A child pours water into a small funnel, her lips pursed in concentration. The soft trickle reminds her of last Sunday’s Mass, when she watched the priest pour water and wine into the chalice.
Nearby, a little boy clusters cutout sheep around a wooden shepherd. He places them close together so that all the sheep can hear the shepherd’s voice.
Here, in the “sacred space” set apart for the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, the objects that engage children’s imagination are the means by which the elements of faith are learned.
It is a religious education program that Dr. Anita Vincent calls “gentle on the soul.” Vincent is the Director of Religious Education at St. Theresa of the Child Jesus Parish in Hellertown.
Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a faith formation model that is a child-centered, hands-on approach to religious learning that is tailored to the age of the child.
Learning takes place in the “atrium,” a prepared environment in which a child’s relationship with God can flourish. The atrium contains handcrafted objects that are closely connected to their biblical and liturgical sources.
“All of the materials are handmade [either] by the catechist, or by the community that we’re serving,” said Vincent.
“It is through the work of the hands that the child can develop discipline within freedom and fall in love with God.”
Unlike most catechism programs, this one is not book-based. Material is shared through presentations by catechists who read directly from Scripture.
Vincent asserts that even young children have the potential to “find insights in God’s Word.”
“We don’t give them enough credit when we use an abridged or children’s version of the Bible.”
The Scripture story of the Good Shepherd is the most appealing image for children in the 3 to 6 age group. Children ages 6 to 9 are drawn to the image of Jesus the True Vine, and children 9 to 12 study the presence of God throughout Sacred History, she said.
Children come to “know Scripture pretty well, and all of the details of the liturgy” by the time they age out of the program at age 12, she said.
Vincent said a pastor once told her, “I can look out during Mass and tell which of the children went to Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, because [they] are actually paying attention.”
As Vincent pointed out, “They know the gestures, the articles of the Mass, the liturgical colors, and because the Scripture presentations closely follow the liturgical calendar, they have been introduced to the Gospel of each weekend through the materials and are now able to participate actively in the Mass.”
“They know when they read the Bible, that it is God’s word.”
Dr. Vincent will also be teaching training courses for adults who wish to become catechists in this unique model of faith formation starting in May. You may obtain more information by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
St. Theresa’s Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program will hold an open house on Sunday, April 30 from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. All are welcome.