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Real unity — Christian education at home

“Our country is more divided than ever.” This statement (or some version of it) has been repeated over and over during the last several years.  And the proposed solution to this challenge has followed a similar pattern.  “We have to reunite.”  “It’s time for unity.”  This all seems well and good, but many of us struggle to see how true unity can exist when there is so much hate, anger and sometimes even violence driving this division.  If adults feel this way, how do we talk to our children about repairing this breach?  How can we explain what true reconciliation is and encourage our youngest disciples to work toward it?

Of course, the answers to these questions are not quick and easy ones. But exploring stories of Jesus’ ministry together can provide starting points for conversations about unity with our children.  This week’s lectionary Gospel reading from Mark is a springboard for looking to Jesus as the one who can heal and reunite us.

Begin the time with your children by discussing what keeps people from having relationships with one another.  Ask your children to think of people they know who do not get along with each other.  What keeps them from being friends?  Why do they dislike one another?  Encourage them to notice that in some cases there are genuine differences that are difficult to reconcile, while other times there are misunderstandings or an unwillingness to listen to one another.  Also, note that anger or hatred can keep people from connecting.  When this is the case, those destructive behaviors have to change in order for the people to come together.

Prepare to read aloud the lectionary reading, Mark 1:21-28.  Tell your children that this story takes place in the synagogue, the religious center for the Jewish people.  Jesus is teaching in the synagogue on this day when something extraordinary happens.  Encourage your kids to pay attention to the exchange between the man who enters the synagogue and Jesus, and also to the reaction of the other people to this encounter.

After reading the story, ask your children to describe the man who comes into the synagogue while Jesus is teaching.  They likely will be confused about what “an unclean spirit” is.  Explain that the author is using these words to talk about something that is keeping this man from being close to God and close to other people.  Refer back to your earlier conversation.  Hate, anger and lack of understanding are all things that fall into the category of “unclean spirit.”  In other words, this man isn’t getting along with the people in his community.  He isn’t close to any of them.

Next, ask your children how Jesus reacts to the “man with the unclean spirit” asking if Jesus is there to destroy them.  They will likely notice that Jesus makes the “unclean spirit” come out of him.  Again, young children may take this idea literally.  Explain that Jesus is preventing the things that keep the man from getting along with people from being problems.  In other words, Jesus is helping him become friends with the people around him.

Finally, explore the reaction of the others in the synagogue.  Note that the people are amazed that Jesus can remove these barriers.  They are discovering that Jesus has the power to bring people together, including those who weren’t able to get along.  Ask your children to consider what they’ve learned about the ways Jesus encourages people to care for one another.

To connect the unifying work that Jesus does in this story to your children’s lives, prepare to create a piece of art together by gathering supplies: several pieces of colored paper, crayons or markers, and glue.  Place a piece of colored paper in front of each of your children.  Ask them to think back to the earlier discussion focused on people not getting along.  Recap the reasons why people don’t get along with one another.  If your children are older, you may want to extend the discussion beyond one-on-one disagreements.  Talk about why groups of people do not get along.  Encourage them to name beliefs that cause one group to not like another (such as racism, homophobia, gender discrimination, etc.). After you have created this list, ask each child to write or draw these reasons on the piece of paper.

Next, remind your children that Jesus calls all people to care for and love one another.  As they saw in the Scripture reading, Jesus has the ability to heal or remove the things that keep us from these connections.  To represent this, have your children tear the piece of paper containing all of the reasons for division into smaller pieces, each 2 or 3 inches in size.  Then, place a blank sheet of paper in front of each child.  Ask her to create an image that reminds them of Jesus by gluing the torn pieces of paper on to the blank sheet.  The figure could be a classic image like a heart or a cross to represent God’s love or it could be a symbol that has personal meaning to your child.  After she has used the torn paper to create this image, look at it together.  Note how the pieces now work together to make a unified symbol of God.


JOELLE BRUMMIT-YALE is the director of children’s and youth ministries at Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  When not at the church, she can usually be found at home with her son and husband caring for their many animals and developing their family homestead.