Monday, October 10, 2005

Budding liturgists

(I've been such a punk about updating. Work's taken a lot out of me this past month, but I hope get back to thinking and posting soon.)

Yesterday I led the Rite-13 class at my church. St. Margaret's has just started the Journey to Adulthood program in earnest this year, and our group of Rite-13ers is a great one-- thoughtful, smart, energetic, talkative. This Sunday, I had planned out a lesson on collective prayer. And we got to it, eventually.

As soon as the kids walked in, one who had been to the early service said "I don't get the Gospel today. It's weird." Well, it was. Forget collective prayer, we had to address Jesus' weird parable first. Luckily I'd read Dylan's blog entry before heading over to church. I borrowed (and cited!) her point about wedding garments being designed to bring good fortune on the marriage, making the larger point that parables are often obscure to us because they reference customs of 2000 years ago. Then my co-teacher and I had to make the less comfortable point that some of Jesus' parables seem to have been obscure to his listeners 2000 years ago. That we don't get The Gospels, Exhaustively Annotated by J. Christ. Every sermon I've heard on this parable ends up taking a different line on it, which means Jesus' point isn't clear. We'll never know exactly what he was saying.

Well, the kid who'd brought it up didn't like that one bit. He said "But I like everything to be clear! I want to know exactly what it means." And my wise co-teacher said, "If you learn one thing in this course, and that's that we'll never be able to know what everything means, you'll have learned a lot." So true.

I found myself in complete sympathy with that boy. I love to find the point of things, whittling down obscure phrases until they have one crystal clear meaning. I've been drafting legal documents at work, and while I'd never want to be a lawyer, there's something immensely satisfying about writing something that can be construed one and only one way. I have to find a way to balance that intellectual curiosity with an acceptance and welcome of mystery, and do that in a way that doesn't just become laziness: "Oh, I'll never understand everything anyway, so why don't I just bask in the mystery?"

Why do I think this will be a lifelong challenge?

Anyway, back to the kids. After talking a bit about common prayer as the cornerstone of what it means to be Episcopalian/Anglican (and a tiny bit about what the Anglican communion is and a how we're praying together with people across the world and across the centuries), we looked at collects. We broke the structure of collects down:

Address: "O Lord,"
Ascription: "Ooh, you are so big, so absolutely huge. Gosh, we're all really impressed down here, I can tell You."
Request: "Forgive us for this our dreadful toadying."
Consequence: Monty Python's chaplain didn't really get that far!
Doxology: "Through Jesus Christ our Lord....AMEN."

The kids read the collect from the service, translated it into their own words, and pinpointed each component. I read them another one on angels, broke it down again, and we talked a bit about the language we use in church: why it's formal, how it needs to reflect the entire congregation and communion, how it's a way for us to talk to God and also to remind ourselves of God's nature, our relationship with him, and how we ought to live in that relationship. (Collects really pack a punch.)

And then we wrote our own. I'm so proud of the kids. They did a great job of coming up with topics, so much so that I had to promise we'd write a new collect each month! They needed only a little help to grasp that a collect could and should address a specific issue/need, but with language general enough that all could pray it. They settled on writing a collect for schoolwork. At first they started off saying "We should pray that we can get our schoolwork done fast so we don't have to worry about it and so we can get good grades, go to college and make a lot of money." My co-teacher helped steer them back to the larger points of education, and then there was no stopping them. Here's what we came up with:

"Dear God (1),you created wisdom and knowledge (2), give us focus and concentration to do our schoolwork well, so we can further explore the world we've been given (3) and do the work you have given us to do (4), through Jesus Christ our Lord, AMEN."

If we write a few of more general relevance, I'm going to ask if we can slip one into the service. Wouldn't that be a great way of underscoring our youth's importance to our church life?

(1) "Let's make it like we're talking to him", said one girl. Which we were.
(2) I'll cop to this being the teacher's suggestion.
(3) This was the final version of one student saying he did well in his schoolwork so he could go on a mission to Mars!
(4) "Let's put in that bit from the service about the work you have given us to do", said the other boy, pointing out it covered schoolwork, their future careers, the lot. See? Smart.


At 8:01 AM, Blogger Kathryn said...

That's brilliant...not for the first time, it leaves me envious of the Christian nurture programmes that seem to be part of the culture in USA.
What age are Rite 13ers? I can't imagine many of our teens being that liturgically literate, or indeed co-operative with their education in this way. And I think you should produce a whole year's worth of Rite 13 collects, for a wider public. That first one is great.

At 8:06 AM, Blogger Kathryn said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 8:07 AM, Blogger Kathryn said... said it hadn't posted my first comment, so I reposted. And now I'm cluttering you up with yet another extraneous comment, but it seemed rude not to apologise. Sorry, Anna :-(

At 1:18 PM, Blogger Sophia said...

Go Anna GO!

Nice job with your Rite 13 kids!

Sounds like you had one of those days when the wisdom of middle schoolers seems boundless. Hold onto that for the days when they refuse to talk about anything meaningful! :-)

Kathryn, Rite 13 kids are within a year or two of their 13th birthday. Rite 13 is part of a larger program called Journey to Adulthood.

At 1:33 PM, Blogger Anna said...

No problem, Kathryn, easily deleted.

Some of my kids are really super-literate. We have a mixed group. One or two of the kids don't read well and don't like to talk, and others are incredibly verbal and advanced readers. Balancing their needs can be hard. The group that showed up this Sunday was on the more extroverted end.

I will hold onto this, Steph-- thanks for the reminder!


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