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Team's Challenge: Develop Church School Themes Far in Advance

October 16, 2003, NEW YORK CITY -- The National Council of Churches team responsible for developing weekly church school lesson outlines for nearly 40 denominations faces a formidable challenge - choosing themes that will be relevant a decade and more in advance.

How does the team do it? "Only by the grace of God," said the Rev. Carmichael Crutchfield of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Memphis, Tenn. He chairs the Cycle Planning Team for the NCC’s Uniform Series International Bible Lessons Committee, the remarkable, 130-year exercise in Christian unity that quietly undergirds the church school lessons millions use every week.

The team of Christian educators, curriculum planners and writers met Sept. 24-27 in Nashville, Tenn., to choose themes for Sunday school lessons for 2010-16. The themes for those years will revolve around God, creation, hope, justice, faith, community, worship and tradition/heritage, the team determined.

Granted, these themes are timeless, said the Rev. Patrice Rosner, NCC Associate General Secretary for Education and Leadership Ministries, New York, and a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), but how they will look in any particular year is different.

For example, she said, "We don’t know what issues related to creation, ecology, nature, preservation (or) stewardship of the earth will look like in 2016, but we know that it is going to be an issue that people will deal with in some way."

When the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks occurred, Sunday school classes across the country were studying a theme entitled "The Light for All People." The lessons focused on moving from darkness to light, and seemed tailored to the needs of Christians dealing with the emotional devastation of the attacks. Little did the classes realize their lesson theme had been chosen years in advance.

"How could we know? We didn’t know. It had to be God," said Dr. Mary Love, former chair of the Uniform Series committee.

"We cannot totally see what Bible study will look like in 2010, but the Committee on the Uniform Series has been in the process of trying to be more relevant to the needs of those who use the lessons," Crutchfield said. "We spend time in prayer with each other and in being open to the movement of God’s spirit. Through discussion, we come to consensus and pray that it is God’s will."

The National Council of Churches is the nation’s leading ecumenical body, through which 36 U.S. denominations comprising 50 million members work to address people’s spiritual and social needs.

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Story based on report by Linda Green, United Methodist News Service. See http://umns.umc.org/03/oct/477.htm


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