After several years of experimentation, we have found a model that works well for 4th- and 5th-grade students. Grace Episcopal in Charleston, SC is a large parish with close to 1,000 active households. Most preteens do not want to sit around in a school type environment. The goal for us is to have the kids not fight their parents about coming to church. We want them to make friends from lots of different schools and have their church become a safe place to hang around and one where they always feel welcome.
Over the past two years we have ventured down a new path. We separated our rowdy crowd from the more subdued crowd. What this usually means is that the boys go one way and the girls go another.
High Tide Hangout is where one group gathers for the lesson of the day then heads outside for a sports activity. The message is sent home in a succinct way that they understand and is reiterated through their physical play. We have a college coach with the “cool factor” leading this group.
An example of an activity one week after reading the David and Goliath story was to draw their giants in chalk outside then wash them away with a bombardment of water balloons. Each week is another new adventure, maybe dodge ball, capture the flag, or even picking up trash around our urban church neighborhood.
Surfside Studio is the other choice each Sunday, where the lesson is shown through movie clips. Many of the Disney and Pixar movies are being seen on a different level. These preteens did not see these underlying themes when they watched the movies as a preschooler or early elementary student.
An example of this is in The Lion King movie, which brings out a perfect parallel in parts of the story of Jacob and Esau. Jealousy and deceit are in the forefront of both stories within the relationships of Scar and Simba and Jacob and Esau. The new movie The Red Wagon and Remember the Titans have been some of this class’s favorites.
Things are constantly changing in the Christian Education world but here is a glimpse of a success that we can share with our fellow Episcopalians. Our younger students also learn our Bible stories in more creative way. Cooking through the Bible is always a fun place to be and there are endless possibilities for arts and crafts for the early elementary group.
Julie Walters is the Director of Children’s Ministries, Grace Episcopal Church, Charleston, S.C.