Third graders love to belong to groups. At their age they are joining sports teams, scouting groups, clubs, and more. I love teaching them about the Church; they get excited when they learn that they belong to a worldwide group. This group includes people from all walks of life and from every nation. It even includes people who’ve come before us. When I ask the children in my class the question, “What is the Church?” and tell them that we are the Church, their eyes always light up. It’s an exciting thought that the Church that we are part of was founded by Christ.
To help them understand what it means to be the Church, I began by asking them the following questions:
- When did you become part of the Church? At our Baptism!
- What is the work God gave to the Church? Go, baptize, and teach!
- Who does the work of the Church? The pope, bishops, priests, deacons, men and women in religious life, and all of us!
The biggest question I asked—the one that we spent the most time discussing and digesting—was, “What does the work of the Church look like?” Understanding that question was a bit difficult. So I rephrased it: “How do you go out into the world as a disciple of Christ?” They struggled with that one too. I simplified it more: “What actions do you take in your life as a member of Church, or as a Christian?” They grasped this question and began to answer.
Their answers included things I typically expect: praying, attending Mass, celebrating Reconciliation, and coming to faith formation class to learn about God. But their answers also included things like helping friends when they needed it, trying hard at school, participating in food drives, saying grace before meals, being kind to others, reading the Bible, and donating toys to charity. These answers showed that the kids understood that discipleship means more than just praying or going to Mass.
To make this discussion a little more interesting and fun, we sat in a circle on the floor with a big ball of yarn. As a person answered the question he or she held onto the yarn, then threw the ball to another person who then had to answer the question. After a while it looked like a big spider web connecting us all to one another. I pointed out that just as the web connects us, our Baptism binds us together in a community that is the Body of Christ. Together, we go forth to proclaim God’s love to the world through the good works we do.
Of course, some kids only saw a big spider web and wanted to crawl in and through it. I should have anticipated this. But even in the midst of the excitement with the yarn and the discussion about our answers, the kids came to understand how our individual actions build on and support one another. As we come together as a Christian community, everyone’s participation is necessary. Our Baptism binds us together as the Body of Christ, and it is through our actions and faith that we proclaim the Good News as members of Christ’s Church.
How do you help children understand that they are the Church?