Historical photo of Sunday school, 1946, Kentucky
Sunday school may be remembered fondly by many baby boomers, but it began as a method of controlling unruly British children, before it’s transition into a cheery, pastel memory of childhood.
Writing in the Visalia Times Delta, Melissa Pandika laments the overscheduled child and implies that Sunday school attendance is down because children are too busy, and societal betrayals have hurt our trust in the Church and institutions in general.
From the article:
We live in an era defined by a confluence of two big trends: Parents, especially middle-class ones, have become ever more concerned about the welfare of their children, whether it’s demanding chemical-free playgrounds or ensuring they get into the best preschool. At the same time, Christian churches have been rocked by a series of sex-abuse scandals that are the worst nightmare for any parent, from youth groups being coerced into sex acts to priests’ confessions of molesting boys. Even if the revelations have subsided somewhat in recent years, “people know the reality has been exposed,” says Robert Orsi, a professor of religion at Northwestern University. “I’m sure parents are thinking of this.”
Pandika centers the story on St Paul’s Episcopal Church of Oakland, California, where the children’s music director is typically stuck singing alone while the children dance to the pre-recorded hymns. It’s a sympathetic portrayal of the difficulties that adults face in engaging children in learning about God and the Church in an increasingly secular and pluralist society.
Sharon Ely Pearson, who works in Christian formation, tackles Sunday school from a critical perspective in a multi-part essay she’s running this week titled “Christian Formation in a Changing Church”. Part one focuses on the history of Sunday school, and part two explores how Sunday schools operate in our modern culture. You can read these stories–and the upcoming pieces–on her blog, Rows of Sharon.
Pearson pushes for a more radical approach to Christian formation and children, calling on Christians to show their work outside of the traditional confines of a Church.
From the article:
We need to focus on ministry “with” and “for” instead of “to.” What if we embraced the meaning of diakonia as in the Early Church? What if we were out in the community acting like what we believe as Christians can really make a difference in the world? Ivy Beckwith, team leader of the United Church of Christ’s faith formation team suggests we focus on safety, mission, and identity. How can we practice “four acts of love” that are born out of reasons why many people no longer go to church. None of these are tied to any program: (1) radical hospitality; (2) genuine humility; (3) fearless conversation; and (4) divine anticipation). Listen to Ivy here, and check out her recent book, written with Dave Csinos:Children’s Ministry in the Way of Jesus.
Posted by David Streever