Dealing with Thorny Theological Issues in the Interfaith Families Project Sunday School
Let’s confess– it’s not just Jesus that sometimes stumps us in the classroom. We all have different viewpoints when it comes to religious figures, stories and concepts: Jesus, God, Moses, the Holy Spirit, Easter, the Exodus, the afterlife, miracles…
So for the Interfaith Sunday School classroom, how we present the material or answer a student’s question very important.
Remember: We want our children to
- Learn about our religious traditions
- Question our religious traditions
- Develop their own understanding of and relationship with these traditions.
So what does this look like?
1) Tell the Story: Most of our religious rituals, concepts and traditions are based on stories. And, stories do not have to be literally true or false. What is important about a story is the meaning we derive from it.
Thus, when telling any story, focus on what the story is trying to tell us. Ask yourself– in what way can this story enliven and inform our lives, right here, right now? For example, the concepts of creation and resurrection each contain powerful messages– about the importance of life itself and about the transformative energy of human and Divine love. Our job is to give our students the opportunity to discover and decipher these messages–not to tell them the theological implications we see in it.
2) Acknowledge that there is more than one answer: Again, humans hold a variety of beliefs about religion, and it’s important to let children know this. It’s also important to let them know that this is perfectly fine. Thus, when talking about any particular religious belief (the resurrection, for example), it’s appropriate to use the phrase, “some people believe….”
In other words, “some people believe that Jesus’ body was lifted straight up to heaven, some people believe that Jesus’ spirit lives on with God and with humans, some people believe that, although Jesus died, his teachings and good works live on…” And remember, always give the child a chance to share what s/he believes!
3) Answer a question with a question: The wonderful Montessori based Godly Play curriculum incorporates “wondering questions” into the stories presented by the classroom storyteller. For example, “I wonder what the good shepherd could have been thinking when he went to find the lost sheep…..?” This approach both draws the child into the content of the story and gets the child to begin thinking for him/herself rather than being “fed” answers by an authority figure.
To use this method in response to children’s questions, simply add “I wonder” to the question. Thus, if a child asks, “What happened to Jesus after he died?,” you could respond, “I wonder what happened to Jesus after he died?” You’ll be amazed by how much kids have to say about these topics when they’re given a chance to share it!
The IFFP Sunday School Program Goals
Most of the teachers in our Sunday School are IFFP parents. And our parents have a strong influence over the direction of the Sunday School.
Below are our Sunday School goals–identified and prioritized by parents:
Preschool to Fourth Grade:
- Understand Judaism and Christianity and their connection with each other.
- Internalize values, beliefs, ethics, and justice.
- Be in community with IFFP/other interfaith kids.
- Become comfortable in religious services and holiday celebrations.
- Develop their Interfaith identity.
- Think critically about religious issues.
- Have good teaching methods/fun.
- Do community service, understand justice.
- Learn very basic Hebrew.
- Develop tolerance.
- Understand Israel, Israel/Palestine Conflict.
Fifth to Eighth Grades:
- Internalize values, beliefs, and ethics.
- Develop Interfaith Identity
- Understand Judaism and Christianity
- Be in Community with IFFP/Other Interfaith Kids
- Have Good Teaching Methods/Fun
- Develop Tolerance
- Think Critically about Religious Issues
- Do Community Service and Understand Justice
- Learn Very Basic Hebrew
- Understand Israel, Israel/Palestine Conflict
- Become Comfortable in Religious Services
We are ALL Gifted, and we ALL have Special Needs
Every year, we train our teachers to help all children get the most out of Sunday School. A professional special education teacher regularly helps in the classes and consults with teachers.
At this point, we do all this within the framework of the regular classroom. In the past, IFFP has had a “mixed grade” class for students with special learning needs who were not able to benefit from the regular classroom. These students have now had a Coming of Age Ceremony and then participated in the IFFP Mixed Grade Teen Group. In the future, if there is a group of students with special learning needs who would benefit from having a separate class, IFFP is happy to create another Mixed Grade Class to serve them.
Please let the teachers and the director of religious education know what your child’s special needs are, and what works best with your child at school and at home. We want to work with you to provide the best experience possible for your child.
Our Sunday School Program's Methods
- Each class leads a song or prayer during one of the IFFP Gatherings.
- Each class participates in at least one community service project during the year.
- Preschool through 2nd grade have music and movement
- Preschool through the 6th grade classes learn very basic Hebrew If you would like tutoring for a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, let us know by contacting our director of religious education at RevBeth@IFFP.net