A new Sunday school curriculum, Gather ’Round: Hearing and Sharing God’s Good News, has been launched by Brethren Press and Mennonite Publishing Network.
The Bible-based curriculum offers sessions for all ages of children and youth, as well as a class for parents and caregivers of children, and a multiage option for grades K-6. Each group studies the same text on the same Sunday.
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 Brethren Press at 800-441-3712.
The launch event Feb. 10-12 in Pittsburgh, Pa., was also a training workshop for more than 100 Christian educators and staff of the Church of the Brethren, Mennonite Church Canada, and Mennonite Church USA.
“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.
Christian educators received training to promote the curriculum in their areas. 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 the inviting of questions from learners, and the call to share the Anabaptist faith.
Presenters emphasized that Gather ’Round is biblically based. “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.
Gather ’Round may be the first Sunday school curriculum to offer a class for parents and caregivers, the publishers said. Another feature is a multiage option designed for small congregations that do not have enough children to hold separate classes for different age groups.
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, who led the group through a sample session of the “Connect” book for parents and caregivers, urged those who use the 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, Anna Speicher said. Speicher is the 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.
Christian educators had a first chance to explore the new materials in their sample kits on the first evening of the launch. Then, over the next two days, they were led through a series of activities to help them explore the materials more thoroughly.
The group experienced a sample class session from the “Connect” book for parents and caregivers. 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 different ways that people learn, called “multiple intelligences.”
Worship experiences throughout the training drew on the different student books. Worship focused on the shema, which 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.
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.
“I’m delighted that I’ll be able to take this back to share with our congregations and our district,” said Linda McCauliff, associate district minister for the Church of the Brethren’s Western Pennsylvania District. “I’m just really proud that our denominations continue to publish curriculum to share not only our heritage but Brethren beliefs.”
“Great materials!” said Sandy Miller, ministry support team coach for Mennonite Mission Network. “I really like the focus on Christian formation and not just Christian education.” She also liked the emphasis on helping children focus on a relationship with Jesus, she said.
Pam Reist, associate pastor at Lititz (Pa.) Church of the Brethren, was on the advisory committee for the curriculum. At the launch, she saw final materials for the first time. “I’m really pleased to see how attractive the finished product is,” she said. “It’s a very good product, better than anything else.”
“I’m very impressed,” said Monika Neufeld, of Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada. “What’s been done is definitely God’s plan,” she said, “with a lot of people working very hard to make it happen.”
For more about Gather ’Round, and to download free samples, go to http://www.gatherround.org/. Order from Brethren Press at 800-441-3712.