30 October 2013

songs for CGS and Godly Play

The biggest (or most public) faux pas I have ever made in the Godly Play community came when I mentioned teaching the children a song. Straightaway someone reminded me, "Music in the Godly Play classroom ... needs to come from the children and not be imposed by the adults on them" (Teaching Godly Play, p.89). Godly Play does not use singing "to bond the children, to quiet them, to memorize texts, interpret texts [or] to keep the teacher in control" (p.89).

I have to confess not only that I have taught songs in my Godly Play sessions, but I have probably also used them to quiet children! (A.K.A. "getting ready") Let me give those earlier quotes more context. In the same book, on the next page, Berryman writes, "From 3-6 years many of the Taizé songs can be taught by rote in unison during the feast...". (p.90) 

the Taizé cross (licensed photo by Surfnico)

So teaching music is allowed, at least to young children, and provided it's kept simple. Berryman does have a definite bias against children's songs (or a certain kind of children's song). "Seasoned and mature music ... like Taizé, does not interpret the lessons for the children but gives them a way to move closer to God, as fundamental texts and liturgical phrases are repeated over and over without interpretation." (p.90) Berryman wants children to learn "music ... they can sing all their lives and still in old age be comforted by" (p. 90). 

My Catechesis of the Good Shepherd trainer gave us concrete examples that chime with Berryman's advice. She uses a range of different music (including Taizé chants). One of her hints was to use snippets of songs, especially choruses/refrains, and especially songs used in your adult services. I was reminded of something we sang in our Communion service on Sunday. The chorus begins like this,

"Christ be our light! Shine in our hearts..."

I don't remember if this was one of the examples my CGS trainer used, but it could have been. The first time you sing it with small children, you could use just the first half of the chorus, repeating it like a Taizé chant. Some other time you could introduce the second half. 

Another thing our trainer did was to sing something, meditatively, as we were enjoying the lit candles in the Last Supper presentation. I think may have been a bit of a sung setting of the Eucharistic Prayer, perhaps words like these: O Lord, as we now celebrate the memorial of our redemption, we remember Christ’s Death and his descent to the realm of the dead, we proclaim his Resurrection and his Ascension to your right hand...

singing the dismissal blessing (with actions)

Songs I have used in Godly Play include the dismissal blessing, "Go now in peace. May the love of God surround you...". With the Faces of Easter story, I used the Spiritual, "Amen". [I've written about that here and here.] With older children I'd like to teach, "In God's green pastures feeding" (in the video below). What's important is to find a balance, leaving room for children to sing (and/or create) songs which express their own spirituality, allowing music to emerge as yet another way they can Respond to God.  

Berryman warns against "turning the Godly Play feast time into a music lesson". With a smile, I note that this video aptly illustrates the difference between worship and music lesson:

27 October 2013

flea market furniture

Yesterday I made a pass through a local flea market. And what did I find? Two child-sized chairs, at only €4.50 each. And a few stalls later, a child-sized table for €5. The chairs are a bit banged up, and the table doesn't match the chairs, but I grabbed them for our Play and Pray area anyway. (If anyone from the congregation would like to paint them, that'll be fine with me!) 

I just left them in the car last night and unloaded them into the chapel today... whereupon I realized that they still had the price labels on them. Better bring some Goo Gone next week! The pencil tin on the table was also a new purchase, but as soon as I started to put the pencils into it, I realized it was TOO LOUD. I'll keep my eyes open for a fabric pencil case instead. 

Wouldn't you know it? One family was away at a retreat this weekend, and another couple of children ran late or something - just before the service started their mother scooted in alone and mouthed, "Sorry" to me from across the chapel.

However, that did mean I was able to focus on the Eucharistic prayer today.

23 October 2013

heard on TV

I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.
-Albert Einstein

19 October 2013

last day, last supper

Today was the last day of our Level I, Part 1, training course in Leiden. I spent some of yesterday and this morning working with a partner on the presentation about the Last Supper.

I loved how she "offered" the wine to everyone
[Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (like its descendant, Godly Play), maintains a distinction between historical characters, represented by 3-D figures, and characters who are only elements in a story, such as the Good Samaritan (Jesus tells a story about him, but there is no assertion in the Gospels that he was a real person). Parable characters are "flat", both literally and figuratively. So Linda pointed out that although these Last Supper characters are chunky it would be even better if the corners were sanded off them so that they were rounder and more clearly distinguishable from wooden 2-D figures.]

We finished our day with a look at the Pentecost Celebration. I found it a somewhat dissatisfying mix of teaching and participation (being pressed for time, we had to do both at once). Yet even so, I was captivated enough to wonder whether and how to try to work it right into our congregation's Pentecost service next year - not just for children but for everyone!

Before leaving we presented some gifts - a book for our trainer and a bottle of wine for the local organiser. We're already talking about trying to meet in March for Part 2.

"Good Shepherd" wine, of course

18 October 2013

a beautiful day - CGS training, day 5

morning walk to the parish center

sung responses at Mass

Dutch coffee break

presentation: "Baptism I"

carefully putting materials away

"preparing the cruets"

sharing our evening meal

St Luke and the Gospel story

Earlier this month I shared a quote from a sermon by Stanley Hauerwas. That sermon was given on St. Luke's Day (2007). Here's some more of what he said:
The gospel... the story of Jesus, is known only because it has been told and retold through witnesses across time and space. These witnesses, moreover, actually become part of the story such that the teller and the tale become one. Indeed the witnesses become so much a part of the story that the retelling must incorporate an account of their lives if the story is to be truthfully told. We call such people "saints"...
Today we celebrate the feast of a saint called Luke. We do so because Luke, under the guidance of the Spirit, thought Theophilus needed an orderly account so that he might know the truth concerning the things about which he had been instructed. "Orderly account" is Luke's way of saying "story".
Stanley Hauerwas (A Cross-Shattered Church, p.47)

(the story for Candlemas, Luke 2:22-38)

17 October 2013

two parables, in two programs

Another thing that we did today, at Level 1 training for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, was to see and hear two Parables of the Kingdom - the Precious Pearl and the Mustard Seed.

(CGS Pearl materials)
Godly Play presents these same parables, but very differently. My very first reaction was that I preferred the CGS version of the Mustard Seed, but the GP version of the Great Pearl.

CGS won the Mustard Seed hands-down by letting us look at, touch, even taste a real mustard seed. It was a particular variety found in Israel - which might well be the one Jesus was talking about. These seeds were MUCH smaller (or rather, much smaller) than the ones I grew up with.

That black dot on her middle finger - that's a mustard seed!

GP and CGS differ, in the Pearl parable, in how they interpret the phrase, all that he had. (I've written about this before, saying Normally I think we understand the merchant to have sold "everything he could spare". The version of this parable found in the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas has him selling all his merchandise for the pearl. But in Matthew 13 the words are "everything he had", and the Godly Play presentation encourages us to wonder about that wording.)

(GP Pearl materials)

In other respects, though, GP remains noncommittal about how the parable is to be interpreted. CGS, on the other hand, takes it for granted that the pearl represents the Kingdom of God. The catechist may choose whether or not to emphasize that, but it's very different from the Godly Play situation in which the storyteller asks questions like, I wonder what the pearl could really be? I wonder who the merchant could really be? I wonder where all of this might really be? If you believe the pearl is the Kingdom, that's fine, but if you believe that actually Jesus is the merchant and the pearl of great price is the hundredth (lost) sheep, that's also acceptable.

It strikes me as very "Montessori" to let children interpret parables for themselves, as indeed the Gospel reader has to do!

UPDATE: In our discussion the following day one participant noted that the parable does not say the Kingdom is like the pearl, but like this story or this situation. The trainer said that children in CGS will, over time, begin to wonder about other interpretations. I wonder if *I* am the pearl? ... Maybe the pearl is the Eucharist... and she emphasized that that was good! But the doctrinal statement we were given for this lesson took it as a given (presupposition) that the pearl was the Kingdom, so in that sense I think I can stand by this post as written... for now at least.

an outsider, yet belonging

Today was a difficult day to be a non-communicant at Mass. (On this training course for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd I'm the only one who is not Roman Catholic.) 

Our Gospel lesson was, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. And then everyone except me went forward to receive communion.

Toward the end of the day, Linda presented the lesson of the Good Shepherd.

Usually, at the end of a presentation which has included a reading from the Bible she asks, What did you hear? You know what I heard? I heard these words: There are other sheep I have that are not of this fold, and I must lead these too. They too will listen to my voice, and there will be only one flock, one shepherd.  

16 October 2013

day 3 of training: CGS Level 1, Part 1

A few highlights from our day today:
  • Linda said, "I was tempted to ask, after yesterday's "Altar II" presentation, whether anyone noticed Fr Joseph put the leftover consecrated bread into the ciborium and tabernacle this morning." I didn't quite have the courage to answer, "Yes, and I took a photograph!"
our priest at the high altar

It's a beautiful church, isn't it? But a pity that the roof is leaking!

looking toward the side chapel we use

The parish priest joined us for lunch today, and he and I shared commiserations about difficulties for both the Dutch (Roman Catholics) and the English (Anglicans) with regard to the cost of maintaining so many church buildings, some with relatively sparse attendance, as balanced against having a loyal few members per building who cannot bear to move anywhere else. I had not realized that the 9 o'clock masses we had originally planned to attend, at different churches scattered across the city, are all celebrated by this same priest. It is all one parish now, although with several church buildings. 

He laughed and said, But it's not as many as the English have. Here we might have another church two streets away, but in England there's a church ON EVERY STREET! 
  • After taking the time to answer many questions we'd come up with overnight, Linda presented us the lesson of the Annunciation to Mary.
our trainer, reading the story to us
It was very different from a Godly Play lesson. The figures serve as a visual focus for the young children, but are barely manipulated at all by the chatechist. In a presentation to older children they might not be used at all. And the story is read straight from the Gospel account.

Different from a Godly Play lesson, and yet the hush brought to the group was the same. One course participant lamented the fact that "the spell was broken" at the end of the lesson. The trainer replied that it was better for the chatechist to "break the spell" by ending the lesson appropriately than for a child to finally lose concentration and break the spell in a more negative way.

the Annunciation materials
  • We split into groups of three, to discuss and prepare a different presentation (one per group, to be presented to the rest of us). 

I thought my reader, "Sweeter than Southern Tea", would enjoy this
photo of young children at training with their parents
  • Our trainer was much more gracious than I'd managed to be about my co-trainee who wanted to assemble so much information. She said, in front of all of us, that it was obviously part of how this person works. That in order to present so simply to children, this person needed to have a really holistic and almost exhaustive apparatus in mind as scaffolding around it. So it was fine to have that all in mind as long as the presentation to the children stayed basic. 
    • I saw this as a great example of what the Montessori guide / Good Shepherd Catechist / Godly Play storyteller and doorperson ought to do - to observe the child, to recognise and accept their individuality and enable them to work.

15 October 2013

starting out simple (CGS)

As you'll have gathered from my previous post, some CGS presentations are very simple indeed. In Level 1, Part 1, we're being shown presentations designed with the needs of 3- and 4-year-olds in mind. These children are expanding their vocabularies, able to learn terminology - chalice, paten, ciborium, tabernacle - but, "They don't want the whole liturgical history of the altar: including when the priests faced east and when it was that they turned to face the congregation..."*

Of course not, I thought. What a silly, unnecessary thing to say. 

* [This was not a direct quote. I can't remember what our trainer's actual over-the-top example was.]

She presented the gesture of Genuflection for us. I experienced this as consisting of little more than demonstrating and naming the movement. In fact, in the first presentation it is simplified down to a movement of the legs, with no accompanying sign of the cross. 

(licensed photo by Mulier Fortis)

But then I got into my group of three assigned to write up an album page for the presentation. And it was at this point that I really felt the benefits of my experience in Godly Play (and, dare I say it, the discipline of having trusted Berryman's scripts). 

Because in writing up the presentation notes (akin to a Godly Play script), one of my partners wanted to include a list of situations in which genuflecting is appropriate. Moreover, my partner's language made no distinction between genuflect (which in English means coming down onto one knee, briefly) and kneel (to be on both knees, usually for longer than it takes to genuflect), so their presentation included both postures. And then there was a debate about using respect or reverence to explain the theology of it. 
(licensed photo by
Fr Lawrence Lew, OP)

(I hadn't predicted any theological discussion - just a Wondering question encouraging the child to ponder the gesture's significance.)

I began to see the need for stressing simplicity and brevity!

  • Our trainer was much more gracious than I'd managed to be about my co-trainee who wanted to assemble so much information. Click here to read more.

The Liturgical Colors (CGS)

A continuing series about my Level I, Part 1, training in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

materials for Liturgical Colors

I showed some pictures yesterday of the materials for the Liturgical Colors. I know from a list we've been given that there is a presentation about the Liturgical Calendar. But in CGS younger children (or perhaps any beginner) is shown this very, very simple lesson on the Liturgical Colors. It just names the four colors and assigns them to before the feast, the feast, and after the feast. And then the feast of the Holy Spirit.

That's it. No Advent, no Lent, no commemorations of martyred saints, but one more repetition of the four times, pointing to the four colors of chasuble, and then it's already time to show how to put the work away. Because, as our trainer said, "This is a three-year-old. They're itching to work with these materials themselves!" 

That's another difference between GP and CGS: in GP the majority of materials are presented to all the children at once. The whole session is structured around an expectation that most weeks there will be a group lesson, much as we expect a Scripture lesson and sermon at our weekly church service. In CGS many lessons are presented to a select group, or even an individual, while the other children get on with other work (as can happen during Response Time in GP).

presenting the Liturgical Colors

Our trainer explained that the Liturgical Colors work is very good for children who need to move and expend energy. The child is shown how to carry a single frame with two hands, and immediately asked to help carry the materials from where they are housed. The child may help the catechist put the work away at the end of the presentation and still have energy left to work on their own, taking all the materials back out again.

So the overt goal is to introduce the liturgical colors (and laying groundwork for learning about the calendar), but indirect goals slowing the child down and even teaching skills transferable to ceremonial processions.

14 October 2013

album pages vs. scripts

(image source)
Before signing up for this course (on the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd) I knew the name of Sofia Cavalletti, the Hebrew scholar who, upon being asked to instruct a child in the Christian faith, began by reading to him from Genesis and was delighted to find how eager and curious he was - "the beginner's mind". I hadn't understood before, though, that CGS was a team effort. The Montessori element came from Gianna Gobbi, who had trained under Maria Montessori herself.

I have seen references to Montessori albums, but had never really understood what that referred to. And herein lies one important difference between Godly Play and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. In Godly Play we buy scripts written by Jerome W. Berryman, and we stick to them. As I've written before, we're not so slavish as to use notes - not speaking from memory is a sin even greater than deliberately changing the script - bur we are told to use the GP script and live with it before changing wordings. So I asked a very experienced trainer, a big name in the GP community, how long I had to go before I'd be "allowed" to change a phrasing. "You should teach it the way it's written for at least three years first," was the answer. 

Now it's true that some of what Berryman has written is beautifully phrased. Some of it is poetry! But not all of it is. [This paragraph could easily grow to another blog post! Let me turn instead to CGS.]

materials for teaching the Liturgical Colours
It turns out that an album page is the chatechist's (or directress's or guide's) notes for a lesson or presentation. One doesn't buy it or get given it; one writes this out for oneself. We did one in class today, for the Altar I presentation. For this first one we were more or less told just what to write down, but now that we've learned how to do so our homework tonight is to write out, ourselves, an album page for the presentation of the Liturgical Colors.

Crucially, our notes on the Presentation itself are not to be a "monologue", but an outline of the "key moments" of the presentation, with jotted phrases and/or main ideas. And these notes on the Presentation itself are only one section of many on the album page. We also note ourselves what the aims, both direct and indirect, of the work are. We write down the approximate age of child the presentation is for, the liturgical season it relates to, if any, and even the core doctrinal content of the lesson.

Some of this looks a lot like the material Berryman includes in his books, but I do think today that there's a real value in writing those words out myself rather than merely reading (or, let's be honest, sometimes skimming) them. 

materials: four miniature chasubles

CGS training, day 1

Training began with morning mass at a church in central Leiden. I discover that I am the only course participant who is not Roman Catholic.

apologies for a wonky perspective

The plan was to travel to a different church almost every morning. I thought, "I needn't have worked so hard to find a B&B close by our training location." But then we found that one of us on the course is a priest. We are training in a parish center, so it is agreed that from now on we'll start the day with him saying mass for us in a chapel here. My B&B choice is justified after all!

We then had coffee in the atrium, so as to get a quick sense of where it is and what it looks like, and then we were off to a clasroom space for a morning's lecture. Before beginning, though, Linda asked each of us to introduce ourselves. The majority are Dutch, but some of us have traveled from farther afield, including Norway and Japan, and are originally from countries such as India, Argentina, and Brazil (though all those participants now live in Europe).

We are asked to share not just names and origins, but a bit about how we had discovered CGS and why we had chosen to come this week. I am the only person to mention Godly Play; the only spark of recognition I get comes from a recent convert from the Lutheran Church. Oh, and nobody calls it CGS, although Linda writes it that way in her notes. Some say the whole mouthful, some only "Catechesis", and some "The Good Shepherd"!

When I was a child my family belonged to an evangelical Protestant church. I remember missionaries coming to speak about their evangelistic efforts in foreign lands. Some, at least, saw Roman Catholics as being as much in need of salvation as they did the pagan. As our tutor, Linda, talked today about the catechist as "matchmaker" between the child and Jesus, I couldn't help but imagine these foreign missionaries collapsing in a faint. 

Linda continues, "Christianity is about someone", emphasizing that last syllable.

12 October 2013

a foray into CGS

Tomorrow I'm off to the Netherlands for an intensive week of training in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (in English). I had meant to blog about this already back when I registered, but I got stuck when I failed to figure out how to put a pdf of the course leaflet up here. (Now I've copied what the training center have done, which is to link to it from an image - see below.)

Instead I'll just give you a few highlights: "The course will cover the first year program of level 1 of the method." Our trainer will be Linda Kaeil, from Portland, Oregon. She "is a long time experienced catechist and trainer of catechists in the United States, Germany, England, Poland, Australia, Canada and Africa. She trains the Missionaries of Charity (sisters of Mother Theresa) ... and teaches catechesis to children of 3 to 12 years at the Franciscan Montessori Earth School." Wow!

I think of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd as the mother of Godly Play. Certainly, Jerome Berryman drew heavily upon CGS in creating Godly Play. Although I've read a fair bit about CGS (for example, on Leslie's blog), this will be my first experience of it. I've read some comparisons which are so obviously skewed in favor of one or the other that they don't strike me as fair. But it does seem true that "Godly Play is more easily modified for nonliturgical churches" (to quote the book Children Matter), and that the training for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is much more intense (see this post by Cindy Coe).

I'll let you know how I get on!

03 October 2013

back to some basics: respect

In my Facebook feed this week there've been a couple of posts about Montessori basics. David Pritchard has started a series on the Godly Play España blog (written in Spanish) about the foundations of Godly Play, with a post about the Montessori method. He begins, En las escuelas Montessori la libertad es ciertamente muy importante, pero para conquistarla los niños tienen que trabajar de forma independiente y respetuosa.

(Keep reading - my translation comes a bit further down.)

Meanwhile, the National Association of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd USA has a FB thread going about ways to gently redirect a child. They asked, What are some phrases you use instead [of saying "No" or "Don't"]?

Here are some of their answers:

  • use positive examples
    • Let's do this. instead of Don't do that.
    • Remember we walk around the work rugs.
  • model the way to do it
    • Can I help you with that?
    • May I have a turn?
    • Let me show you how we work with this material.
    • Can I show you a better way?
      • OR have another child model it
  • gesture "stop" instead of saying No.
  • redirect them elsewhere
    • Please join me. (e.g. to get them away from a sticky situation) 
    • May I show you a material that you may enjoy working with?
  • help them remind themselves
    • Remember where we are? Who are we trying to hear in this space?
    • Is that your [church] voice or your outside voice?
    • Remember we walk around the work rugs.
  • remember that they have freedom but it's within limits
    • Your body isn't ready for that work yet.
    • You can choose this work another time, when you're ready.
At the same time, they stressed that it's okay for a child to explore new ideas with materials, as long as the the work is done respectfully.

As David Pritchard wrote above (my translation): In Montessori schools, freedom is certainly very important, but in order to achieve it children must work independently and respectfully. So it boils down to respect. Respect for the materials, respect for the others in the room, and our respect for the children!

02 October 2013

"The gospel is a story"

The gospel is known by one person telling another. One person must tell another because the gospel is a story. There is no truth, there is no summary of the story, that can be separated from the story itself.
Stanley Hauerwas (A Cross-Shattered Church, p.47)