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Writers gather for conference to launch 'Gather 'Round' children's curriculum


Mennonite Church Canada/Mennonite Church USA joint release
Nov 1, 2004
-by Carol Duerksen


Writers for Gather 'Round: Hearing and Sharing God's Good News, the new Sunday school curriculum being developed through Mennonite Publishing Network, enjoy a group activity during their writer's conference Sept. 19-23 in Milford, Ind. From left, Rebecca Seiling, Susan Fuentes, Elsie Rempel, Sarah Pinnell, Eleanor Snyder, Frank Ramirez, Wendy McFadden, Gwen Gustafson-Zook. (photo by Anna Speicher)

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Writers for Gather 'Round: Hearing and Sharing God's Good News, the new Sunday school curriculum being developed through Mennonite Publishing Network, meet Sept. 19-23 in Milford, Ind., for a writer's conference. From left to right: Anna Speicher, Gwen Gustafson-Zook, Susan Fuentes, Frank Ramirez, Eleanor Snyder, Rebecca Seiling, Sarah Pinnell, Dianna Ullery, Carol Duerksen, Kathy Fry-Miller, Wendy McFadden, Elsie Rempel.

View or download full sized image.


Milford, Ind. — They said it is both scary and wonderful all at the same time. They said it is both fun and exhausting. They said it is a daunting, fantastic journey.

"They" are writers, editors and resource people from Mennonite Church USA, Mennonite Church Canada, and Church of the Brethren who met Sept. 19-23 at a writer's conference for the new Sunday school curriculum project, Gather 'Round: Hearing and Sharing God's Good News.

For five intense days at Camp Alexander Mack near Milford, the group embodied the title for the curriculum, “gathering 'round”" to worship with the Bible texts, pray, look for God's good news in the text for each age level, and plan lesson outlines.

“It is a wonderful, scary feeling to be at the beginning of a new venture in children's curriculum,” said Eleanor Snyder, director of Faith and Life Resources, Mennonite Publishing Network, a joint ministry of Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA.

“What I saw at the conference were writers deeply committed to children's faith formation and finding creative ways to hear and share God's story. I felt lots of synergy among the group as we dug deeply into the meaning of the biblical text and its relevancy to the different age groups.”

Elsie Rempel, director of Christian education and nurture for Mennonite Church Canada, said that one of the exciting characteristics of the new curriculum is that all ages get to work with the same texts at the same time.

“A parents/caregivers class provides adults with the chance to engage the Bible text at their own level, and also helps them learn how to talk and pray with their children about its themes during the week," she said. “We believe it is very important to equip parents to be more effective faith nurturers at home. One hour on some Sunday mornings is just not enough to develop a Christian faith, worldview and knowledge base.

“If children receive sufficient grounding and nurture in our faith and faith culture, it is our hope they will be better equipped to choose and live according to God's good news in a world of many competing values. This new curriculum is one way our denominations are addressing this vital issue.”

Frank Ramirez is a Church of the Brethren pastor in Pennsylvania and is writing the parents/caregivers unit. He enjoys the collaborative aspect of writing curriculum, comparing it to theatre. “In theatre, you have a writer, director, designers, builders, actors, and an audience, and you realize that no play is the creation of any one person, but of many as the word becomes flesh,” he said. “Now with God's word we're counting on the Word becoming flesh through the efforts of writers, editors, designers, marketers, teachers and students. It takes all of us, and that's why it's fun to do this sort of writing.

"But it's also hard work. There is a constant interplay of ideas, a contrast of styles and outlooks, and the constant reminder that you can't pin the Spirit of God down into a convenient little box. The scriptures have to speak for themselves, and with this curriculum we also trust the Spirit will speak through teachers and students as they gather together to ask the important wondering questions.”

In addition to Ramirez, other writers at the conference were: Susan Fuentes (Church of the Brethren), North Carolina, early childhood for ages 2-4; Rebecca Seiling (Mennonite Church Canada), Ontario, fall quarter of primary for ages K-grade 2; Dianna Ullery (Church of the Brethren), Washington, middler for grades 3-5; Carol Duerksen (Mennonite Church USA), Kansas, junior youth for grades 6-8; and Sarah Pinnell (Mennonite Church Canada), Ontario, multi-age component for grades K-8 and intergenerational use.

For Anna Speicher, curriculum project director, the conference was another significant step in the curriculum development. Those steps have included establishing curriculum philosophy and guidelines, the initial Bible outline, advisory group meetings, the adoption of a name and logo, and recruitment of consultants and writers.

As part of the team of curriculum developers, she not only looks ahead to the future of Gather 'Round, but also acknowledges its predecessor, Jubilee. “We are dedicated to making this a worthy successor to Jubilee,” Speicher said.

“We benefit from the work invested in that fine curriculum and from the insights gleaned over a decade of its usage. We hope to make this new curriculum an inviting one for children and parents, teachers and pastors, long-time Mennonites and Brethren as well as those new to the church, and small churches as well as large ones.”

Gather 'Round is slated to begin in the fall of 2006, with the first quarter available for congregations to preview early in 2006.