Written by Gradye Parsons
Each month the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Moderator or Vice Moderator of the 220th General Assembly write a column of general interest for the church-at-large.
Who taught you in Sunday school? I can remember most of my teachers, which included my parents. My father taught the rowdy third-grade boys and my mother, the more mature sixth graders.
Mrs. Arnold corralled the kindergarteners on Sunday after teaching first grade in public schools during the week. She was infinitely kind and had x-ray vision for any good impulse. She was intolerant of meanness. She was an advocate for play and joy. She relayed Bible stories as if she was actually there – and, well, she did seem old.
When I visit congregations across the church, I am often told stories about legendary Sunday school teachers. The teachers are admired for their patience, their faith, and their loving tenacity. These folks are true gifts from God for the church.
I don’t think one will find any uniform approach or single teaching methodology among these folks – other than the uniform ability to earn a child’s trust. Some are great at storytelling, some at crafts, and some at music. Almost none of them are called by their full adult names, which is fine with them. After they’ve taught their classes, they usually arrive for worship a little rumpled with various colors of markers on their hands.
The church has many tasks, including the great apostolic call to go into all the world and make disciples. That big world needs the good news of Jesus Christ and the kingdom-justice of God. Another world also exists – that of the precious interior where a child develops his or her understanding of life. It is there where children build their understanding of what is good, who is good, and how to be good. The interior world that is structured around the stories of God and God’s people will be better able to navigate that big exterior world with all of its struggles. And, it won’t hurt to have some hymn tunes embedded in their heart.
Can you recite the twenty-third Psalm or hum “Jesus Loves Me”? Do you know the great stories of the Bible? More than likely, your Sunday school teachers are the ones to thank.
The Mayan calendar indicates that the world will end in 2012, which is a claim that several archeologists dispute. Either way, the business of making predictions generates a lot of energy – and money. People are paid to predict everything from the weather to the next president.
The liturgical year, however, is more than a prediction. From Advent to Christmas to Epiphany to Lent to Easter to Pentecost to Ordinary Time and more, the liturgical year is a steady progression – a cycle that tells us over and over again the story of God who comes to us in Jesus Christ.
Advent is here – the days of preparation for the birth of the Christ child. The root word in Latin for Advent is advenire, which means to arrive. Interestingly, it is the same root word for adventure – to venture.
Where is the sense of adventure in this liturgical season?
In the Lord I'll be ever thankful,
In the Lord I will rejoice!
Look to God, do not be afraid;
Lift up your voices: the Lord is near,
Lift up your voices: the Lord is near.
This song by Jacques Berthier (Sing the Faith #2195) is one of my favorites of all the Taizé music. It combines the ingredients of gratitude, joy, fear, and the desire for the Lord to be near.
September 25, 2011, found me worshipping with the spirited folks of the First Dominican Evangelical Church of San Pedro, Dominican Republic. It was a lively service with lots of music, many children, a fine sermon, and a moving celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
Joining me in worship were five people from denominations across the Caribbean. We were one of several small groups that had spread across the region that Sunday morning as part of our meeting of the Caribbean and North American Area Council, a regional part of the World Communion of Reformed Churches.