Monday, January 28, 2019

Holy Friday Vigil and Lock-In at a Small Church School

Several parishes encourage youth participation during Holy Friday Vigil - including scripture reading, singing of hymns, and overnight activities. A brochure from TEEN SOYO is available to aid in organizing this event:

Erica Ameen is the director of Sunday School and assistant director of SOYO for St. Thomas Orthodox Church in Sioux City, Iowa. She writes about the Holy Friday Vigil and Lock-In at her parish:

We are a smaller parish, so we have changed things a bit for our vigil from what was done in the past. We do a half night lock in, starting right after the 7:00 PM service Friday night, and we go until midnight. This is open to anyone age 12 and up. To get prepared for the night, I first hang a sign in the church hall asking adult parishioners to sign up for reading times, especially in the first hour of the lock in. The kids give us their food requests, because let's be honest, they have to have all the food. Really, that's as much as we do for prep anymore; if there are new kids that will be attending the lock in for the first time, then we will share about Mary Magdalene and Virgin Mary sitting watch over Christ's tomb, and why we do it today.

We have two goals in doing the lock in: to sit vigil over Christ's tomb (and really prepare our hearts to understand the full reality of Christ's sacrifice for us), and then to strengthen the friendships between our kids. Our students are spread out within multiple schools in the area, and we want to really promote being friends outside of church and Sunday School, and that has happened in a huge way since we started doing the lock in a few years ago.

Our night runs a little like this-
After service we all meet downstairs. While we are setting up, adult members of the church start the readings and keeping vigil.The first thing we do is get everyone signed up for reading times. The kids sign up in pairs for 30-minute time slots. While they are taking turns keeping vigil, we have games going downstairs in the church hall. We have done a variety of games: Left Right Center with dice, Ten-Zee, Popcorn Olympics, Minute To Win It games. Last year, a random game of musical chairs broke out, completely unplanned and totally hilarious to watch. What is really awesome is watching the teens start to relax around each other, and really get to know each other. Someone is always keeping an eye on the clock, and each pair is ready to go up and start their turn to keep vigil. When they are upstairs in the sanctuary, it is their choice how they spend their time. They do go up together, but it is meant to be a personal growth time. Some take turns reading Psalms, some read various prayers, sometimes one will read from the Bible and the other will pray silently. All of them seem to leave the sanctuary with a better understanding of the sacrifice. 

There will be times that we have time slots open towards the end of the night, and we are never short of volunteers to go back up. What is really awesome is that by that point, as we have been playing games and hanging out together, the kids will pair up with someone completely different than their original partner.

For me, the last hour of the Vigil is the most important. As I mentioned before, our kids go to a variety of schools in the area, however it seems that they are all dealing with the same situations in school. Peer pressures, school and home pressures, all sorts of things that maybe don't seem to be such a big deal to adults, but we have to remember that is their life and what they are living. For the last hour of the night, my parent volunteers keep vigil over Christ's tomb while I take all the kids to the teen room for conversation. With the parents not around, the kids seem to open up a little more. During this time, I usually have some conversation starters ready to go, just from what I have seen and heard from the kids in the previous months. (Every Sunday we end Sunday School by praying all together. The kids all get a piece of paper to write prayer requests down, without leaving their names. The teachers of course know by handwriting who has written what, but the things we have learned doing this have been amazing, and that is usually how I get my conversation starters). For the last hour, I listen to these teens support each other, understand each other, give each other advice. I see the older teens helping the younger teens to know it will get better, or this is how I handled a situation just like that. I watch as the kids share their fears, and their accomplishments, and most of all I watch the love of Christ pour out to one another. The playing games at the beginning of the night is always fun, but really its just an ice breaker so that when we get to this point, they are comfortable to be open and honest with each other.

As far as safety is concerned, as soon as everyone has left the 7PM service, all doors are locked in the church. Anybody that would need into the church has to call my phone. We ask the kids leave their phones in coats so we don't have that as a distraction, and parents who aren't volunteering have my number in case of emergency. Boys are girls are not left alone together without a third party, unless siblings are reading together. There is always an adult present with kids.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Veteran Educator, Thriving SOYO Department, In-House Curriculum, Western Rite Parish

An Interview with Arlyn Kantz
St. Peter Antiochian Orthodox Church, Fort Worth, TX
Arlyn Kantz journeyed from an evangelical background to Orthodoxy seven years ago. She has taught history and Bible at St. Peter’s Classical school for the past six years and has served as director of Christian Education for the parish for the last three. Before becoming Orthodox, she worked in curriculum development for special populations while raising four children. She and Will, her husband of 25 years, recently handed off the reigns of a thriving SOYO department to capable younger hands.

How many students attend your Sunday school? How is your program organized for Sunday classes and how many teachers are assigned per class?
We have approximately sixty children in our parish, birth to eighteen. Twenty-two attend Sunday School on a regular basis. Sunday School meets after mass for forty-five minutes. Our children are organized into three classes: PreK-1st grade, 2nd-6th grade, and then 7th-12th grade. Our two younger classes do not hold firm to the boundary of age, depending on attendance and maturity and the preference of some children to be with a sibling. We do hold a firm line though on attending SOYO, as teens need a space of their own. We are blessed to have two teachers per level. Sometimes teachers rotate every other Sunday and sometimes they team teach depending on what is going on with their personal schedules and the number of children attending each Sunday.

Which curricula do you use for Sunday classes? Please also describe the curriculum created by St. Peter Christian Education Ministry.
SOYO leaders create their own program as they sense the needs of the group and are directly answerable to our priest, Fr. Mark McNary. Younger students are taught using in-house curriculum that has been tested through use in the lower grade Bible classes of our classical school. Sunday school teachers adjust lessons to be more applicable to mixed level classroom and a student population more sporadic in attendance. As lessons are polished, they are added to the parish web site where they are available to teachers to choose from and adjust to their specific needs. Our curriculum is always a work in progress. In fact, we welcome suggestions outside our parish to better serve, if possible, the wider community.
As the first Western Rite director to be interviewed, are there any unique characteristics of St. Peter Sunday school to discuss in comparison to Eastern Rite Sunday schools?
I am not familiar enough with Eastern Rite Sunday School programs to make a qualified comparison. I am confident that they, like us, are striving to make disciples and bring children into contact with the Holy Trinity and His Bride the Church. Because we are situated in a city that home to a large Protestant seminary, it seems good to us that our materials are presented as Bible studies and infused with commentary from the Fathers. We use terms most easily understood by the culture we are trying to reach. The saints and traditions are woven through, but as a support to scriptural interpretation, not as the lesson itself.
How do you keep SOYO/teen students involved and engaged in Sunday school? 
We are blessed with a very supportive priest in the area of teen SOYO. Additionally, we have two energetic and spiritually mature leaders who take the youth into their hearts, praying for them regularly and investing on a personal level. SOYO leadership creates an interactive atmosphere so teenagers are not subjected to simply a second sermon by an adult figure, but are given the freedom to interact, both asking and answering spiritual questions. A mixed set of activities are rotated including crafts, group building, introspection, and sharing.

Do members of your SOYO/teen group organize and participate in events outside of Sunday school?
SOYO youth provide leadership for younger students at the parish’s annual Vacation Bible School. This past year the teens created and manned games at a fall festival outreach for the local community. Youth leaders also issue challenges to encourage spiritual awareness during the week and fellowships are held in private homes.
Please share with us about your Sunday school Lenten programs/activities/outreach.
During Holy Week the youth lead off by manning the first hour of the Paschal vigil.
Do you have advice on how to schedule teacher training events and how to prevent teacher burnout? Are there any resources that you utilize for your own development and enrichment?
Teachers meet a couple time a year informally but most of our communication happens in passing and by email. Most of our volunteers are veteran educators so it is very much a team approach. Most of us come from Protestant backgrounds and are on a bit of an adventure rediscovering the Bible through the eyes of the Fathers. We very much lean on the commentary found in the Orthodox Study Bible and Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture by Manlio Simonetti. Teacher burnout is always a danger but having two adults committed to each classroom helps ease the problem. We are always looking for and praying about the inclusion of fresh volunteers, guarding against a sense of ownership of a particular ministry.

Are there students with special needs in your Sunday school ministry, and how have you addressed and accommodated those needs so that all students feel welcomed?
We have one student with severe autism who attends SOYO every week. The youth and their leaders have a deep appreciation for his purpose in the Body of Christ and are naturally inclusive. A presentation was given to the ladies group specially about autism and it seems to have affected positively the whole parish body.