Transcript of Introductory Video:
Glory to Jesus Christ! Hi, my name is Rebecca Varga. I live in Euclid with my husband, David, and our 5 children. About 6 years ago, I met two sisters from the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville, Tennessee. When they found out that I was homeschooling and teaching PSR, they said that I needed to get trained in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. I started my training a few weeks later and it has been an amazing journey as I’ve grown in my own faith and watched grow the faith of the children with whom I have worked. It took me 5 years to finish my Level I training since I had 2 more children and side-tracked to get trained in the 3-6 year-old level of Montessori as well during that time. I have been an aide in four atria and this past year finally started my own atrium. I would like to help grow the availability of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd in Northeast Ohio and am excited to share with you today the start of the Good Shepherd Community Center, whose mission it is to make CGS more accessible to area parishes and to provide support to catechists.
First off, I’d like to tell you about some of the services we would like to provide.
In the Good Shepherd Community Center, we will have an adult-sized atrium that will serve multiple groups. We will have atrium sessions for adults with Special Needs. I have a sister with Down’s Syndrome and there aren’t a lot of faith formation opportunities for adults like her. Since the presentations in CGS are individualized, it will be a great format for meeting each participant where they are at in their faith life and helping them to grow from there. The adult-sized atrium would also be used for mini-retreats. We hope to start this year with a few offerings before or during Advent and during Lent. These would be specifically geared towards parents or grandparents of children who are currently participating in atrium. They would be opportunities for learning about Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, experiencing a little of what their children experience, and growing in their own faith. The third use of the adult-sized atrium would be as a space to support catechists. We hope to eventually offer catechist training sessions on a regular basis. For now it will be a space that catechists can gather in to get refreshers on presentations they are not as familiar with, to pray together, and for discussing their experiences in the atrium and getting help they need with particular children or situations.
This fall we plan to have 2 atria set up for children, a Level I atrium for children ages 3-6 and a Level II atrium for children ages 6-9. Within two to three years we plan to have a Level III atrium for ages 9-12. These atria will be available for multiple communities. Parishes that would like to use Catechesis of the Good Shepherd as one of their faith formation options for PSR but don’t have the space or trained catechists could offer coming to the Good Shepherd Community Center as an option for the children in their parish. The same is true for schools. Catholic grade schools in the area will be invited to bring children to the center once a week for atrium sessions. They can also use it as a training opportunity for staff members who would like to become trained in CGS – they can serve as classroom aides when the students from their school come for sessions. The center can then help those staff members, once fully trained, to set up an atrium in their school. The center will also welcome families who are homeschooling to bring their children for daytime or afternoon atrium sessions.
Finally, as a community center, we plan to be a place that supports other Catholic groups. For example, Troops of Saint George could hold an event at the center, or a homeschooling group could put on a play there.
Now that I’ve shared with you about the plans for what the center will offer, I’d like to take a step back and explain a little about what is Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for those who are not very familiar with it. Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is primarily about aiding the child in establishing a close relationship with our Lord in a way that respects their developmental stages. For the 3-6 year-old child in Level I, the focus is on the Good Shepherd. The child comes to know Our Lord as the one who knows His sheep and calls them each by name and they follow Him because the recognize His voice. For the Level II child of 6-9 years, the focus is on Jesus as the True Vine. Children at this age are entering a social plane of development and beginning to see themselves as part of a larger community. The image of the True Vine helps them see Jesus as the source of not only their life, but of the lives of those around them. In Level III, the 9-12 year-olds delve further into the meaning of community and life and they spend a lot of time learning about Salvation History and coming to understand their part in God’s big plan.
In the atrium, almost all the presentations are given individually, especially for the 3-6 year-olds. The scripture passages is read carefully 2 or 3 times and then the child is asked what he or she has heard. This allows the adult to guide the child in their current understanding of scripture. For example, for most 3 year-olds, the Nativity story is exciting for the idea that God has come into the world. By the time the child is 6, they have heard the infancy narratives multiple times, as well as all the parables and the passages about Christ’s death and resurrection, so when they hear the passage of Jesus’ birth again, they often relate it to other points of Christ’s life and see it as part of the whole story. Throughout the experience, they come to see scripture as God’s Word that is living and can speak to each one of them.
In order to give the child this experience of growing their faith at their own pace, the catechist has to see him or herself as simply a guide. The adult is the one who has more experience with the materials and can introduce them to the child, but the true Teacher in the atrium is the Holy Spirit. The child is given as much time as she or he wants to work with the material, to contemplate the materials in relation to each other and to learn to sit in silence and listen to what the Holy Spirit is trying to teach.
The children are also introduced to the life of the Church in the atrium. They learn about articles they will see in Church such as the chalice or cruets, so that when they attend Mass or Liturgy they have an understanding of the things they see and find joy in that understanding and therefore pay more attention to the details. They also learn about the liturgical colors and liturgical calendar so that the visual clues of the colors they see in church can aide them in knowing what liturgical season we are in and what that means.
The parable method speaks particularly clearly to children since they are in a stage of making sense of the signs and symbols they see in the world around them. For the 3-6 yos, who are in a stage of rapid growth and finding joy in discovering the world, the parables that speak of growth, such as the Parable of the Mustard Seed and the Parable of the Yeast are particularly meaningful for them. Also meaningful are the parables that speak of discovering the Kingdom, such as the Parable of the Hidden Treasure and the Parable of the Precious Pearl. For the 6-9 yos, who are in the social stage, those parables that address community and moral behavior are of particular interest, so they are presented parables such as those of the Pharisee, the Tax Collector and the Good Samaritan. The 9-12 materials focus on the prophets of the Old Testament, the gifts of God, and the Miracles of Jesus.
Throughout all the levels the children enter ever more deeply into the mystery of the Eucharist. While the 3-6yos develop familiarity with the Mass by learning about the articles and the gestures, such as the epiclesis, the older children focus on the prayers of the Mass. They study each of the small prayers and come to see them as part of a unified larger prayer. They copy the prayers and make their own missals for following along during Mass. The image of Christ as the Good Shepherd is returned to as the children meet Him as the One Who lays down His life for the sheep. In 2nd grade there is also specific preparation for the reception of 1st Confession and 1st Eucharist.
Finally, I would like to talk about the help the Good Shepherd Community Center needs in order to make all these plans into a reality. First and foremost, as with any mission or ministry, we need your prayers. Second, we’ll need the materials and furniture for setting up the atria. Later this month, we will post a spreadsheet or registry or the items that will be needed. A lot of the furniture that we acquired for the Level I atrium this year was well-used and needs refinishing. After we have received the bulk of the furniture for the additional atria that we are setting up for this fall, we will have a furniture refinishing day, likely sponsored by a local Troops of St. George so that they can use it as an educational opportunity for the boys. However, adult assistance will be needed as well.
In CGS catechist training, they talk about the importance of the catechist making many of the materials needed for the presentations. This allows the catechist time to contemplate the Bible passages she or he will be presenting as well as to think about the details that the children will glean from the materials. Since we will be needing a lot of materials, we plan to hold a material-making day, likely in late July or early August. The instructions will be provided and anyone who is interested can help make the materials. We also invite other catechists in the area who may be in need of materials for their own atria to join us that day for the fellowship or physical help in creating those materials.
The center plans to have 2 or 3 employed catechists that will be there during the days or afternoons to offer all the atrium sessions mentioned in the first slide. The catechists will also maintain the atria. As the spiritual preparation of the catechist is just as important as the preparation of the room, built into the job description for these catechists will be dedicated prayer time for them to pray about the presentations they plan to give that day as well as for each of the children or adults who will attend atrium that day.
In order to cover the salaries and the materials that aren’t donated, the center will also be in need of monetary donations. We plan to have a fundraising event in the fall, but any donations are welcome at any time.
In order to comply with Virtus and to give the main catechist the ability to focus on the individual presentations, all atrium sessions will need a second adult who can be the aide. In the Level I atrium, it is also helpful to have a teen or pre-teen helper who can do jobs such as walk children to the bathroom or help clean up messes. This would be a great way for a young person to get needed service hours.
The thing that’s most stopping our moving forward right now with things such as 501c3 status and hiring catechists is the need for a few more board members, in particular a Secretary and Treasurer.
The building we currently have lined up for use as the Good Shepherd Community Center in Euclid could use some renovations, so if there is a skillset you would be willing to offer, such as roofing, plumbing, painting, etc. that would be much appreciated. On the organizational side, we’ll also need help with such things as marketing and fundraising.
Finally, spread the word! Let young families know about the faith formation we will be offering. If there’s someone you know who would want to help out in any of these ways, please put us in contact with them.