Teaching the Marks of Mission

Children absorb liturgical language and ritual by observing adults. Photo: V.J. Matthew
Children absorb liturgical language and ritual by observing adults. Photo: V.J. Matthew
Published November 1, 2012

Since its launch last June, the Anglican Church of Canada’s new online Sunday school curriculum has been helping teachers make the Marks of Mission come alive.

“We have close to 200 regular users tracking along with The Compendium of the Church Mice, with hundreds more checking in and using its resources on a regular basis,” says Lisa Barry, Marks of Mission project co-ordinator. “We estimate that so far around 10 per cent of Canadian parishes have found this resource useful for their Sunday school planning.”

What’s got priests and divinity students most excited about The Compendium of the Church Mice is its groundbreaking apprenticeship-of-presence component. On the first Sunday of each month, the entire Sunday school participates in the main church service. “Even if they’re colouring or reading during the service, they’re still absorbing the language and process,” says Vancouver teacher Kate Newman, who helped develop the comprehensive year-long lesson guide for time-pressed teachers.

In fact, the children absorb the language and rituals of the liturgy painlessly-much as young children learn their native tongue and accepted behaviours-by hearing and observing older role models.

According to Newman, it’s important that young children have the chance to separate school from church. “While I support strong Sunday school programs with specific learning outcomes, kids also need just to have the church experience,” she says.

In schools of any stripe, children are separated for effective learning by age group. “But in church it’s really about the inter-generational experience, the coming together of many different ages,” Newman says. “There aren’t many times in society when that happens, so church is a really special place.”

In her view, the presence of children at the service can be transforming for them and for the church community, and it’s also a bonus for the dedicated teachers who get to attend a full service once a month.

As part of the curriculum’s apprenticeship program, the children participate in all aspects of the service from greeting congregants at the door to bringing up food donations and following adults as they present the offering. This inclusive learning approach has tripled Sunday school attendance at Vancouver’s Christ Church, Newman says.

Does she foresee some precocious child ascending to the pulpit someday and delivering an impromptu homily? “I would love to see that,” she says. “And I think we have to allow for it!”


  • Diana Swift

    Diana Swift is an award-winning writer and editor with 30 years’ experience in newspaper and magazine editing and production. In January 2011, she joined the Anglican Journal as a contributing editor.

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