Thursday, September 6, 2007
Sunday School is a ‘tender treasure’ of our little city
Last Lord’s Day our Sunday school got under way for the fall term. In “olden times” (when I was a child) it was called Rally Day, and all the classes got new teachers and met in different rooms. I always felt a little unsettled by this, because I grew to love my Sunday school teachers and did not want to leave them.
Now it is much less regimented. No more pomp and ceremony, affixing attendance pins to little girls’ starchy dresses with the rustling petticoats young ladies of the 1950s used to wear. No, in our church, the children just come, and with a whoop rush back to greet “Miss Brenda” and “Miss Laura,” and pick up with their lessons where they left off last time.
The Sunday school of the Holly Springs Presbyterian Church — with that of First Methodist — is famously the oldest Sunday school in this area — begun as the story is told, “in 1836 in a pole and mud cabin on the site of our present church, and conducted by Robert H. Pattillo, a Presbyterian and James Elder, a Methodist.”
Mr. Elder eventually became a Presbyterian, and Mr. Pattillo (an ancestor of Mrs. Lady Bird Johnson) moved on to Memphis, where he became a revered elder in the First Presbyterian Church of that city. (A stained glass window in that church at Poplar and Third honors his memory.)
The pioneer spirit of those two gentlemen who believed that Christian education was so important that their little school began operation before the denominational churches were even organized, has inspired subsequent generations to continue during the most difficult of circumstances. Our little Sunday school continued during the Civil War, and later in the 1870s when it was so cold that the church could not be heated above 50 degrees.
Mr. W.A. Anderson, long our Sunday school superintendent, headed the first local public school in 1879.
The little Sunday school that has met in our church has never been large, but there is something to be said for continuity. When pins used to be given for perfect attendance, I always wished to earn one, but I confess that in spite of my best efforts, I always fell by the wayside.
Now the church no longer promotes that kind of contest — believing it tends to “works righteousness” (After all, we say we believe in “salvation by grace.”). But still it is important that children come to Sunday school and church as often as possible, else how will they learn the things that make for their eternal peace?
I can remember each of my Sunday school teachers and call their names and the years they taught me. There was Ann Ross who gave me my first puppy, and Carlton Ashford, whose Ben Franklin five-and-dime was a favorite hang out for balsa wood airplanes and kites of every description, as well as a turtle named Myrtle in a plastic dish.
As we grew older we tried our teachers’ patience. Mr. Ashford stayed with us year after year because he was the only one who could hold the attention of such unruly boys. He basically gave the same lesson every Sunday. It was what we needed to hear.
How many times did I hear the story of how he was in Memphis standing outside the door of the old Second Presbyterian Church (you can still see the old building just south of Peabody Place), and listening to the preacher through the open windows, though young Carlton by his own admission was not yet a religious man. But the minister’s voice in the night made its impression, and the emphasis of his childhood upbringing in the church suddenly came together and as he told it, that night he was born into a new way of life.
So please support your little Sunday school with your presence and your prayers. They are among the tender treasures of our little city, and I think they have brought good to those who have loved them beyond the power of human eyes to see. Only in heaven shall we know the entirety of what God hath wrought through the simplest and humblest of means.
“We have this treasure in earthen vessels,” said the apostle. We have staked our lives here on the belief that this is true.
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