The Story … As Told Through the Christian Calendar

The Christian calendar tells the story of God and His people by dividing the year into two major segments, each lasting approximately six months. The first part tells the story of Jesus – beginning in Advent with the anticipation of His birth and stretching all the way to Pentecost with the sending of the Holy Spirit.

Following in this great tradition, we too are re-telling the story of Jesus. As we enter into this great drama of God’s redemption, may we hear it again, fresh and new, and find ourselves to be more than hearers – that we might discover ourselves to be participants, because Jesus’ story has become our own.

Video from Christ Church Anglican


March in the Level II Atrium

Parents of Level II Atrium students,

CGS LogoBy now, your student has probably brought home a wall hanging depicting the five Kingdom Parables they have studied. In our synopses and discussions of these parables, we discovered the qualities of beauty, growth, and transformation in God’s Kingdom. Ask them to tell you about the parables–I think they’ll be happy to share what they’ve pondered on in the atrium!

Following the liturgical calendar, we’ll be, of course, examining the Pascal narratives this month. The children listened carefully to the story of the Wolf and the Hireling on Sunday, and they had lots of opinions about the behavior of the hired hand. They drew conclusions beautifully about the Good Shepherd giving his life for the sheep; they talked about the wolf and the differences between Satan and evil. We were all saddened to discuss that we, as humans, have evil within us, and we talked about how to make that evil as small as we can.

They’ll revisit the Cenacle and hear about the Last Supper, and they’ll look at a map of Jerusalem and identify important places pertinent to Holy Week. The week after Easter Sunday, we’ll read the scriptures telling of the empty tomb, and remind ourselves that Easter is not just one Sunday, but seven!

Shelley Lowe

Charissa Christopher

This Month in the Level II Atrium

Parents of Level II Atrium students,CGS Logo

My apologies for not getting a January note to you…I think I may have catching up on sleep missed during the Christmas season!

Your children continued to learn about Jesus as an infant with presentations of The Adoration of the Magi and The Presentation in the Temple. They had very mixed reactions to the smells of frankincense and myrrh! We had a very interesting conversation about the presumed magical abilities of the Magi, after we established that these three kings were not lizards. (Charissa and I were working very hard not to giggle that day!) I feel certain that they have the facts all straightened out now!

The story of Jesus’s presentation at the temple was not as well known to the children, and they had lots of questions about the legal practices of presenting one’s firstborn son in biblical times.  Since then, we have been talking about the parables Jesus told about the Kingdom of God: the Mustard Seed, the Merchant and the Pearl, the Growing Seed, the Leaven, and the Hidden Treasure. On the 21st of February, we’ll finish up with a synthesis of all five parables. The 28th will be a free work day, where the students can finish up any art works they may have started, or have some time to contemplate the works they want to revisit.

They have a new classmate! Aiden, who is Sara and Tom Ward’s grandson, has joined us in the Level II Atrium. We are delighted to have him.  They are still a singing bunch of kids…one day, after a presentation, they were all over the atrium: one at the altar, one tracing a picture from the parable, one placing flags in the map of Israel, two working on the books of the Bible, and one child began singing a song we had learned at Christmas, just softly (in an atrium voice), and the others joined in, still working independently. The atrium is indeed a place of prayer–individual AND communal. Praise be to God!

“Go make disciples… teach them all that I have taught you!”

A Child's HeartHave you ever stopped to consider what an amazing responsibility the Great Commission is?  Jesus is asking us to teach “all that He has taught.” How do we do this with children?

Children need to be formed in the richness of the faith even at the youngest age.  The fact that they have been baptized they have the grace receptors they need to respond to and listen to God.

Jesus’ parting words to His apostles became His “Great Commission” to the Church.

All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age. (Mat 28:18-20)

So Christianity’s center is Christ. His every action, His every thought, word and deed become sacramental graces for the Church to live into and usher the whole world into.

As Christian’s it’s important how we understand the nature of childhood.  This becomes the foundation to build our catechesis upon.  The Christian view of the human person is vastly different in many ways from modern day anthropology. Most approaches to teaching children see them as being “empty,” like an empty container and the task of the teacher is to “fill them up with knowledge.”

Of course we bring to children the wealth of the Church’s treasury of knowledge and truth. This is a given.  In age appropriate stages they can dive into all of this. But the Church should not see children as being “empty.” St. Paul tells us that the baptized are “earthen vessels” full of grace. This means the soul is where the “transcendent power of God” is discovered.  (2 Cor 4:7) Children have sanctifying grace, they are filled with the Holy Spirit.  Their life of grace is “confirmed” and empowered later in the sacrament of Confirmation.

Listen to Holy Scripture:

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1Co 3:16)

“By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His own Spirit.” (1Jo 4:13)

“When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come.” (Joh 16:13)

This indwelling of the Holy Spirit is foundational for the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.  The Holy Spirit teaches by guiding and opens the soul of the child to God’s presence.  The catechist listens to this dialogue between child and God and invites the child to discover the movements and love of God for them.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly!  (Col 3:16)

What we do in catechesis is strengthen the child’s soul much like a muscle is straightened. (Eph 3:16 and Heb 4:12)

The presentation of a biblical story and addressing the sacred items of worship and liturgical actions are but examples of how the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd draws the child deeper into their faith.

Sofia Cavalletti uses the image of a pebble entering into water.  We see from this illustration of simple beginnings stir the Word move within us.  Consider the pebble.  When the pebble enters the water it sends ripples across the water’s surface while entering it’s depths. First small ripples, but they increase in size and influence as the pebble penetrates the water.  Jesus’ presence begins with the simple gesture of water and prayer. In time Jesus sounds out through our whole being. He penetrates our soul through the Holy Spirit in deeper and deeper relationship.

In the atrium Jesus is acknowledged and encountered.  The atrium has dedicated catechists who themselves are renewing always their faith in God. Children need continuity in the atrium and need to be present. Remember God is searching for us!  God always takes the first steps, and draws near to the child in the atrium.

Over time the two parts of the Holy Eucharist are assembled in the child’s life.  First, the child learns how to listen with God at the “table of the Word” which is the Holy Bible. As they engage the biblical stories there is forming within them a theology of faith. For example they learn how God is the Good Shepherd and they are one of His sheep. This prepares them to listen with God at the “table of the Eucharist.” This “table” is the Altar in the sanctuary.  They learn to listen here through the sacred items and prayers and movements of the mass how God feeds His sheep.

From both parts of the Holy Eucharist children hunger to receive Jesus who loves them, and will come and make His home with them. (Joh 14:23)

The Great Commission calls us to catechize in ways that invite our children become God’s very “habitat” where He dwells “richly.”

Simplicity and Essentiality. The Liturgy and the art of catechesis with Children.

Atrium 2014 017This blog continues our reflection on the methods and ideas of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. The Eucharistic service in the Book of Common Prayer has a central and meaningful place in the Atrium.

The word “liturgy” has it’s roots in secular classical Greek. It meant a “public work” that was undertaken on behalf of the “people or community.”  When we look in the Bible in the Old Testament the word “liturgy” refers to the divine worship and ministry of the Levite priesthood. In the New Testament, in the Letter to the Hebrews, for example, it referred to the priestly work of Jesus Christ. St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans refers to his own priestly ministry among the Gentiles in this same way, as a priestly service.

For the early Christians they used the word “liturgy” to illustrate their belief that the worship of God in Christ was done for the benefit of all people and the world. Liturgy for them meant primarily the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.  The Mass was the Lord’s way of bringing His passion and cross to bear upon every generation.  Jesus becomes our food and our life.  When the Church celebrates the Holy Eucharist she fully becomes the body of Christ.

In his book, “For the Life of the World”, Fr. Alexander Schmemann explains the Eucharistic liturgy in this way.  He writes that by means of the Eucharistic “leitourgia” the baptized “become something corporately which they had not been as a mere collection of individuals, [leitourgia makes] the whole greater than the sum of it’s parts.”  (p 25).

Liturgy allows us to become the Church in the world.  The Church gathered at Eucharist become the chosen instrument of God’s grace and purpose, acting after the fashion of Christ. This worship enables the Church to become God’s sacrament in the world.  The language of the liturgy helps to unfold the living reality of the new era of Christ’s victory into our day and time.  The Holy Eucharist, in its entirety, from beginning to end, is God’s “epiklesis,” that is, His “coming down” of the Holy Spirit to bless and sanctify.

Children and the Liturgy

So, what is this blog addressing with regard to children?  First we are acknowledging that children truly experience God through the liturgy in beautiful ways. They experience the sacramental reality of Christ.  The second is that this capacity is due in part to children’s ability to make sense of the simplicity and essentiality of liturgy and faith. When children experience God in this way they are being catechizing at the deepest levels where the soul can connect to God.  Children discover that God builds a lifelong relationship with them through the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church.

Our Anglican liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer provides this organic catechesis for our children.  This is one reason why the Eucharistic liturgy plays such an important role in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

When working with children it’s important for the catechist to stay focused on the simplicity and essentials of the liturgy.  This clarity of focus requires demanding preparation on the part of the catechist.  It’s so easy to “talk over the heads” of children (and adults) or to “dumb things down.”  To avoid this the catechist must maintain clarity.  Otherwise essentials can be lost in secondary actions and words.

Sofia Cavalletti writes, “I want to affirm the conviction that simplicity is found in the elementary and that the greatest of realities are simple and essential. Simplicity and essentiality are inseparable and are characteristic of what is most profound. Is there anything simpler, more essential, than a morsel of bread, a few drops of wine? And yet, it is by means of these that the Christian community lives its greatest realities. It is through simplicity that we attain profundity.

If we were to focus on the fundamental elements of the liturgy and to contemplate them in themselves without allowing ourselves to be distracted by peripheral matters, then they would disclose to us unfathomable depths capable of nourishing our Christian life with the most nutritious food.  These basic elements contain within themselves something like a highly concentrated light, capable of illuminating the Christian mystery in its depth and breadth. Sometimes, though, the genuine concern for knowledge can degenerate into intellectualism and obscure this light.”  —  Sofia Cavalletti, from her Introduction for “The History of the Kingdom of God, Part II: Liturgy and the Building of the Kingdom.”

Pentecost and Catechesis

Atrium 2014 001The Feast of Pentecost is Sunday, May 24th.  It’s one of seven Principle Feasts of the Church and it brings to a close the Great Fifty Days of Easter.  It’s a day when baptisms and confirmations are most appropriate.  This Jewish feast for centuries celebrated the Jew’s birth as God’s Chosen People and the giving of the Law to Moses at Sinai. This ancient Feast reached it’s fruition when the Father, through the Son, poured the Holy Spirit on Mary and the apostles and through them on the Church in every age.

The gift of baptism gives a child a profound familiarity with the Holy Spirit.  The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is “Christocentric” and “Trinitarian.”  It’s structured to open windows for children to encounter the work of the Spirit in their spiritual formation.  Children discover that their heavenly Father sends to them the gift of Christ’s presence.  The Father is always sending today “messengers” just as He did at the Annunciation.

Children connect to the Holy Spirit through the historical life of Jesus.  They see how the Spirit was with Jesus when He was born and was raised from the dead.  They discover the Spirit at work in the celebrations of the Church and learn to listen with their heart to the sacramental words and the liturgical actions.  This shows the children how the Holy Spirit worked in the person of Jesus Christ Himself and in His ministry and how the Spirit continues to work within the Church today and in their lives.

The Feast of the Ascension

The Feast of the Ascension of our Lord into Heaven was May 14, 2015.  It comes during the 6th week of the “Great 50 Days,” being 40 days after Easter Morning.  We find this historical event recorded in Mark 16:19, Luke 24:50-53 and Acts of the Apostles 1:6-11.

On this day Jesus’ bodily entry into Heaven. This means that He took human nature into heavenly glory. This means that our Lord has taken into the glory of the Godhead our wounded redeemed human nature.  So now, as we live in this world “dimly” (1 Cor 13:12) we know that this heavenly tie with the ascended Jesus allows us to live by grace that can move us from the inclination toward evil and darkness and into the mind of Christ. (Eph 5)

So at the Ascension all of creation has entered into “the last hour.”  We live now on the “final age of the world” or as some have termed “the last day.”  This is a primary teaching from Paul’s letter to the Romans.  What this means is that the renewal of the world is irrevocably under way.  This renewal and new creation is even now anticipated in a certain real way, for the Church on earth is endowed already with a sanctity that is real but imperfect. Christ’s kingdom already manifests its presence through the sacramental life and miraculous signs.This helps us develop the right habits that move toward the good.

So we read of this historic moment…

… and lifting His hands He blessed them. While blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into Heaven. And the eleven apostles returned to Jerusalem with great joy. … (Lk 24:51-52).

His physical departure makes way for His promised gift of the Holy Spirit.  By means of the Holy Spirit Jesus remains “manifested” with the Church throughout her earthly ministry (Jn 14:18-19). This gift of the Spirit also enables the Church to be a faithful witness to the ends of earth (Lk 24:48-53; Acts 1:8-11; Mt 28:20; Mk 16:16-14).

So Jesus ascended into Heaven. He is glorified with the Father and He glorifies us along with Himself (Jn 17).  But His Kingdom which is operating in His Church is slowly bringing to fruition the fullness of the Kingdom and our Lord’s return.

Jesus has “prepared a place” for us!  That place is before the blessedness of God s presence. That “place” is in the Church now as we live before the Eucharistic Lord. That “place” shall also be our heavenly home.  He is our “way, our truth, and our life.”  Jesus is “… Light to enlighten the Gentiles, and glory for the people Israel.” (Lk 2:32)  He brings salvation for all who choose His way, His truth, and His life.  (Matt 7:14)  Amen.

Let us pray,

… Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that He might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to His promise, He abides with His Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen  (BCP 226)

It’s Him! It’s Him!

Maria Montessori, in her book “Spontaneous Activity in Education” tells of an account of Vladimir Ghidionescu, PhD that he shared at the International Congress of Pedagogy in Brussels in 1911.  He toldIMG_2092 the story of a young child who had not received the benefit of any religious formation.  One day he broke into tears.  He cried, “Do not scold me, while I was looking at the moon I felt how often I had grieved You, and I understood that I had offended God.”  Maria Montessori has many examples similar to this one.  She tells of a seven year old boy who also had no religious formation.  He was taught the theory of evolution according to Charles Darwin and others.  One day, he asked, “from whom did the first creature come from?”  “The first,” a friend responded, “was formed by chance.”  Upon hearing this the boy laughed and calling his mother, he said, “Just listen!  What nonsense!  Life was formed by chance!  That is impossible.”  When his mother asked him to explain his comments, he said that life was formed “by God.”

Another beautiful story is told by Montessori of a three year old girl who again grew up with no religious formation. Even her grandmother was an atheist.  This girl had no contact with Christian instruction.  One day she asked her dad about the origin of the world.  And her father explains in Darwinian terms about the origin of the world.  But the father does add the comment, “However, there are those who say that all of this comes from a very powerful being, and they like to call Him God.”  Upon hearing this, she runs around the room in great joy shouting out, “I knew what you told me wasn’t true; it’s Him, it’s Him!

These examples teach us that before the intellect develops there exists already a relationship between the child and God.  This relationship is more deeply rooted than in the intellect alone.  Children have a knowledge of mystery that is natural and it recognizes God.  They have a capacity to penetrate effortlessly beyond the veil of signs and symbols to where there are no barriers between the visible and the invisible.

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a Montessori structured program of Christian formation, that we use at St. John’s nurtures and helps the child to grow in grace with God, who is love.  The program opens “windows” so children may encounter God in authentic and life-giving ways.  This type of spiritual formation will stay with them their whole life long.

Christian Formation for Children

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is the Christian formation program that is used at St. John’s for our children ages 3-12. It follows the educational principles of Maria Montessori. The children gather in an “atrium”, which is a special room prepared for them, which has beautiful handmade materials and items to teach our faith.IMG_1844

This is a true formation program for kids that focuses on growing a child’s relationship with God through a purposeful engagement with Holy Scripture and liturgies of the Book of Common Prayer.

The atrium environment is a prayerful “working space” that brings the Holy Spirit who is within the soul to direct children in growing a unique relationship with their heavenly Father.

The program brings together two great tools of Anglican Christian formation: the Holy Scriptures and the Book of Common Prayer and our liturgical traditions.  Anglicans are “liturgical Christians.” Our Christian life is nourished and developed using these tools of our faith.

As adults we hear the scriptures on Sunday morning. We often take the scripture inserts in our Bulletin home so we can read them again and again, to more slowly hear and inwardly digest the Word of God. This method of learning allows adults time to meditate more deeply upon the life of Christ and perhaps speak to God in a thankful or hopeful prayer.

But young children need their own way into God’s Word. The atrium serves this purpose. It provides the child space and special materials to ponder a biblical passage or become familiar with prayers from the Prayer Book.

For example, children place wood figures of sheep in a sheepfold of the Good Shepherd and in doing this identify themselves as one of the sheep gathered with their Shepherd, or they set the apostles around a Last Supper table, or prepare a small altar with the furnishings used for the Holy Eucharist, or work with vestments and liturgical colors.

Older children who do read will copy parables from the Bible, or lay in order written prayers from the rite of Holy Baptism, or label a long time line showing the history of the growth of the kingdom of God.

Forming children and families in the historic faith is a principle goal of St. John’s Church, Fort Worth. Join us on Sunday morning and talk with one of our catechists about our program.