The History of Christianity

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

Do you serve children from more than one denomination in your atrium?

Do you serve children whose parents or close family members are in more than one denomination?

Do you have neighbors from other denominations?

Do the children you serve go to school with children of other Christian denominations?

Most of us will answer yes to at least three of these questions. In America, we live in an interdenominational environment, and this will impact the older children of our atriums. By about age nine, children are beginning to be aware of words like Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopalian, etc., but they are not sure what these words imply. Are these all Christians? What is a denomination? Why are we all invited to communion in one church but not another? Even children with weekly exposure to more than one denomination have little understanding of this.

I became aware of this in our Catholic Montessori school during a year when most of the older children were non-Catholic. I was sad that we couldn’t celebrate Eucharist with everyone able to join us at the altar for communion. I was sad that our Christian history was full of division and even enmity for one another. But I felt like it would be remiss of me not to address the situation of the multitude of denominations in Christianity.

So I prepared a fairly simple story of the history of denominations. As I began to offer this to the children I was amazed by their reaction. Rather than share in my sadness, they were grateful to be offered some clarity, and particularly delighted to hear how and when their own denomination entered the story. Our lesson was a happy one, despite my misgivings. I realized once again that knowledge is affirming and powerful for children.

Soon after this Carol Hanlon joined me at the Center as an intern from Boston College. She undertook and completed several projects, and when I shared with her my desire to have a resource to offer children the History of Christianity she willingly took on that work as well. Her internship ended and she persevered. She received her degree and she persevered. For an additional five years we worked on refining a timeline of Christianity that would include the story of our Christian family (denominations), the geographical spread of Christianity, the recognition of powerfully good and sadly scandalous events in our story, and how the context of world events shaped the church. Like the CGS timelines, it points to the time in history when “God will be all in all”, and our Christian communion will be perfected.

The fruit of Carol’s work was published last year as the History of Christianity Timeline, and presented as an Emerging Conversation workshop at the International Conference in Phoenix last October. It is a resource that can be used to explore our story in a positive yet realistic way. It offers children (and adults) living in our interdenominational times the clarity and knowledge they seek to understand their family, neighbors, and schoolmates of different Christian churches.

Carol will be presenting the timeline at Weaving Our Gifts in October. Please consider if this resource will meet the need of  children and adults in your community for deeper understanding of the denominations of our Christian faith.

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