Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, so we’ll take all the children in the religious education program to church for Mass. It’s the same Mass the full parish is invited to, and it’s usually crowded. By taking the children to this Mass, we emphasize that not only is Ash Wednesday something special, but that we are part of a parish community.
Because of the Mass, we don’t have a class session this week to discuss Lent; we had that discussion last week. There are so many good Lent activities available, and I had to be disciplined in selecting just a few key ones for my group. I asked myself—and the Holy Spirit, of course—which types of activities would best speak to this particular group of young people this year.
This year we made connections between Jesus’ time away in the desert and our unplugging from the myriad electronic devices we own. I don’t try to tell the kids to give up their phones for Lent. (After all, I don’t want to start a riot!) Instead, I encourage them to consider things they could do other than spending time connected to the Internet or texting their friends or watching TV. I ask them to consider living the Lenten practices or spending in-person time with family and friends. Even ignoring the phone a few minutes before class starts is time that could be spent intentionally with God.
We also explored the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. I handed out a Bible search worksheet that gave practice in finding Bible verses as we learned what happened in the desert. Then we talked about the traditional practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and I reminded the young people about the practice of abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays. We prayed with a guided reflection on the Lenten practices to help us consider our plans for the season.
Then it was time to commit plans to paper. We used the My Lenten Plan calendar (available in the Lenten Lesson Plan download) for this purpose, and I encouraged the young people to display their calendars in a place they’ll remember them—in their room, next to a mirror, or on the refrigerator, for instance. I also handed out the Lenten bookmarks and encouraged them to use them in their Bibles or textbooks during the season as a reminder of what we talked about regarding Lent. A simple handout or two is always a good way to send home the message of the session.
Before I dismissed the group, I spent some time preparing them for the Ash Wednesday Mass. I also encouraged them to invite their parents to attend with them; in fact, we have the children check in at the door on Ash Wednesday and then encourage them to sit with their families rather than their classmates. That’s good for community and for the practical aspect of not having to worry about discipline temptations when too many kids sit together.
What are you doing with your group for Lent? Are you able to connect what’s happening in the classroom during Lent to parish and home observances?