In Germany students receive Religious Education as a weekly subject and the classes are usually divided into Roman Catholic and Protestant, with a small group of ‘others’ that have instruction in another religion, or none at all. The classes may be taught by specialized teachers and/or clergy from the local area. I know from my colleagues in the local German churches that a great deal of their time is spent in classrooms. The Religion teacher for my youngest daughter got in contact with me to see if I would be interested in teaching the class about the Anglican Church. I think the words, ‘fear and trepidation’, would nicely describe my agreement to come on a Thursday morning to speak about the Anglican Church.
I spent some time going over what I might like to say. What, in a nut shell, could be something easy enough for both the students to understand, and that I would feel comfortable speaking about in German? Needless to say I steered away from the Doctrine of the Trinity and Atonement theology because even in English I would have a difficult time with explanations.
Well on the morning of the class I packed my laptop into the bag and my daughter and I set off on our bicycles toward school at a little before 7:00 AM. As we sped along the bike path I came up next to my daughter and said, “we can take it slower if you want.” To which she replied, “Why? This is my usual speed.” Well, as we zoomed along with me clearly lagging behind we made it to the school where many of the students gathered at the front door waiting for the classrooms to be unlocked and to greet their teachers.
The Religion teacher greeted both myself, and another father who would be speaking about an ‘Evangelical Free Church’ in the area, as he worked as the youth pastor beyond his usual ‘day-job’ as a health professional. As the classroom door swung open the other father and I were presented with the Audio Visual corner which was a nest of wires and plugs for all sorts of makes and models of computer. Having both laptops tested out and working I graciously let the other father present first. Phew! I though, I don’t have to present first, as I was already nervous as it was.
The students were very well behaved. A ritual of lighting a candle and passing to each person gave the students a chance to say what they were grateful for, and what concerns they may have in their lives. I did not expect to be passed the candle, but soon found myself with it shining brightly in my hands. I stammered out that I was glad to be here, but that I was also a bit nervous speaking German since a great deal of my work is conducted in English. This seemed to break the ice for myself and for the students. One student happened to be a new arrival from elsewhere in Europe and also finds learning German a real challenge. It seemed to brighten this pupils day when an adult made all sorts of grammatical errors. Then it was my turn to feel more relaxed as the other father grasped the small candle and said that he also felt a bit nervous, so we were all a bit on common ground to begin with.
I watched with growing anxiety the first presentation which had a lot of slides and copious notes. I began to think that I had totally underestimated what I should be doing with the class. It was a good presentation with some questions to grill the students and I was not too sure that my work would go over so well. The presentation was going on a long time too, and I wondered as I watched the big school clock which hung over the doorway, exactly how much time I really had before some bell would ring and students would want to change subject lessons. Unfortunately, do to the gremlins that seem to always get into the technology, a video of a church outing did not work, so that seemed to put a spin on the mood of the class as they wanted to see, but could only hear what was going on. That’s when my turn to present happened, and low and behold, the computer still worked for my presentation.
After a brief introduction, and having my daughter stand up beside me to help with any translation that might be useful, students arms were quickly in the air to ask questions. I was stuck with what to do. On the one hand if I let them talk now I may, because of nerves, loose my train of thought. Yet, on the other hand, if the kids talk now it could be like what sometimes happens at church and an overly excited child gives an excellent second sermon about how God has been in their life, which would have the effect in this scenario of using up a lot of my time; which would mean, less speaking by me and more speaking by the kids. In the end I quickly decided to hold off on the questions for the moment until I could at least get to the second ‘slide’.
The old Kodak slide carousel had its day, and could bore people to death over family trips and other adventures. Now with electronic powerpoint presentations we can go on for infinitem with gigabytes of stored photos seeing possibly several hundred slides at a time. So, I won’t bore you with the details of all seven of my slides, but I can say that I opted to have only pictures. A picture speaks a thousand words anyway, plus no one could report me for poor German grammar.
Having briefly taught children at Christ Church Cathedral School in Victoria whilst being the Assistant Curate, I am a big believer in the pedagogical style of thinking like a child so that they learn what I want them to learn. Images, stories and objects all help to make links from what may be called theoretical to the practical. I may have an idea of the Anglican Church, but it just floats around as an idea until you tie it to something that a child can comprehend and then you link the idea or theory, with the practical and experienced.
Well, the photos flashed up on screen and we talked a little about each. More and more hands were shooting into the air so I started to field questions and even got to learn some of the students names in the process. I felt like some kind of relationship was growing and that I could really pull this off. For me, the important picture was a photo of a Mohnschnecke a sweet desert like a cinnamon bun but with sugar and poppy seed.
It is often a familiar lunch item, or treat for kids so they all have an experience. The students all agreed with me that the best part of the pastry is the very centre. So, the Anglican Church with all its long and winding history, its debates and traditions, the best part of it, the central thing, is that we are called to love God, and neighbour, just as God loves us. There were lots of nodding heads.
My presentation wrapped up with an activity in which each student (and the two other adult’s) in the room had to find a partner. I know that the kids play a game in the school ground called, Michael Jackson, where you quickly clap hands together, do silly dances, and swivel your hips like you are playing with a hoola-hoop and then as you pronounce each syllable of ‘Mich-ael-Jack-son’ you swivel your feet outwards making your legs spread further and further apart with each round of the game. The game continues until one, or both people topple over because they cannot spread their legs any further (unless they can do the splits!). In using this fore-knowledge of a fun and silly game, I had all involved use different words, and similar actions to remember that the Anglican Church has ‘Orders’ (Archbishop’s, bishops, priests, deacons), that prayer is very central to our lives, and that reading the Bible is important. The classroom erupted into fits of laughter as the students tried to imitate my daughter and I as we slowly approached the point of tipping over.
In the end, there was a small presentation from the teacher, a round of applause from the students and a small token of thanks which is meant to be a small oasis in the hot days of summer. I tiny message in a bottle to take with me as I left the classroom and would enjoy a more leisurely bike ride to my next appointment.