St. John’s United Methodist Church begins a new children’s ministry

By Steven Garcia
A votive candle sits at the top of a staircase at St. John’s United Methodist Church. The candle rests snuggly in a candle holder depicting Jesus with a lamb. Lighting the candle signifies Jesus’ presence. It also serves to greet children into their new learning environment at the church on Sunday mornings.
The educational space is part of a new ministry at St. John’s called Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. The ministry is an approach to Christian formation that is rooted in the Bible, the liturgy of the church, and the educational principles of Maria Montessori. On Sunday mornings, children (ages 3 to 12) start by gathering in the Atrium, the name given to their new learning space. The Atrium is a dedicated place of prayer where children are given the time and space to meditate on the stories of the Christian faith so they may continue to see and experience God’s grace in their lives. It’s a place where they use hand-made materials to learn about Scripture, sacraments, liturgical gestures, and key liturgical moments – all toward fostering their own personal prayer life and relationship with Christ.
For nearly a year the people of St. John’s have trained and worked diligently to prepare this special place for all children, regardless of denomination. The place is more retreat, less recreation. It’s a place of discovery, where children have the revelations of God at their fingertips at all times. It’s a place for the child’s imagination, heart, soul, and spirit to take shape around the facts and information concerning our faith. In this place children come to know Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
By introducing this ministry on September 12, 2010, St. John’s became only the second United Methodist Church in Memphis to offer the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd ministry, and only the twelfth United Methodist Church in the nation. While the doors to God’s Kingdom have always been wide open, the Atrium offers children (and adults, alike) the opportunity to be in communion with one another. The ministry and its space are designed with a deep respect for the process of the Holy Spirit and trust that the Holy Spirit will guide the child’s relationship with God.
Rebecca Thomas, one of two trained catechists at St. John’s, states, “This approach to Christian formation represents the very best we can offer to the children placed in our care.” Simply, this approach expects nothing less for our children than a deeper exploration of Jesus’ teachings and the development of a more intimate relationship with God.
So what does St. John’s expect of its new ministry? According to Rev. Renee Dillard, associate pastor at St. John’s, “The goal has always been for the children at St. John’s to know they are loved – loved by their church family and, most of all, loved by God. Learning about Jesus as the Good Shepherd, as someone who seeks them out and loves and protects them, seems like a good way for children to not only learn about God but to experience God’s loving presence for themselves. We hope that children from our neighborhood will participate in and benefit from Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, and that this formation will lead to loving God and loving neighbor in a deeper way.”
St. John’s United Methodist Church invites all children (ages 3 to 12) to share in the journey that is the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. The Atrium, which is located on the second floor of St. John’s, at 1207 Peabody Avenue, is available on Sunday morning from 9-10:30am. For more information, please contact the church at (901) 726-4104.

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