Sitting on the Bleachers

We were having a Junior High Youth group on a Monday at the church. As the meeting was about to start, a few 14-15 year old girls came to me and wanted to talk about their role in the Sunday school. Every Sunday those girls showed up, led songs, told stories, did a puppet show, and helped with refreshments at our Sunday school program for 2-6 years old.

A Sunday school or the Children’s Mass has a long history in the Icelandic State Church. It started in Reykjavik Cathedral in 1892. At first it was offered for elementary school kids, but in the last 30 years the program has focused on younger and younger kids, and the crowd is now mostly 2-6 year olds and their parents. In many congregations the Sunday school is better attended then worship on Sundays and many congregations offer the Sunday school at the same time as the main worship service. This was actually the case in the congregation were I was working at the time.

Back to the story. The girls wanted to tell me that one of their teachers in junior high had been complaining to them about the Sunday school. According the girls, the teacher had attended the Sunday school a couple of times with her child, and felt the girls weren’t good enough leaders. The teacher then added that she had decided to go do a different church, because in the other church, the leaders were paid professionals, not kids. The teacher complained to the girls about how their performance was not up to the same standard as in the other church and their program was surely not what the church should offer its congregants.

Understandably, the girls felt bad about this. They thought they were failures, and felt as I had put them into a position of failure. I remember how angry I was, angry at the teacher, who wasn’t mature enough to talk to me directly, but thought it proper to criticize 14 or 15 year old children in this way. I tried not to show the girls my anger. I tried to explain to them that the Sunday school in the other congregation which I knew well having worked there part time as a student, was about performance. Our Sunday school on the other hand was about participation, friendship, and leadership training. If I remember correctly, I told them that it was great if the teacher found a church she liked to take her kids to.

I was proud of our Sunday school model, and now over 10 years later, one of the 14 or 15 years old is still sitting by the piano on occasion helping out (not 14 yo anymore though). We saw the Sunday school as an educational experience, not only for the small kids, but for our teenagers, and the parents. We asked the parents from time to time to step up and help out, when things didn’t go as planned. We were all in this together, we thought, and having a dad tell the Bible story, and a grandma chop the fruits, was an essential part of creating a community.

Sure, we were not as professional as the all paid staff in the other church, and sometimes the puppet show failed.

In church this morning, the pastor reminded us that “Live is not a Spectator Sport”. It brought back this story from over ten years ago, about a group of 14 and 15 years old, who were confronted by their Junior High teacher complaining to them that I had removed the bleachers from the Sunday school.

I never knew who the teacher was, the girls didn’t tell me, but hopefully she found a home in the other church and was able to enjoy and experience what we were not able to offer.

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