Following the Spirit in Creating Curriculum
In a normal summer, our children’s church school program would constrict a bit. We combine into one big group of many ages and play around with Bible stories that we haven’t heard in Godly Play through dramatic scripts. We would take a few weeks off to play games, do messy art projects, or go to the playground and generally have a laissez-faire attitude about our gatherings. It’s organic and connective and fun. There is nothing normal about this summer, in the grips of COVID-19, when laissez-faire could get you or someone else seriously ill or worse.
When considering what I might bring to our children and families this summer, a questionnaire of our parents indicated clearly that they needed church school to continue weekly – preferably with all of the classrooms meeting individually, and not combined. This presented both a challenge and an opportunity for creativity in the times of COVID.
For several weeks I mulled and marinated over plans for our summer lesson plans. There were a few pre-made curriculum options - but all would require some manipulating and re-writing to make them useful for our church context and the online mediums we are using. In truth, I was waiting for the "winning curriculum" to announce itself to me. Normally, I feel an excitement when I find curriculum I'd like to use. There's a wave of "right-ness" that I catch and I ride that Holy Spirit wave into planning. This time there were . . . crickets. Nothing. Nada.
At the same time, I was going about my life, regularly consuming audio-books each week while knitting, cooking, or cleaning and reading portions of a physical book every night as a devotion of sorts. For several weeks I had been reading "The Book of Joy" written by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (with Douglas Abrams). Each night, at some point in my reading, I would catch myself thinking, "This would be so good to use with the kids." This happens a lot - I read something meaningful, or watch something impactful, and imagine how it could be used with our church school kids. Stories that show courage and bravery. Short films that are complex, and sweet, and still age appropriate for kiddos. And so, I came to the decision that this summer we would embrace the online medium and use materials we don't usually get to use in church school. We have been exploring these materials through the lens of the 'fruits of the spirit' - a spiritual concept found in Galatians 5: 22-23 "By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control."
These concrete descriptions of ways we can seek truth in the world to have transformative power. However, each of these 'fruits' is also a challenge because we are not seeking them in a vacuum - but within our world context and our own human-ness. Particularly in a summer full of hard things – I hope that these lessons might lead to a summer of internal strengthening and external transformation. These internal fruits and gifts from God (which we have to work on developing) change the way we see things from the inside out.
Writing these lessons has enabled me to dive deep into creativity and meaning – and to speak to our children more straight-forwardly than we usually do about important life lessons and strategies. We began with an animated short film Hair Love, as we explored LOVE. When we looked at JOY, we learned from the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop Desmond Tutu through the Book of Joy. One of the anti-racist teaching tools our parents have been using, the book Something Happened in Our Town, was used for our PEACE lesson. PATIENCE brought us a ‘Top Ten’ list of strategies for growing patience. For our KINDNESS lesson we turned to an animated short again with Balloon Girl.
Some of the ‘fruits of the spirit’ are terribly wide concepts, and I chose to narrow our scope in order to write a unified lesson for our students. For our lesson on GOODNESS, for example, I intentionally focused on the phrase from Genesis where God declared each day of creation to be “GOOD” to inform our understanding of the fruit of Goodness. We watched the animated short The Present where a young boy is struggling with his own self-worth and GOODNESS – and wrestled a little with the idea of all people being GOOD through the sheer act of God creating them. Their inherent goodness is a given, but our honoring and remembering that GOODNESS is not a given. The fruit of GOODNESS – I put forth in their lesson – is one in which we can see and honor God reflected in all humanity and in all creation, and we work to help others see it too.
As most ministry leaders will tell you – we get as much as we give – and my experience writing these lessons and diving deep into the fruits of the spirit this summer has been truly steadying – in a time when much around us is unsteady. It’s been humbling to encourage our students to recognize their deep connectedness with all humans, and particularly with humans who are facing oppression like the Black community, and help them to realize that within this sense of connection is where ripe fruits can grow.
If you would like to catch our first six lessons, they are available here. Our last 3 lessons on Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control will be released in August.
(Theme music “Fruit of the Spirit” provided by Go Fish Guys ©)