A Little Sheepfold

The Good Shepherd and his sheep. He knows them all by name!

    Good morning, friends!~
          As we enter into Holy Week, I thought I’d share with you a bit about our atrium at my parish this. Last summer I began training as a Catechist in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program. I’ve finished part one, and should complete my training for level 1 this coming summer.
    I first learned about this program from my wonderful friend Joanie, who is also a Catechist at her Catholic parish. She grew up as a child in the Catechesis program, and it was so meaningful to her as a child that she is now running a wonderful atrium in her home parish.

   After spending some time in Joanie’s atrium, I felt like it was something I’d like to bring to my own church.  As luck would have it, training was being offered in my area for the first time and my parish approved my being able to take part.
    What I felt so drawn to about this program is that it is so gentle, and so full of joy. The program uses Montessori learning methods to help guide children towards contemplation and connection with God. And above all, it roots children in the knowledge that God is The Good Shepherd who loves them, knows them by name, will come looking for them when they are lost, and will celebrate when they are found. It is about love and belonging, and about letting a child’s thoughts wander in a meditative way to think very big thoughts, without we grown ups getting in the way.

Our atrium at work

   Each morning the children and I gather at our prayer table, and we begin in a quiet and soothing manner that sets the tone for our time in the atrium. Here, we work with real things— real glass, real water, real fire even. The children pick up quickly that we must move quietly and gently so as not to break our special things. They take the permission to handle these things quite seriously, and know that when they begin their ‘work’, the whole work is theirs alone to complete as many times as they wish. No one will interrupt them, and they can sink into a deeply meditative state of mind– whether they are working with a small nativity, or sorting rocks, exploring The Annunciation, polishing candle sticks, or pouring water from one carafe to another.

Our “practical life’ works, with a Montessori emphasis on fine motor skills and repetition. Things kids this age love to do.

   A lot of my job as the catechist is to get out of the way. I handle the matches for any candle lighting, and am on hand if a colored pencil needs sharpening or something spills. But other than first presenting a work for the children to see for the first time and leading our prayers and songs, I am mostly a silent watcher.
   Which can be so hard, when we, as parents, want to show them the short cut, or explain the meaning, or cut to the chase and tell them what every thing is all about. But that’s not how Catechesis works and honestly, it is much more meaningful for it.
   The children slowly, over time, start to realize who the shepherd is. Then….they realize who the sheep are! And after nearly a school year’s time in the atrium, they are comfortable with a map of Israel and can name the three major cities of Jesus’ life, know the liturgical colors of the year and what they mean and explore many of the best stories and parables from the Bible over and over again until they know them by heart.

Some cards we use on our prayer table

    Our little atrium is small and modest in size and works. I create the pieces used for each presentation by hand, or generous parishioners create them for us. We had a man build us a child-sized altar, and another parshioner, who is a potter, gave us a handmade chalice and paten she had made.  The latest work I completed was for the story of “The Precious Pearl”, about the pearl merchant who sold all the pearls he had in exchange for the one, perfect, precious pearl that he found. (you can see my son with that particular work in the photo below.)
   At my parish, (which is Episcopalian), our Christian Education classes run concurrent with the school year, so we have just about a month’s worth of time left in the atrium. In that time, we will celebrate “The Liturgy of Light” at Easter, and the last work I hope to complete for them is a small model of The Last Supper, also called The Cenacle.

“The Precious Pearl” work

   It is my hope to share more with you about this part of my life from time to time, especially as I get more experience under my belt with it. In these past few months, I myself have felt a lot like a wobbly little lamb trying to find my footing. But I am so proud of our atrium, and of our kids. I’m thinking I might have a little art show to display some of the art they’ve made throughout the whole year (being able to draw at their leisure is another big part of the atrium, and something I would have loved as a kid!).
   Here’s hoping we all grow and learn as we look towards the end of our first year. I’m looking forward to completing my training, and I know I’ll have a lot of projects to work on for it during the summer! I often share bits and pieces of our atrium life and some of the works I’ve made on my instagram, if you follow along there at all (you can see it on a webpage HERE).

   I’d love to know if you have any experience with Catechesis of the Good Shepherd or if you are training, have trained or are interesting in training! If you’re curious about attending a training (attending in no way obligates you to start an atrium, the things you learn can be applied, if nothing else, to how you talk about God with kids just in your own home!) you can find info on the US Catechesis of the Good Shepherd HERE. This program began in Italy, and has spread all over the world. It is also used by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Episcopalians, and now they have an Orthodox Christian program as well!

  Anyhow…thanks so much for your visit today! Have a wonderful Holy Week this week to my western Christian friends, and almost Holy Week to my Orthodox buddies. So thankful for all of you!~
Take Joy!

One thought on “A Little Sheepfold

  1. It is so nice to see your Atrium program grow and thrive! Your Parish is lucky to have the gift of your art to make the teaching tools too! I think children and adults enjoy visual and hands on learning opportunities. Your current good Shepherd is just as cute as can be. It makes me want to pick up the pieces and imagine being a Shepherd!


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