Backdoor to Liturgy

Issue V May 2000

This paper is an account of the author’s work of incorporating the rich liturgical presentations of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for 3-6 year old children into her atrium in a non-liturgical setting. Her tradition as a charismatic Protestant is centered in the Bible and so her assumption as she learned the Catechesis was that the liturgical work would not be part of her atrium. But her experience of the liturgical presentations was so fruitful that she began to consider their use in her own setting. 

Presentation by presentation, the author describes how she found a connection between her own tradition and the liturgical sign of the lesson. A focus on the history of liturgy helped her to find various links between the Bible and liturgy. In some cases an adjustment in the material or the manner of introduction helped with the transition. 

A new love for liturgy blossomed slowly during this process. And it is with that love that the author shares her journey.

by Pamela Mader

Pam Mader grew up in Kentucky, earned a B.S. in Special Education, an Associates in Bible, and taught a few years in public school. Her focus changed to full time inner city ministry and after seven years, she was introduced to Catechesis of the Good Shepherd by her partner Mary Lawrence Woodhull. Together they have developed a multi-denominational atrium over the last three years which serves children aged 3 to 9. Pam’s goal is to bring all the beauty and resources of CGS across denominational, racial, and cultural lines to Knoxville’s inner city.As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for Thee, O. God . . . Deep calls to deep . . . Psalm 42:1,7 


How did a charismatic Protestant woman find herself on a journey with the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS)? The seeds of this journey began for me as a young girl. My God-given gifts of creativity, love of diversity, and love of children have been part of me as long as I can remember. These gifts felt stirred, magnified, and most fulfilled in the presence of God, and I longed for a place where all these gifts would come together.

I collected Christian curricula from every possible source, searching for ways to help a child connect with God. In my fifteen year sweep of Protestant curricula, Sunday School papers or puppet shows with themes of “God is love” were all I ever found. I created my own formats of Bible study with children. I was never satisfied. As I taught these lessons, I felt as if I were feeding the children a McDonald’s “Happy Meal” while they hungered for something nutritious and “whole”. I just could not locate a natural food source.

I rejoiced to find author Robert Coles, who had at least conversed with children at the level I thought possible. Activist and author Paulo Freire educated my soul in the area of human spiritual potential as well. Within my own community, I found kindred spirits who believed in the idea of going deeply into God with children, but I could not find this idea in practice.

Finally, my dear friend, Mary Lawrence Woodhull, discovered CGS through a local Episcopal church. She knew and shared my desire to bring children to relationship with God. Her simple words were “I have found what we have been looking for . . . We begin training together this summer.” I was hungry and the CGS offered the feast. The beauty and wholeness of the work drew me in. The “deep” inside me felt an answer in CGS (Psalm 42).

However, nothing in my background prepared me for an appreciation of liturgy, let alone liturgical presentations for children. After all, my Protestant faith was rooted in sola gratia, sola fide and sola Scriptura: salvation by grace alone, through faith alone as found in Scripture alone. As a Protestant in Bible College, I was taught to regard “high church” and liturgy with suspicion. I had absorbed the idea that the rituals of liturgy were meaningless, or even worse, dangerous for my soul. I confess, in CGS training, I spent part of my time wishing the catechist would hurry on to scripture from liturgy because I lacked application for the liturgical work. Or so I thought. Perhaps this paper will illuminate my own change of heart as I began an atrium in an inner-city, multi- denominational setting.*

*NOTE: Because this paper deals with a multi-denominational atrium, I am torn as to which words best preserve the dignity and integrity of each church tradition, as I compare and contrast their different aspects. My own church tradition centers on the Bible, the sermon, and the pulpit, while CGS began in the church tradition which centers upon Liturgy and Word, Eucharist, and the table. For the purpose of this paper, I will use the term “non-liturgical” for my own tradition and “liturgical” for the traditional roots of CGS.


During my early experience with CGS, my first impression was that the liturgical presentations had no relevance for me as a Protestant or for the children with whom I would work. The children in my inner-city atrium came from seven or more distinct Christian perspectives. The majority of children had worship backgrounds unfamiliar with liturgy. How could I translate the liturgical presentations for these children? Why should I even bother?

Yet, this liturgical language continued to appeal to me through my senses. The Preparation of the Chalice presentation moved me. Could dead ritual be so compelling? Perhaps I should explore the roots of this liturgy?

Soon I made a joyful discovery. Much of this ritual began as a way to reach the common folk of medieval times. Medieval people could neither read nor write, but needed access to the text of the Word. The church developed a picture language for the people. Art, stained glass, carvings, body movements like genuflection and the sign of the cross, and the particular gestures of the priest all told the story and meaning of the Word. Through taste, touch, song and ritual movement, a parishioner now had access to God and the Word.

This simple discovery of a historical context for traditional liturgy allowed me to embrace certain aspects of liturgy more fully and to refrain from premature judgments. For instance, during training, I remember wishing the catechists would read from the Word, not a booklet. Somehow, for me, reading from a booklet undid some of the holiness of the work. My own prejudice of “high church being removed from the Word” was at play. I overcame this prejudice once the catechists explained that most certainly, my presentations could be read from the Bible. Then came the humble pie: I began to practice my presentations using only the Bible. I realized that to find my place in the Bible after I had set it down to move figures was too much to juggle and still give a smooth presentation. I ended up making my own scripture booklets since I hadn’t purchased them. Two years later, I watched catechist Rebecca Rojcewicz present using only the Bible, and I was called to a higher excellence in my own work for a future day.

My first year’s efforts concentrated on CGS component most familiar and impressive to my audience of diverse Protestants: the presentations taken directly from Scripture. We opened in February, 1997 and our first semester included: Introduction to the Prayer Table, The Geography of the Land of Israel, The Parables of the Kingdom of God, The Good Shepherd, The Found Sheep, The Cenacle, and Pentecost. Yet, the prayer table presented a liturgically tinged aspect with which I needed to wrestle. I had stumbled upon my first backdoor to liturgy.

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Presentations

Introduction to the Prayer Table

Did we need to change our tablecloth on the prayer table according to the season of the liturgical calendar? Our opening day would fall during “Ordinary” or “Growing” time. With spring budding outside our windows, the green color of “growing time” fit the prayer table much more than any color my Protestant brain could stir for this time. I skipped to Easter and delighted in marking the Easter season with a procession of white for our prayer table. “Though your sins be like scarlet, He will wash them white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). Yes, white would be lovely for Easter. As for Pentecost, what color other than bright red would accentuate the celebration of the Holy Spirit coming as tongues of fire?

The Liturgical Colors/Chasubles

The use of the liturgical colors at the prayer table led me to consider the Liturgical Colors presentation. My own church used vestments infrequently, if at all. Even so, I now saw how vestments and other signs could speak of God to Christians unaccustomed to liturgical worship: the photograph of a vested Central American priest ministering to a starving child proclaims the compassion of God to all who see him, colorful banners aid our worship, my own pastor interprets signs and symbols in our services.

I decided to include chasubles in our atrium. But, I wanted to make the presentation easy to comprehend, especially for children who may not have seen vestments before. I shaped each chasuble stand into the outline of a person to emphasize that chasubles are worn. I used the prayer tablecloths and the “Liturgical Colors Song” as a springboard to introduce the chasubles. I intend to collect pictures of priests wearing liturgical colors to enhance the presentation.

The Liturgical Calendar

Even though it was unfamiliar, I began thinking about including the liturgical calendar the following year. I could recall purple-draped crosses in the yards of churches across town being changed to white on Easter morning. Though I had heard the term “Advent”, I had not known why purple was the color of three of the Advent candles until I saw the Liturgical Calendar presentation.

As I mulled over the church seasons, I found the celebrations of Easter and Christmas corresponded to my Christian experience. Later, while preparing for a Pentecost celebration in the atrium, I saw how God can move in synchronicity within the hearts of people across all denominations. An evangelical friend, unaware of the nearness of the feast of Pentecost, mentioned to me that she was meditating on Isaiah 11 and Acts 2, the scriptures which speak to the heart of the Pentecost presentation.

Lent became my next consideration. About this same time, my home church joined a national fast led by the Reverend Bill Bright. As a participant, I took my first Lenten vow. For me, this vow seemed to be God’s literal preparation within me for understanding the Lenten piece of the liturgical puzzle.

This left Epiphany and Growing/Ordinary time. The season of Epiphany, which may be defined as a time of discovery, is certainly a season of discovering more of our God. And yes, “ordinary” and “growing” described these church seasons well. Although no particular event occurs, ‘literal’ and ‘spiritual’ gardens are growing and bearing fruit.

From these considerations, I discovered the liturgical calendar to be based in doctrine with which I felt wholeheartedly comfortable. The non-liturgical church may not refer to the liturgical calendar directly, but I found it brings application to my life. The calendar centers me as a person of God. Reading Sofia Cavalletti’s The History of the Kingdom of God, Part II helped me to grasp liturgy as the work of the people: God’s people. The liturgical calendar became a comfort, providing a larger view of God and the world, knowing that Christians around the world were working in unity with this calendar.

I chose to make the Liturgical Calendar puzzle with all the weeks within each season joined in one piece. I reasoned that, because of its simplicity, fewer pieces might not overwhelm the children with an unfamiliar concept.

The long detailed work of constructing this calendar myself, led to natural meditation. As I solidified my thoughts, I felt a deep appreciation for God’s time and ordering the year according to His Word. I think of this construction as a sort of birthday when love of liturgy was written in my own heart.

I view using liturgical colors on the prayer table and the Chasuble presentation as prerequisites to the liturgical calendar, because they give meaning to an otherwise unfamiliar use of color. Also, since the Topographical Map of the Land of Israel builds familiarity with the symbols of dove (or flame) cross and star, I consider it a prerequisite too. I have found that even some Infancy Narratives can enhance the Liturgical Calendar presentation. The Annunciation to Mary includes the symbol of a dove and the star is found in the Adoration of the Magi.

The Altar

Because there is no standard form or function for the altar across non-liturgical denominations, I did not see an application for the altar presentations in our atrium. In marked contrast to the liturgical church, the Word of God is the primary focus each Sunday in the non-liturgical church. The Lord’s Supper may be celebrated weekly, monthly or even quarterly, and then with great variation in outward form.

For example, in my own church, New Covenant Fellowship, the altar area changes often, with only the pulpit, some plants and an elaborate array of musical instruments as constants. Typically, our altar table is in front of the church only when communion is offered. Most of the time, the altar is in the back of the church or hall with stacks of paper, assorted brochures, offering plates and a makeshift lost and found. Instead of a chalice filled with wine, New Covenant serves communion in tiny disposable individual cups arranged in stackable round metal trays called communion trays. Squares of pinkie fingernail-sized crackers on a metal plate serve as our bread.

My eventual appreciation and adaptation of the Altar presentations originated in numerous presentations of the Cenacle in our atrium and other settings. Each time I prepared the miniature table, I hoped to capture the reverence of the Passover shared by Jesus and his disciples. Time and again, I witnessed the children placing figures, setting the table, passing the chalice from Christ to each disciple. With this repetition, the chalice, paten, fair linen, and candles, once foreign and strange to me, slowly became known and familiar.

So my logic began. Christ most certainly had passed a chalice of wine, not tiny individual cups lined in a silver tray. Putting on a fine table cloth and lit candles, using a plate and chalice on the table made the altar feel like the focal point for a special dinner, and less like an unfamiliar liturgical ritual only done in church. The ground for examining (and ultimately using) the Altar presentations was broken. The Cenacle had cemented the central articles of liturgical worship present in Altar I, but what of the other articles and presentations which followed?

I included a pulpit, a Bible, an ambry/tabernacle, a ciborium, and cruets in the Altar II presentation. Our atrium does not display a lectern because the pulpit serves both purposes in many non-liturgical churches. The main action of non-liturgical church services is in the pulpit; the preacher, minister, or pastor stands at the pulpit to read scripture from his own personal Bible and preach the Word. Also, song leaders may lead worship from the pulpit. Generally, testimonies and announcements take place there as well.

The other articles are unfamiliar to most non-liturgical churches, but I kept them in the Altar II presentation to relate to the Cenacle presentations and the Preparation of the Chalice, as you will see. The ciborium and tabernacle relate to the Cenacle presentation in that children may wonder where this special body and blood of Christ is kept. Because the Preparation of the Chalice gives meaning to the inclusion of the cruets in this presentation; I consider it a prerequisite for my Altar II work. There is no Book of Common Prayer, or separate gospel book in the experience of the non-liturgical church, so I left these out.

In order to accentuate the primacy of the Word and importance of the pulpit in the non-liturgical church, I chose to make a child-sized pulpit used with a real Bible. The altar table in our atrium is smaller than child-sized, but larger than the model presented in the CGS training. In their work, the children do place the Bible on the pulpit, read, and make pronouncements about God; they do not ‘play church’.

Our Altar III presentation includes two doctrinal points: communion is prepared for the altar, and we may make offerings to God. While I do not include the remaining Altar III articles, I added an offering plate in Altar III work. It is a common Protestant practice to keep offering plates on the altar. My goal was to open up thinking on the subject, since to me, this practice seemed essential to the non-liturgical faith.

Preparation of the Cruets

I was not certain I’d ever present this work. Cruets are not used in the non- liturgical church. Before a communion service, the individual communion cups are filled with grape juice, without water, and placed in a communion tray. (Each tray holds forty cups.) The communion trays are then stacked, and stored in a refrigerator until just before the communion service, when they are placed on the altar, fully prepared.

Eventually, I decided the Preparation of the Cruets had value in our atrium as a practical life pouring exercise. We use grape juice, rather then wine, because of the stigma attached to any alcohol use by many Protestant churches in our area . After showing the children how to prepare the cruets, a simple question draws the parallel between the grape juice and the blood of Jesus shed on Calvary.

The Preparation of the Chalice

I remained unsure if I should develop a Chalice presentation for our atrium. Use of a chalice is uncommon in the non-liturgical church, except for rare occasions when the Last Supper is reenacted. While I could rationally connect the chalice to the Altar and Cenacle presentations, adding a drop of water to the wine to represent the people felt irrelevant to my “non-liturgical” sensibilities.

My heart opened to this presentation when I heard the response of a child quoted: “We are lost in Jesus.” I gave the presentation in our atrium the following week, and one of the children exclaimed, “We are all mixed up with God!” Yes, children unfamiliar with the liturgy can find intimate relationship with Christ through the Preparation of the Chalice presentation.

Again, I would recommend the Cenacle and Altar I presentations as prerequisites for this work. They introduce the chalice to children unfamiliar with formal liturgy. In addition, I include a tiny communion cup and compare it with the chalice. I fill this cup with the familiar grape juice. “Some of your churches may serve communion in this kind of cup. Others may use the chalice, like this. It can be made of wood, silver, or gold…”.

Gestures of the Eucharist

After being introduced to the gestures of Epiclesis and the Doxology in Catechesis training, I wondered, “Were there any comparable gestures in my Protestant experience?” I started to observe my pastor during the communion service and to look for gestures in other religious settings. While there was no movement similar to the gesture of Epiclesis in the communion service, our pastor held his tiny cup and square of bread up to heaven in a gesture of Doxology.

Also, I have observed the invocation of the Holy Spirit upon a person by a pastor or lay minister in the form of one arm extended, raised, then lowered to the head. I have seen similar blessings from the pastor over the entire congregation as the people are dismissed from the service, particularly after weddings. As a result of these observations, I am comfortable including all three gesture presentations from CGS.

Eucharistic Presence of the Good Shepherd

At the first presentation of The Eucharistic Presence of the Good Shepherd, I remember feeling apprehensive. Hadn’t this very issue of Christ’s literal or figurative presence in the Eucharistic bread and wine been debated for centuries? Would my non- liturgical friends reject CGS if I chose words wrongly regarding this mystery? Realizing that my words cannot undo the work of the Holy Spirit, I decided to step out of the debate and into scripture and study. Scripture gave me the freedom to be direct. I found the Bread of the Presence in the Old Testament (Ex. 25:30, I Sam. 21:4 – 6). This scripture can be seen as weaving together the Old Testament altar in the Temple with the altar in the church today. These references along with Christ’s own words in John 6:53 “. . . Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves . . .” gave me the boldness to proclaim, “Jesus is present in the bread and the wine today” during my own presentations of the Eucharistic Presence and the Cenacle.

I view the Altar I and Cenacle presentations as prerequisites for the Eucharistic Presence of The Good Shepherd presentations. I found it essential in non-liturgical settings to use alternative words for Eucharist, such as Jesus’ Presence in Communion or Christ’s Presence in the Lord’s Supper. Even though I had been to Bible college and attended church my entire life, the word “Eucharist” was foreign to me until becoming acquainted with CGS. I believe my experience parallels that of many others in the non-liturgical church.


Baptism, the one sacrament which unites all Christians as believers in Jesus Christ, is celebrated in diverse ways in the non-liturgical church. Although generally, candles are not used in baptisms in the non-liturgical church, I found the symbolism of the baptized receiving the light of Christ lovely. In my mind, it is an undisputed reflection of the Holy Spirit at Baptism, and therefore, easy to include in our atrium.

In my experience, the non-liturgical church often favors full body immersion. Indeed, baptism by any other means may be offensive to some non-liturgical Christians. In spite of adapting the Baptism presentation in light of these beliefs, it remains very similar to the original CGS version. When speaking of the baptismal gown I will add,”This is a baptismal gown. It is a special article of clothing worn on the day of baptism. Has anyone seen a baptism? What were the people wearing? When I was a little girl, the church gave me a special white robe to wear over my dress. I recently saw children and adults wearing swim clothes and carrying towels for their baptism because their whole bodies went under the water. Does this remind you of anyone you have seen baptized?”

My Baptism II presentation starts with the pouring of the water over the hand. I add an element to accommodate baptism by immersion. Immersing my fist in water, I say, “Have you ever seen a baptism like this, where the whole person goes under the water?” Bibles are often given at non-liturgical church baptisms, so this part remains unchanged as well.

To my knowledge, chrism is not used during baptism in the non-liturgical church. However, the sick may be anointed with oil just before prayer. On rare occasions, a speaker may invite people to the altar to be anointed with oil in charismatic services. The oil is a sign of receiving a gift of the Holy Spirit. This practice seems similar to the anointing of the baptized with chrism. The Holy Spirit came to Christ himself at his own baptism. With these things in mind, I included the Chrism in my Baptism II presentation.

For Baptism III, I include the Epiclesis over the water and the sign of the cross, even though I have not seen the water blessed or sign of the cross made in the non- liturgical church. One reason for doing so is that the presentation relates so clearly to a baptism-related gesture from my childhood church. The pastor extended one arm to heaven as he spoke the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Then he lowered the extended arm to the back of the person being baptized and dipped the individual under the water. I included the sign of the cross, which denotes belonging to Christ, since it marks the significance of the baptism for the baptized


So, what are the struggles in sharing the beauty and wholeness of the liturgy with a non-liturgical Protestant? As I continued my formation as a catechist, I grew in my love and understanding of liturgy through the CGS. However, I believe this growth represented a true shift of focus. It was a shift from the tradition of sola Scriptura, sola fide, to a more expansive view of liturgy and tradition in the larger context of a common history.

What reached this non-liturgical Protestant’s head and heart, was each catechist’s demonstration of his/her own deep love of God’s Word. The words are living, and life giving. A song I love has the words, “This is the air I breathe, . . . this is my daily bread, Your very Word spoken to me . . . and I’m desperate for You.” While it seems that the altar is the front door for liturgical churches, I feel that the Word is the way into the non- liturgical church. Our altar changes, our liturgy changes, but the Word remains.

If, at the beginning of this journey with CGS, I had known the ‘cost’ of time, money, materials, space, and even reputation, I would have fled. But, God has guided me through this big work, gently, one moment at a time.

Now, as a result of my journey of contemplation and prayer as a catechist, I have a personal hunger for liturgy and a longing to share my discovery with other non- liturgical Protestants. My hope is that through the sharing of this journey, others will be helped and encouraged as they too hear the Psalmist’s spirit cry; “deep calls to deep”.

Occasional Papers is a publication of the Center for Children and Theology copyright © 2004 
This paper is copyrighted and may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the publisher’s written permission. 

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