Thursday, August 20, 2009
The Preacher’s Corner
Bring up children in way they should go
Churches will soon be cranking up their Sunday schools for the fall. Some grand old customs are still in use. Many churches still have Sunday school superintendents—whereby a lay person holds a position of great honor which sometimes also involves responsibility to organize and oversee all that goes on during that important hour.
Many churches, especially the Baptist, honor Sunday school above morning worship. Baptist preachers in the know do not ask their colleagues, “How many members does your church have?” They ask, “How many do you have in Sunday school?” It is a well-honored tradition in many churches to attend Sunday school, and then go home during the church hour. This shows the importance that is placed on Sunday school.
Churches used to begin Sunday school with an open assembly which young and old attended together. Announcements were given, prayer concerns voiced, joys and concerns shared, and vigorous hymn singing took place. Most of “the good old hymns” and songs people remember came from the days of Sunday school assembly.
When I was in school up North, I visited a certain church on the occasion for awarding children “perfect attendance” pins. It was explained that in this parish, “perfect attendance” was calculated on the basis of a September-May Sunday school term, with up to ten Sundays excused! Needless to say, a whole string of children went forward to collect their honors. The idea of perfect attendance is incomprehensible to most church people in our day.
This was a major culture shock for me. Where I grew up, “perfect attendance” meant “perfect attendance”—52 consecutive Sundays of “being there” when the roll was called! The only exception was if you visited another Sunday school and brought back a note, or in case you could not go to Sunday school, you studied your lesson under the tutelage of some approved adult. I have a friend who remembers his father teaching him his Sunday school lesson while they rode an excursion train home from a St. Louis Cardinals game.
In my growing-up years, “Rally Day” was the name given to the Sunday when children moved up to the next class, and it usually involved having a different teacher. Being resistant to change from an early age, I disliked Rally Day. I always grew to love the teacher I had and saw no reason to have another one. For that reason, I have always de-emphasized Rally Day in my own pastoral work.
Religious education for the young is so important because people need to be shaped early in life. This needs to happen early because people so seldom change later in life. I know that the idea of rebirth and changed lives lies at the heart of Christianity, but based upon a lifetime of observation, I say that real change is a very rare thing. Better to bring up children in the way they should go than to hope it will be injected later.
The Christian way is not learned in isolation from other Christians. The family is the chief nursery of faith. A teacher has less than one hour out of the whole week. There is a limit to what the Sunday school can do. But what if children were reared without even that? Christianity can certainly persist and even thrive without religious education. But the Christianity that persists and may even thrive without Sunday school will be a very different Christianity. If Sunday school has had any part in nurturing the “better angels” of your being, I hope you will encourage all with whom you have influence to be present this Sunday, and to bring their children.
The future of much we have known and loved is at risk. I do not think it would be too much to say that Sunday school lies at or near the heart of these things.
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