Very few lessons, religious or otherwise, start on the assumption that student already knows the right answers.
But St. Barnabas Episcopal Church will be using a form of religious education in the fall for children 3 to 7 years old based on that assumption.
“Foundational to the understanding of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is that children come into this world already having a relationship with God. We don’t have to teach them,” said Leigh Waggoner a priest at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church.
The curriculum isn’t written, and it was inspired in the 1950s by the work of Maria Montessori. Montessori schools such as The Children’s Kiva in Cortez, are based on the idea that education should be child-centered.
“This isn’t a Sunday school room, we’re not going to pour anything into these children. But when they move through the materials they will come away with our faith stories,” Waggoner said.
The style of teaching was developed by Catholics, but it has been used in many countries and in Byzantine Catholic, Episcopal, various Orthodox, United Methodist, Presbyterian, and Lutheran churches.
As part of the teaching children are met at the door by the catechist and they remove their shoes to symbolize walking on holy ground. The lesson is presented with materials like small wooden sheep and a shepherd to symbolize the parable of the good shepherd. Then the materials are passed to the children, who tell themselves the story. Children learn Biblical stories, the church calendar and the geography of the Holy Land as part of the lessons.
Waggoner saw this kind of teaching for the first time while she was in seminary.
“I had never experienced a group of children who were so engaged with the presence of God,” she said.
A new catechist for the local Episcopal church will attend training this summer and a follow-up course next year.