There we were: my partner-in-Sunday School-teaching-crime, Arthur, our solitary student, and me. As we peppered him with questions about the text of the day, this not shy middle school boy said the only logical thing there was to say, “Argh…..! Don’t quiz me!” And we weren’t really quizzing, but I’m sure it feels like a quiz when you’re the sole focus of two enthusiastic Sunday School teachers.
It saddens me that we had only the one student because there are several Middle and High school aged children in our congregation, but they’re not coming to Sunday School. Ever paranoid, I wonder, is it me? But numbers are low even when it’s not me teaching, so that’s not it. It’s just parents are not carving out the extra hour on Sunday mornings to bring them. It’s not a priority.
I’ve raised a child, and I worked at two different, very large High school campuses and saw up close things that pull at kids, big things, unimaginably scary things, adult things, cultural things that can wreak havoc in their lives, maybe forever. I also saw that kids involved in their churches were generally successful students with healthy peer groups holding them accountable. They had better senses of self-worth and stronger moral compasses. It’s not a vaccination against poor decisions, but it certainly contributes to a solid personal foundation. Hang onto that word, “foundation”.
My parish priest, Fr. Mark, didn’t much care for this next analogy but it’s my blog, so I get to say what I want and scarily enough, you’re getting the edited version, but the old saying, “it takes a village to raise a child” is true, (here comes the part he doesn’t like) because (it’s my belief) if we raised our children all by ourselves we’d eventually kill and eat them. Anyone who has been cooped up with his or her children over multiple ice days knows this to be true. This is why we feel such relief when school reopens and the buses start running again, just as we’re starting to wonder: white meat, or dark? Because the Village is there for us, we don’t kill and eat our children. If you’re showing up to Church more Sundays than not, you already know it is the most important part of the Village. Hang onto the concept of the “village”.
Let’s consider the concept of “foundation”: In formerly Soviet Armenia, 1988, an earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter Scale caused massive damage and resulted in at least 25,000 deaths. By contrast, the Loma Prieta earthquake in Northern California the following year measuring 6.9 resulted in 63 deaths. Shoddy construction standards were blamed for the high mortality of the Armenian quake, while the solid building techniques and materials used in earthquake-prone California saved lives. Anything built is only as stout as its foundation and the materials used to construct it, and this is as true of human beings as it is of structures.
Now let’s look at the Village: from the time we were cave dwellers until the Industrial Revolution, we raised our children in community. We tended to live in the same village as our parents and aunties and grannies and cousins. The men might go off to hunt bison while the women worked together gathering grain, fruits, and vegetables, and helped each other look after the children. As time passed and life became more “civilized,” children might go off to a school in the village or an apprenticeship, but likely they were cared for and learning from a variety of adults.
The modern age we live in has a different concept of Village, and we often live far from our extended families, our personal Villages. Now, we have our sweet healthy babies, the hospital staff waves us off with a heart-felt “Congratulations!” but offers no instruction manual. We take our babies to our hermetically-sealed, suburban homes and hope for the best, often performing the singularly important task of raising a healthy, functioning human far away from our personal Village, with absolutely no idea what we’re doing. The only instruction manual we’re likely to have is the one we got by default, by whoever raised us and because we are raised by humans, even in the best of circumstances it is likely to be a flawed book, with pages missing, numerous typos, and at least some seriously wrong information.
If we were lucky, we had other people in our lives filling in the gaps, offering alternative views to the missing or errant things we got from our families of origin. It’s especially important if we’re removed from our Village of origin to form a new one, built from strong materials, for our children. Teachers, coaches, friends, pastors and priests, and even Sunday school teachers can become parts of the Village. Sunday school lessons delivered in age-appropriate ways help children to unpack the kernels of Truth, the cosmic two-by-fours if you will, with which they will build their spiritual houses. It’s additional trusted adults who share your beliefs handing your child solid foundation stones.
And yes, I get that there are a lot of things pulling you and your kids in many directions. Soccer practices and band competitions and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. To which I say, it’s about priorities. Those things will always be there; you get one shot at raising your child.
I’ve quoted it before but here is is again, from my Developmental Psychology instructor, Dr. Scott Delys: “Your job as parents is to prepare your children for life…. Without YOU in it.” Sunday school, lighting the path to God through Jesus Christ, is part of that. It’s a safe place where children can ask any philosophical question and not be laughed at, poked fun at, ridiculed. It’s where they will build the faith and form the community – the Village, that will sustain them long after their parents are gone.
The Rector at my first Episcopal church, Fr. David Holland, occasionally went all Jewish Mother on the congregation regarding Sunday school, and I sat out in the pews rolling my eyes but now…. those eight years spent with teenagers, so many living on the edge with shoddy foundations under desolate villages, has shown me the wisdom of his words. Seeing again in them the times when I felt unloved and unlovable, when I allowed momentary temptation to override common sense and moral code, when knowing there was a Father who loved me, a la Bridget Jones, just as I am, might have made a difference, yes, it’s shown me the wisdom of his words. Bring your kids to Sunday School.
Bring your kids to Sunday School.