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|Gather ‘Round joint effort of Mennonites and Brethren|
Sunday School curriculum officially launched
February 17, 2006
Pittsburgh, Pa. — A new Sunday school curriculum, Gather ’Round: Hearing and Sharing God’s Good News, has been officially launched by Mennonite Publishing Network and Brethren Press.
The launch event Feb. 10-12 in Pittsburgh, Pa., was also a training workshop for more than 100 Christian educators and staff of Mennonite Church Canada, Mennonite Church USA, and the Church of the Brethren.
Gather ’Round may be the first Sunday school curriculum to offer a class for parents and caregivers, the publishers said. Another feature is a multi-age option designed for small congregations that do not have enough children to hold separate classes for different age groups.
“It is exciting to be here to launch this curriculum,” Brethren Press publisher Wendy McFadden told the gathering. The new curriculum was dedicated at the opening worship service, during which each participant received and held a sample kit, standing in a large circle as prayers of thanksgiving were said.
Presenters emphasized that Gather ’Round is biblically based. It offers sessions for all ages of children and youth, as well as a class for parents and caregivers of children, and a multi-age option for grades K-6. Each group studies the same text on the same Sunday.
Christian educators received training to promote the curriculum in their respective regions. They heard that Gather ’Round marks a new beginning for Christian formation in the three denominations. The curriculum includes a new focus on strengthening the relationship between church and home, and an intentional emphasis on worship and keeping the focus on God. The curriculum makes a renewed commitment to inviting questions from learners, and the call to share the Anabaptist faith.
“Gather ’Round is a new curriculum that tells the old story in a new way,” said Eleanor Snyder of Mennonite Publishing Network. The three foundational texts for the curriculum are Luke 10:27, Matthew 18:20, and Deuteronomy 6:4-9—the shema.
The shema begins, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God... ” The passage from Deuteronomy is the memory verse for the first quarter of the curriculum. Closing worship included a “shema walk,” with activity stations on different aspects of the text: a table for making scrolls of the text, cards offering topics to spark conversation, a box of candy prizes for each Bible verse a participant could recite, and materials to make bracelets symbolizing the command to carry the text on the body as well as in the heart.
A unique piece called the Talkabout helps make the connection between church and home. The Talkabout for the fall quarter, a 14-sided cardboard “ball,” intrigued participants at the launch with its suggestions to spark talk about faith around the dinner table at home.
Marlene Bogard is an experienced Christian education leader and minister of Christian nurture for the Western District of Mennonite Church USA. She led the group through a sample session of the Connect book for parents and caregivers, urging users of parent material not to think too narrowly about its possibilities. “Think mother’s group,” she said, “think Bible study, think Wednesday evening. It’s a flexible curriculum.”
“Our curriculum is different” than those of larger publishers because it shares our Anabaptist heritage, said Anna Speicher, director and editor of the Gather ’Round curriculum. Designed for busy teachers who may or may not have time to research scripture texts for themselves, each lesson includes a short Bible insight piece by a Brethren or Mennonite biblical scholar.
“We are trying to embed Anabaptist principles through and through,” said Speicher.
“The basic premise is that children come into the world with a relationship with God,” in accord with Anabaptist theology, explained Snyder. Gather ’Round “invites children to discover that wonderful relationship with God,” she said.
A workshop on music was led by musician and pastor/teacher Gwen Gustafson-Zook, who wrote one of the Gather ’Round theme songs. Other workshops were offered on new ways to tell Bible stories, the church-home connection, and activities for teaching students with different learning styles.
“I’m very impressed,” said Monika Neufeld, of Abbotsford, B.C. “What’s been done is definitely God’s plan,” she said, “with a lot of people working very hard to make it happen.”
During closing worship led by Ron Rempel, executive director of Mennonite Publishing Network, each participant placed a shema scroll on a doorpost, literally carrying out the command to “write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Rempel commissioned the participants go out and share the good news.
“Most of us are well prepared to go and spread the good news” about Gather ’Round, said Bogard. “I see this as a colorful, solid, user-friendly core curriculum for Anabaptist congregations. I’m especially delighted in the new emphasis on providing some resources that help parents talk with their children about faith.”
Gather ’Round offers lessons for “Preschool” (ages 3-4, with tips for 2s); “Primary” (grades K-2); “Middler” (grades 3-5); “Junior Youth” (grades 6-8); “Youth” (in a downloadable format for grades 9-12); “Multiage” (grades K-6, with tips for older students); and “Parent/Caregiver” (for adults who care for children, suitable for group or individual study). New materials are produced each quarter of each year for every age group. The first quarter of the curriculum is scheduled to be used in churches this fall. Materials for the fall may be ordered now from Mennonite Publishing Network (800- 245-7894).
Sidebar: Resource Advocates plan training events for Gather ‘Round
In addition to resourcing sessions at Area Conference annual meetings, the following training events are also being planned:
Lisa Carr-Pries, MCEC
Marla Langelotz, MCM;
Donna Schultz, MC SASK;
Tracy Brown Ewert MCA;
Monika Neufeld, MCBC;