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Kerry Dickson


Sue Careless talks with Kerry Dickson about 622, the new curriculum she is developing for youth.



Is this Sunday school curriculum or material for a youth group? 

It’s more suited to Sunday school, but I think there’s enough versatility in it to allow for use in other contexts.


What age group are you targeting?

It’s really for high school, so grades nine to 12.


Sunday school used to go to grade 8 but now in many Anglican churches it ends at grade 6 and middle school children enter youth groups. Youth groups need to be fun to attract teens but sometimes there can be so much fun that any actual teaching gets downplayed. How does 622 strike a balance? 

This is such an important question for those doing youth ministry. We've got to remember who we are as a church and why we're doing what we're doing. I like to think of it in terms of ‘engagement’ and ‘education.’ Each lesson opens with an icebreaker or gathering activity of some kind: engagement. Programs for youth work best when there is a cohesive group of teens who enjoy being together, so lessons take group dynamics into account and offer lots of interactivity. But the core of 622 is really the content, which is approached with an eye to what I think are two of the biggest issues facing teens: identity and relationship. Let me just give you an example – our first three lessons are titled, "Known," Loved," and "Destined," and serve as a launch pad for the series. We want to start by establishing an understanding that God knows us intimately, loves us unconditionally, and our future is in his hands. What could be more relevant?


Why did you choose the name 622? 

I’m so glad you asked that. 622 is the page number of the Book of Common Prayer that begins the order of service for young people. The series revives the use of this service, so it just seemed appropriate.


What makes spiritual formation so challenging, yet vital, for today’s youth? 

You know, I've seen so many churches that see this declining belief in God in the world, declining biblical literacy, declining church attendance, and they're asking, "What do we do?" We've seen so many churches abandon a rich heritage and sound theology. But far from being effective, this has churches shrinking and closing their doors at a faster rate than ever. So I'd suggest that if we feel the culture around us is spiralling away, we need to grow deeper roots rather than chasing after fads. I'd argue that this is as true for Christian education of children and adults as it is for youth. But what we're hoping to do here is facilitate an experience of God – grounded in Scripture and tradition – that can help youth understand who they are in the context of that relationship. At the same time we want to equip them with the tools they will need to answer the questions posed by life, culture and critics of the faith – not just give them answers, but rather the tools, so that when the questions change (as they inevitably will), they'll know how and where to find the answers.


Aren’t there already several programs available for the youth market? Why did you feel the need to create yet one more?  

Yes and no. That is, I'd say there’s a significant gap in the market. So what you’ll see is a great deal available that I’d categorize as theme-based evangelical stuff and also a number of publications that are more on the progressive liberal side. I’m not saying that those publications don’t have their strengths – they do. But there’s a tendency on the one hand to focus heavily on contentious issues and on the other to fail to remain faithful to orthodox teaching. What we’re hoping to do here is offer a resource that is designed to guide teens into a lifelong practice of meaningful and biblically faithful devotion.


Your curriculum has an ancient basis, drawing as it does on the BCP. In what sense is it also very modern? 

You’re right. We start with the premise that we have this amazingly rich tradition in Anglicanism, one that is worth sharing. But we marry that with an approach that focuses on an exploration of identity in the context of our relationship with God. So lessons are packed with discussions that invite teens to go deeper, to spend time considering the meaning and relevance of these things. It’s important that the beautiful words of the Prayer Book become more for us than just words on a page.


Could you describe a typical lesson plan? What elements will be constants?   

Absolutely. So lessons start with an icebreaker or gathering activity. This is followed by saying together a portion of the 622 service. The lessons themselves begin with group discussion and then move into an interactive Scripture study portion. Each lesson also contains a ‘homework’ assignment – generally a time of private prayer and reflection. We really want to offer something that is adaptable, that not only offers solid teaching but helps to facilitate great group dynamics – something that can be used successfully whether you’re in a portable church in the Yukon or an East Coast cathedral.


Besides the Service for Young People, what other elements of the BCP will you use in the curriculum? 

People laugh at me when I say this, but it’s amazing how little you can actually cover in 42 lessons. Teens aren’t going to come out of this knowing their Prayer Books and Bibles inside out, but if they stick with the program, then they will have a foundation and, we hope, a hunger to grow more spiritually. The flow of the lessons goes from exploring the underlying relationship of prayer, to looking specifically at the types of prayer that we have in the Prayer Book (collects, confessions, intercessions and so on). We’ve got a section exploring ‘the Christian back-story’ that coincides with Advent, and one that explores the Eucharist during Lent. The concluding post-Easter unit looks a bit more deeply at what it means to live in ‘newness of life.’ I don’t know if I’ve answered your question exactly, but hopefully I’ve given you a general sense of some of the areas we’re touching on.


How will Catechism classes fit into or alongside 622? 

So 622 is not Catechism. When we talked about what’s out there on the market, we didn’t get into this, but of course there are a number of resources that cover this need. But Christian education is so much bigger than going through a confirmation process. So 622 doesn’t seek to replace Catechesis; it’s definitely an ‘alongside’ offering.


How much of the program has already been written? 

Well, as you’ve probably gathered, there's an outline in place, and the first few lessons have been completed. 


What stage is the project at now? 

The plan at this stage is to have a number of churches ‘test drive’ the completed lessons and provide feedback. That input is going to help us in going forward to ensure that the end result is as effective, engaging and user-friendly as possible.


Is the program only designed for parishes that use the BCP? 

Obviously it’s going to have the greatest appeal in BCP parishes, but our hope is very much to see it embraced by a much wider group.


Who is showing interest in it? 

Here's where I start to get a bit excited. In many of my conversations with peers, I've been surprised by the level of interest – and I'm referring here not just to non-BCPers, but to non-Anglicans. There are so many churches out there looking to go beyond ‘hot topic,’ theme-style teaching. So there's this amazing potential.


What response have you had from teens themselves?

This is a great question that I hope we'll have the chance to answer when we’re a little further along in the development and feedback-gathering process.


Whose idea was the project?

It has really grown out of a conversation between the Prayer Book Society of Canada – in particular, Toronto Branch President Diana Verseghy – and myself.


Who is sponsoring and underwriting it? 



Is there an advisory panel for the curriculum?  

The PBSC is taking an active role in the project, and we're also seeking feedback from parishes and youth leaders as we move forward.


What is your own background in teaching and youth work?

One of the delights of this project for me is that it brings a sort of dissonant resume of education and experience into almost-perfect coherence. I have an undergraduate degree in theology (Tyndale University College), experience in church administration and communications, and I've been involved in working with children and youth in various settings throughout my life.


Did you grow up in the Anglican Church? Was Sunday school important in your own spiritual formation? 

No, I'm not a cradle Anglican. I guess I could say I was raised in a theologically-engaged, interdenominational Protestant home, where private devotion was modelled and considered important. While I did attend Sunday school, I think there was an over-emphasis on entertainment as opposed to education, and being a serious-minded kid I actually found that frustrating. I think back now and feel a bit sorry for my teachers. But to be candid, my parents played a much larger role in my spiritual formation than Church programming did. 


When did the BCP become crucial in your own spiritual life?

While I was in my early twenties I visited St. Mary Magdalene's in Toronto. It was my first experience of the Anglican liturgy, and I just fell in love with it. There was a solemnity, a depth and a beauty in worship that I'd been longing after for years.


What other resources, besides the BCP and the Bible, will you draw upon for this curriculum? 

Well, I can’t give you a list at this stage, but I can tell you my own philosophy is to draw from those things that I would term ‘faith-building’. We’re trying to build a solid foundation here so the appeal is going to be those sources in the Christian tradition that share that goal. For example, in the completed lessons we've used quotes from Timothy Keller and C.S. Lewis.


How much does it cost?

The plan is to make 622 available online as a free downloadable resource from the PBSC site. This is exciting too, because it means youth leaders will be able to log on, identify what lesson they want, download and print as needed. So it'll be as simple as sneezing.


If a parish is interested in piloting this curriculum or learning more about it, whom should they contact?   

Oh – so glad you asked. Diana Verseghy is arranging this. She can be emailed at [email protected].

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