by Laurie Oswald Robinson

A hula hoop is a toy kids love to play with. But this summer at First Mennonite Church in Newton, the hoop during Circle of Grace lessons became a symbol of empowerment to keep oneself safe.

To help them understand how to maintain appropriate physical, emotional, spiritual and sexual boundaries, each child stood within the hoop and practiced what to let in and what to keep out.

They did this by enacting the Circle of Grace Pledge. They raised their hands above their head and brought their arms down, keeping them outstretched. They extended their arms in front and behind themselves, and embraced the space around them. They were encouraged to know that God is in this space with them. Then they reached down to their feet. This space became their “circle of grace.”

This object lesson was used during four-week Sunday school sessions when Grades K-4 used the curriculum in June, and Grades 5-6 used it in August. The curriculum — implemented for the first time by the congregation this summer — empowers students to recognize that they are valued because God created them. And because of that, they are entitled to take action when their boundaries are being threatened/or violated.

“I feel one of the strongest components of the experience was helping the children discuss a whole variety of experiences that include components of danger – not just those that have to do with sexual abuse,” said Kathy Wiens, curriculum organizer trained to offer this curriculum in a variety of settings and a fellow teacher with Judy Schrag and Renee Hamm.

“We talked about bullying and about how each child is a gift from God,” Schrag said.    “We helped children identify trusted adults, such as people in church and in their families. These are people they could go to if something was troubling them or if they were unsure about a situation. We tried to make a really big point of that, because those extra layers of support are such a big safeguard against bad things happening.” We used Max Lucado’s book, You Are Special, which tells the story of Punchinello, the wooden Wemmick who believes that he isn’t good enough because of what others say about him. And then his maker reassures him that he was created special and unique, just the way he is.”

For more information on how to engage Circle of Grace in your congregation, contact Jon Stanton, Dove’s Nest program coordinator, at (402) 577-0866, or Kathy Wiens is also available to present trainings on the Circle of Grace curriculum.  Contact her at 316-283-9533.