In continuing to live out the Abound in Hope theme of the 221st General Assembly (2014), for which Detroit was the host city, the Presbytery of Detroit warmly welcomed 20 Presbyterian pastors, educators, Sunday school teachers and Christian education committee members on Saturday, April 25, for an all-day retreat on the hopeful theme, Growing in Grace & Gratitude.
Sponsored by the presbytery’s Church Education and Faith Development Work Group and hosted by Northbrook Presbyterian Church in Beverly Hills, Michigan, the retreat featured a keynote presentation by Mark D. Hinds, Ed.D., acting publisher for Congregational Ministries Publishing (CMP) of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.
In his address, Hinds introduced not only the overall concept of “grace and gratitude”—a helpful shorthand through which Presbyterians may more clearly understand their calling as Christians—but also previewed the new denominational children’s curriculum, which takes its name from the theme.
Growing in Grace & Gratitude—a new quarterly curriculum coming in the fall of 2015 in English and Spanish—is rooted in the foundation of Presbyterian identity, where God’s grace and the gratitude of God’s people are the heartbeat of Christian faith, life, and worship.
Not only does the curriculum extend an invitation to discipleship that inspires children to learn and practice hospitality, generosity, and love, it also reaches beyond Sunday morning, encouraging children to live their lives as an expression of God’s grace.
“Whenever I unpack ‘grace and gratitude’ as distinctly Reformed-Presbyterian at workshops like this, I always see heads nodding in recognition,” says Hinds. “It was the same with this wonderful group in Detroit.”
Among the other featured speakers at the event was Cindy Merten, director of Christian Education and All Abilities Inclusion Ministry at First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham—known as ‘Everybody’s Church’ for its focus on full-inclusion ministry—for whom the inclusion aspect of the new curriculum is of particular interest.
“The event was affirming and informative,” says Joshua Archey, interim director of Christian Education at First Presbyterian Church of Farmington, who attended the retreat. “Affirming in that everyone I spoke with is from a church dealing with similar issues: an aging, declining population and an ever-shrinking pool of volunteers. Affirming in that we can still inspire those around us by our passion for teaching the Good News of Jesus Christ. Informative in that I now have a better understanding of the curriculum and have more in my toolbox that I can draw from, having heard two other excellent presentations by Sherrill Heinrichs on games and Cindy Merten on including all in the life of the church.”
Hinds says that one thing that really seems to resonate with people in the church is how significant “grace and gratitude” are in relation to the lived experience of many children today.
“They are overwhelmed with the dominant culture’s version of success—work hard, earn your way, achieve value, etc.,” he says. “The grace of God we know in Christ tells a countercultural story—we belong to a God of grace. Workshop attendees are recognizing that message played out in and through the new curriculum for children. It’s very gratifying.”
Introductory workshops are scheduled across the continental US and Puerto Rico throughout the spring and summer.
“And it’s not cheap grace we’re lifting up, because grace comes at great sacrifice to God,” Hinds adds. “How can our response be less than overwhelming gratitude, lived out in tangible ways in our daily lives? Growing in Grace & Gratitude is helping our churches imagine a new way of being with our children.”