Sunday school is an institution within the institution of the Church. Born within the US during the 19th century, it was an effort to provide basic education to the working class of the day. Many children were working and had little to no access to any kind of education. Sunday school provided that outlet that enabled literacy to grow. As education moved to the prevue of the state, Sunday school focused its efforts solely on Christian education.
Sunday school holds many good memories for me. From the wonderful teachers that blessed me with their knowledge and faith, like Mr. Macris to the stories I learned through songs, flannel boards and film strips, it provided me with the foundation of my faith. This education is an important part of faith, but not its sole purpose.
Education does provide us knowledge about God, the scriptures, the history of the church and more. Yet, our faith needs much more than just information. Memory verses can provide a tool to help us when we need a word to hold onto ("be still and I know that I am God", Psalm 46:10 has been an important one for me). Faith is more than just memory work though.
Conversations have been happening among the leadership of Trinity. We are acutely aware of several realities that have joined together that make our "job" as a church more difficult. Sunday school and worship are often viewed as an "extra", if we have time kind of event. We face "competition" from a variety of other activities that are no longer "banned" from Sunday mornings. Attending and participating in church is no longer a "given" in people's lives for a variety of reasons (which we can explore in another blog entry).
With more "none's" in todays' culture (meaning someone who has no specific religious affiliation), we can no longer assume biblical literacy and faith formation being a part of people's everyday lives. Faith, if a part of people's lives, is often regulated to worship and Sunday school, a couple hours a week.
While it would be much easier to just bemoan these realities and to try to restore the former ways and relationships of people to the Church, this is a reality that is not going back in time. And while, it can be decidedly frustrating for myself as a pastor to try to deal with - it can also be very exciting! Rather than settling into the comfortable ways of ministry when everyone came to worship and faith was assumed - now is a time for renewal; now faith can no longer be taken for granted!
Initial changes are just a matter of semantics (but just as difficult as anything else). In order to more adequately reflect our ministries of Christian education, we are changing some names. No longer will we be calling it "Sunday school" but rather "Faith Formation" ministries. For we are doing more than just educating children and adults, but inviting them to grow together in faith, exploring the ways in which our faith influences our daily lives. We will move from ministry labels of "Confirmation" to "Affirmation of Faith" and Bible study to ...(well, I'm still figuring out the best way to reflect this change for adults; let me know if you have any ideas).
These name changes are quite difficult as we have been hard wired for terms like Sunday school and confirmation. In fact, both terms will probably be listed for awhile as that transition is accomplished. Hopefully, the name changes will stop us short and force us to ask "what does this mean?" and "how is my faith being formed?" It forces me to look at all those things that I have taken for granted and assumed in my own faith life.
This is what I want us to explore in these blog entries for awhile. As always, I long for your input and feedback. What is forming your faith? How has Sunday school, Bible study, etc. been important in this formation. What have you taken for granted?