By Barb Arland-Fye
Fifth-grader Olivia suggested reading the text in our religious education workbooks using the “popcorn” method. She explained that I, the substitute teacher for the small class, would read for a bit and then randomly call on one student after another to pick up where the last person left off. “That way you’ll know if we’re paying attention.”
Good idea. Although with just three students (all girls) in last Sunday’s class, lack of attention wouldn’t be hard to figure out! We followed Olivia’s suggestion and made great progress in the lesson that focused on God’s longing for us and how we recognize God’s presence in our lives.
Deacon candidate Brian Dugan teaches this class at Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire but needs a substitute one weekend each month while he participates in deacon studies at diocesan headquarters. He enjoys teaching his class at Our Lady of the River, which consists of seven girls with busy, active lives.
I assisted with religious education for seventh-graders many years ago at Our Lady of the River and later, with Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). My admiration goes to teachers who energize and inspire pre-teens and teenagers in their faith journey. I aspire to do the same with the girls under my wings one Sunday a month.
We began class last Sunday with prayer and a brief Scripture reading, followed by questions regarding the Scripture reading. As we prepared to do the first activity, the three girls present politely informed me that they’d already covered that material the week before. Oops! They had started but not completed the chapter, so we followed the popcorn method and continued where they had left off!
The questions and activities caused me to reflect back on my fifth-grade self as a Catholic school student. How would I have responded to the questions about longing for God and recognizing God’s presence in my life? The answer to those questions seemed important in order for me to inspire and inform Olivia, Angela and Rylee.
But life’s experiences between the fifth grade and now have shaped my faith journey profoundly. The one constant is that I believe God guides me and knows me better than anyone else. These girls will discover that for themselves, but teachers along the way (in addition to their parents and other loved ones) inspire them to explore and embrace their relationship with God more deeply.
One of the questions in the workbook asked: What do you long for? “A new bike,” “Another dog,” the girls responded. One of them went on to explain that her dog died last year and she has a new puppy this year. I asked them to expand their list of longings … and they said “family.” They talked about how they get homesick for their families when they go on sleepovers or when they’ve traveled on an airplane.
We talked about how they know God is present in their lives: in nature, such as sunsets; their families, prayers, the church and the sacraments. Someday, they’ll recognize God’s presence in other people, even in people they may not care for.
I discovered they love doing acrostic puzzles, creating bunches of words stemming from the letters of one word, such as faith. The fun activities seemed to create a bond among us as we explored the words and concepts that build on our foundation of faith.
If the girls were inspired and informed in their class last Sunday, I am grateful. They helped me to appreciate my longing for God in their willingness to share what God means to their fifth-grade selves.
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)