Trinity’s Len Bulmer guides Sunday school children through a lesson.
Seasons of the Spirit, adopted by the Anglican Church of Canada as its recommended Sunday school curriculum, is celebrating its first birthday. And while not everyone has given the curriculum rave reviews, it is being used in parishes across the country.
Those critical of the new curriculum suggest it has moved away from teaching Bible stories and into the arena of social justice.
But, an equal number of Sunday school educators are praising Seasons, saying it has helped them share their faith more fully with children and their families.
“ Overall, sales are generally up,” said Dan Graves, assistant general manager of Toronto’s Anglican Book Centre. “We’ve had calls from people saying, ‘Take it back, there’s too much social justice and our kids aren’t ready for this yet.’
“ But we’ve also had a lot of people telling us, ‘This is great, we need to broaden their understanding of the world and not shelter them from it.’ I would say there are an equal number of calls for and against Seasons. Overall, it is fair to say that it meets different needs.”
Lois Huey-Heck is the team leader for interpretation of the new curriculum at Wood Lake Books, in Kelowna, B.C., the Canadian publisher of Seasons of the Spirit. She said conservative estimates indicate it is being used in about 600 Anglican parishes and about 1,000 United church congregations. Another 350 churches – from Lutheran, Presbyterian and Baptist denominations – have also chosen it.
Seasons replaces the 15-year-old Whole People of God, an ecumenical curriculum that was in need of revamping, said Rev. Fran Kovar, an assistant priest at Trinity Anglican church in Aurora, Ont., north of Toronto. Among her roles at the 750-member church is co-ordinating liturgy and overseeing Christian education. There are 120 children registered at Trinity’s Sunday school, about 65 attending regularly.
“ Before Seasons we used the Whole People of God, and I liked it,” said Ms. Kovar. “But after 15 years, it was time for a change.
A survey of parents showed they wanted their children to have a greater understanding about Christian values.
“ Seasons of the Spirit does take a very liberal slant on the work of Christians in the world,” said Ms. Kovar, who has served in a variety of churches, both urban and rural, in more than 20 years as a priest. “I like it because it gives us the opportunity to integrate what the kids are learning in Sunday school downstairs with what the adults are hearing upstairs in church. It is also affordable, and you are able to photocopy the materials, which also helps keep costs down.”
The curriculum’s lesson plans are based on one of the three Sunday readings in the church lectionary, and while children in the Sunday school may not necessarily be learning and reciting Bible verses, Ms. Kovar said there is an opportunity for them to hear the Bible stories and then relate them to their lives.
She added that unlike some programs she has seen and reviewed, Seasons allows for different age levels, learning styles and the fact that churches might have just a handful of children attending Sunday school, either because the church is small or families have other commitments causing them to miss the occasional Sunday.
“ When your audience is hit or miss, you have to have something really meaningful for them when they are there,” said Ms. Kovar. “Seasons captures the family experience of church. There are continuing themes, but you don’t miss out if you’ve missed a Sunday.”
This holistic approach to Christian education is one of the key strengths of Seasons, said Ms. Kovar. It doesn’t presuppose that the adults in the child’s life are biblical scholars.
“ We don’t have a tradition of adult education the way some denominations do,” said the priest. “More and more, we are getting people who are unchurched or who don’t have an experience of church. Families are learning their faith together.”
Ms. Huey-Heck said there is no miracle Sunday school curriculum that addresses all the challenges of passing on the faith.
“ There are so many challenges for churches, not the least of which is that some churches in Canada report having no Sunday school children at all,” she said. “Seasons of the Spirit doesn’t solve every problem, but it provides a lot of resources and ideas to make Sunday school a meaningful experience.”
She said the development team considers Seasons a work in progress, and they are taking comments from Christian educators and blending them into ensuing resource packages. The Seasons of the Spirit Web site includes an online discussion group that enables worship leaders, teachers and outreach co-ordinators to share their experiences and concerns.
“ If a church congregation has trouble dealing with an issue raised in the curriculum, then there are a wide range of alternate resources available. For example, if it’s determined that slavery might not be an issue you’d like to discuss with the children, you’re free to adapt and change the lesson plan to address an issue that might be happening in your community at that moment. It is still meaningful, and it supports the goals,” explained Ms. Huey-Heck, who is a parent of a teen and a former Sunday school teacher.
Ms. Kovar agreed that sharing the faith is more about satisfying a child’s natural curiosity, and nurturing their innate spirituality, than expecting them to remember Bible verses.
“ A child’s faith is caught, not taught. They learn by example. In the end, it’s about the child’s decision to have God in their lives,” she says. “When we drag them into church, it’s important not to say, ‘Shhh.’ The material in Seasons of the Spirit gives us a starting point to share our faith and learn together, and, hopefully, help them decide.”