By Maureen Smith
PEARL – More than a dozen catechists gathered at St. Jude Parish the week of August 18 to conclude a week of training in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. This group is finishing the third and final level of training, almost 300 hours in all, so they can now guide students through the program appropriate for their age.
Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a Montessori-based program in which students and their teachers work together to learn and explore their faith. There are three atriums, or learning environments, students and teachers use for the program, one for ages three to six, a second for ages six to nine and the third for ages nine to 12.
“It’s just so wonderful. It’s not the kids sitting in a desk and us teaching them like they do in school. It’s completely different. It’s centered around the work of the child and what they need and so for the kids it’s so different from what they have seen all week,” explained Stacy Wolf, coordinator of Faith Formation at St. Jude. “To come into a room that’s built for them and it’s a place of prayer and God – they can just slow down and take time to read the Bible and just talk about it,” she continued.
She said she likes that students can take Scripture at their own level so they are not reading it with the worry that they will have to take a test. The process is “organic and the students have time to do the work and to choose where the Holy Spirit is leading them – not everyone has to be doing the same thing,” said Wolf.
She and teachers from eight other area churches, including representatives from Baptist and Episcopal congregations, formed an association to make trainings such as this one easier. Each level of training can take 90 hours so being able to offer it to larger groups makes the process easier and more cost-effective for the churches and trainers alike. This training drew a catechist from Alabama and another from Florida.
The formation leader for this training was Donna Turner from Memphis. She said she first found out about Catechesis of the Good Shepherd back in 1994 when she was teaching children at her parish. She did not feel like the curriculum she was using fit the needs or capacity of her students so she spoke to her pastor about seeking new programs. She fell in love with Catechesis of the Good Shepherd almost immediately. “I love that it is a gift for the children, but as much as it is a gift for us as the adults who also do the work so it is really a beautiful way I think God draws all of us to him, ” she said.
Turner said the program is more than just lesson plans, it works with what people want and need. “Relationship – that relationship with Jesus, the relationship with the Good Shepherd, is one of their greatest needs and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd provides the right food to nurture that,” said Turner.
During the training on Friday, August 25, participants took turns reading the story of Moses and his confrontation with Pharaoh. They discussed how they reacted to the story and how they would expect the students to react. Turner took out cards with images from the story on them and a small group sat on the floor to talk about the items and their role in the story. One of the things catechists who use this program learn is that they will also have to do the work with their students.
Each atrium has items designed for the students who will use it. Smaller children may use a wooden shepherd, sheep and little fences to better understand the story of the good shepherd while older students may set up a small altar or create their own artwork to go with a story that appeals to them. Each age group will take on different topics, but ultimately, the students select what work they want to do.
The association is able to work with catechists who are worried about the cost of training or setting up an atrium. The association will offer a Level I training this year at a local Episcopal Church in the Jackson area. Anyone interested in learning more about local training should contact Stacy Wolf at St. Jude, 601-939-3181 or by email at email@example.com.