Unification Sermons and Talks
by Reverends Rapkins
Religious Education For Our Children
By Linna Rapkins
From "Blessing Quarterly"; Autumn / Winter 1980; Vol.3, No.2
I have helped with Sunday School in our church now for about three years; first in Berkeley, Calif., then in Barrytown, N.Y., and now in Tarrytown, N.Y. My overall comment is that it certainly has been a pioneering and usually rewarding experience, and I am happy to be able to work in this capacity.
For this article, I have not done an exhaustive study of our Sunday Schools; but I will try to share what information I have been able to glean in a short time, and primarily I will share what I personally have learned and what we have done in the Sunday Schools in which I have participated.
Since most of the American blessed children are young, parents are just now getting seriously concerned about the religious education of our children; therefore, Sunday Schools have been gradually appearing in more and more centers. At present, however, the status of our Sunday School program is that separate groups are developing separate programs with each group probably grappling with basically the same problems and questions.
The status of our Sunday Schools also is that they vary in nature. For example, in Tarrytown and Barrytown, almost all the children have lived in the area for a while; they are relatively stable groups. In New York City, on the other hand, mostly children of recently joined members attend, so their enrollment is somewhat unpredictable and changing. In such a situation, it is impossible to develop long-range plans. The age range also varies: Barrytown is about 3 to 9; Tarrytown is about 5 to 16; Washington D.C. is about 4 to 12.
Although there is diversity in situations, still we have certain questions in common to work out when starting a Sunday School program: (l) What should our goals be? (2) What curriculum should we use? (3) How do we set up a lesson plan? (4) How can we make the lessons most meaningful and interesting?
What should our goals be? Perhaps most of the basic ones include the following:
1 ) To help our children develop their relationship with Heavenly Father.
2) To help them love and appreciate True Parents.
3) To instill principle values; to help them live the Divine Principle even if they do not know the theory.
4) To help them know their roots: Judeo-Christianity.
5) To help them feel a part of our church by learning our songs.
6) To teach them to pray.
7) To help them, on the foundation of the Bible, to start understanding Divine Principle teachings.
8) To help them feel a sense of reverence for worship time, and Sunday School in particular.
Then, how do we achieve these goals? The first things we must do is decide what we should teach. Established churches have full-time curriculum developers who not only plan the overall curriculum but also develop the Sunday by Sunday lessons, including materials and visual aids.
In three places where I have helped, our approach with small children (ages 4 to 8) has been primarily to provide a foundation in Judeo-Christian social ethics and doctrinal teachings and traditions. This past year in Tarrytown, Rebecca Salonen developed a plan for the entire year. It was all laid out: Creation, Fall, Old Testament history, Jesus' birth, life, teachings, and death, and the history of the early Christians.
Each Sunday, then, we had a theme which was introduced to the entire group, along with a song, prayer and offering, after which we divided into three groups: Primaries, Juniors, and Seniors. Each class studied the same theme, but on different levels. The goal for the Primaries was to teach the Bible stories and, where possible, an object lesson for everyday living. For the Juniors, the goal was to review the Biblical story and introduce the Divine Principle viewpoint in relation to it. For the Seniors, it was to study the Divine Principle in greater depth. Thus, if the topic was Noah, for example, the Primaries might hear the story and have an activity to reinforce learning. The Juniors might review the story orally and hear an introductory lecture to the Divine Principle concepts regarding the story. The Seniors would probably hear a Divine Principle lecture and have a discussion on Noah's mission and life.
Although our program has not been developed extensively beyond this point, we plan generally to continue with New Testament history, Resurrection, Consummation of Human History, and Second Advent. Much of this, especially New Testament history, is more suitable for Juniors and Seniors; thus, we are no longer necessarily following identical curricula. The Primaries will be focusing more on review of Creation and Fall lessons and a great deal in relation to everyday values-i.e., object lessons. At this point, we are planning month by month.
At Barrytown, they have been developing a unit on True Parents and Unification Church, which has been very exciting for them, especially since they live in a place where Father occasionally visits.
When the time comes to actually plan a specific lesson, we run into another problem: how to plan a lesson and where to get ideas and materials. When we teach Bible stories, one option is to go to Bible bookstores; however, those materials are usually not exactly right for us. They may be very opinionated and sometimes somewhat simplistic. Children are exposed to many kinds of interesting and sophisticated teaching methods both at school and on TV, and these Sunday School materials are often not so interesting. Even so, they can be used as resource materials for providing ideas on how to go about planning lessons and activities to accompany the lessons.
Another option, of course, is to develop one's own materials; when teaching the Divine Principle, this is the only option. But to do this, it takes educational knowledge, a creative mind, practical hands, some money, and a lot of time. If one does not happen to be artistic, it may be particularly forbidding. But projects for young children are important in making Sunday School interesting and educational, so we don't want to give up on it.
By "project," I mean many things, not just art activities. Here are some examples of things we have done. While studying Moses, we went outside and acted out the Exodus from Egypt. Even the dog got into the act and crossed the "sea" with us, and our Pharaoh particularly enjoyed the opportunity to be the big boss and tell the others "no" every time they asked to leave. While studying Solomon, we partially built a temple out of clay in order to learn about the layout of the temple. We built a scene of life in Abraham's times by covering a piece of cardboard with a soap powderbrown tempera water mixture (sand could have been used), building tents out of cloth scraps and twigs, and making people out of clothespins. This took several Sundays. Sometimes the children like to divide into teams and have an oral quiz. While studying Old Testament history, we worked on memorizing the 23rd Psalm, each week learning one more line. Another idea is to let one group tell a story on a flannel board to the rest of the class or to another class. When all else fails in the idea department, one can just photocopy a picture to color or let them draw a picture of something from the lesson. Although this would become boring if done every Sunday, it can be done occasionally, and it can be made more interesting by using different kinds of paper and utensils, putting on a special border, etc.
In New York City, Ken Webber has been working on visual aids to use with his class. He has written some stories for the children and has developed several "filmstrips" (actually strips of paper which are shown through an opaque projector), using a cartoon style to convey the messages.
I guess it is obvious that I proceed on the assumption that children can enjoy Sunday School, that they learn more when they enjoy it, and that projects are a step toward making it interesting. I do not believe long, eloquent lectures to children instill much appreciation of religious principles; greater results are likely to be achieved by encouraging them to join in discussions and to share their feelings, ideas and questions, and by using a variety of teaching methods. Instead of just telling them how to act and what to believe, we can make learning come alive by doing things like telling a true to life story with a moral, discussing real life experiences, role playing meaningful situations that children confront in their lives, and doing things for others.
For example, Mim Kohn in Tarrytown, instead of just telling her class to do things for others, used one class period to bake cookies to give to others. Another time, rather than talking about the wonders of God's creation, she took them on a nature walk.
In California, under the direction of Mr. and Mrs. Sang Ik Choi, we not only had Sunday School, but we had lunch and recreation together as well. Sometimes we merely went to a park; but sometimes we went to the beach, a museum, an amusement park, etc. It became an all day affair, the goal being to make Sunday something to look forward to and to help the children associate learning about God with pleasant experiences.
One goal mentioned at the beginning of this article was to help the children feel a sense of reverence for worship time. This does not happen automatically. The environment must be set up ahead of time, and the children must be instructed on how to behave and what to expect. The easiest way to set up an environment, of course, is to meet in a special location. In California, we gathered together from the entire Bay Area to meet in one of the church centers while the members were out at the farm. That was special. In Barrytown, they meet in the chapel for an opening service, and this is special because they are not allowed to go there the rest of the week. Before entering, they are instructed to remove their shoes and cease talking. In Tarrytown, however, we hold our services at Gracemere in the very house and even the very rooms where many of the children play during the week. Therefore, we have to be doubly careful in setting the atmosphere. We do it by clearing away the toys, neatly arranging the chairs, setting up a display or altar, putting a sign on the door announcing Sunday School, having music played at arrival time, and training them not to talk in the "sanctuary." These kinds of preparations are important in any meeting place, of course.
As more of our blessed children reach school age and as more people join our church who have children, interest in religious education for our children increases. Members are asking questions about how to teach their children. Perhaps none of us knows the answers yet; but as we pool our ideas and experiences, perhaps we will gradually develop something which is meaningful and effective. And many of us look forward to the time-preferably in the near future- when we will be able to have a Sunday School Department where curriculum is developed, and lesson plans and visual aids produced for those centers and families who can use them.
Blessing Quarterly; Vol 3,No 2; Autumn / Winter 1980
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