language we use to talk about Roman Catholic Christians. We should present Roman Catholic Christianity in a way that Roman Catholics would present themselves; when we speak about Roman Catholics, we should do so in terms that a Roman Catholic would understand and accept as accurate. That means avoiding caricatures and stereotypes. That means avoiding out of date information. And that means, of course, avoiding derogatory terms.

With teens and adults, when religious identity is much more secure, honest comparisons are possible and very good learning experiences. This is a good time for engaging in religious dialogue at the parish level, visiting different religious communities, meeting and seriously talking about what is shared and what separates religious communities. Religious practices are very good discussion topics, since all religions teach about prayer; hold to religious disciplines like fasting; and promote philanthropy, charity, and social action. Doctrinal and dogmatic beliefs are also good conversation topics, but admittedly, these require more knowledge on the part of all involved, thus making them more difficult.

Avoid “relativism” and “triumphalism.” The conclusions of any encounter shouldn’t end with, “Religious difference doesn’t matter,” “It’s all the same,” or “Our Church is much better than their Church.” There are differences still between Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics. The questions become whether or not the differences are enough to keep us apart, and whether they are essential to Christian faith, as well as about where the areas of agreement exist between us, and about how can we work on the areas of disagreement. All religions can find flaws in how their adherents – specific individuals in different periods of history – have expressed and lived their faith and how they have treated those who are religiously “other.” Admittedly, this is a fine line to walk, but the spirit of the discussion – friendly, respectful, honest – is as important as the conversations that partners seek to study together.

His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in an address at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin said…..

The Importance of Interfaith Dialogue

We hear it stated often that our world is in crisis. Yet, never before in history have human beings had the opportunity to bring so many positive changes to so many people simply through encounter and dialogue. While it may be true that this is a time of crisis, it must equally be underlined that there has also never been greater tolerance for respective traditions, religious preferences and cultural peculiarities.

This does not mean that differences on the level of doctrine are insignificant or inconsequential; for, a difference on the level of doctrine leads to a different worldview and, accordingly, a different way of life. Accordingly, then, we do not approach dialogue in order to set our arguments against those of our opponents in the framework of conflict. We approach in a spirit of love, sincerity and honesty. In this respect, dialogue implies equality, which in turn implies humility. Honesty and humility dispel hostility and arrogance. Just how prepared are we in dialogue to respect others in dialogue? How willing are we to learn and to love? If we are neither prepared to receive nor willing to learn, then are we truly engaging in dialogue? Or are we actually conducting a monologue?

True dialogue is in fact a gift from God. According to St. John Chrysostom, fourth-century Archbishop of Constantinople, God is always in personal dialogue with human beings. God always speaks: through Prophets and Apostles, through saints and mystics, even through the natural creation itself; for, “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19.1). Dialogue is the most fundamental experience of life and most powerful means of communication. Dialogue promotes knowledge, abolishes fears and prejudice, and broadens horizons. Dialogue enriches; whoever refuses dialogue remains impoverished. Finally, dialogue seeks persuasion, not coercion. This is why interfaith dialogue is crucial.

Read the Entire Address -- http://www.patriarchate.org/documents/lublin

Short Overview: Orthodox/Catholic History

In this post, we’ll give a short overview of the history behind the meeting in May between Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. The history of the Orthodox/Roman Catholic relationship, the early years of Christianity, the Byzantine (Roman) Empire, and the Crusades is rich and complex, so we won’t delve into it here. For those interested in further study, we offer resources below. Please comment if you have a beloved book, article, or even podcast that will aid others in their understanding.

The Schism of 1054

“Like any empire, Byzantium had enemies, and it defended its territories with its army. In its thousand-year history, the empire expanded, shrank, and expanded again. Over time, the large empire began to show signs of disunity. Emperors had trouble protecting the western portion of the empire from enemies. In 800, Pope Leo crowned Charlemagne as emperor of the Romans, rejecting the authority of the (Byzantine) Roman emperor in the east.

Over the years, the bishops of Rome and Constantinople began to disagree on questions of authority, church organization, practices, and beliefs between East and West. The Pope wanted to be recognized as the supreme head of the Church. Although the other Patriarchs honored Rome as the city of Sts. Peter and Paul, they did not believe that the Pope should govern the entire Church.

These conflicts reached boiling point in the year 1054. At a meeting in Constantinople to discuss the problem, the representative of Pope Leo IX, Cardinal Humbert, excommunicated Ecumenical Patriarch Michael Keroularios. In turn, the Patriarch excommunicated the Cardinal” (Department of Religious Education, 2011, p. 16).

The Crusades

“In the eleventh century, the Roman Catholic Church and Western European rulers organized armies to recapture the Holy Lands from the Islamic armies that had conquered them centuries earlier. From 1095 to 1292, nine crusades were launched. The Fourth Crusade, which began in 1202, had a disastrous effect on Constantinople and the Orthodox Church. Instead of proceeding to Jerusalem, the crusaders attacked Constantinople. In 1204, they sacked the city, including the Church of Hagia Sophia. Many religious treasures were stolen. Today, many are in museums throughout Europe, especially in Venice” (Department of Religious Education, 2011, p. 17).

Meeting of January 1964

The meeting in 1964 between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I, of blessed memory, was the first time in over five hundred years that a pope and a patriarch had met face to face. This meeting resulted in the lifting of the anathemas of 1054 “from the memory and midst of the Church” (Joint Declaration, 1965). Additionally, Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I declared the hope that this dialogue, with God's help, “will lead to living together again, for the greater good of souls and the coming of the kingdom of God" (Joint Declaration, 1965).

2001 and 2004

Relics of St. Gregory the Theologian

Regarding the Crusades and the sacking of Constantinople, “Pope John Paul II asked for forgiveness for the Roman Church’s sins against the Eastern Churches, expressing his ‘pain and disgust’ at the events. In 2004 - the 800th anniversary of the Fourth Crusade - Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew accepted his apology for the Sack of Constantinople. He then asked the Pope to take another step forward: returning the relics of two Ecumenical Patriarchs, St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom, which had been stolen from their rightful place in Constantinople in 1204. The Pope gladly agreed, and the Ecumenical Patriarch accompanied the relics home on November 27, 2004, which we now celebrate as a feast day” (Department of Religious Education, 2011, p. 17).

May 2014

Fifty years after the meeting in 1964, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will meet in Jerusalem to commemorate the anniversary of the 1964 meeting and “further the relations between the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches” (Ecumenical Patriarchate, 2014). His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew stated, “may it be in Jerusalem again where the light of peace, mutual trust, and brotherly love shines brightly, for the sake of our two Churches and the sake of the whole world” (Ecumenical Patriarchate, 2014).

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