Last weekend, a group of us from St. Nicholas went up to Atlanta for the annual Ministry Fair. The Ministry Fair is a wonderful resource to all of us in the Diocese of Atlanta. There are a host of workshops ranging from spirituality to finances, from adult education to children’s curricula.

One of the workshops I went to was on a program called Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. I went primarily as a parent more than a priest, but found this program stimulated both natures. I tried to get a program like this going at my last parish, but was not successful in getting people around the vision. At the time, I also didn’t have children, so my interest level might not have been at it’s highest.

In order to see what Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is all about, you really have to experience it. It’s difficult to explain. Nonetheless, here’s a description:

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a faith formation experience for children ages 3-12. Based on the premise that God and the child share a relationship, the curriculum is designed to develop the religious potential of every child and produces in the child the desire to draw nearer to God.

The work of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is done in an Atrium. The Artium is more a place of worship than a traditional classroom. It is an environment created so that children can develop a living, personal relationship with God. The Atrium is a place where Jesus Christ is encountered by reading and reflecting on the Bible, through prayer and singing and by exploring the liturgy of the Word.

The Catechesis was developed more than 50 years ago in Rome, Italy, by Dr. Sofia Cavalletti, a Hebrew scholar and theolgian, and Gianna Gobbi, a Montessori educator. Today, this Montessori method of Christian formation exists in more than 22 countries.

The curriculum focuses on three age levels. Level One is for children ages 3 1/2 to 6; Level II is for ages 6 to 9; and Level III is for ages 9 to 12. Each level explores the fundamental theme of Covenant as reflected in the Bible and as we live it in our liturgy. Each level introduces 30 to 40 age-appropriate lessons which build on previous teachings.

Sounds much more than a mere “Sunday school,” doesn’t it? Imagine our children sitting around a tiny, toylike sheepfold, hearing the parable of the Good Shepherd. Imagine our children gathered around a tiny altar, learning about the chalice and paten, and wondering who the “sheep” in the parable are. Imagine tiny, colorful chasubles¬†with¬†which the children can work to learn the seasons of the church year. Imagine a program that teaches the teachers as much as it does the children.

Catechesis requires passionate leaders who put in a lot of time developing materials, preparing lessons, and training to become “catechists.” The ones that did the workshop in Atlanta were quite impressive, and all said they felt their own spiritual journey was strengthened tremendously because of this program.

If done well, this has the potential of being something really wonderful for our parish. I offer it to you for your consideration and prayers. We could bring one of the leaders of the workshop to St. Nicholas for a “seed planting,” or maybe our parents and children and other interested parties could take a field trip to Atlanta to see them in action.

If you are interested in exploring this with me, please let me know by adding a comment below or e-mailing me. We have a core of 10-11 children in the 3 to 6-year-old range that could grow this program. We have extremely talented and faithful adults who teach our children already. We have a room that would make a great Atrium. We have other adults in our congregation who are good at woodworking and sewing who could help with materials. We have a whole congregation who love children and seek to raise them into the full stature of Christ.

So why not explore it?