Pastor reaches out to children Pilot program uses song, games to introduce concept of God to youths

August 27, 1996|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,SUN STAFF

When the Rev. William Hayman and his small group of children raucously sang "Old MacDonald Had a Farm," the classic children's song took on new meaning -- helping Hayman, pastor of Lutheran Church of the Living Word, introduce the concept of God to the young ones.

"What we're trying to do is make a connection to animals and how we are created," Hayman said last week while finishing several rounds of "E-I-E-I-O's" during a church pilot program called Kids' Night Out. "Kids get [the concept of God] in stages. They're not going to learn everything about what creation is, and even we, as adults are confused about how the world was created."

Kids' Night Out is an alternative to traditional vacation Bible schools held by many churches during the summer. Instead of weeklong lessons, children ages 3 to 12 go for one night to Oakland Mills Interfaith Center, where the Lutheran congregation meets.

Participating children learn the basics about the Bible. They learn the Creation story as taught in Christianity. Or, as Hayman said, that God created deer, elephants and other animals -- many of which were pictured on Hayman's Disney T-shirt this night.

If the program is successful, Hayman said he'll repeat it. "This is in essence a reach out," Hayman said.

And it may be a help for parents struggling to explain their notion of God to their children.

The subject of God is difficult to discuss with children, so some parents deal with it "gingerly," said a local religious studies professor.

"It is a very existential decision for human beings to accept a God," said Otto Begus, chair of philosophy and religious studies at Morgan State University in Baltimore.

But Begus said that adults often underestimate children's ability to relate events to a transcendental sphere. "We can assume children have a better affinity with the supernatural than grown-ups," Begus said.

On Wednesday at the church, the seven children sitting on the carpeted floor did not have trouble relating to the Creation story.

They used crayons to color pictures of animals, played with a furry puppet with sunglasses named Bud and made "Clay Creations" out of colored Playdoh.

"That's right, use your imagination," Hayman urged the youngsters. "You can make anything you want."

Hearing that, Rachel Schweizer, 5, rolled a long piece of red, white and blue Playdoh into a snake.

Teen helpers assisted the younger children in making their creations. Some of their parents stood by and watched.

Two-year-old Kristopher Leach and his little brother Brandon, 1, were there. "It's establishing a relationship between them with the church at a young age," said their mother, Kristine Leach, of Columbia's Hickory Ridge village.

Kristine Leach said she realizes her children may not fully understand God, but she believes it's important for them to get a dose of religion at an early age.

"At this age as children, I'll direct them into my beliefs," she said. "When they get older, they can choose."

Until then, she said her children have a daily religious practice: "We pray every night," she said.

And Rachel's mother, who says she's not a real church-goer, said she is trying to introduce God to Rachel and her brother, Victor, 7. "I bring them to church to wet their feet," said Pam Roberts, of Columbia's Wilde Lake village.

"They're really not clear on the concept, to tell you the truth," Roberts said, adding she has lots of questions herself.

Before leaving the interfaith center, each child quieted and listened to Hayman. "Everybody repeat after me: Dear God, thank you for children, for parents, for animals. Amen."

Pub Date: 8/27/96

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