From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[PCUSANEWS] 'You've won back our trust'

Date 31 Jan 2003 15:48:58 -0500

Note #7578 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

'You've won back our trust'
January 31, 2003

'You've won back our trust'

New curriculum makes winning debut at APCE meeting

by John Filiatreau

DENVER, CO - "We Believe," the new Presbyterian church-school curriculum
produced in an incredibly short time, was introduced this week to an
incredibly tough audience - the same religious educators who were left high
and dry when the previous denominational curriculum, "Covenant People," was
	"We Believe" made its debut on schedule during the annual meeting of
the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE), with a gala
Wednesday rollout featuring a ribbon-cutting ceremony, a parade of
testimonials and endorsements, and the unveiling of the de rigeur memorial
T-shirt. The event was attended by about 200 of the 1,050 Christian educators
gathered here for the association's annual conference.
	The consensus of the early reviews is that "We Believe" is everything
"Covenant People" was not: Flexible, teacher-friendly, economical, rooted in
scripture, distinctly Presbyterian - and ready for hands-on evaluation at the
APCE meeting before its fall-quarter introduction.
	When last year's General Assembly ordered up a new curriculum, set
aside $750,000 for the purpose and said it should be ready by fall 2003,
officials of Congregational Ministries Publishing knew the real deadline was
Jan. 29, the start of the educators' annual conference, which this year was
held in Denver.
	Publisher Sandra Sorem said she knew that this would be a
make-or-break moment for "We Believe."
	"This is a very discerning group," she said of the APCE. "I'd say a
lot of these educators were fairly skeptical. They had a hard time believing
it could really be produced in less than a year. They needed to see it, touch
it, feel it, actually hold it in their hands.  
	"They had reason to be skeptical. Remember, they are the people who
really had to answer to the denomination when 'Covenant People' ceased to be.
But I think most of them will give 'We Believe' a fair trial."
	Sorem said some educators have expressed "fear that this curriculum
might be discontinued" prematurely as well, and needed to be reassured that
CMP was in for the long haul.
	Meg Rift, who works for Sorem in CMP and is spearheading the effort
to market "We Believe" to church educators, said she has a "gut feeling" that
it will be a success.
	"One person came up yesterday and told me, 'You've earned back our
trust,'" Rift said. "I told her, 'Thank you; that's what we needed to do.'
That made me feel good. We've had a good response."
	In a workshop conducted by Rift and children's editor Erin McGee, the
first question shouted from the audience was: "We used 'Covenant People' for
two years, and liked it very, very much, and now we need something to replace
it." That brought a chorus of "Ditto!" from about a dozen of the 100 people
on hand.
	Many of these professional religious educators were fans of the
earlier, now-discontinued curriculum, which crashed and burned because it was
too hard for many Sunday school teachers to use.
	"'Covenant People' was a good curriculum," Rift said. "For the people
it worked with, it really clicked. But a lot of people thought it was just
not very accessible. And it was very complex. If you ask around, I think
you'll find out that most of the churches that used it and liked it had (a
professional educator) in charge."
	"We Believe" is intended to be simpler, but no less substantial. 
	McGee said one of its strengths is that "you don't have to be a
seminary student or a pastor to teach it."
	"I want a curriculum that's theologically sound," Campbell Hackett,
of Princeton, NJ, said during a workshop, "but my teachers want a curriculum
that takes an hour or less (preparation)."
	"We Believe" is intended to be nearly that user-friendly. It even
includes special sections for substitute teachers thrown into the breach
without much warning or time to prepare a lesson.
	"Can you do it (prepare for a class) at a stoplight on your way to
church?" McGee asked parenthetically. "Well, maybe not. But we think we've
made it as teacher-friendly as possible."
	Rift warned that people shouldn't expect "We Believe," which CMP
describes as "the only curriculum created for the needs of the Presbyterian
Church (USA)," to be "the Swiss Army Knife of curriculum," because there's no
such thing.
	She said she thinks the main reason to switch to "We Believe" is that
"it's Presbyterian - theologically, biblically, foundationally; very much
developed from the ground up to be biblically based." 
	McGee said she thinks the simplicity of "We Believe" makes it ideal
for "someone who's unsure about teaching." That's important because most
Sunday school teachers aren't professional educators.
	"It's a good curriculum," Rift said at the end of the workshop.
"Whether it's appropriate for your church, well, that's for you to decide."
	In an interview later, she said: "It's a risky venture, curriculum."
	"People in the church have told us they want a denominational
curriculum," she said, "but no curriculum is going to please everyone.  We
tried to balance the risks against the potential rewards; I think we were
really good at that.  
	"Did we go overboard, gung ho? No. We had a very conservative print
run. We tried to keep the costs down; for example, we cut out a lot of color.
We tried to be responsible.  I have a good feeling about it."
	Rift and McGee urged the educators to provide lots of feedback to the
curriculum developers and said CMP is determined to be responsive to the
wishes of the church and quick to adopt good suggestions.
	Sorem said she has been "encouraged by all the positive response"
from the educators, and is especially pleased that many have commented on the
materials' "solid grounding in scripture" and their inclusion of more
information about Presbyterian Church history - "how Presbyterians have
expressed their faith over hundreds of years."
	CMP has scheduled more than 30 free regional workshops over the next
three months in cities from Miami to Seattle to introduce "We Believe" to the
church. The workshops will be open to Sunday school teachers, pastors, church
members, presbytery officials - anyone interested in (or merely curious
about) religious education or church-school curriculum.
	CMP also has a network of volunteers known as POINT persons
(Presbyterians Organized in Nurturing and Teaching) who have church-school
experience in the PC(USA) and have been trained and equipped to help
congregations choose curriculum and tailor it to their specific needs.
They're knowledgeable about "We Believe" as well as "Bible Quest" and "The
Present Word," ecumenical curricula produced by the PC(USA). Every
geographical presbytery in the denomination has a POINT person who can be
reached through the presbytery office.
	"We Believe" has three-year sequences of courses for students from
preschoolers to older adults. Each weekly lesson is based on a key verse from
scripture or passage from the Book of Order or the denomination's catechisms.
The courses follow the church's liturgical year, but not the lectionary. The
fall quarter starts on the first Sunday after Labor Day.
	Rift and McGee said developers kept three principal goals in mind:
allowing for multiple intelligences and multiple approaches to learning;
involving students actively in ways other than just listening; and making the
materials developmentally appropriate for students in each age group.
	The summer quarter will have a special focus on mission and be based
in part on the new Mission Yearbook for Children, which in its first few
months has been a huge success. Since Nov. 1, more than 19,900 copies have
been sold, and a third printing is in the works. 
	Rift said the average cost of "We Believe" is "in the mid- to low
$50s (per quarter) for a class of 10." CMP kept the cost down in part by
including reproducible pages for students, so that teachers can make and
distribute copies rather than having to buy a complete set of materials for
each student. (This also helped reduce CMP's need for inventory, a key part
of Sorem's effort to tighten financial controls.) 
	Sorem said one educator told her, after looking over the material,
"If we use this curriculum for a few years, no one will have to ask, 'What's
so special about being Presbyterian?'"
	She said a few educators have complained that "We Believe": includes
no materials for children younger than 3; won't initially be available in any
languages other than English; isn't easily adaptable to the "rotational"
church-school model; and includes posters that are "too small" and components
that are "too flimsy," because of cost-related, risk/reward compromises in
production quality.
	Sorem had said last year, at the conclusion of the GA in Columbus and
the start of CMP's Herculean task: "All we can do is produce the best
curriculum we can." She said this week that she thinks Curriculum Coordinator
Bill Owens and his staff have done exactly that.

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