by Kayleen Reusser
Climbing the big steps to enter the brick building through heavy wooden doors was a big task each week, but I was up to it. What awaited me inside was worth the effort.
As a 5-year-old, I attended Sunday school and church services regularly with my sister and parents at a church in my town. At the time I didn’t know it was one of the smallest congregations in the community. That was not important. What mattered was the love and acceptance I felt inside.
Each week my sister Lyn and I entered the foyer, hung up our coats, and clambered down the basement steps to our Sunday school class. When I first met our teacher, Miss Winnie, she reminded me of a horse. Big teeth, a mound of white hair, and a voice that seemed to come through a tunnel—the combination was eerie to my kindergarten mind. But each week Miss Winnie greeted us with a smile that let me know she was glad to be there and she was glad I was there.
After saying hello, I rushed into the small Sunday school classroom that was filled with toys and items like Etch-a-Sketch® boards and Lincoln Logs®. The fact that we didn’t have these toys at home made the classroom even more special.
Three other children attended our class: a girl named Jenny and two boys whose names I didn’t care to know. After living in the country with only my sister to play with all week, I delighted in seeing the other children, even if I was too shy to speak to them.
Miss Winnie started class time with prayer and and offering. The little tin globe that held our coins rattled as we slid our nickels inside. “Your money will help a missionary living in Africa,” Miss Winnie told us. We didn’t know where Africa was so she pointed to a colored dot on a wall map. I couldn’t imagine missionaries living in that little dot, but if Miss Winnie said it was true, it must be.
Next came song time. We usually sang familiar choruses, but occasionally Miss Winnie led us through each verse of the tricky His Name Is Wonderful. When we couldn’t remember the words, Miss Winnie wrote them on a poster. It must not have occurred to her we couldn’t read, but we eventually caught on. On special occasions we were each handed a child’s size musical instrument—tambourines, cymbals, maracas—to play as we sang. I was mesmerized by our cacophony of joyful noise.
Finally, it was time for the Sunday school lesson. Miss Winnie had a funny voice, but she knew how to tell a story. “David stared at the big, bad giant in front of him,” she said softly, her eyes growing bigger as she looked up at the ceiling. “He asked God to help him win the battle. Then David picked up his sling, put a stone in it, and twirled it above his head. When he let it go, it sailed through the air!” Her voice rose with each action, as did my heart.
“Zing! God caused that one stone to pop the bad giant in the head and knock him down. God took care of David just like he takes care of each of us.” Miss Winnie showed us in her Bible lying on her lap where that story was located. I stared at the groups of letters, hardly able to wait to learn to read such exciting stories for myself.
Then it was playtime until the bell rang, signaling the end of Sunday school. At that point we children marched upstairs to sit with our parents for church. Every week, the pianist played Onward Christian Soldiers to lead into the preaching service. I picked up my legs like I’d seen soldiers do on TV and bent my arms to the beat of the song like a human metronome.
Eliminating Sunday School?
With such precious memories it is disturbing to hear about churches that have done away with Sunday morning classes. Some churches offer small group Bible studies, stating that these encourage more intimate fellowship than what may occur in a Sunday school class setting. Some churches offer both small group Bible studies and Sunday school programs for children.
Having grown up in a church with an active Sunday school program and later having been a member of a couple of small group adult Bible studies, I see validity in both programs.
Currently with a weekly schedule heavy with commitments, it is more convenient for my husband and me to meet with others on Sunday mornings, rather than a weeknight or other weekend session.
Although it seems to have fallen on hard times recently, the Sunday school still offers much to people of all ages.
Today, more than ever, stress is a common factor in people’s lives, and routine is a blessing. As a child, it was reassuring to know Miss Winnie would be in class each week and that we would follow the same pattern throughout the morning of praying, then singing, and finally listening to a story from the Bible.
As I grew up, Sunday school teachers often encouraged members to invite friends to attend classes. By doing so, we were told we could not only help the class grow in size, we could also extend God’s message to those who may not know it. By offering the same room, teacher, and time for Sunday school class meetings to outsiders, we could assure them about what they might expect, should they attend.
When I became a Christian at age 13, I knew it was the most important decision of my life. This knowledge was based on the many teachings I had received in Sunday school classes over the years.
While Sunday night youth meetings were less formal and more tailored to playing games, getting to know each other, and sharing our problems, it was during Sunday school classes that I learned the Bible.
Our preacher faithfully taught from the Bible during his Sunday morning sermons. But it was the personal interaction between my Sunday school teacher and the rest of our junior high youth group that convinced me that I, along with everyone else who had been born, had a purpose: to love God and worship him. Based on my belief in the Bible and its promises, I selected Romans 8:28 as my life verse: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
I can still see in my mind’s eye the members of our teen youth group sitting on folding chairs during Sunday school around the edges of our small classroom, holding open Bibles and listening respectfully to our teacher read from it. It surely must have been a challenge for this father of one of our class members to address our varied questions about faith and the Bible. This wonderful man, now a retired elder in our church, did so without flinching. His answers were filled with love and respect for the questioner and we were shown the love of God through his attitude toward us.
Through the years our church leaders challenged different Sunday school classes to contests. The components of the contests included rewards for bringing Bibles to Sunday school class, memorizing Scriptures, and bringing friends to church. They explained that these were conducted to help us develop spiritual character, as emphasized in Acts 2:42: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
The plan worked for me. Those many words of Scripture, learned while practicing with others during class, have stayed with me and offered comfort during difficult times in my life. The prizes (often bookmarks, books that taught about spiritual character, and Christian music) were another step in leading me toward God’s will. Better yet, the friends brought to Sunday school often came a second time. Today, one of those friends is the wife of a Christian minister. This result inspired me years later to pick up my children’s friends who were unchurched and take them to Sunday school.
Similar to the way I looked at Sunday school attendance with anticipation and excitement each week as a 5-year-old, the church of Christ would do well today to provide similar structured class settings through Sunday school with dedicated, loving teachers who will encourage us to love God and stretch our wings for him.
Kayleen Reusser is a freelance writer in Bluffton, Indiana.
Your Sunday School Experiences
• Did you go to Sunday school when you were a child? If so, what memories do you have of those classes? What did you gain most from that time?
• It has been noted that in Sunday school we experience continuity, learn the Bible, and develop character. How have you seen these qualities in Sunday school? What would you add to this list? In what other settings have you experienced these qualities?