Congo Kids get creative

Shannan Kelly, 11, personalizes her own stressball during a meeting of Congo Kids at First Congregational Church Wednesday evening. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Aleta Christopherson had an idea when First Congregational Church decided to switch its Sunday School classes from Sunday to Wednesday: tailor them to students’ needs.

“Since we’re there on Wednesday nights, let’s be as loud as we want to be, and as creative as we want to be,” she said.

The result was Congo Kids, a monthly summer class held on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. where children can experience worship, Bible stories and prayer in a creative and energetic setting. When the school year resumes in the fall, Congo Kids will become weekly.

Christopherson, who has been involved in religious education for more than 30 years, said although First Congregational was already a very child-friendly church, there was room for improvement.

A typical day at Congo Kids begins with the lesson. After that comes an active playtime and arts and crafts. The children then have a snack, and finish the hour with a quiet prayer “wind down” time, Christopherson said.

Concerned that traditional Christian education curriculum can be boring and doesn’t reach every child and his or her relationship to God, Christopherson wanted to find a way to apply the Bible to the 21st century. She writes the curriculum herself.

“This is so fun because we can be creative,” she said. “Recently, we did a weekly collage about the days of creation,” she said.

Brown yarn represented the animals, and coffee grounds were used for dirt.

The group is also doing a tour through the Bible, she said.

Christopherson and First Congregational Pastor Shari Mason have run the group.

“It’s been Shari and I pretty much every month,” Christopherson said.

So far, her idea for Congo Kids seems to be catching on. She started with just two children, and now is up to 22.

“Kids are bringing friends, and that’s how you grow,” she said.

Not all who attend are members of First Congregational. Some come from the neighborhood or know another child who participates. Several have even started attending church services.

The youngest child to take place in Congo Kids is 18 months, while the oldest was in sixth grade. Christopherson said older kids are welcome too, and some activities will have them splitting into age groups. She will sometimes tweak activities to make them better suited for all ages.

“They love them,” she said. “It’s so cool because you’ll see a kid that may be reluctant to come, then a parent says they can’t wait until next week.” The parents themselves, she added, are happy to see the children have fun and learn something along the way.

Congo Kids will also host a vacation Bible school from July 30 to Aug. 2. The theme Christopherson said, will be Peace Train.

It’s about four types of peace: peace for me, peace for all, peace for others and peace for the planet, she said. Each represents a different value, from healthy relationships with others to keeping the environment in good shape. While Congo Kids normally has no charge, the vacation Bible school will be $10 per child.

Christopherson said the group doesn’t currently have a capacity limit. The church will find another instructor or two to accommodate the size if Congo Kids grows larger.

Nine year old Dylan Rauser jumps up and down, spilling ping pong balls representing the dumping of personal baggage, during a game that was part of Congo Kids Wednesday night at First Congregational Church. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

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