Grace and peace from Our Lord Jesus Christ! School has begun for most, if not all, of our children and youth and autumn is on the near horizon. We at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church have shifted into autumn mode and find ourselves quite excited about what the year will bring.
As you have probably heard, the autumn will bring about a couple of new initiatives to our Sunday morning. The first new aspect will be to bring back the Old Testament reading we had during our early days. The second new aspect will be moving all Sunday School to 9:30 a.m. and replacing the old Sunday School time with a children’s church service which will all take place on Sunday, September 14. This change in Sunday School is part of a vision for St. Thomas’ children and youth that I would like to share with you.
The Christian Church throughout the West is losing an alarming number of our youth when they reach college or otherwise go out on their own. They are walking away from the Faith on a large-scale when they hear Christianity questioned … even in a respectful way (all the more frequently, they encounter hostility and pressure from professors and peers). This is not the fault of the ones raising the objections. Paraphrasing C.S. Lewis: Why are we surprised when people raise objections and non-believers say non-believing things? It is the Christian Church’s fault.
Our 39 Articles define the church as a place where “the pure Word of God is preached and the Sacraments are duly administered.” Word and Sacrament make us a church and Christian education follows from that foundation. What is the Gospel and why does it matter? The Gospel is as simple as the simplest person and infinitely more deep and profound than the most educated and insightful person. It speaks to the most sublime joys and the darkest despair with the greatest of hope. A hope that is true.
How does this fit into the change we are undertaking at St. Thomas’? During the 45 minutes between 9:30 and 10:15, we can help form that understanding of the Word of God with thorough and powerful Bible study. Our children will learn to place the Triune God at the center of Scripture rather than themselves through regular study and hearing. After going through our curriculum, they will have solid biblical footing as well as the ability to locate Christ at the center. We will maximize our time teaching our children and youth.
The curriculum for the younger children is the Jesus Storybook Bible and the curriculum for grades 1-6 is Tru Story. You will notice in both of these curricula an interest in including families in the education of their children and an ease by which this can take place. Tru Story is well thought-out and provides deep resources for both the teacher and parent (even an app!). It trains the teacher on the point of the lesson, provides suggestions for activities, and aids in the management of time. So many Sunday School curricula can be intimidating due to a lack of guidance. This is not so with Tru Story!
The children’s worship part of Sunday worship will be true worship (with an abbreviated Morning Prayer service). At this time, they will learn about the movement and meaning of Anglican worship, hear from the Bible once again, and memorize the Apostle’s Creed and Lord’s Prayer (goals for catechesis). After getting our feet on the ground with this service, we will add more catechesis. It is my goal that our children be thoroughly catechized by the time they reach Confirmation class.
After Confirmation (at which time the confirmand confirms the faith as their own), we will begin the process of thinking about what they have learned. They will ask questions and have their questions answered within the healthy confines of this church and under the watchful eye of the clergy and lay leaders. We don’t have all the answers but we’re not afraid of the questions. Not only is this necessary for this stage of brain development, it is vital for them to go through this process in order to bring a faith that is truly their own into the adult world.
What can you do? Pray and think about what I am telling you. If it strikes a chord, please do consider helping us with this endeavor. Consider teaching one of these classes. I would like for every class to have four teachers so everyone can teach once a month, assist once a month, and be off twice a month. I would also like to have classes that are as close together developmentally as possible. Consider volunteering for the children’s church portion during the 10:30 service, if you don’t feel called to teach at the 9:30 time.
We can do this… if you see its value and help it to succeed. Is it different and a little daunting? Yes. Will it require getting up a little earlier to participate? Yes. Is that a pain with little children and adolescents who want to sleep? You bet, it is. The payoff will be high school graduates who either go to college or work with a firm grasp of the Gospel and confidence in its veracity, intellectual coherence, spiritual ballast, and profundity. It is a delayed gratification that involves a lot of work but it is one of eternal significance. Please pray about this and consider participating.