Restart the journey of religious education in your parish. The word education derives from terms meaning “to lead forth.” In Greek, the word pedagogy has the root, ago and agoge, which means to lead, to bring, to carry (ped- refers to children). The journey is the curriculum, a term that means the course, like the racecourse. The curriculum is the series of experiences that comprise the journey and lead to learning. The textbooks we use, the videos we watch are not the curriculum. They are the resources that support the experiences that lead to learning. Learning happens through the experiences that engage the student with the topic being studied.
When we consider religious education this way, we must confess that too much of what passed for religious education during the pandemic was religious entertainment.
What’s the difference between religious education and religious entertainment? Entertainment tends to be a “one off” event. It brings people together for a short time. Entertainment can be fun, with a good speaker, even informative, but there’s no follow-up study or the resources needed for learning. There are few expectations.
Education, to be meaningful and long-lasting, needs the focus of a good topic of study, the necessary resources to study the topic, and the sustained interaction between teachers and students for conversation and activity with the topic. There also needs to be an expected outcome of learning. Like any journey, education takes time.
As we begin the return to in-person ministry, especially parish religious education ministry, we must attend to the process of education, the steady engagement and interaction that is needed to hand forward the Orthodox Christian faith and way of life to another person.
Planning is an essential step. First, look at a calendar. Note the important dates, when will the program start, stop, take a break for a holiday (Christmas is a Saturday this year; Pascha is April 24, 2022), etc.? Second, which groups will be in-person the entire time? A reasonable approach could be to assume that younger students and grades will meet in-person all the time. Older grades (junior high and high school) could meet in a mix of on-line sessions and with once a month in-person. But, most likely an on-line session would not meet on Sunday morning (maybe later in the day). Why this arrangement? Anecdotally, it seems that younger grade attendance on-line declined rapidly, while older grade attendance on-line was greater than when the program was in-person.
Third, select resources that meet the schedule, the students, the grades, the classes. Think in terms of units or “chunks” of learning. Most Sunday Church school resources produced by the Archdiocese of America are divided into units of study. This can accommodate the “start, stop” needs of programs. It also creates a rhythm of telling parents and students what to expect and a rhythm of invitation to return to the program. We must expect that the return to in-person programs may be slow, after the disruption of the pandemic.
Fourth, make the in-person gatherings good experiences for the participants. That too requires planning (but we can save that for another time).
There are many resources available to assist in teaching the faith. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Department of Religious Education has developed many for parish use. You can find them on Orthodox Marketplace (orthodoxmarketplace.com). The Orthodox Christian Education Commission (http://orthodoxchristianed.com/) also has resources that can assist. They range from textbooks to supplemental works that can assist a teacher.