[The next two entries are a reprint of a piece I wrote in January of 2009 on the Family Johns blog.]
I am thankful for my childhood experiences in Sunday school. When I was young Sunday school was important. At the Springfield Church of God more people went to Sunday school than attended morning worship. In Sunday school I made friends, sang, learned a lot about the Bible, and got to know adults who loved Jesus and me.
Sunday school started at 9:45 with “Opening Session.” In smaller churches like my grandmother’s this was a time when everybody gathered in the sanctuary for an official opening for the day; the Sunday school superintendant presided over a reading of the “golden (Scripture) text”, prayer, and announcements. Since Springfield was larger with several hundred attendees we had our opening session in age graded departments: Kindergarten – ages 3 to 5, Primary – grades 1 to 3, Junior – grades 4 to 5, etc.
I seem to recall that younger children went straight to their classes. I first remember opening sessions when I entered the first grade and joined the “Primary Department.” I felt big going to Opening Session. We met in the Fellowship Hall on the first floor of the Education Building. Shirley and her friends were there. My mother’s best friend, Evelyn Bayer, played the upright piano for us to sing. We sang songs like “I’ll be a Sun Beam,” “The B-I-B-L-E,” “I’m in the Lord’s Army,” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children.”
One Sunday I was sitting behind Shirley while we stood to sing. Her best friend Terry Heath was standing next to her. When she went to sit I pulled the chair out from behind her and she went down, a gag I had seen somewhere. Sister Juanita Jones, a friend of my mother, told her what I had done. “I never would have thought Jackie would have done such a thing. He’s always such a good boy.” I was just having fun but suddenly I was caught in a moral dilemma, fun can be bad but feel so good. People had perceptions of who I was, a good boy, and I liked that. I doubt those lessons were in the printed curriculum.
In the 4th grade I went upstairs to the Junior Department. We were crowded into a smaller room. It was often noisy. Bigger kids talk to each other a lot. In the Primary Department we sat with our teacher and class. In the Junior Department we got to sit wherever we wanted. I liked to sit on the back row. There I could watch everything. I was becoming self-conscious of myself as a social being. I didn’t feel like I fit in although I had friends. But I loved to sing; we sang songs like “Only a Boy Named David,” and “V is for Victory.”
Sunday school was one of the greatest social forces in my life. It brought together my unfolding self as a social being and a spiritual being. It said to me, whatever you are becoming, in is shaped in the nursery of others like you and the Word of God.
March 16, 2010