Friday, January 30, 2015

The Lord's Prayer lesson

As a pastor who has been involved with a lot of youth ministry over the years, I have logged many hours in the church and on retreats with other peoples’ youth. And as a person who has worked primarily with the upper end of the youth age spectrum, I have not had as many opportunities to work with elementary and pre-school-age children. That is why the last three Sundays were a bit special—and slightly awkward—for me. I found myself spending time in a series of Sunday School lessons on the Lord’s Prayer with my own two daughters, ages 6 and 8.

The lessons had an inter-generational aspect to them, which is something I am familiar with. However, it seemed a bit strange to participate from the perspective of one of those undersized chairs, seated between my daughters on the receiving end of the lesson, rather than from the front of the class as the leader. In short, I loved it. I hope I get to do more of them.

In one class the children were asked to draw pictures (or one picture) to illustrate the petitions (or a petition) of the Lord’s Prayer. After that, they were challenged to re-write the Lord’s Prayer in their own words. Although their end results were impressive, my first thought was that the second task—the re-writing—would be a little too difficult for them.

But there was a well-thought-out point to it that I hadn’t picked up on, even though I was participating in it: when the kids struggled to take the original words and re-phrase them (and they did), the parents were right there to help them say it another way. As a result, we adults had to think a little more critically about what we mean when we say the Lord’s Prayer. 

What I took from this lesson was that one of my daughters focused far more on the drawing-and-coloring segment while the other one really concentrated on the verbal part. At the end, they both presented their final products to the class with absolutely no nudging on my part. Throughout the process, neither of them let themselves be influenced by my pastor-y answers to things. They were hard at work, and it was clear my theology wasn't that important at the moment. I was simply supposed to be their helper. And as far as the 6-year-old was concerned, even that was too much. I was to be an observer.

Another class involved making “prayer pretzels.” The kids rolled out the dough and crossed the two ends so they looked like arms folded in prayer. Anytime you let kids work with edible crafts you’re bound to have a good time. Again, it was a bit of a challenge to get the dough to do what we wanted it to. But the work of it reminded me of the work of prayer. It should take some effort and even repetition, and, like dough, it can be twisted and molded to suit the occasion.

While the pretzels cooked, we listened as someone read a book of the Lord’s Prayer that took each of the petitions and laid them out in a series of illustrations that told a story about a little girl and her father as they help an elderly neighbor in their community. The plot is simple, but it still takes some serious thinking to tease out how the words relate to the pictures. It was one of those children’s books I’ve seen dozens of times in many church libraries, but this time it took on more meaning. There they were, my two daughters teaching their learning partner to sit down in that small chair and, at least for the moment, be a father and not a pastor.

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