catechesis of the good shepherd
Introducing the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd
By Hannah Dallman, CGS Catechist
“Openness to reality and openness to wonder proceed at the same pace: As we gradually enter into what is real, our eyes will come to see it as more and more charged with marvels, and wonder will become a habit of our spirit.”
(Sofia Cavalletti, The Religious Potential of the Child)
One of my fondest memories of Sunday school growing up was in the kitchen of our church. I went to a Lutheran ELCA church plant in downtown Milwaukee. For many years, our space was in a strip mall, below the local Sentry Foods. Our teachers and fellow kids–my church friends– were gathered in the kitchen, some of us with aprons on, and lots of us probably chattering too much. It was fun and exciting…we were making strawberry jam. Giant vats of strawberry good bubbled on the stovetop while the adults minded enthusiastic stirring by children. The jam was the most delicious jam in the universe!
Of course, I learned my fair share of Bible stories in Sunday school too; Noah, Jonah, and the rest. But that day of jam making is a stand-out day for me; the one I think of as the best day of Sunday school. Why? Because of the relationships that were being solidified and strengthened with the people around me through our activity.
That’s why I feel that Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a wonderful approach to children’s catechesis. What CGS seeks to do isn’t fill the child with stories from the Bible, some of which may have theology that is yet inaccessible to the child (though it may make for a good story), but instead it creates the foundation and the environment for the child to grown in their already present relationship with Jesus.
Many adults, on entering an atrium (the official term for the space used in CGS) will describe how peaceful and lovely it feels. The atrium appeals to our senses through beautiful natural materials; real wood and silver, glass and beeswax. As catechists, the adult guides in the atrium model how to care for and handle these materials appropriately and reverently, and the children soon learn how to care for the materials and space themselves. The richest food is the real world.
The catechist presents, week by week, stories from the Gospels. Children learn that Jesus was a real person who was born in, lived and walked, and died in real places. In the atrium, we proclaim that Jesus died and is resurrected. Always that he is resurrected. The children hear that Jesus began as such a tiny baby but grew to be great. They will also hear the prophecies that foretold how Jesus will come to us and learn who a prophet is.
The other primary way that catechists facilitate the children growing in their relationship with Jesus is through the parables. Parables are appropriate for the young child because they require that we use our imagination and intuition in order to pierce their meaning. They don’t explain or clarify, but rather open the door to wonder and wondering. God reveals himself and the child is allowed their individual response to God. Parables allow us to take our time and to move with the child at their pace. Our work as catechists is to wonder about the spiritual world with the child, not to ‘teach the parable.’
What you will likely not see very much of in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is take-home results from activities. After all, in a relationship, it is not so much about an object to save as it is a journey to savor. The children are busy during their time with their ‘works,’ whether that is setting up the scene of the Annunciation quietly, learning to pour as they work with the chalice, or carefully setting out the linens on the model altar. They may also choose to look at a book of beautiful artwork in a cozy corner, or, as
they grow older, make their own prayer card or picture based on that day’s presentation. In a busy world, the atrium gives children the time and space to dwell and wonder so that they may grow in their relationship with Jesus.
I am so excited to enter into this relationship with not only the children, but also with the whole parish, as we come to know Jesus through the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.
Our Atrium Schedule is Sundays from 9 am to approx. 10:30 am, at which time the children are brought from our Chapel into the nave of our Church during the Offertory, to celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist with their parents or care-givers.
Also note, that because our Atrium is brand new, the photographs below are not from our chapel but instead are typical CGS photographs taken from the internet.