I’m never sure what to expect on the first day of religious education. How many students will show up? What will they be like? How long will the opening prayer service and send-off to classrooms take?
A catechist always needs to be flexible, but the first day of sessions makes that quality even more important. This year I had 14 young people on my roster, 13 of whom attended the first session. I expect the class to grow some by the time registration closes. The first meeting went fairly well, with the goal of getting to know each other and the program and hopefully getting the kids excited about the year. As a long-time seventh-grade catechist, I know that inspiring young people to want to be in a church setting after a long day of school and other activities is a challenge, but it’s a challenge I happily signed up for in responding to the call to be a catechist.
Even though we began the evening with an opening prayer for all the classes in the program, I started the year in my classroom with a prayer service specifically for my group. This set the tone for the year as one in which we will be guided by prayer. The theme of the prayer service was “Come and follow me.” Our Scripture reading was Mark 1:14–20, which we broke open after the prayer. I wanted to help the young people hear Christ’s invitation for themselves, so we noted that there must have been something particularly special about Jesus for the Apostles to drop everything and follow him. After our discussion, I handed out invitations from Jesus to follow him, to emphasize that the young people are called by Christ to be his disciples too. The invitations were found as a blackline master in Christ Our Life, grade 7.
Next it was time to do introductions. I had already taken attendance and introduced myself when we walked into the room, but this was the time to invite the young people to introduce themselves to the group. I handed out index cards to allow the kids to write down their name, school, a fun fact about self, something learned last year, something they want to learn about Jesus, and a favorite celebration. The cards serve two purposes: first, introverts have a chance to collect their thoughts before addressing the group, and second, I collect the cards and use them to help in seating arrangements for future sessions and making attendance go more quickly. A volunteer starts the introductions, and everyone must share at least some of the information on the card. I’m usually disappointed by the fact that not many kids claim to remember anything from the previous year, but at least I planted in their minds the idea that they should be remembering things discussed in religious education.
We moved quickly through rules and procedures, especially as I only set a one-word rule for the year: Respect. (Read more about how that works here.) Then we took some time to play a game. This year it was a variant on Human Bingo. The items were all religious or parish knowledge, such as who knows the parish Mass times or can name at least three Apostles, but instead of a Bingo-card grid, the items were in one column and places for names in an adjacent column on the sheet.
Time was running out, but I wanted to introduce our Patron Saints Election, so I shared the idea with the group and some materials about saints they might consider nominating. I instructed the young people to ask their parents if they had saints they were particularly devoted to, telling them to report back for us next time. The other at-home assignment I gave was to write down something heard at Mass that Sunday, to encourage the young people to attend and pay attention at Mass.
The goal of the session was to introduce the young people to one another, to me, and to the idea of discipleship. I think we mostly achieved that goal. I still have to practice the names, but most of us left with smiles on our faces, which is a good sign.
How did your first session of the year go? What went well or not so well as you got to know your group?
All great ideas, Denise! I enjoyed reading this article, and will be sure to try some of your activities. Seventh grade can be a tough group to warm up, so these suggestions are much appreciated!
Thanks for reading, Teresa! All best to you in the new catechetical year!