“That was fun!”
“That was a great lesson!”
I had always hoped to hear comments like these from the youth of the church where I serve. But I only began to hear them when I implemented a curriculum that is barely known in the United States. I can’t remember where I found it anymore, but it’s too good to keep to myself.
As the Associate Priest at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I co-lead the high school youth group, which meets on Wednesday evening. By design, our group draws students from multiple Episcopal churches. It’s my second year in this role, and I am definitely learning as I go.
Last year I went on a hunt for an excellent curriculum. I had read Kenda Creasy Dean’s inspiring book Almost Christian, and I realized that I needed a curriculum to help my students develop an authentic faith. I also wanted a resource which could:
- Help students think theologically
- Develop Biblical literacy
- Offer thematic lessons that could both stand alone and build on one another
- Engage students in enjoyable and meaningful activities
- Promote critical thinking
- Clearly teach the Christian faith
I had to “cross the pond” to find my curriculum. And somewhere along the way, I stumbled across Youth Emmaus. The Emmaus curriculum series is published by the Church of England through Church House Publishing. It was originally designed as an adult series to teach the Christian faith to non-Christians in a post-Christian culture. Youth Emmaus is student version of this program. Many of us have realized that it is just as effective with “raised-in-a-church students” as it is with those who are new to the Christian faith. The stated age range is 11 to 16 years old. When I experimented with the program in a combined middle/high format, it did not work as well. But the high schoolers absolutely loved it. I loved it too.
Youth Emmaus begins at the beginning, with God-questions. The first lesson, for example, is entitled “Knowing God – is anyone out there?” Talk about a perfect question for a post-Christian culture. The ensuing lessons develop a Trinitarian understanding of God, with explorations of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Then, after theological basics are covered, one moves to the ways Christians grow: through prayer, Holy Communion, reading the Bible, and more.
I found that one lesson (there are 14 in all) spread easily over two 45-minute sessions, giving time for review and reflection. I especially appreciate that each lesson begins with enjoyable group interaction, and the teens like this too. Who wouldn’t want to play charades as a lead-in to a lesson on prayer? Or how about interviewing another group member to discover how we are each uniquely created by God? Or a memory game as a lead-in to a lesson on the Holy Spirit? These starter activities are consistently fun and effective, opening the students’ minds to the meaty material that follows.
With occasional special events, my Youth Emmaus 1 curriculum will last our church two years. After that, we are already looking forward to Youth Emmaus 2. Together, these resources will give me a complete high school program.
As you can tell, I am pretty happy about all this! I’m happy because I see students honestly engaging serious questions of the Christian faith. Students are happy because the program is designed to make them laugh, think, and form an authentic connection with God. I am grateful to have discovered Youth Emmaus, and hope these reflections encourage others to consider it also.