"Our kids and parents get a lot out of this class. Parents are filled in on details and how-to’s that they might be afraid to admit they don’t know."
Presenting Bibles to Children
As I look forward to November and the beginning of Advent, I am planning my Get-to-Know-Your-Bible Class. It is tradition at Sudbury United Methodist Church to give our 3rd graders their “grown-up” Bible. The first step is to make certain the Bibles ordered for presentation are the same translation being read in our Sanctuary each Sunday. We use the NRSV and so I order nicely bound, leather NRSVs for our children.
We present Bibles the Sunday before Advent begins. We make five-strand bookmarks, which are very easy: (cut five pieces of ribbon – plain or patterned grosgrain ribbon ¼” wide – and tie them together at the top). As I inscribe the Bibles with each child’s name, the bookmark is inserted in the following places: the 1st ribbon marks the Table of Contents; the 2nd marks the Ten Commandments; the 3rd is for the 23rd Psalm; the 4th marks the Lord’s Prayer; and the last ribbon is left at the back of the Bible.
When the children are presented with their Bibles in worship, I assign them “homework” before our three-session Bible Class (which meets on three Wednesdays in Advent). The children are to look at the marked passages and be prepared to tell me why these passages are important. Then with their parents, they are asked to mark the passage in the Bible that is their family favorite. And they are to bring their Bibles and a parent to class with them.
First Class Session: Bible Basics and Treasure Hunt
The purpose of this class is to help both child and parent become familiar with how to use their Bible and what is found where. I put on the whiteboard the passages I have bookmarked for them and we talk about why these are important to us as Christians. Then, we go around the room, and each parent and child reads out loud together the passage they have picked out as important to them. I write the citations down as they read. After the passages have been read, we have the citation format on the whiteboard and I briefly review how to cite passages.
I end the class with a Bible Treasure hunt in our Sanctuary. I make two sets of passages with citations that refer to what is in our sanctuary. For example, Matthew 28:19 “baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” These two sets are placed on or in the items in the Sanctuary. The Matthew text goes in our baptismal font. I do the same with passages that refer to the altar table, the Bible, etc. Use whatever you can in your Sanctuary – you can find passages that cover everything from the sacred to the mundane (think doors and windows!). Then I make two sets of just the citations and put them in two paper bags.
The game begins as kids and parents draw citations from the paper bags. They have to find the citations in their bibles, read the passages, and then hunt for the matching item in the Sanctuary. Once they collect all the written-out passages, both teams receive a silly prize at the end of the game.
Second Class Session: Hebrew Scripture
This class is centered on the Hebrew Scriptures. I begin the class by having the children place their bibles on the table in front of them open to the first page of Genesis. I walk around the tables and place a Hersey Kiss on each open page. I tell the children and parents that in the Jewish tradition, when the study of God’s Word is begun in Yeshiva, a drop of honey is placed on the first page and the student licks it off the page. This is to remind us that “the Word of God is sweet.”
The content of this lesson often depends on what our curriculum we are covering in Church School. I want to emphasize the ancestors of the faith and make sure the children (and their parents) have a sense of the scope of the Old Testament from Creation to Exile and Return. Sometimes I begin with the Godly Play story of Creation or the Story of Abraham and Sarah.
We end this session with an alphabet game designed to have the kids and their parents flipping through the Hebrew Scriptures for the word that begins with the letter of the alphabet I have given them included within a biblical citation. For example: A: Genesis 5:1. The answer is “Adam” and so it goes through the alphabet. Note: the letter “x” will be a problem as is there is no word in our translation of the Hebrew Scriptures that begins with “x” – the closest I have been able to come is Daniel 9:1. Daniel mentions “Ahasuerus” which is the Hebrew form of “Xerxes.” You will get some interesting discussion around this one!
Third Class Session: New Testament
As our classes take place during Advent, I move into the Christmas story found in Matthew and Luke by reading from Isaiah 9:6. Then I tell the Godly Play Advent story weeks 1-4. I follow with a discussion of what parents and children know about Jesus. If there is time, I tell the story of the loaves and fishes (a young boy is the agent of grace in the story). The children tell me the story of the crucifixion and resurrection and we conclude by reading Acts 2:1-12. I remind them that we are still writing the Acts of the Apostles because that is what Jesus asks us to do as his followers.
I give each child a highlighter pen and ask them to take their Bibles home and remember to bring them to Church. The highlighter is for them to invite their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, or Church School teachers to mark their favorite passages in our children’s Bibles.
God's Story, Our Story
Our kids and parents get a lot out of this class. Parents are filled in on details and “how-to’s” that they might be afraid to admit they don’t know. Both parents and children are given a sense of the basic story arc of the Christian narrative and invited to find their place within it. The highlighter pen invites them to experience first hand the way God’s story has impacted others they know and love through the passages those folks choose to highlight. The Bibles become not just the story of God’s people, but the stories of specific people the child knows and as they grow, their own story emerges from the pages. An heirloom of faith is born to be treasured and used for a lifetime.
Dr. Elizabeth L. Windsor is the Director of Christian Education at Sudbury United Methodist Church in Sudbury, Massachusetts. She is an accredited Godly Play storyteller. Christian formation throughout the life cycle is both her profession and her passion.