This is the vine from St Joseph Calasanctius church in Jefferson, Ohio. I took this plant home four weeks ago when the schools closed and have been watering it while our children cannot.
Look at how this plant has grown, even in that short time!
And our children at home are growing just as fast.
Once the schools and atrium closed, we knew that we could not continue with a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd approach to 1st Communion prep this year. (So for those looking for info on a CGS Bible study: this is not it!)
But Jesus’ command still stands: Feed my sheep.
How? Now it falls on the shoulders of parents.
My goal is to support you to do this at home! Our parish group will meet on Zoom on Wednesdays to pray together, say hi, and I’ll give you some instructions (look for the link in your email). Then we’ll sign off, and let you continue the actual Bible study as a family.
This is our first attempt at a family Bible study!
Please comment! I really need feedback from you as parents how this goes at home. What worked? What didn’t? How did you and your kids respond? Good and bad! We’ll keep trying and adjusting to find what works for each of us, given the circumstances.
First, create an environment to listen to God’s word
Before you begin, gather everything you are going to need:
- Bible (in worship, we use the New American Bible Revised Edition)
- Paper and pens/pencils/markers to draw or take notes
- Potted vine or plant in your home (optional, but helps as an illustration)
- Candle and matches/lights (or electronic candle): also optional but helps make this a special time
Also make sure to turn off distractions!
- Make sure everyone has eaten and used the bathroom before you start
- If possible, get into a separate room away from people (& animals) who are not participating
- Turn off all TVs, radios, mp3 players, etc. in the room
- Turn your phone OFF or put ringer on silent mute (not vibrating). Unless you’re a first responder on call, leave the phone out of sight or in another room!
- Put away toys, homework, and other distractions from arms reach (although a little squish or fidget can be useful for kids who won’t throw or bang them)
Prepare your bodies and hearts to listen to God’s Word
- Find a comfortable position where you can open up the Bible, write on your paper, and discuss together without your limbs falling asleep.
- Take a deep breath. Remember that God is always with us. We just forget sometimes! Remembering God’s presence with us is prayer.
- Light the candle. When we do this in class, we usually say: “Jesus is the light of the world.”
- If you don’t have a candle to mark the beginning of this time, then make the sign of the cross and say, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!”
Find the book, chapter & verse
Our passage for this week is John 15:1-11.
Finding a verse from the citation is a skill that the readers in our class have been practicing. We learned the difference between the Old and New Testaments, and that the Gospels are at the beginning of the New Testament.
John is one of the four Gospels that proclaim the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
If you have tabs in your Bible, that makes it easier to find the Gospel of John. We can also look at the index in the front of the Bible to find the page number at the beginning of the Gospel of John.
Next, we need to find the chapter. We’re looking for chapter 15.
Once we find chapter 15, this section is verses 1-11, so we start at the beginning of the chapter.
Pre-reading: Make connections
A very short introduction helps kids make connections as they read, and focus as they listen.
This passage gives us a new way to think about God: as a vine, and a vine grower. You might want to ask what your child knows about vines, or taking care of plants.
Looking at your potted plant, or looking at plants outside, can help start this conversation. How do you take care of plants? How does God take care of us?
You can also say: “As we read, think about about this question: What does it mean to think about God as a vine, and a vine grower?” The kids don’t need to provide an answer yet (though they can). Listen for the answer in the text!
Read the Bible out loud
By this time in the year, most of our 2nd & 3rd graders should have some practice reading Bible passages out loud without reading all the verse numbers and citations. Our NABRE gift Bibles have lots of footnotes, so we practice reading along while skipping those sections in a smaller font (at first).
Once we find our starting spot, an adult can read the whole thing out loud once without stopping. Kids who are fluent readers can also volunteer to do this.
Don’t worry at this point about pronunciation or word spelling. Don’t stop or comment on the reading itself. If the reader makes a mistake or loses their place, that’s okay! Just pick up where you left off and keep reading! It’s not school, and you’re not being graded.
Jesus is the Vine, and we are the branches
After you read, keep the Bible open. Allow some silence.
You may want to blow out the candle, or you can do this at the end of the discussion if it helps focus the conversation. (Definitely blow it out if it becomes a distraction!)
Count to 10 slowly. If silence remains, ask some questions.
The point of this discussion is to think about how Jesus is like the vine, and we are the branches, and God the Father is the vine grower. Re-read phrases or verses as you discuss to see if the Bible provides the answer:
- What word or words did you hear a lot in this Bible reading? Are there any words you didn’t know yet?
- Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.” What do you know about pruning? Taking care of plants? What does this mean for how God takes care of you?
- There are a few words we hear a lot in this reading: “remain” and “bear fruit.” What does it mean to “remain”?
- Jesus says, “I am the vine, and you are the branches.” What do you think he was trying to tell us? How do the vine and the branches stay connected?
- Jesus says, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.” How do we remain in God’s love? What does this passage tell us about how to remain?
Count to 10 s l o w l y after each question or comment! Give your kid time to think!
Earlier in the year, we started having a group conversation about this verse, with our class vine on the prayer table. After reading the passage out loud, I asked one or two questions to start discussion. Then the kids started talking and asking questions, and we ran out of time!
But talking with your parents is quite a bit different than a group of your peers.
Most kids are quiet, and absorb from listening to others. Silence is okay!
Don’t fill the silence with your words too quickly. If we adults talk first or too much, that prevents kids from thinking their own thoughts and making their own connections. Remember: the point of this Bible study is for kids to start reading the Bible for themselves!
They also don’t need to perform. They can doodle or wiggle. It’s okay if they just listen, or their response isn’t that deep. If they ask a question, then feel free to share your thoughts! Draw them into a conversation. But sometimes seeds need time to grow roots after they’ve been planted.
If you’ve asked several questions with long pauses, re-read some parts of the text, and the conversation still isn’t taking off, try the next section…
Response & extensions
Depending on where the conversation takes you, here are some useful additional ideas.
These activities are completely optional, but are just some helpful suggestions to engage our less-talkative kids.
Remember: the main idea is that Jesus is the vine, we are the branches, and God the Father is the vine grower! There are lots of right ways to think about how we are connected to God in this special, intimate way.
- Grab that paper and pen/markers and ask your child to draw what they hear.
- For more tactile kids, you might encourage them to water the plant or prune the dead leaves and branches.
- Short video about pruning grape vines:
- Read the footnotes: At the beginning, we said to read the passage once out loud while skipping the footnotes. But there’s lots of interesting background information there that can help our understanding of the Bible.
- Road trip to a vineyard! Our parish is near the Grand River Valley micro-climate, which is great for growing grapes. Take a drive down Route 307 or Route 534 and see some of the vines growing there! Though not open for U-Pick grapes at the moment, you could point your GPS towards Grabelsek Vineyards in Geneva. They might be out in the fields doing the spring pruning around now. For our friends attending St Andrew Bobola, you could also check out Tarsitano or Markko vineyards near Kingsville.
End in prayer
Before the conversation devolves into a power struggle or eye-rolling boredom (if you catch it in time), remember to end in prayer. You can end by blowing out the candle, or making the sign of the cross.
Ask your child i they have a prayer they would like to say. If not, you could suggest saying an Our Father or Hail Mary together. Even “Jesus is the light of the word.”
In class, we often end our prayer time with a song. Again, see if there are suggestions. You could read John 15:12 and sing “Love one another / as I have loved you.”