Last year I took a huge step back from our church. We still went, but we were not involved. Change was in the air. The DRE was making decisions that I felt were not in keeping with our traditions and did not suit the children or the parents. The Priest was becoming more and more distant, retired Priests were taking on more and more masses. I did not leave, but I took that huge step back.
This year we have a new dynamic Priest, no DRE, and a philosophy of teaching children that mirrors my own perfectly. It has been like a dance. Step back, step in, lead. Of course, these changes have caused other people, friends, who were active during the time I was not, to step back, and sit this dance out. I get it, but it makes me sad because they were the heart and soul of our church for so long.
For now I lead my own dance to this new beat. The group of catechists are mostly new, this year being their first year teaching and they have undergone huge changes in a short period of time. Teach to the book. Testing. Drills. Sticker charts for prayer memorization, etc. Now there are no text books, just curriculum guides, projects, collaboration, no classrooms, no tests and certainly no sticker charts. This is hard. Much harder than teaching from a book, with key words, chapter summaries and unit tests. It is hard to find such focus that you block out the five other classes that are taking place simultaneously in the church hall, rather than in classrooms with doors. It is especially hard when you have church members, who no longer participate in religious education, passing judgement quite vocally on why the old way works so much better.
We have so much rebuilding to do. I feel called to help. I don’t particularly have the time for it, but it makes me happy, so I make the time for it. I am teaching 6th grade. I took over from one of my friends who took that dance step back and stopped teaching abruptly. I also took on a role of assisting the office manager and the Priest, who has the title of DRE as well as Priest. I love projects and I love to see them completed.
Project based learning in a religious education setting is a bit different than projects we may do at home because the children can’t self select the project. A class of 12 students that meet once a week for an hour is quite different than kids who have hours and hours to explore their interests through projects. But the process is the same. Demonstrate your understanding of the material presented in a creative way.
Our class completed a beautiful mosaic rainbow collage canvas to illustrate their knowledge of the covenant God make with Noah after the flood. We read from the Bible. We pulled from their prior knowledge. I knew they knew the story of the flood, but the did not know why it mattered; what the promise was. Now that they did, they ripped up pieces of paper from catalogs. One girl drew the rainbow. They all filled it in. One boy volunteered to write the text. They all took turns copying his words onto the canvas in the white space. I framed it. It is stunning. I know that whenever these children see a rainbow they will stop and stare and think it is beautiful, but also think of that Covenant made so long ago.