Saturday, December 10, 2005
Felt-board Sunday school lessons in the news.
Sunday school for infants! Today's New York Times highlights the work of Episcopal curriculum developer Gretchen Wolff Pritchard in a story about the Church of the Advent's Sunday school class for children under 3. The Rev. Patrick Gray, one of the priests at the Anglo-Catholic church on Beacon Hill, started leading a class using Pritchard's Beulah Land felt-board stories as a way to reach out to new parents:
"When you have kids you start thinking about church again," he said. "I was thinking, What's going to make it easy to come to church? Why not have what they're used to? What they're used to is story time at the public library, where you sing a couple of songs, tell a story, sing some more and play with blocks."
A round of applause for male clergy diving right in to Sunday school!
What's amusing about the story — and the earlier story in the Boston Globe that seems to have inspired it — is that all the other adults, perhaps including the reporter, spend a lot of time wondering how the class directly impacts the children. Do they understand the Bible stories? Does any of it sink in? What do the experts think? Gray himself gets it: Church becomes part of the child's experience because it becomes part of the parents' experience. Most of the education taking place is of course directed to the parents, who are learning how to pray with their children and bring the Bible stories into their children's lives. And yet we must interview a professor of early childhood development about the cognitive abilities of toddlers.
Pritchard, whose work Mrs Philocrites greatly admires, has developed an extraordinary variety of Anglican materials for children with Beulah Enterprises. She tells the Times that she hadn't yet developed materials for children so young, but will soon.
Large (and perhaps mid-size) Unitarian Universalist congregations developing their own innovative curricula should take note: The Church of St Paul and St James in New Haven, Conn., is developing, producing, and selling high-quality curricula to other congregations. I don't know any religious education directors who have a lot of time on their hands to transform the inventive work they're doing locally into an outreach campaign to other congregations — but some visionary partnerships between ministers, educators, church members, and donors could set up a production and distribution channel to turn creative work into material other educators will jump at. In UU circles, this would probably require partnerships between a few congregations, but sooner or later we're going to have to find ways to set up these entrepreneurial partnerships. (All part of what Clyde Grubbs recently described as decentralized distribution networks.)
"Spirit Play," the UU adaptation of Jerome Berryman's "Godly Play" program, is one such curriculum. I'd love to learn about other programs UU educators are sharing with each other — I confess to knowing too little about what's current in UU religious education — so please hawk your wares (or promote your favorites) in the comments below!
Media angle: Boston Globe "Spiritual Life" columnist Rich Barlow profiled the Church of the Advent program on November 19. The Globe is owned by the New York Times Co. Granted, it's a nice little story — but surely there are innovative and fun Sunday school programs to profile in New York City. I won't complain too loudly, though: I was in Philadelphia when Barlow's column ran, and would have missed it if the Times hadn't, um, been inspired by it.
Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 10 December 2005 at 8:57 AM