What Does a Progressive Christian Church Do With Its Children?

That question is at the heart of a project begun by several members of New Covenant Community (NCC), a TCPC congregation in Normal, Illinois.

NCC is a union congregation affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the United Church of Christ. Founded 10 years ago as the worshipping community of the United Campus Christian Foundation (a campus ministry at Illinois State University), NCC is a small community of progressive Christians who truly value “spiritual searching over religious certainty.”

NCC attracts university and townspeople alike. Prior to finding NCC, many members were frustrated with the traditional Christian church, and some were no longer involved in church life of any kind because they couldn’t reconcile their postmodern, progressive spiritual life with their past religious and church experiences. Thus, they were delighted to find a congregation that met their spiritual, emotional and intellectual needs

But while they were being spiritually nourished and fed, what about their children?

Having been raised in traditional Christian churches themselves, parents of NCC children did not want their children to be burdened with the oppressive religious practices they grew up with. It took many of them years to “unlearn” what they had been indoctrinated with by traditional churches, and they didn’t want the same experience for their children. So as they started to talk about a Sunday School program for their children, they began looking around for an appropriate curriculum to use that would teach their children foundational Bible material, which they felt was important, but which would also express their progressive Christian views. Not surprisingly, they could find nothing.

They tried some mainline denominational curricula, but found it to be too traditional and not reflective of their progressive faith. They checked out Unitarian material, which was progressive, thoughtful and justice-based, but found little mention of Jesus and/or God. And Unity curriculum wasn’t quite right either.

Like the story of the three bears, one bowl of porridge was too hot and other bowl was too cold. And they struggled to find the porridge that was just right. Thus began the process of creating their own materials to use with the children of NCC.

Several different things were tried, including drama, storytelling around a campfire, interfaith appreciation, and the shared inquiry method (more about these methods will be offered soon on the TCPC web site). And while the ideas were innovative and progressive, and the children enjoyed the learning experience, it was difficult to find and keep teachers because there weren’t shiny, glossy, ready-made materials at their disposal, and the teachers had to create much of their own curriculum.

And then there was the question of how to teach the material. All agreed that the children should be educated in “Bible basics,” but how do you teach spiritual searching and metaphorical interpretation to six year olds? (A problem which turned out NOT to be a problem, since children do that all the time with other mythical stories, and in our experience, teachers often ended up learning more from the children about Bible stories than the other way around.)

Plus what do you do with stories about the virgin birth and resurrection, not to mention a burning bush and a world-destroying flood? Would it be possible to create a learning environment from which the children could glean the “truth” of those stories without having the need to believe them as literal, factual, and historical.

They realized that they couldn’t be alone in their quandary. Conversations at the June 2001 TCPC Forum confirmed their suspicion, as other TCPC members expressed frustration at not having easily accessible and teachable materials for children that reflected their progressive spirituality. All agreed that it was important to teach children the basics of the Bible and the Christian faith tradition (along with other material), but most were unsure how to do it.

So, with the backing of TCPC, a small group of NCC folks, including this author, got together to organize and share their ideas and materials for progressive Christian education with other TCPC churches.

The materials which will be posted on the TCPC web site will be a “work in progress,” and we plan to add lessons and ideas in the coming months, as well as solicit suggestions and ideas from other TCPC churches. Perhaps some day we will be able to produce our own shiny, glossy, ready-made curriculum for distribution. For now we will make material available piece by piece on the TCPC web site in the near future.

What does a Progressive Christian Church do with its children? As we seek answers to that question together, we do so with the firm belief that our children are the future of the progressive Christian church. And finding ways to nurture and educate them ought to be one of TCPC’s central goals.

Note: These lessons are still being moved from the old TCPC site – so please check back!


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