PART ONE: “Blessed are the people that know the joyful sound” – a line from one of our hymns best depicts the atmosphere experienced recently in our ecclesia. Prior to June, 2018 our ecclesia was long absent of a Sunday School with no children present in our midst for a period of 7 years. This is a two-part story: Part One being the cornerstone of the building of years of Sunday School experience and personal growth. I was born into a large Catholic family with an incredible mother that believed in diversity and freedom of religion (a rare trait in a Catholic household). I have taught Sunday School since I was 18 years old (Baptised January 1968 – teacher September 1968). Trust and faith shown to me by some of the arranging board and Sunday School Superintendent allowed me the go-ahead to teach Ages 9 – 12 and I have maintained that age group since 1968 (until recently). This group is an exciting and challenging one, on the cusp of becoming responsible teenagers with an added temptation of trying to stay “cool” yet learning their “parents’ religion”.
I needed to emphasize by my own enthusiasm the incredible blessing/gift that they have in their hands and hopefully in their hearts and minds. In simple words “let your light so shine”. The Truth was still new, but the spirit was ever willing although very weak. When plied with a question that stumped me, I immediately piped up “there is no time to review that right now. We will deal with it next week”. I urgently went home to my one-bedroom apartment and did some extensive study to prove that “I knew all of the answers” when in fact I knew less than the children. Good acting and a background in the art of persuasiveness (related to Al Capone) got me through some tough challenges. Throughout the years of teaching, has taught me to be motivated by three factors (remember a triangle has no ends – just bends in the road):
1. “Proverbs 22:6” Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it”
2.The need to maintain a fervent, tenacious grasp on the “newness of the gospel message in my life
3. A vibrant need to bring current learning methods in a way that “stuck to the brain – somewhat like peanut butter does to the mouth”. Because I was fresh, my learning techniques included the unorthodox methods of making it come alive in every Biblical story in a way that would mold their minds way into the future. I have run into some of the students that I taught back in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s and some still reference some of our lessons, one being “Truth and consequences (method and lesson expanded below)” which was a lesson in responsibility as seen through the eyes of some good and bad characters in the Bible and how we can bring these lessons to Sunday school, school, home and life. Meeting one of my former students recently he remembered one of our plays “Life is the time to serve the Lord” in which I dressed up every child as a grandfather clock emphasizing that time is precious and “life is the time to serve the Lord”. If we can all instill in a child the ability to recall lessons in a vibrant and commanding way, then we have done our job well but the job needs continuing. Here are the 12 steps of spiritual sobriety which are necessary in any Sunday School or CYC room:
- Bring vibrance to the class as if the teacher is also learning along with the students.
- Play into the weakness of the child, grow together and support their success
- Acknowledge that the teacher is fallible.Don’t be afraid of saying “I don’t know but will find out for next week” and keep the promise.
- Do your homework along with the class – don’t attend with sloppy mind and material.
- Remember what it was like when you were learning and never tire of that joy.
- Pray that the heart of the child is influenced by the example of the teacher at all times.
- Acknowledge that we all make mistakes and that they are there for the learning.
- Praise generously – everyone needs to be loved, liked and admired for the ability to overcome. Young minds and egos are fragile. Handle with prayer and compassion, even on bad days.
- Visual effects should be current and thought provoking – Example: Truth and consequences T’shirts with pins earned for good works, attitude adjustments, care for those that make us uncomfortable, serving the Lord with kindness and generosity of spirit. The pins would be the “Fruit of the Spirit” pins so that the end result is “one fruit” manifested in many characteristics as seen in the “Beatitudes”. Our end result was a play on the “Beatitudes” and the young people wearing their shirts. (Similar to Boy Scouts and Girl Guides but with a more profound and spiritual effect). Help them develop the important traits and become independent thinkers with good tools for growth.
- Remember the Lord used parables to stimulate the brain. Let them think outside of the box!
- Becoming a child helps one understand the mind of a child. Don’t be afraid of having fun alongside the children – getting messy, laughing at one’s mistakes and sharing their lives outside of the ecclesia/CYC/Sunday School. They enjoy the companionship more than you know and becomes lasting so that you stay “Auntie Weezie and Uncle Hamburger” for the rest of your life with them. (“Uncle Hamburger” story known amongst a select few children, teenagers and now grown adults and not to be digested further and will remain that way.)
- Remember, God willing, they will one day be a brother or sister in your meeting with a spiritual gauge and compass of their own. Don’t leave them without a map so that they lose their way. Keep focused on their path even when they are no longer being taught by you. “Encourage one another and build each other up” is a line in an incredible Sunday School song.
Although this article may seem long the journey is worth the effort. “Raise up a child in the way He should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it” is a profound verse, not with guarantees but a strong, commanding message of importance. Not being a parent (as is the case with this author) does not take away that responsibility nor does it negate or weaken God’s message to children through the eyes of a non-parent. I considered it a blessing being a “woman of heritage” by faith attached to a promise of eternal genealogy. Never underestimate the power that one childless person can manifest in the life of a child. Never underestimate the power that one child can manifest in the life of the teacher.