Thank a Sunday School Teacher

By Mary Ann Weber

When teaching middler Sunday school a few years ago, I decided to have the class do a few activities to give them an idea of how Abraham and Sarah lived. First, we made fry bread. We mixed flour and water and a few other ingredients and made dough that we flattened and fried. It was a hit because the children were learning to cook simple meals at home, plus they wanted to eat the fry bread.

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Second, we used blankets and chairs and made a tent. It was a sorry-looking tent and I’m sure it was nothing like the tent in which Abraham and Sarah lived. But when we got inside the tent it gave the children a good idea that Abraham and Sarah did not live in houses made of wood and stone.

Third, we built an altar. I gathered field stones that surround the flower gardens at my house, placed them into buckets, and hauled them to church. It was heavy work but I knew the children would enjoy building with the stones. I was right. They crafted a lovely and sturdy altar next to the tent.

I left the altar and began walking to the next activity but soon noticed that I was alone. I looked behind me and, to my surprise, the children were kneeling around the altar! Their eyes were closed, their lips were moving, and their hands were folded in prayer.

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(From www.publicdomainpictures.net)

My preparation for that Sunday school session included retelling a story about familiar Old Testament characters and preparing activities to go along with the story. I informed the children, but I forgot about faith forming in their lives. Fortunately, the Sunday school class hadn’t forgotten—they knew what an altar was and they wanted their moment with God.

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Teaching Sunday school takes dedication. Finding resources that take information to the next level and allow formation are key. So are finding resources that fit the theological framework of the congregation and denomination. Other considerations include the right mix of learning and fun, the learning styles of the class members, how easy the materials are to use, among other things.

Two evaluation tools, MennoLens http://www.faithandliferesources.org/Curriculum/MennoLens1.pdf  and MennoLens2 http://www.faithandliferesources.org/Curriculum/MennoLens2.pdf,  help congregations choose materials based on Anabaptist Mennonite perspectives.

Teaching Sunday school is no small task. Find a Sunday school teacher this week and give the teacher a big thank-you. Hats off to Sunday school teachers everywhere!

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The main Sunday school materials we have for children are published with Church of the Brethren and are called Gather ‘Round. A new curriculum to follow Gather ‘Round is Shine, well into planning and writing,  to launch fall of 2014.

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Mary Ann Weber
Curriculum editor

How do you raise almost a half million dollars?

When I was hired as director of development for MennoMedia more than a year ago, one of my primary responsibilities was to raise $400,000 over four years for “new curriculum development.” At the time, I remember thinking that this seemed reasonable since Mennonite Church USA had recently raised more than $5M for a new office in Elkhart, Ind., and in the early 2000s Mennonite Publishing House had raised more than $5M to retire its debt. I recently became aware of a United Methodist church in my home town that raised $250k, with an expectation of raising another $500k, to renovate its stained glass windows. If one congregation can raise three-quarters of a million dollars for its stained glass windows, then surely more than 1,200 Mennonite congregations in the U.S. and Canada could raise $400k to help pass along their Christian faith, with a distinct Anabaptist flavor, to their children.

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Many teachers appreciate MennoMedia’s present Gather ‘Round curriculum, which is approaching its final year of an eight-year cycle. One Sunday school teacher in Ontario said of Gather ‘Round, “I’ve taught grades 3‑5 and junior youth. I loved the biblical insight for teachers, the variety of activities offered, and the opening suggestions. The student books also have a great variety of activities, with a mix of historical or current information to geographical and cultural information. I found the kids like reading it and doing the puzzles and other activities.”

Although not an easy task in these challenging economic times, I think MennoMedia will be successful in raising the money needed to produce a new Anabaptist children’s Sunday school curriculum. We are a small agency in a small denomination and lack the financial reserves needed to hire writers, illustrators and project managers needed to produce a quality Sunday school curriculum. Therefore, we need to raise $400k in production costs ahead of sales.

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Our strategy has been to reach out to the churches who are the biggest users of the current Sunday school curriculum, Gather ‘Round. To that end I identified the top 50 users of the curriculum in the U.S. and the top 33 in Canada and embarked on a campaign to make a personal visit and campaign appeal to each of these churches. I’ve visited 45 of the top 50 churches in the U.S. and 19 of the top 33 churches in Canada. As a result, we have raised more than $103,000 in gifts and pledges over four years from churches and individuals, including pledges from MennoMedia employees and MennoMedia board members. That figure includes a $10k gift from Mennonite Church Canada and the promise of an offering, which will be designated for new curriculum development, to be taken during an evening worship service at Mennonite Church USA’s biennial assembly in Phoenix this July.

We now have a name, logo and know many details about this new curriculum, which will be available for use in the fall of 2014. It will be Bible story-centered with an emphasis on distinct Anabaptist theological convictions, such as peace, simple living, and intentionally following the way of Jesus. The materials will tell the biblical story and spend significant time with Jesus’ life, ministry, and teachings. It has lofty goals that we know are attainable, which have that “little extra” that makes them distinctive:

• Attend to spiritual practices and spiritual life.
• Build on the faith of young children and call children to intentionally follow the way of Jesus.
• Include stories from Anabaptist history and examples of contemporary persons of faith.
• Emphasize community and relationships.
• Emphasize seeking justice and wholeness for humanity and all of creation.
• Emphasize stewardship, service, mission, and simple living in response to God’s generosity.
• Emphasize peace, reconciliation, and nonviolence.
• Be sensitive to diversity, including socio-economic and racial diversity.

When you really think about these goals and our children, it is not hard to get excited about this new curriculum, which is called Shine: Living in God’s Light. It will serve children age 3 through 8th grade. It will be based on Bible stories and cover most of the canon in three years. There will be music CDs with songs to accompany the sessions, one for young children and another for kindergarten through 8th grade. Shine will not have a senior high youth component but other materials will be available for use with senior high school students.

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If you recognize the importance of having an Anabaptist-specific Sunday school curriculum, then I encourage you to support this effort financially. We still need nearly $300k to make the plan for a new Anabaptist specific curriculum a reality. Thank you for your interest in passing on Anabaptist faith to the next generation.

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Steve Carpenter
Director of Development

Your financial support for new curriculum development is much needed and greatly appreciated. Our online giving software does not currently give us the ability to designate donations, except in general for MennoMedia. So, if you want to give specifically to “new curriculum development” send your checks to:

Mennonite Church Canada, 600 Shaftesbury Blvd., Winnipeg, MB R3P 0M4, Canada (designated for MennoMedia/New Curriculum)

or

MennoMedia, 1251 Virginia Ave., Harrisonburg, VA 22802 (designated for MennoMedia/New Curriculum).

And if you want to keep up to date on all the latest Shine news as the curriculum is developed (and all of the latest happenings at MennoMedia, subscribe to this blog right here on the home page) and share with friends. That’s another way to help!

It’s All Good

By Rose Stutzman

The light was good,
The sky was good,
Even the clouds in the sky were good.
It’s all good, so let’s do what we should ,
Caring for God’s green earth!

These words are from Together, this summer’s Multiage student book. The poem echoes the repeated words throughout Genesis 1: “And God saw that it was good.” At the fullness of creation, God pronounces the world not only good, but VERY GOOD.

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Children today are in danger of Nature Deficit Disorder. It’s a term from Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods, a 2005 title. The term is not found in medical manuals for   mental disorders (nor should it be). However, it describes a lot that is heading in the wrong direction among our children: more screen time than time spent playing outdoors, fewer opportunities to roam in nature, and sports teams for elementary children taking more time than imaginative play in the backyard.

What might be the effects of limited exposure to the world of creation? How might it affect children’s sense of awe and their attitudes toward the natural world? Does it affect their emotions and physical health?

It makes good sense that limited exposure to the outdoors would affect children’s sense of wonder. How can children say, “I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1) if their eyes are ever turned downward and hardly ever turned toward the heavens. It makes good sense that lack of experience in nature will lead to lack of respect for the beautiful world that God created—a world where all parts interact to make the whole. In addition, children who sit indoors rather than running, riding bike, and playing in the sunshine (or rain) can have compromised physical health. Being outdoors can calm us and give life in times of sadness, so we can only imagine the buildup of tension and despair for children who do not experience God’s world.

I asked my son-in-law what his hopes were for their unborn child. “I don’t want him to just be watching video games. I grew up playing informal soccer games in an open lot. I played in the corral with the sheep. I helped care for and rode horses. We carried around young chicks and made pets of them. I want to take my son hiking and go on walks with the dogs.”

Even in the city children can plant things, use city parks, and interact with pets. Much depends on the priorities of parents. But, perhaps, we should consider that much may also depend on the church. Could an adult hiking group within the congregation plan a hike with the children in mind and invite young families? Could those who bike to work plan a biking event that includes the children? Could children’s time at church become a time to tell about bird watching experiences; experiences of looking at the stars; holding baby chicks? Could the children plant flowers at church and help care for them each week There is no better time to start than by using this summer’s Sunday school materials from Gather ’Round.

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This summer’s Gather ’Round Sunday school materials are coordinated with summer worship materials from Leader. At my own congregation we have plans for the children to be with the adults for at least half of the worship time then they will do activities in rotation. Adult leaders will plan a nature activity that is done once with older elementary and once with younger elementary children on separate Sundays. Sometimes we plan to have the whole church do something together in an outdoor setting. Plans so far include nature walks; an animal game, nature related crafts, time with a birder, a service at nearby park, and kids helping to harvest, potatoes, onions, and garlic that they will then sell to raise money for alleviating world hunger. We plan to memorize Psalm 121 together and hear the stories of a couple who has followed the walking paths of another country. We’ve even dreamed of a morning where we dress up as various insects and learn what insects do to help the earth.

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I hope no congregations cancel summer Sunday school this year. I also hope that it won’t be Sunday school as usual. Instead, I hope congregations find many opportunities to open children’s hearts to the awe and beauty of the world God created. I can’t help but think that a church that cares about introducing children to the wonder of God’s world will also be inviting to young parents who hope to find a way to resist the encroaching appeal of screen time.

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An appreciation for God’s world starts at a young age and continues as they grow.

The rest of the poem with which I began this post goes like this:

The water was good,
The earth was good,
Even the sun and the moon were good.
It’s all good, so let’s do what we should,
Caring for God’s green earth!

The fish were good,
The birds were good,
Even the mosquito and the wolf were good,
It’s all good, so let’s do what we should,
Caring for God’s green earth!

I am good, and you are good,
Even the bully in my school could be good.
Made by God to love, work, and play
On God’s green earth!

-From Together, Multiage, Summer 2013; Gather ’Round: Hearing and Sharing God’s Good News published by Brethren Press and MennoMedia.

I’d love to hear about the “God’s world” activities that you do in your congregation this summer. E-mail your great plans or photos of your activities to RoseS@mennomedia.org.

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Rose Stutzman with granddaughter Elena

Rose Stutzman
Shine project director (and former Gather’Round curriculum editor)