Growing a Garden of Young Disciples with “Encounter”

We are indebted to Mary Dillman, a catechist at St. Magdelan de Pazzi in Flemington, New Jersey, for this beautiful article about Encounter: Experiencing God in the Everyday. We’re proud to share her article here, on The Great Adventure blog.

Thank you, Mary!

Breaking the Topsoil and Planting Seeds

Encounter logoOur Parish is delighted to use the Encounter Middle School Bible Study in our Salvation History CCD curriculum for 6th Grade students. Our Parish Catechetical Leader saw a critical need to put down “strong roots” in the Salvation Story through the use of Sacred Scripture in preparation for the youth entering our John Paul II Confirmation Program in 7th and 8th Grades.

Through the Encounter videos hosted by Mark Hart, our 6th Graders have discovered that God’s Salvation Story is a story of love, and more importantly, that “my story is in this story”! The “seeds” of God’s Word calling the youth for a role in His plan have been planted. The students had many questions, and they were hungry for more Scripture!

Providing Light, Water and Nutrients

The “Encounter” lessons are followed by several “deeper dive” lessons on selected parts of the Salvation Story. Frequent practice for locating and reading short Scripture passages is essential to easing the trepidation youth have with the sheer volume and unique language of the Bible. We include lots of visuals on the note-taking sheets, and we use Christian music CDs or videos to help bring the story to life. The students enjoy “Scripture Sleuth” exercises, in which their group must independently uncover “clues” in God’s Word.

An expanded Prayer Section in our lessons encourages student Prayer Leader roles, spontaneous prayer intentions, and silent prayer or reflection in the Church Sanctuary. We emphasize the beauty of having conversations with God everyday – speaking and listening to Him.

So much of the growth in our “garden” of young disciples has come in “life application” activities. Sixth Graders love to express themselves creatively: through “Jesus Is Our GPS” posters, “Design a Prophet’s Web Page”, and “You are Called to be a Disciple” scenarios.

Sustaining the Garden

Every lesson on the Salvation Story makes connections to the Sacraments and to the Church, which is the Body of Christ. We reinforce Encounter‘s message that the youth are on a journey and a mission to Heaven. The journey is impossible without the Sacraments and active participation in Church Liturgy.

This has been, and continues to be, a journey of spiritual growth and joy for me and the other 6th Grade Catechists. Surrendering our work to the Holy Spirit is the best “cultivating” ingredient that I know of! I would be happy to share more information about our curriculum and sample lesson plans (at no cost). You can contact the St. Magdalen de Pazzi Office of Catechesis via email at

“Thus faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes from the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)

May the Lord bless your work in spreading His Word!

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John Harden

Before joining Ascension Press, John served as the marketing assistant for Current USA, in Colorado Springs. John received his bachelors in theology from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, and his masters in theology from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. John is currently a deacon candidate for the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic, New Jersey. He has served as an adjunct professor of Theology at Neumann University, in Aston, Pennsylvania, and is a 4th degree member of the Knights of Columbus. John, his wife, and their children live in West Chester, Pennsylvania.