To encounter Christ is to, in some way, encounter the risen Jesus—to experience his love and mercy. We may experience this love and mercy through Scripture, liturgy, prayer, creation, witness, the sacraments, and Church teaching. Catechists and teachers play an essential role in helping create opportunities for children to encounter Christ. Likewise, Directors of Religious Education or Principals need to support those catechists and teachers in creating opportunities to encounter Christ.
This Encounter with Christ Support Article offers some basic background information for program directors and catechists to opportunities to support an encounter with Christ for the children and families.
The catechist is often the primary agent for the invitation to encounter Christ as they work directly with the students in your religious education program.
Ideas to Help Your Students Encounter Christ
Here are some more suggestions to help children encounter Christ. Each has an idea for a fun application you can do with your students today.
Tell students the story of Christ’s great and redemptive love. Sharing with our students the Gospel as a narrative, helping them understand the abundant love that motivated Jesus’ act on the cross, rather than boiling the Gospel down to episodes to remember, will help them to encounter Christ themselves.
Fun application: Gospel Scavenger Hunt! Open up different episodes of the Gospels. Divide students into teams and assign each team an episode to read together. Ask each time to identify different characteristics of Jesus from his words and actions and in the interactions of those he encountered.
Salvation history is critical in a student’s understanding of who Christ is and why relationship with him matters. Make sure when you’re teaching salvation history the focus is on the story as an epic, not as a series of short stories. Presentation of the story of salvation in this way makes it clear who Christ is and what his purpose was, and that God has a deep and abiding love for all his people, not just then, but also now.
Fun application: Timeline Project! Help students design a timeline to see God at work throughout history, then and now.
It can be tempting to think that the stories of salvation history or a real presentation of the Gospel are not age appropriate for elementary school students. However, we must remember that the Gospels and the stories of salvation history aren’t just understandable for students, they happened for them! We can’t fail to understand something that was done by God with us in mind. The stories need to be explained in relatable age appropriate terms, but the stories themselves are for everyone, just like God’s saving action.
Fun application: Scripture Quest! Search for and share Scripture stories featuring disciples of all ages, especially children.
In a world where all of us, including kids, are constantly connected, plugged in, and engaged it is crucial that we give our students space and opportunity for quiet, so they learn not only how to pray in their own hearts, but also how to prayerfully listen to the voice of God. Introduce opportunities for reflection, guided meditation, or journaling. Quiet prayer is not just for more mature students, it can work well, and frankly, be necessary for younger students as well. Start with age appropriate lengths of time, even just a few short minutes can be helpful for younger students.
Fun application: Quiet Time! Begin instituting a scheduled quiet time in your religious education classroom or family time.
The Sacraments are truly a tangible encounter with Christ, and his grace. If you want to provide an opportunity for your students to encounter Christ, you must give them access to the sacraments. Keep this in mind in your sacramental preparations. Ask yourself frequently, “how is this part of this program helping students encounter Christ?” If you can’t come up with an answer, consider what else you could put in its place to better serve this primary purpose. Any witness to the grace of the sacraments, is an opportunity for an encounter with Christ.
Fun application: Celebrate the sacraments! Host annual reconciliation services, invite students and their families to ordination masses, honor catechists celebrating wedding anniversaries.
Want more fun ideas to support encounter with Christ in faith formation? Download the 5 Activities to Support Encounter in Christ eBook with activity suggestions to support these areas and provide opportunities for students to encounter Christ any time of year.
There are many noble reasons an adult may choose to volunteer as a catechist: to spend more time with their child, to give service to their parish, or to provide a positive experience for young people. While all of these reasons are well-intentioned, none of them guarantee that catechists themselves have had their own personal encounter with Jesus!
As the Director of Religious Education, you have a unique opportunity to provide that opportunities for encounter with Christ to the catechists under your care.
Ideas to Help Your Catechists Encounter Christ
The Gospel and the story of salvation history are narratives. May adults may have not been exposed to this understanding of Scripture. Provide catechists with an opportunity to encounter Christ in the Scripture stories that tell the stories of Christ’s salvific mission and his deep love for them individually. Offer a mini course or a Scripture study opportunity to your catechists!
It’s been said that we become who we surround ourselves with. This truth applies deeply to our faith journey. Being surrounded by those who are in deep relationship with Christ and have encountered him themselves helps us to search for the same type of relationship. It’s helpful to organize community events in order to help catechists challenge one another to go deeper in their own faith. Consider whether that be dinner, a prayer service, a spiritual reading, or faith sharing group.
Every experience of the sacraments is an opportunity to encounter Jesus Christ. Inviting catechists to experience the sacraments is paramount in supporting encounter with Christ. You might schedule a monthly Mass with dinner to follow, just for catechists and their families. Invite catechists to a reconciliation service during this Lent. The more frequently we offer our catechists the grace of the sacraments, the more likely they are to see the fruits of that grace in their daily lives.
It’s no secret that when Jesus walked the Earth he spent his time among the poor, the suffering, and those living on the margins. For this reason, we know that when we go to these places and spend time being his hands and feet, we often encounter him ourselves. Invite your catechists to participate in a service project just for them. Consider visiting a local nursing home, distributing a meal in a soup kitchen, or working with individuals with special needs. Face to face contact in service may help them come face to face with Christ himself.
While our students are looking at their catechists, your catechists are looking at you! Consider the ways that you are living as an example of someone who has encountered Christ, who knows him personally and who is in relationship with him. This way, you become a point of reference for your catechists on what someone living their identity in Jesus Christ looks like! Share with the catechists about the impact of your own encounter with Christ, and you may be surprised to see your catechists naturally seeking out the same experience.
Catholic faith formation that aims to have all participants (students, families, and educators) encounter Christ will create disciples that desire to live out their faith with meaning, truth, impact, and engagement! Create opportunities to support an encounter with Christ for the children and families in your religious education program. Download an eBook with five fun suggestions for catechesis to provide opportunities for encountering Christ during and outside the religious education session.
Plus, discover how Christ In Us, Sadlier's new K–6 blended learning catechetical program, supports an encounter with Christ!
Sarah Shutrop currently serves as the Director of Formation for Immaculate Heart Academy in the Archdiocese of Newark. She oversees the spiritual life of the school and formation of its students. She holds an MA in Theology from the University of Notre Dame, and was recently featured as a presenter for Notre Dame & the USCCB’s pre-synodal conference, “Culture of Formation.” She resides in Northern New Jersey with her husband Kevin, her infant son Luke, and their dog Jacqueline.