Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I am Thankful for my Sunday School Teachers

It was in my Junior age (4th, 5th, & 6th grades) that my Sunday school teachers became very important in my life. I was growing up and like all children that age I was beginning to understand who I was apart from my family. When I was younger I felt connected to my teachers through my mother. They were wonderful, loving, Godly women who loved all of us children.  But they were all friends of my mother and I was her child. In the Junior Department the boys and girls were divided during class time. My teachers were men who I didn’t connect with my mother: Brother Grant - 4th grade, Brother Hutto -- 5th grade, and Brother Ellington -- 6th grade. They were my teacher in a new kind-of-way.

Brother Grant was a lawyer. His conversion and membership in our church was something of a milestone for the congregation. I believe he was the first professional with a graduate degree to become one of us. Up to that time Sunday school teachers had to be filled with the Holy Spirit, but an exception was made for Brother Grant. He had to be seeking to be filled with the Spirit. For several years I watched him seek and he was serious about being filled with the Spirit. He would frequently pray in the altar, weeping and sweating profusely, until he became like a drunk man. Sometimes, for reasons I did not and do not understand, a couple of men would get him up and walk him around the sanctuary, one under each arm, praying as they went.

On the first Sunday of the school year Brother Grant told us he had a goal for us for the year. He wanted us to memorize the names of the books of the Bible in the order they appeared. He would help us and test us each Sunday. Within a couple of weeks we had all memorized the names of the books and he announced a new set of goals involving a lot of Scripture memorization: the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, etc.

He also started us on a pattern of engaging the Scriptures looking for meaning. His method of teaching was simple; after giving us an opportunity to recite from memory the assigned memory verse we started the lesson. We each took our turn in the order in which we were seated reading one verse and commenting on its meaning. After each there was an open discussion. He would guide the conversation and add other points. Mostly, he affirmed our opinions and questions as important. Occasionally he would refer us to our parents (“What is circumcision?” “What does it mean ‘Abram knew Sarai’?”) He was learning with us. More than once I overheard him say “Those boys are teaching me more than I am teaching them.”

Grady Hutto was a burly, brick mason who had become a building contractor. On our first Sunday that year he announced he had a goal for us. His goal for the year was that we would all be baptized in the Holy Spirit. He encouraged us to seek for the baptism. He prayed for and with us in the altars of our church. Before the year was out we each had powerful experiences with the Spirit.

Although he never said so, Brother Hutto also set out to involve us in ministry. He would periodically take us, one or two at a time, out on visitation. We would visit the homes of boys our age who did not attend church. I am not sure where he got the names and I can’t remember any of them coming to Sunday school but I remember the long walks to the front doors. He also took us fishing a couple of times that year.

Brother Ellington was a smaller, quiet, piano mover. He had recently married Sister Jones, a widow with two sons a few years older than me. On the first Sunday he also announced a goal for us. He shared that when he first got active in church as an adult he became an usher and one Sunday the Pastor asked him to pray over the offering. He had never done anything like that and couldn’t get the words to come out. He wanted us to be able to pray in public. Every Sunday we had multiple opportunities to pray: the beginning of class, for prayer requests, and at the close of the class. We became comfortable praying in public.

The boys with whom I went to Sunday school during my Junior years grew up to serve the Lord, most as pastors. Timmy Hicks and his cousin Calvin Hammontree are Church of God pastors. Danny Smart and Aubrey Dykes (Aubrey was actually a year older but often attended our class) became Assembly of God pastors. I have lost all track of David Spencer although the last I heard about him in young adulthood he was an active church member. Gerald Jones joined our class sometime around the middle of the fifth grade and to the best of my knowledge has remained an active church member. A few names slip my memory.

I have little or no contact with the men those boys became. I lost contact with most of them when as I entered the 7th grade the church split over a relocation plan and my family went with the new congregation located closer to our house. About a decade ago Timmy took a class I teach at the seminary. I have bumped into Calvin a few times at church meetings. I periodically see Danny’s younger brother David, a graduate of our Seminary who is a career military chaplain for the Church of God. Perhaps more than any other group outside of my family these boys helped me sort through whom I wanted to become. They were mirrors of what it means to discover God in the presence of discovering myself. By God’s grace, with the influence of our families and a loving church, we resolved together to be faithful followers of Christ.

I have often reflected on the influence of these three Sunday school teachers on the Kingdom of God. None of them ever became famous or even well-known outside their families and local churches. But how does anyone measure their influence? Collectively that small Sunday school class of boys has grown up to touch tens of thousands with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We have traveled around the world, married and raised children to serve God. We have preached unknown numbers of sermons, given Godly counsel, performed weddings and funerals. At our best we have extended the ministries of these three Godly men by becoming co-learners with others on the journey toward Heaven. They helped point us in the right direction and deserve to share the credit for anything we have done for God. The true giants of the faith are those who serve faithfully, give themselves to others, and risk being transparent in their own search for fulfillment. I expect to see Bros. Grant, Hutto, and Ellington sitting in the honors section of heaven. I'll spend a few hundred years thanking them for their influence on my life.

Cleveland, Tennessee
March 17, 2010

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