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"Gather 'Round" chosen as name for new curriculum


May 5, 2004
Mennonite Church Canada/Mennonite Publishing Network Joint Release

Waterloo, Ont.—Gather 'Round: Hearing and Sharing God's Good News, was chosen as the name for a new Brethren and Mennonite Sunday school curriculum by an advisory group that met April 14-17 in Elgin, Ill. The group discussed goals for the curriculum as well as theological and educational foundations, a theme scripture, Bible outlines, print pieces, printing technology, electronic media, and marketing.

“I really like how the name conjures up images of gathering around the campfire, with family in the kitchen, or around coffee time at church,” said Elsie Rempel, director of Christian Education and Nurture and Mennonite Church Canada’s representative on the team.

“I am most excited about how Gather ‘Round will tie together learning and worship, and the home life and congregational life,” said Elsie Rempel. “The lessons are designed to include a parent’s class that follows the same biblical texts, and provides tools for parents to engage their children in faith discussions and life application.”

The curriculum is a cooperative venture of the Church of the Brethren, Mennonite Church Canada, and Mennonite Church USA through Brethren Press and Mennonite Publishing Network (MPN). Plans call for Gather 'Round to be available in the fall 2006 as a successor to the curriculum Jubilee: God's Good News. The last quarter of Jubilee will be available in the summer 2006.

The advisory group is headed by the Curriculum Planning Committee of Eleanor Snyder, director of MPN’s Faith & Life Resources, Ron Rempel, MPN executive director, Wendy McFadden, Brethren Press executive director, and Anna Speicher, who has been hired by the publishers as the curriculum project director.

According to Snyder, there is strength in the partnership of these two publishing bodies. "Both denominations feel strongly about creating solidly Anabaptist resources for our children. For the last decade, Jubilee has served us well in shaping Christian faith in our children. However, with a growing interest in family spirituality, church-home connections, and up-to-date teaching methods, the time has come to create a new curriculum that instills our Anabaptist values and theology in the next generation of children. Although there are only two partners in the development of the new curriculum, I am pleased with the creative energy of the advisory group, and the growing list of educators, pastors, and church leaders who are willing to offer their expertise as consultants."

Anna Speicher, project director, emphasized that Gather 'Round will not simply be a reworking of Jubilee but will build on Jubilee's strong points. Foundational to both curricula is "respect for children as people already in relationship with God," Speicher said. The new curriculum will build on Jubilee's strengths of familiarizing children with basic Bible stories and making Sunday school a "time for learning the habits of worship, including ritual, silence, and prayer," she added. New elements will include strengthening the partnership between church and home, embedding more teacher training in lesson plans, and increasing the serviceability of the curriculum.

Also new is the way in which Bible texts are used, with the age groups all studying the same scriptures each week. This creates the opportunity for a significant new feature of Gather 'Round: a class for parents and others who care for children. The class, which may be offered for Sunday school, Bible study, or as a support group, will provide tips for talking about faith and scripture with children and opportunities for parents to grow spiritually. To her knowledge no other publisher is producing such a complete resource for parents, Speicher said.

Adults who care for children are one of six age groups to be served by the curriculum. The others are early childhood, primary, middler, junior high, and a multi-age group that could include children of all ages and adults. Multi-age lessons "will help small congregations who don't have capacity for different age groupings" as well as respond to increasing interest in intergenerational learning opportunities, Speicher said.

Another feature of the new curriculum will be its sensitivity to busy volunteer teachers who often do not have time to attend trainings or go to outside sources for lesson preparation. Lesson plans will include teacher training such as tips for dealing with age-specific issues.

Speicher is recruiting Brethren and Mennonite scholars to write biblical backgrounds for the lessons. "We will also be asking our lesson writers to emphasize Brethren and Mennonite values of peace and justice, discipleship, community, and simple living," she said, adding that the publishers expect to be able to sell the curriculum to other like-minded churches with similar values. Writers, educational consultants, and scholars from Canada are invited to contact Speicher at 847-742-5100 ( )

The 15-member advisory group included the Curriculum Publishing Committee along with five others from the Church of the Brethren and six from the Mennonite Church.

Mennonites and the Church of the Brethren cooperated in the development and publication of the Jubilee curriculum, first released in the early 1990s. The Church of the Brethren is based in the Anabaptist and Pietist traditions. It was founded in Schwarzenau, Germany in 1708 and now counts about 135,000 members across North America plus several mission areas overseas.