Torstai 22.3.2018
Herra, pelasta minut vihollisteni käsistä! Sinun luonasi olen turvassa. Ps. 143:9

Blog: ”I want to discuss religion”

in English 11.5.2017 06:16 | Päivämies-verkkolehti
The western sky blazed scarlet and wispy clouds of mist were creeping over the field beyond the brook. The hallway was full of duffel bags and sleeping bags, the sofas were cramped with kids, some adults were standing in the doorway, and small groups were loitering here and there. The winter period of confirmation classes had just closed, and the students had gathered into the hall to wait for their rides home.
We had spent the weekend together. There had been 77 confirmation students, 11 big brothers and sisters, two counsellors and four teachers. The weekend had been intensive and peaceful, although the premises had been filled to capacity. The camp started off well. When we met on Friday evening to get to know each other, we discussed together what a good confirmation camp is like. Each group was asked to draw a big tree. On the roots of the tree the group members wrote down their thoughts of why they had come to the camp and what, in their opinion, is the purpose of a confirmation camp. On the trunk of the tree the students wrote comments on what makes a camp a good camp, and on the branches they wrote down what they intended to do to make our camp a good camp. They then drew leaves on the branches and added to them their hopes and wishes concerning the camp. It was good to read what they hoped for: I want new friends and even more new friends. I want to discuss religion. I want that no-one is bullied or left out. I want that no-one needs to be alone. 

When I was a newly graduated church musician, I also kept music lessons for confirmation students. Those lessons were 45-minute monologues with loads of transparencies. My lesson plans were based on the lectures of church history I had attended at the university, and I am quite sure there were not even minimal shortcuts in the chronology. I kept flipping on the projector transparencies covering century after century of history, made the students listen to Gregorian chants, and tried to describe the mysterious world of neumes to the drooping hoodies in front of me. I could hear papers rustling and students sighing more and more wearily as we plodded on through the history of the Finnish hymnal and sang variant translations of hymns from different eras. I still remember well the students’ sleepy eyes in the early morning when I marshalled my array of examples of how Gregorian chants developed over the centuries into vernacular hymns with organ accompaniment.

Time and age have since given me a sense of proportion for how to teach confirmation students. I have learnt that interaction with the students in music class is more important than imparting knowledge. In some cases I need to compete hard for ‘screen time’ with smart phones and life-organizing applications. In a large group there are always many different learners and talented musicians, and as a teacher I would like to give each of them a challenge to learn. I feel that my lesson plans and teaching methods have been good if I have managed to challenge to students to discuss. And if I have been able to make them sing. 

The students of this camp did sing. They said it is ”quite OK to sing together because then the others don’t hear if you sing out of tune”. But I think that being able to cover up one’s mistakes is not so important. It is much more important that, when singing together, we all concentrated on the same thing at the same time, shared this experience of togetherness, and confessed the same thing with our singing. I think this is the only way in the world to create such an experience.

The topic of our last lesson during this winter course was the confession of faith. The students were divided into small groups and asked to discuss this topic based on some Bible quotes. The small groups were then combined into bigger groups, and finally all students were able to share their thoughts together. The teacher asked for comments on some real-life situations, such as being asked by a classmate to come along for a beer, or a dance lesson having been scheduled for physical education. These situations were familiar to many of the 80 students. Different answers were given: ”I would say I don’t come because I am a lestadian.” “I would say I don’t come because of my religious conviction.” “My friends know I am a believer, so I don’t need to say anything”, said one student from the back row. The teacher continued to challenge the group to think more carefully and asked: ”Is that really a correct answer? Is the fact that you are a lestadian the real reason for making choices that are different from those of the majority of people? Or what is the reason?”

Well, is it really? What would your answer be?

Text: Maija Rimpiläinen
Translation: S.-L. Leinonen

You will find the original Finnish blog post here


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