I’ve spent the last few days putting the Parish Sunday School curriculum together. As is often the case, every three or four years, I am returning to a back to basics approach in the parish that emphasizes the fundamental kerygma and its message of sin, redemption and grace. Perhaps a little background:
About eight years ago I was speaking to sixth grade Sunday School students and I mentioned Adam and Eve. It became evident to me within a few moments that they didn’t really know who Adam and Eve were. One of the students was able to say that he thought they were in the Bible or something, but no details could be given.
It became clear to me in that moment that we could no longer do business as usual when it came to catechesis. Luckily my Director of Religious Education had similar concerns and did not resist my notions that we had to try something radically new.
That “something new” was really “something old” and amounted to a back to basics approach which taught of sin, redemption and grace, in that order.
Clearly if God’s people have lost touch with the awful disaster of Original Sin and all our personal sins, the gift of redemption and the glory of grace are under-appreciated and and even dismissed as of no value. Further, how can someone experience Jesus as their Savior if they don’t even think or know that they need to be saved?
So we have to go back to basics and tell the “old, old stories” again of mankind lost in sin, living in the dark shadows of death and ensnared in the mystery iniquity. Yes, It was time to re-read the Genesis account of Original Sin and all the old stories.
We have also developed a “whole family catechesis” approach wherein every grade level is on the same subject and are reading the same Bible stories and following the same curriculum. And while the kids are in Sunday School class, I am out in the cafeteria teaching the parents the same material.
I teach the parents both method and material. For material we use the old Classic My Catholic Faith which provides a great summary and curriculum of the faith in a kind of flyer format that is both handy and properly detailed.
But in each session we also read a Bible Story. One of the great losses in modern times is the loss of story-telling. And the Bible has great stories.
Standing instruction # 1 for the parents is “READ THE BIBLE TO YOUR CHILDREN.” Every day if possible! And I model that with the parents. In each class we spend the first 20 minutes reading a Bible story, usually from the Catholic Children’s Bible which does a good job presenting the whole Bible in story form. And, having read a story (e.g. of the tower of Babel) we discuss its teaching and I link it to the catechetical material specified in the curriculum.
In modelling this, I hope to show how they can do the same with their children at home. Bible Stories are both memorable, and teach fundamental truths in ways that reach deeper than merely the intellect. They touch the heart and draw the children into the world and mind of God.
Bible Stories don’t just teach they imbue. To “imbue” means to inspire or permeate with a feeling or quality; to saturate, suffuse, or steep one in what is taught or presented.
Thus Bible Stories are essential if we want to communicate the culture and world of the Bible to our children and help them make sense of our glorious faith.
The back to basics approach is broken into three main sections, based on the words of an old hymn:
I once was lost in sin, but Jesus took me in, and then a little light from heaven filled my soul!
Part 1 (Sept to January) – SIN – I once was lost in sin – Here we start with the story of Original Sin and read the early chapter that show how God made all things to be very good, But in Original Sin and all the other sins committed and described in the early chapters of Genesis, both creation and man were devastated. Sin and our conniving with the devil is responsible most of the suffering in the world. Through Bible stories and about forty pages of the “My Catholic Faith” catechism we learn of sin’s devastating effects We distinguish Original Sin, Actual sin, mortal and venial sin, the seven deadly sins and so forth. In so doing we paint of picture of how we were lost in Sin.
Part 2 (From Pre-Lent through early Easter) – Redemption – but Jesus took me in. Having welcomed Jesus as savior of the world at Christmas we now look to the paschal mystery wherein Jesus undertakes to save us from our wretched condition. Here too we read Bible stories and connect to the elements of Jesus ministry to heal us, drive out demons and ultimately to take the hill of Calvary engage Satan in battle, suffer die, rise and ascend for us. The goal here is gratitude more than information. We strive to “remember,” that is, to have so present in our mind and heart what Jesus has done for us so that we are grateful and different.
Part 3 – (Early Easter through Pentecost). – Grace– And then a little light from heaven filled my soul! In saving us, Jesus gives us a new mind and heart, a whole new life. The graces of the Christian life are explored: Faith, Hope, Charity, patience, joy, chastity, forgiveness, mercy, and so many other virtues and gifts. We reflect on the whole new Life Jesus has given us and encourage testimony about the transformation brought about by God’s grace working through Scripture, Sacraments, fellowship and prayer. If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation.
Its a back to basics approach rooted in the basic kerygma and meant to draw people into the great drama of life: sin, redemption, grace.
Pray for our Sunday School. This evening I spend a couple of hours reviewing the first section of our curriculum with our teachers. In effect I teach the teachers.
Back to basics! Parents, are you reading bible stories to your children? How are you growing in your own faith? And don’t be anxious. The basic curriculum is not that hard. Its easily memorized in the words of the old song
I once was lost in Sin
But Jesus took me in.
And then a little light from heaven filled my soul!
Sin, redemption, grace. Keep it simple, don’t complicate it. Details can come later after the mastery of the basic elements. In two weeks I will scan the curriculum and post it on my Parish Website.
But don’t wait. Get a children’s Bible and start reading the Genesis stories to your kids (and to yourself)!
Here’s a kind of jazzed up version of the Hymn I reference. Looks like it was filmed in the 1970s so take that into consideration 🙂