Choosing Curriculum for a One Room Sunday School

hands-2847508_1280In many churches, we’re seeing less children in Sunday school. Adapting to decreased attendance may mean reevaluating how children are grouped and going to a multigraded or one room curriculum. Publishers are responding to these changes and there are now a number of choices available.

The One Room Sunday School has been around for a long time; it comes from Cokesbury, the United Methodist publisher, and is considered part of their Deep Blue curriculum line. It is for ages 3-12 and the retail price per quarter is $76.99. Deep Blue also offers a Large Group/Small Group option for elementary age children which lists for $99.99 per quarter. Beginning Fall 2018, the theme for Deep Blue is “At Home with God” which emphasizes families today, families in the Bible, and what it means to be part of God’s family; the curriculum follows a three year cycle. The One Room Sunday School kit includes everything you need for lessons including a leader guide, reproducible kids’ book, resource pack, and a CD-ROM with music resources; the Deep Blue DVD can be purchased separately for $29.99. The Large Group/Small Group kit also includes everything necessary; it has the leader guide, student sheets, and other material available as PDFs on a CD. The DVD as well as music resources are also included in the kit.

Sparkhouse, the ecumenical branch of the ELCA publisher, is introducing two options for multigraded Sunday school classes starting this September. They are both for a classroom with children ages 5-12 and follow a two year cycle. Spark All Kids sells a quarterly leader guide for $24.99. Reproducible learner leaflets are not available; they must be purchased for each child at a cost of $5.99 per quarter. Many of the activities in the leader guide use the leaflets. A separate music CD for the year can be purchased for $19.99. Whirl All Kids is a video-based curriculum. The leader guide sells for $24.99 per quarter; the quarterly DVD is also $24.99. Learner leaflets sell for $6.99 per child per quarter. The Whirl music CD sells for $19.99.

Shine: Living in God’s Light is a Sunday school curriculum from the Mennonite Church and Church of the Brethren with an emphasis on spirituality and peacemaking. It is used by churches in a number of other denominations. Shine offer a multiage component for ages 5-12. For each quarter, you will need a teacher’s guide for $13.99, a resource pack for $24.99, and student leaflets for $9.99 per child. The songbook and music CD for the year sells for $19.99.

For Presbyterian (PCUSA) churches, the Growing in Grace and Gratitude curriculum offers a multiage component for ages 5-10. The Leader Material is available as a download for $50 per quarter or in print for $75 per quarter. One copy of the student Stories, Colors and More is included with the Leader Material; additional copies are $20.

If you’d like to use a multiage curriculum based on the lectionary, there are a few options. Feasting on the Word is an ecumenical curriculum from the PCUSA publisher which offers a multiage component for children in grades 1-6. The price for Feasting on the Word varies as it is available as a download or as a printed product; churches can purchase one quarter at a time or select a 9-month or 12-month subscription. The curriculum includes leader guides, reproducible resource sheets, and more. Full-color visuals are included in a printed color pack. A yearly music CD is available to purchase separately. Another lectionary-based curriculum which offers a multiage component is Living the Good News which is ecumenical and comes from the Episcopal publisher. It is downloadable and costs $139.99 per year for each age level. Seasons of the Spirit is another option for churches wishing to use a multigraded, lectionary-based curriculum. It comes from Woodlake Publishing, an ecumenical publisher based in Canada. Seasons of the Spirit offers worship resources as well as a curriculum for ages 3 through adult which includes a multiage component for ages 5-12. Student resource sheets are reproducible. Pricing is available for 1 quarter, 3 quarters, or all 4 quarters in three different formats: web, printed, or on a CD.

Samples of all curriculums mentioned are available on the publishers’ websites. As Sunday school attendance continues to diminish, we can expect to see more options available for one room or multigraded classes.

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Bruised & Wounded: Struggling to Understand Suicide, a Review

Bruised-and-WoundedI must have been around eight or nine years old when Aunt Mill died; she was my mother’s aunt (my great-aunt) and my mother was close to Aunt Mill, who called the night she died. Aunt Mill had been drinking and had taken pills. She wanted to end her life but had second thoughts, so she called my mother for help. An ambulance came and brought Aunt Mill to the hospital, but it was too late. In my Irish-Catholic family, her death was spoken of in hushed tones. At that time, suicide was considered by many in the church to be a mortal sin and someone who committed suicide was usually denied a Catholic burial.

I thought about Aunt Mill as I read a review copy of Paraclete Press’ Bruised & Wounded: Struggling to Understand Suicide, written by Ronald Rolheiser, a Catholic priest. I was relieved to see that the attitude of the Catholic Church to suicide had changed drastically from those days. Rolheiser speaks of the emotional depression that leads to suicide as an untreatable, terminal disease.

Rolheiser’s view that most of the time suicide is an involuntary act allows him to argue that those who commit suicide are not breaking the fifth commandment (Catholic version): Thou shalt not kill. Therefore, those left behind do not need to be “unduly anxious about the external salvation of those who fall prey to it.”

The book is a mere 77 pages and repeats a few points throughout its pages. Its brevity and clarity make it a good choice for someone dealing with the suicide of a loved one. Grief often leads to brain fog, the inability to pay attention to anything for long periods of time, so longer or more complicated books about suicide may prove unreadable for many dealing with the aftermath of suicide.

After someone commits suicide, it is common for family and friends to feel guilt and wonder if they could have somehow prevented the tragedy by words or actions. Rolheiser assures readers that “Suicide is an illness and, as with any sickness, we can love someone and still not be able to save that person from death.” Referring to the stigma of suicide, Rolheiser suggests that it is necessary for those left behind to redeem the life and memory of a loved one who died by suicide. This can lead to healthy closure for the loved ones.

In speaking of God’s love, Rolheiser states that “There is no private hell, no depression, no sickness, no fear, and even no bitterness so deep or so enclosed that God’s love cannot descend into it. There are no locked doors through which Christ cannot go.” Such an image is sure to bring comfort to those who have lost a loved one to suicide.

Piggyback Psalms for Fun and Easy Singing

Piggyback PsalmsThere’s something about setting words to music which impresses them into our memories. I remember once my husband and I went to visit our two children who were attending the same college. We decided to go out to lunch and, with the parents in the front and the kids in the back, it was a familiar setting for numerous trips we’d taken over the years. The kids started singing, something we frequently did during family trips, and the selections turned to Sunday school songs. They sang everything from “Rise and Shine” to “Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego” without missing a beat or word.

Whether you are a musically talented Sunday school teacher or not, Piggyback songs are something you can add to your lessons. Piggyback songs are familiar tunes with different lyrics. Emily LaBranche Delikat has written a book called Piggyback Psalms: 100+ Bible Songs to Tunes You Know. Some of the songs include just a sentence or two from a psalm, whereas others contain the entire psalm, such as the song for the 23rd Psalm, which is set to the tune of “Over the River and Through the Woods.” Each psalm is written in child-friendly language and also includes chords plus a simple melody to play.

There are suggestions for using these Piggyback Psalms beyond the walls of Sunday school. Because each psalm in the Revised Common Lectionary is included, the songs are ideal for use in worship. It is also suggested that the songs could be used in children’s choirs, in intergenerational and children’s worship, or at home. There is information at the beginning of the book on the benefits of singing the psalms intergenerationally, along with creative ways to use them with all ages. Delikat also includes “A Letter About Lament and Anger” which explains how she dealt with the difficult themes in some of the psalms. The book also includes a Tune Index, as well as a Revised Common Lectionary Index.

I received a review copy of Piggyback Psalms from the publisher, Abingdon Press. The book, which was published in June 2018, is available from Cokesbury, Amazon, and other bookstores.

Books to Share to Show You Care

It’s hard to watch someone we love going through a tough time. We can offer to listen, pray, and try to help in other ways. Sometimes we might want to share a book which we think would be helpful.

Both All Shall Be Well: A Spiritual Journal for Hope & Encouragement and Love Never Fails: A Journal to Be Inspired by the Power of Love by Hilda St. Clair would make great gifts for those going through a difficult time in their lives (or for someone just looking for inspiration in their spiritual life.) They are much more interactive than most journals and can ignite creativity in those who may find it difficult to center their thoughts. Each journal has 60 inspiring quotes beautifully illustrated along with a simple writing prompt. The owner of one of these journals might choose to focus on one quote daily. I can imagine them copying the quote and carrying it with them to look at throughout the day. I could also see using the quotes and writing prompts in a study or women’s group as a beginning devotional, or as a spiritual exercise during a retreat.   

In times of stress, it can be difficult to think clearly, but Words of Healing: A Coloring Book to Comfort and Inspire invites the reader to focus on one word as they color an abstract picture with the first letter of the word in the center. There is also a scripture verse for each word. As the brief introduction to the book puts it, people can “speak in color” which is sometimes a relief for those who struggle to put their present situation into sentences.

All three books are available from Paraclete Press, which provided copies for this review.

All-Shall-Be-WellLove-Never-FailsWords-of-Healing

A Devotional for Hesitant Pray-ers – Holy Ground: An Alphabet of Prayer

Holy GroundThere’s no shortage of devotionals available. Search for them on Amazon and you’ll find ones for women, men, girls, boys, teens, and even animal lovers. Some of these encourage us to “claim” the promises in the Bible and realize the power of prayer to get us what we’re entitled to. Julie K. Aageson’s book, Holy Ground: An Alphabet of Prayer, is nothing like those devotionals.

Holy Ground is for those of us who are still trying to figure out prayer but are pray-ers none the less. Aageson is someone who has spent her life in ministry but says this about how she felt when invited to write a monthly column for a denominational magazine:

I was at once both honored and terrified. The column’s title, Let Us Pray, conveyed certain assumptions I was not at all sure about – did they think I had prayer all figured out? Did they assume I was a disciplined prayer-er, perhaps one of those “prayer warriors” I’d heard about? Did they have any idea how much I struggle with praying, with knowing how to talk to God, listen to God? Did they know of my doubts and skepticism about much of Christian life?

Reading those words in the introduction to the book, I felt as though I’d found a kindred spirit. That realization was reinforced when the author mentioned Richard Rohr and his admonition that “prayer is not primarily words but a place, an attitude, a stance – and that for Jesus, prayer seems to be a matter of waiting in love, returning to love, and trusting that love is the unceasing stream of reality.” Yes.

The reflections in Holy Ground are based on words from A to Z and include topics such as beauty, enthusiasm, imagination, mindfulness, stillness, and wonder. As Aageson notes, the reflections are “not meant to be a theological or biblical description of prayer” but rather her “wrestling with a God who makes the ordinary holy.”

In writing about mindfulness, the author contrasts her Muslim friends’ practice of set times of daily prayer with her own multi-tasking lifestyle. Yet, she is aware that “to be present simply with silence is a sacred act of prayer.”

There are questions after each reflection; these could be used by individuals during their devotional time, by a group studying the book, as a program opening activity, or for a retreat. If Holy Ground speaks to you, be sure to check out Aageson’s earlier book titled Benedictions: 26 Reflections.

Everbloom: Stories of Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives

EverbloomWriting can be a solitary business, but the women whose poems, essays, and stories are included in Everbloom: Stories of Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives have found a way to combat the loneliness of writing while proving that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Everbloom was written by 42 of the approximately 150 women of the Red Bud Writers Guild, whose mission is to nurture “a community of Christian women who create rather than merely consume.” They maintain community through meetings, social media, and networking. Besides the support of like-minded souls, the guild provides tools for writers such as “manuscript and media mentoring and review, networking, writing conferences, blogging opportunities, resources, camaraderie and community.”

Margaret Philbrick, one of the editors of Everbloom, along with three of its contributors, recently led a webinar for PRC. Philbrick’s poem “We Write” is the Introduction to the book. Nilwona Nowlin read her contribution, the poem entitled “Where I’m From,” during the webinar and explained how it was born while she was doing a writing exercise during a retreat. Terri Kraus is a writer of fiction and the author of “My Nonna,” which tells the story of her grandmother who was born in Italy and immigrated to America. Terri also writes of her experience visiting the village where her grandmother grew up. Terri is the Red Bud Writers Guild President and spent some time during the webinar talking about the workings of the guild. Lara Krupicka described how she found her own voice in the essay “This Is What It Costs.” If you’d like to watch the recording of the webinar, you can click here to register.

There is a great variety in the various offerings in Everbloom from a woman contemplating how rearranging her kitchen is part of making her own choices to women dealing with rape, the suicide of a sibling, or the death of a baby in the womb. Yet, through all the experiences and difficulties that are faced, we see that God is there and that transformation is possible.

Each entry in the book is followed by a prayer and a writing prompt, so it can be used by individuals for devotional time or by groups who may choose to use the writing prompts as discussion questions. Everbloom is available from its publisher, Paraclete Press; it is also available from Amazon and other sellers.

Lent Is Almost Here – And PRC Can Help!

Lent Is Almost Here stones with tomb and crossesWhen Easter comes early, as it does this year, churches may have to scramble to make preparations for Lent. It was just a few short weeks ago that we were taking down Christmas decorations and putting away pageant costumes, and now Ash Wednesday is almost here.

Don’t panic! PRC – Practical Resources for Church is here to help. Even if you aren’t located near our Long Island offices, online resources are available on PRC’s website. On the Lent and Easter page of our Links & Online Resources section, you’ll find downloadable booklets for those in children’s ministry, recorded webinars about children’s ministry and intergenerational worship for Lent and Easter, as well as links to other websites which offer free resources. These include Good Friday worship, children’s ministry, and an extensive list of Stations of the Cross for children, youth, and adults.

If you’re located on Long Island, then you might want to plan a trip to one of our centers in order to work with a consultant who will help you put together plans for Lenten worship, study, and other programs for children, youth, adults, or an intergenerational group. If you can’t visit us in person, give us a call at 631-821-2255 or 631-486-4350 or email us at info@prcli.org. We even have GoToMeeting software which we can use for an online meeting with you, and churches and individuals with an at-a-distance subscription to PRC can request that resources be mailed to them.

We have a large selection of Lenten adult studies, including many DVD studies. You can check out the list on our website. Available studies include ones by Adam Hamilton, Mike Slaughter, and Marcus Borg. What Wondrous Love: Holy Week in Word and Art is a DVD study which features six commentaries by scholars plus six works of art by John August Swanson, each focused on a familiar Scripture passage. It can be used for a multi-session study or a one session program. We even have Lenten studies based on the movies Casablanca and The King’s Speech.

If you’re planning Lenten and Easter worship, we have a number of worship resources including complete liturgies for Ash Wednesday, all the Sundays in Lent, and the various services of Holy Week. Worship in a Flash for Lent and Easter includes prayers, music, sermon ideas, projection images, and more — all on a flash drive. If you’re looking for a different take on Lenten worship, check out the book, Bread for the Journey: A High-Carb Multisensory Lenten Worship Series, which includes sermons for Ash Wednesday, each week in Lent, and services for Holy Week and Easter. The book also includes recipes for breads that can be baked and distributed during the services. We also have numerous devotionals which can be used throughout Lent by individuals or groups.

PRC has many resources which can be used in programs for all ages. We have three floor labyrinths and several smaller labyrinths which can be used to enhance the spiritual journey of your congregation; we also can help you prepare prayer stations, which can be used as part of a worship service or a special program. Sunday school teachers and parents may want to take a look at the book, Sharing the Easter Faith with Children, which offers age-appropriate advice on what to tell children about the events of Holy Week. PRC also has a collection of Lent and Easter children’s storybooks and videos. There are ideas for youth programs and studies as well.