The Church of the Good Shepherd Sunday School provides a solid Christian education for children ages Pre-K through 8th grade. This foundation is followed by Youth Group activities for ages 9-12th grade. Since 1997 the population of students has varied in number from single digits to an all time high in 2014 of 38 students. Initially, Sunday School consisted of two groups: 1) Pre-K-2nd graders and 2) 3rd graders-6th graders. However, the children loved Sunday School so much a 7th and 8th grade component was added so they could keep coming back to Sunday School. Due to the rising number of students and continued interest in our Sunday School Program, Good Shepherd now offers three different classes separated as follows: 1) Pre-K-2nd grade, 2) 3rd grade-5th grade, and 3) 6th grade-8th grade.
The Sunday School program provides a foundation in Biblical study, the Episcopal tradition and the use of God’s teachings in daily life through 9 different venues, as outlined below.
1) School Year Lectionary-Based Sunday School Program: Sunday School is held every Sunday throughout the school year during the 10am Service. Class begins at 10:00 and runs until approximately 10:45 when children are brought to the church in time for the Eucharist. Good Shepherd has chosen to use a lectionary-based curriculum provided by “Living the Good News”. Lectionary-based curriculum means that each week the children are learning the same lessons being discussed by adults in the church service, but at their appropriate levels. This has made for great family discussions at home. A typical class for Pre-K-5th graders consists of a children’s service, a lesson with age appropriate discussion, an active game tied to the lesson and a craft also linked to the theme of the lesson for the day. 6th-8th graders do a more in-depth bible study and project during each class. In addition, childcare is offered every Sunday and for all of our Major Holy Days for children younger than Pre-K.
2) Family Sundays: Every 6 weeks the Sunday School children take a hiatus from classroom study and participate in the regular Sunday 10am service. Each child is given a special role in the service, including alcolyting, distributing prayer books, ushering, offering, oblating, reading lessons, reading the prayers of the people, counting attendees, and playing instruments or singing in the choir. During these services children spend some Christian time with their families and are proud to participate in the typically “adult roles” of the service.
3) Special Events: The Church of the Good Shepherd’s calendar year is full of special Sunday School sponsored events for children and their families. The year kicks off with the annual Blessing of Backpacks during the 10am service on the first Sunday after Labor Day. Sunday School registration is held that day as well and each child is given a special back-to-school gift bag. The Sunday School Committee also hosts a Halloween party where grown-ups and children alike wear costumes to church and then celebrate the holiday with a special after party including piñatas, apple bobbing and donuts on a string. December brings a visit from Saint Nicholas and a lesson on the history of his ministry. Easter time is known for the 1,500 Easter Egg Hunt Eggs-travaganza on the church lawn, a visit from the Easter Bunny and 3 GOLDEN EGGS with special prizes. The school year concludes with a special graduation ceremony and each child is given a Sunday School Completion Certificate and special reward for working so hard all year.
4) Christmas Pageant and 12th Night Celebration: One of the most important events for Sunday School is the annual Christmas Pageant and 12th Night Celebration. Children from ages Pre-K through 8th grade are given a special role in the pageant, as all three Sunday School classes merge to prepare for the pageant. Some children are actors, others narrators, some help with costumes and scenery. Everyone has an important part. The end of November and all of December are spent rehearsing and then the final product is performed for the parish community. In 2014 we presented a pageant called “Twas The Night Before Christmas,” in which a “mouse” who is overrun by the “commercialization” of Christmas learns the real story of the birth of Jesus. Some children were in their first pageant while other veterans performed like professional thespians, and they all did a marvelous job reading, acting, singing and telling the story of Jesus’ birth. The Sunday School Committee also organizes a special 12th Night Celebration on the Saturday before the Epiphany, with a family potluck dinner. It is an evening of food, fellowship and festivity, with a magical visit from the 3 Magi bringing gifts for everyone. The evening is opened and closed with prayers, and the children’s Saint Nicholas Mite Boxes are collected and blessed.
5) Spring Concert – Sing Praises to the Lord: Every Spring the Sunday School works with the choir director to perform a spring concert for the congregation. Children learn both songs and special poems that are age appropriate and sing of their love for Jesus and faith in God. Children who play a musical instrument also perform in a musical number as the Church of the Good Shepherd Children’s Orchestra. This special concert adds some joy and fun to the Easter season.
6) Holiday and Summer Craft Sundays: Just because school is out does not mean Sunday School is closed at the Church of the Good Shepherd. Every holiday Sunday (e.g., President’s weekend, Memorial Day, Labor Day, etc.) and throughout the summer months, a member of the church provides a “laid back” craft time for the group in attendance. Some members share a special skill with the children, others provide a more structured lesson or craft. Either way these special times provide a way for children to expand their faith and get to know more adults in the church community in a fun and unstructured environment.
7) Community Outreach: The Sunday School children are always very excited to play an active role in giving back to their community, which Good Shepherd values as an important part of church membership. In the Fall, the children work to put together and decorate bags of toiletries (donated by church members) for people living in a homeless shelter. During Advent, children are given a Mite Box to take home for the season and fill with all of their family’s spare change. The boxes are collected and blessed at the 12th Night Celebration, and between $100-$300 is donated annually to American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem (AFEDJ). During Lent, the children make Easter baskets (with supplies donated by church members) for children in an impoverished Yonkers neighborhood. Community outreach is a wonderful way to bring faith into a child’s daily life and give to those less fortunate.
8) Summer Vacation Bible Camp: The Church of the Good Shepherd began a 3-day Summer Vacation Bible Camp in late August 2014. For three hours each morning campers enjoy a mix of scripture, lessons, songs, crafts and other activities. The camp is open to children 3-12 years old with counseling opportunities for teens 13-18 years old. Each day of the camp has a biblical theme, such as Jesus and Water, The Harvest, and Celebrating Meals. Some of the daily activity highlights include making and racing pirate ships, cooking in the kitchen each day, eating the results of our labor, preparing for a family feast, and spending time outdoors: playing with water, hiking, tree rubbing, scavenger hunting and touring Stuart’s Farm. All of this fun is wrapped up in some great lessons about God, loving the earth and being a good member of our community. The camp concludes with a barbecue for all involved families to celebrate a successful camp. We look forward to building on our experiences and making this a better camp every year!
9) Special Courses of Study:
The Rector and the Sunday School Committee rekindled its study of the Eucharist for children in Pre-K through 3rd grade in the Spring of 2014. These students participated in an in-depth 7-week study of the Eucharist during normal Sunday school hours. The study was adapted from “This Bread and This Cup – Episcopal Communion Instruction for Children,” with full understanding that “This communion instruction…acknowledges that Baptism is full membership with all the rights and privileges but a time comes when we really want to know more.” Themes included Communion as a Meal, Eucharist in the Gospel, The Sunday Service, The Tools for the Eucharistic Celebration, and Body Language of Prayer. The course of study culminated with a special “first informed communion” celebration during a Family Sunday service. We hope to conduct this class every few years in the future.
In 2013/2014, the Rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd hosted a Confirmation Class for young people in grades 8-12 who wished to participate. The class met ten times over ten months (nine classes and one visit to the Community Center of Northern Westchester). Classes took place on the last Saturday or last Sunday of each month. Saturday classes included preparing dinner, worshipping at the 5pm Eucharist, and discussion over the dinner prepared. Sunday classes met after the 10am Eucharist. The classes were led by the Rector and one other adult. Themes for the classes included Using your Gifts, Outreach, Bible Basics, Being an Episcopalian, Christian Ethics, Pain/Death, and Why am I a Christian. The course of study culminated with the celebration of confirmation with the Bishop. We hope to continue to conduct this class every two years in the future.
Would you like to help teach Sunday School? There’s no experience necessary; all you need is the desire to help root children in the knowledge of Christ! Living the Good News website provides lesson plans full of ideas, stories, crafts, games and discussions. Please contact Megan Whalen at email@example.com if interested.