Weaving Our Gifts: Why the Prophets? Why Bruce Birch?
Monthly letters to help put the work of the catechist of the Good Shepherd into the context of the larger world · from the archives
by Catherine Maresca
This year the Weaving Our Gifts keynote presentations will Biblical scholar Bruce Birch, speaking on the prophets. These choices were made almost a year ago, and events in our society of the past year have only reinforced the need to reinvigorate our work with the prophets and the prophetic message.
The topic of the prophets is key to us as catechists for several practical reasons:
- Every level of CGS includes proclamations of Messianic prophecies and a progressive study of the work of the prophets.
- The prophets are a key part of the History of the Jewish People, presented during Level III.
- Faithfulness to the covenant (introduced through gestures in Level I and explored deeply in Level III) is constantly encouraged by the prophets.
- We will be better prepared for the Studies of the Prophets in Level III.
But beyond these practical reasons are some deeper ones, related to our own call and struggles as catechists. In 1993, at the first international gathering of the group that developed into the Consiglio, Sofia asked us if prophetic acts on the part of catechists would help or hinder our work with and for children in the church. The question was inspired, in part, by the bold act of a Mexican catechist during a time of civil unrest: reading the Maxims aloud in her town square. If our primary vocation is to serve the spiritual life of children, will speaking and acting for other movements in the church or society be a disservice to the work of CGS? This is an important question, and one I have returned to frequently.
Before I was a catechist I was educated in a Montessori school, and became active in the civil rights and peace movements and in my hometown in PA. After moving to Washington, DC for college, I married a pacifist conscientious objector, and we had deaf foster children who integrated our family for many years and taught us about living with disabilities. When our birth children were young we were among a group of founding parents of Christian Family Montessori School. I was delighted to discover CGS as part of this journey, and serving the spiritual life of children became the heart of my own vocation. But I brought to that vocation a commitment to the prophetic work of Maria Montessori, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi. Each of them, in turn, were committed to the work of education, peace, and justice.
Subsequent to the call to CGS came a commitment to the rights of women. At that time one in four girls were sexually abused by the age of six. This was born out by the experiences of my sisters and friends. I had four daughters. The call to feminism was personal.
Uniting all of these is Jesus. I am one person, struggling to serve children in a way that integrates my faith in Jesus, my commitment to social justice for people of color, women and those with disabilities, and to Christian nonviolence. As I grew into my work as a catechist I realize that to serve children in the church we must also be their advocates. They have no voice, and it is our privilege to bring to their communities both their needs and their gifts as we perceive them. To be a CGS catechist is to be prophetic! To be a follower of Jesus is to be prophetic! And every time we become aware of another implication of our walk with Jesus (LGBT equality, ecology, simplicity…) we become prophetic in another way. Discernment will help us to focus our efforts in particular ways, but we can never abandon our concern for any other member of the Body of Christ and our struggle against the institutional ways in which we are bound.
The prophets, of course, walked this path many years ago, and left us stories and words to guide and strengthen us. Bruce Birch was the teacher who first brought the prophets to life for me, during two retreats in 1990’s. He is Dean Emeritus and Professor Emeritus of Biblical Theology at Wesley Theological Seminary. In the years of his “retirement” he continues to write about and teach at home and abroad the justice and mercy of God found in the Hebrew Scriptures and proclaimed by the prophets. He is a knowledgeable and lively presenter who will offer two plenary sessions: Reclaiming the Prophetic Message (Friday morning) and Finding Hope in a Time of Exile (Sunday morning) as well as a breakout session, How Did the Bible Come to Us? on Saturday.
Weaving Our Gifts has a history of offering three days of riches for catechists, but I have often felt like the keynote speaker made the cost of attending worth while in just one morning. I have no doubt Bruce will do this once again. Come join us – the Earlybird Registration Fees have been extended through July 23.