A change of seasons for many Sunday schoolers

After 15 years working with the familiar and popular Whole People of God curriculum, Sunday school educators have a new resource.

In many ways, the new Seasons of the Spirit curriculum is similar to Whole People of God, which will no longer be supported with new materials by the publisher. Like its predecessor, Seasons of the Spirit’s Canadian publisher is Wood Lake Books, a British Columbia publisher of religious books and resources, and it is built around the lectionary. In other words, the activities and readings of the curriculum follow the weekly readings of the church, according to the church’s three-year cycle.

Seasons of the Spirit, though, is a much more international and ecumenical resource, being the work of an editorial team assembled from writers and educators in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. Though ecumenical in its conception, each denomination represented has its own handbook to accompany the curriculum. 

A small church investing in the Seasons curriculum would typically buy a basic unit or kit, consisting of a complete congregational life module. That module would be comprised of tools for co-ordinating worship, Sunday school and adult education materials.

Smaller churches would likely also purchase a ‘multi-age’ module, with educational resources for children of all ages, and another for adults. Larger churches might buy Sunday school modules for various individual age groups: from birth to age 2, through to 15-18-year-olds.

Supplemental material is available free from the Seasons website. Developers of the curriculum are focusing on keeping the material current, so in addition to the purchased materials, users also have access to a supporting, interactive Seasons of the Spirit website (www.spiritseasons.com) which will be updated at least weekly, says Ann Bemrose, Anglican editor for Whole People of God for six years and part of the editorial team for Seasons of the Spirit.

That feature, she says, will ensure the materials are current and relevant. The editorial team will scan the news and stay in touch via e-mail; they will be available to collaborate quickly on, for instance, supplemental materials – including reflections, articles or other websites – to help people understand a recent tragedy or other current event.
Additionally, the website features an “Ask the Rabbi” section, a question-and-answer page for biblical questions.

Launched in 1983 as a small, grassroots program in a Regina United Church presbytery, Whole People of God gradually became “the” curriculum for many Canadian churches. By the late 1990s, Whole People of God was being used by more than 10,000 congregations in more than 20 denominations in Scotland, South Africa, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Bermuda, the United States and Canada.

Seasons of the Spirit is targeted at the same audience.

Because it is being produced by many of the same people, Seasons will appeal to fans of Whole People of God, says Ms. Bemrose.

“What they’ll like is that Seasons of the Spirit has a completely fresh look to it,” she says. “It’s bright and colourful. Whole People of God has, at times, been text dense. Seasons of the Spirit has made the material useable for people.

“I think people will also appreciate the use of art.”

New to Seasons of the Spirit is a strong emphasis on the use of arts, including music, poetry and visual arts, in religious education. “This is artwork that the (editorial) team has chosen which is related to the lectionary,” says Ms. Bemrose. “We’re finding ways to encourage people to get over their art anxiety, to engage with the texts.”

And though it can be purchased at deep discounts if bought as a whole package, Ms. Bemrose predicts some churches will appreciate that it can also be purchased quarterly, in instalments.

The curriculum’s strength, she says, is that it is age-specific and lectionary based, rather than topic based.

The national church’s bookstore, Anglican Book Centre, offers both Whole People of God and Seasons of the Spirit, but, as popular as they are, they are not for every church says Dan Benson, the store’s merchandising and distribution manager. (ABC is the sole distributor of the curriculum to Anglican churches.)

Although at least half the Anglican churches in Canada use Whole People of God, Mr. Benson says some Sunday school educators like to work with a topic or theme for more than a week.

For them, a curriculum like the year-old Mustard Seed Series is more appropriate. Produced by a former director of Christian education in an Episcopal church, Mustard Seed is a Bible study program for children up to confirmation age. Like a primary school curriculum, it is thematic. Teachers and students can study any theme or bit of Scripture as long as is necessary, rather than have to move on to the next week’s lesson. 

A year after ABC began offering the series, about 30 Anglican churches in Canada are using the Mustard Seed.


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