New Life in the Summer: Summer Church School

By Nadine Eskoff

In   June, as the public school year and the regularly scheduled church school program   draw to a close, pastors and church leaders are rightfully concerned with the   drop in church attendance and church interest in general. But why wait until   the Fall rolls around to see any life or conscious growth in the parish? Put   a real ring and enlightened zeal into your parish with a summer church school   program. True, most people are looking forward to a little rest and relaxation,   summer trips, summer camping; but as the summer goes on, there tends to develop   an undercurrent of anxiety, a yearning for something to do, something that can   capture that reserve energy and organize it into something positive.

 

A summer church school of one or two weeks   duration is not really as overwhelming as one might think; five basic elements   are necessary: 

     
  •     desire
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  •     love for children, church, and education
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  •     organization  
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  •   hard   work
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  •   pooling   of the many, often untapped, resources in the parish and in the community.    

Summer   church school affords a marvelous opportunity for the priest to work more closely   with the children of the parish, unfortunately not always possible with hectic   Sunday schedules. 

The   thoughts and ideas about summer church school in this article grow out of my   experience in coordinating such programs over seven summers. The particular   parish is located in the suburbs of a large metropolitan area on the East coast.   The parish membership averages about 100 families with some 50 children enrolled   in the Sunday church school program. The parish is not within walking distance   for most people, nor is the church accessible by public transportation. Therefore   in applying the following suggestions to your parish, keep this situation in   mind and adjust accordingly. 

To   start, the church school director, or choir director, or parish council education   coordinator, or interested parent, together with the priest should meet to figure   out a basic theme and set the date for the summer program. In trying out various   times to conduct a summer program, we found that middle or late August worked   the best. Most people are back from vacation and camp, and the children are   looking for some new excitement in their lives. Summer church school does not   have to be as formal as regular school, and the program can include normal summertime   activities, keeping the idea of the vacation joyous. 

Basic   themes

A   basic theme should be decided upon early in the summer so that your program   can be well publicized through the parish news, and mechanics, like car pools,   can be arranged. Generally, the theme should be one not covered in great depth   during the regular school year, due to lack of time. The following might be   considered: 

The   Old Testament Prophets (Choose a different prophet for each day and coordinate   all activities around him.) 

Saints   (Choose a different saint for each day. The American mints would bring the subject   close to home.) 

The   Sacraments (Zero in on one and not more than two sacraments per day.)    

The   Theotokos (Discuss and elaborate on one of her major feasts per day.)    

The   Summer Feasts (Discuss the theme of one feast per day; if the timing works   out, you may end the church school with the celebration of one of these feasts.     )

Stewardship   (Impress and plant the seeds of young stewards, and the harvest will glorify   God in the future.) 

Men   and Women in the Church (Expand the vast potential of the work.    Responsibility   and joy of the laity in the church. Use the Resource Handbook as source material.)    

Missions   (What is a missionary? Who are today’s missionaries in the Orthodox Church?   How and where have Orthodox missions grown in America.   

Church   Growth (Discuss how the church grows; the necessary ingredients for meaningful   church growth.) 

Evangelization   (Discuss the meaning of the term. Who is supposed to be the evangelizer?   How?) 

The   above themes have been used in an intense one-week program, and could easily   be expanded for a two-week program. 

Schedule    

Generally   the program calls for a similar schedule on four of the five days and then on   the fifth day, there is a Liturgy followed by a field trip and picnic. We run   a three-hour intense program in the morning. This does not put an undue burden   on the staff and allows children a half day for play and the opportunity to   run off excess energy. Don’t let small (or low) attendance discourage you. Our   first summer program was attended by 7 to 10 children. With the adjustment to   a better time in the summer, the excitement created by the children themselves,   and the addition of children from a neighboring Orthodox parish, we began to   average as many as 35 children each day. 

We   added an adult education program to run concurrently with the children’s program.   (Many parents waited for their children. Some parents even took some of their   vacation time specifically to attend this program.) Entire families became involved   in an activity of summer educational growth in the church    

Some   activities may be planned for the group as a whole; others may be arranged for   different age levels. Again this depends on the local situation. The following   is a typical schedule: 

     
  • 9.00    Morning prayer and Gospel reading

Elaboration   on the Gospel theme or the topic of the day. 

   

Choir   rehearsal for everyone. 

     
  • 9:45    Class time (Break into various groups, elaborating on the theme of   the day.)
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  • 10:30   Snacks Filmstrip, videotape, movie or other audiovisual presentation.    
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  • 1:00   Crafts (Coordinate with the topic of the day, and also a week-long   project.) 

Besides   working on a week-long project, we encourage a daily item. This way, if a child   must miss a day, he or she does not feel left out. This is a great time to make   and design all those posters, murals, puppets, and banners or produce that play   or skit that we seldom have time for during the year. If well planned, such   activities can greatly enhance the content of the program. 

     
  • 11:30   Sports

This   is usually done all together, though often the very young must have   their own separate games.   

Clergy   participation

Clergy   may be particularly enthusiastic about a summer church school program. First   of all, it gives the priest an opportunity for interaction with the children,   allowing them to grow in their love and friendship for him through the activities   and the closeness of the situation. With the flexibility of the schedule, the   priest is able to prepare the children in more detail for the celebration of   the Liturgy. In our program, on the day before the Liturgy the older children   prepare the ‘Prosphora’ for the offering of the children. On the day itself,   the ‘Proskomedia’ (the Liturgy of Preparation) is done outside the altar (as   in the early church), with each child presenting his or her prosphora with the   names of the loved ones to pray for during the Liturgy. The responses during   the Liturgy are sung by the children, a role which they have been rehearsing   all week.

Resources  

Make   use of the various materials and audiovisual aids, including this Resource Handbook,   available from the various departments of the Orthodox Church in America Use   the study papers from past All-American Councils. Dig out old copies   of Young Life, Upbeat and OCEC manuals and church magazines. 

Often   available free of charge from some of the Protestant and Roman Catholic neighbors   who are often encouraging and pleased to lend them. Their deaneries and diocesan   centers may have lists and sources for these materials. 

Draw   on the talents of individuals in your parish or the surrounding area. Be aware   special summer visitors may also enhance your program.   

Program   enhances summer parish life

At   the end of the session a display of the children’s materials can be placed in   the Church hall or foyer; perhaps a short presentation can be made on the following   day for the whole parish to enjoy. 

The   summer church school program provides a wonderful opportunity for church growth.   Instead of a void or period of stagnation in the summer months, a new excitement   is generated to enhance the regular liturgical life of the parish. This is an   excellent chance to invite the children in the neighborhood to come and see.   Encourage church school children to bring their friends. The children also inspire   their parents to want to come and participate. 

One   can accomplish as much in a concentrated one-week program as in an entire school   semester. Do not be concerned with the numbers of children who take part. Quality   is important, not quantity. When setting up your program, keep in mind variety   and an active program bring life to the topic and theme. 

Undertake   this glorious challenge, prayerfully with wisdom, guidance and preparation.   In the end, you will be thoroughly exhausted and drained, but filled with a   special joy, excitement and fulfillment that is second only to the joy, excitement   and fulfillment experienced on Pascha night, the new day. 

Nadine   Eskoff is a member of the Executive Committee of the OCA Department of Lay ministries.   She is a high school music teacher and presently attends St. Andrew’s Parish.   Hills. N.Y.

Taken   from the OCA Resource   Handbook for Lay Ministries