Emily Stecher is seeing stars.
Stecher, the director of Christian Education at the First Presbyterian Church of Portland, Ore., sees stars everywhere. In the church’s Sunday school classrooms—where the 8-10 year-old children recently made stars to represent God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah—in the congregation’s faithful volunteers, and especially in the new Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) denominational curriculum, Growing in Grace & Gratitude.
“What we have been enjoying about the curriculum is how interactive, imaginative and engaging it is,” said Stecher. “The kids are not receiving a lesson passively, but rather they are active participants in the story and actively respond to it.”
Growing in Grace & Gratitude, which debuted in fall 2015, is rooted in the foundation of Presbyterian identity, where God’s grace and the human response—gratitude—constitute the heartbeat of Christian faith, life and worship. The curriculum extends an invitation to discipleship that inspires children to learn and practice hospitality, generosity and love, and it reaches beyond Sunday morning, encouraging children to live their lives as an expression of God’s grace.
Published by Congregational Ministries Publishing (CMP), Growing in Grace & Gratitude is a quarterly curriculum available in English and Spanish. Each session shares a Bible story that reveals God’s grace for God’s people. Through fun, age-appropriate activities, prayer and singing, children and their leaders celebrate the meaning of this grace in their lives as they encounter a living God.
Stecher was one of nearly 15 staff and volunteers—including two visitors from Aurora Presbyterian Church—who recently attended an introductory workshop on the new curriculum taught by Candace C. Hill, coordinator, Educational Ministries, CMP.
“A key principle of Growing in Grace & Gratitude that engages children and excites leaders who support their Christian education is the recognition of children’s agency,” said Hill. “Children are invited to make decisions about setting up their space. They are invited to contribute their ideas as they experience the biblical story.”
Hill cited the stars as a prime example of children’s agency.
“Vincent Carpenter, the leader of First Church’s 3rd–5th grade Sunday school class, told me during the workshop that the children had a blast setting up the space for the Abraham and Sarah story,” Hill recalled. “In his own words, ‘They were all over that!’”
Stecher added that Hill’s workshop helped both staff and volunteers, like Carpenter, become more familiar with the overall vision of the curriculum and how to facilitate it. She praised it for exposing children to the core biblical narrative while also introducing them to the practice of liturgy.
“At our church, life together as a congregation begins and grows out of our time in worship,” said the Rev. Audrey Schindler, pastor of First Church. “Glorifying God is at the core of who we are. We’ve been glad to see how the new Growing in Grace and Gratitude curriculum helps the third to fifth graders in our congregation connect to the worship life of the church through exploring the Bible stories and the richness of the liturgical seasons.”
Stecher has heard from several volunteers and parents that their children really enjoy coming to Sunday school. “Our volunteers have told us that the kids look for their previous week’s responses on the wall each time they arrive,” she said. “Its emphasis on God’s grace and our gracious response keeps it deeply rooted in the Reformed tradition as well.”
Mark D. Hinds, Ed.D., interim publisher for CMP, has heard similar responses from participants in workshops he has led.
“Invitational, worshipful language in three movements defines each session,” Hinds said. “The intentional language and spirit of the curriculum allows children to experience grace and respond with gratitude whenever they gather at church, at home or with friends.”
In Foothills Presbytery, located in Simpsonville, S.C., the Rev. Debbie Foster, associate presbytery pastor/associate stated clerk, said that a number of the presbytery’s congregations are using the denominational curriculum—some for the first time—and are very engaged with it. She has made it a goal to introduce more churches to its benefits.
“It is user-friendly, Reformed, theologically grounded, and promotes engagement between learner and leader,” Foster said. “We believe firmly that this is some of the best material produced by our denomination in the last decade, if not two.”
Find information, samples, and free components of the curriculum at http://growinggracegratitude.org. Order curriculum online at http://pcusastore.com or call (800) 533-4371. The winter quarter became available online on Oct. 7 and started shipping on Oct. 15. All printed items are print-on-demand. For shipping, CMP suggests allowing 7 to 10 business days to receive curriculum orders.