Maybe what we need right now is a new Sunday School Movement.
By Lenora Rand
My youngest daughter Hannah, who’s in her early twenties, coaches girls’ softball, so my husband and I occasionally go out and watch a game on a summer evening to support her and her team. We did that last night and watched these 12- and 13-year-olds run around a field, attempting to catch and throw and hit and make it home safe. On the surface, it was idyllic, so lovely and simple and sweet. A beautiful summer moment in middle America.
However, I was a 12-year-old girl once myself, so watching them, all at various stages of shedding their childhood and moving into the next phase of their lives, made me think about myself at that age. And here’s the truth. I didn’t feel lovely and simple. I felt awkward and ugly, betrayed by my body, emotionally bereft, jumbled and unsettled, sad, angry and lonely. Somehow, I suspect, just beneath the surface, a few of those girls from last night might have been feeling a little of that too.
I remember one summer evening in particular – I was at a park too, not to play softball, but for a church picnic. And from the outside – I don’t know what I was conveying. I was good at hiding, so probably not much. But inside I was close to tears, close to screaming in agony from how gross and unlovely I felt. I couldn’t quite imagine how I was going to get through my life, at that point. I felt ready to give it up, lie down and die.
But I was going through the motions, pretending all was good, keeping watch over a bunch of the toddlers, so their parents could enjoy the picnic, and frankly, because I had nothing else to do. No one else seemed to notice me or want to spend any time with me. Suddenly, one of the young moms came over to me, I thought to check in on her 2-year-old. But this woman, MaryAnn, who also happened to be my Sunday School teacher that year, just stood next to me and touched my arm. I looked up at her and she said, “Lenora, I really like you.”
“What?” I asked. “What did I do?”
“Nothing,” MaryAnn said. “I just really like you.”
I’ve never forgotten that moment. It was just a few seconds, but it’s stayed with me all my life. That small gesture, those few words, broke through the despair I was slogging through, and gave me a little hope to hold on to.
Maybe things would be all right. Maybe I would be all right. Be safe. Find home.
I woke up this Saturday morning thinking about MaryAnn and all the Sunday School teachers I had along the way, all the ones I’ve known and others I’ve watched from afar, all who inspired me to teach Sunday School myself a time or two. Also all the church school teachers I don’t know personally but who will be up and out the door early this coming Sunday morning, who will be out there, in smelly basements and hot little attic rooms in all kinds of churches, across every denomination, hugging kids and feeding them snacks and telling them stories and wiping their noses and holding them when they’re scared.
I woke up thinking about Sunday School teachers and it hit me - I never said thank you.
I never said thank you for the hours of preparation and sacrifice, for how they shared their creativity and passion, not perfectly, but wholeheartedly. How they gave themselves, heart and soul and mind and strength, to help a bunch of kids who were not their own.
When I look back, what they did, week after week, was amazing. And hard. I know because I’ve tried it myself. It takes a lot out of you. And frankly, too often, you don’t always get a lot of kudos for doing it.
All those teachers I had growing up, all along the way, yes, mostly women, with names like MaryAnn and Sandy and Mary Lee and Judy and Rebecca... none of them did this for the money, because, of course, there was no money in it. They did it because they cared. Because they cared about kids who were not their own, kids who they may never have met before, and who they may not have always liked or agreed with, and who might have, on occasion, made them cry by asking thorny theological questions or just by their downright rudeness (and I’m so sorry about that…).
And who maybe never said thank you.
These were the imperfect-but-doing-their-best saints (which, I believe are the only kind of saints there are) who taught me the Great Commandment - love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Who told me that God loves every child on this earth – and taught me to sing that old song:
“Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world…”
When I woke up this morning, I was also assaulted by the latest news reports, about how federal authorities are getting ready for nationwide immigration raids set to begin tomorrow - this Sunday morning - and could last for days.
And it hit me: There are so many children in our world who need our love right now. Who may not survive without our love right now. Other people’s children. Children who may end up deported, or may have their parents taken from them and deported. Children in camps, locked along our borders without toothpaste or soap, or hugs, or an adult who cares for them. Children who just want to be safe. And home.
We’ve all seen the pictures. Heard the stories. We’ve all asked, “How is this possible? How can this be true?” And then sometimes we’ve asked, “What can we even do?”
Now I know there’s a lot of politics at play when we ask those questions. A lot.
And yet. And yet.
There are also children here, who are at stake.
Who need us to stand up for them.
I woke up this morning and started wondering what would happen if every Sunday School teacher in America decided to do that - decided to put politics aside for a moment or two or three and decided to stand on the side of these kids. It hit me how powerful that could be.
Sunday School teachers from Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Congregational, Anglican, AME, Catholic, Full Gospel, Assemblies of God, Adventist, non-denominational churches…you name it…deciding we are not going to just sit and watch this happening.
So, could we do that? What if all of us current and former Sunday School teachers started a movement to say: “These children are precious in God’s sight – let’s take care of them. Right now.”?
What might that look like?
Maybe it would look like Sunday School teachers across America leaving their classrooms this Sunday morning to sit on the steps of their local government buildings to say: No more deportations.
Maybe it would look like donations to an organization that’s on the border trying to help these kids, like Save The Children.
Or it might look like emails or tweets or Facebook posts to say this isn’t right, this has to stop.
It might mean starting every day by calling Congress, your mayor and local representatives and saying that out loud to them. (By the way, you can find their contact info here at this government site.)
It might look like something totally new that one of you very creative Sunday School teachers imagines.
Whatever it looks like, it sure sounds like something that would make a difference. It might even change everything for these kids.
It would not be without precedent. Did you know that Sunday School was actually started in England in 1780 as a way to help the poor and working class children during the Industrial Revolution, kids who were working in factories 6 days a week, all day long and not even being taught the basics, like reading? It grew into what became known as the Sunday School Movement, a movement to care for children whose needs were being ignored, who were seen as unimportant, disposable, other people’s problems.
Our new Sunday School Movement I believe, could make a difference. Because I know how much Sunday School teachers who cared made a difference for me. When I was a little girl I was seen and loved and valued by people who could have just as easily ignored me.
I needed them to survive. as the Hezekiah Walker song reminds us so well.
Despite the fact that we didn’t share DNA, those teachers were on my side.
And through MaryAnn, and all of my Sunday School teachers, in their own ways, I learned that God is too. God is on the side of all the powerless, and the hurting, and the poor and forgotten.
That’s a Sunday School lesson I’ve never forgotten.
Thanks for reading. Want to read more?
You will find more of Lenora’s writing on the Chicago Tribune’s blogging platform, Chicago Now in a blog called Spiritual Suckitude.
Lenora also does a lot of writing for The Plural Guild, the music, art & liturgy collective she co-founded, to create resources for people of faith and doubt committed to seeking justice, who love kindness and who are trying to walk humbly on this earth. And she is the lyricist for the band, The Many.
Along with that, Lenora, who basically never sleeps, helps run a branding and marketing consultancy called SmallGood, helping nonprofits, social enterprises and for-profit positive impact companies grow their good.