At my home congregation in Oklahoma, a dedicated volunteer named Mrs. Camey has taught the kindergarten Sunday school class for two-plus decades.
After 12 months in Mrs. Camey's class, these kindergartners — typically 25 to 30 of them — can recite all 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, name the 12 apostles and tell you the fruits of the Spirit (giggling when their teacher teasingly asks if these fruits include oranges and pineapples).
Most Sundays, Mrs. Camey will read a story to these 5- and 6-year-olds straight from the Bible — and then they'll use colorful markers, scissors and glue to make a craft that helps them remember that week's lesson. About midway through the year, the children will start thumbing through their own Bibles to locate various books with the help of Mrs. Camey and her two teaching assistants.
In late July, after 12 spiritually rewarding months in Mrs. Camey's class, these students will don caps and gowns and graduate to the first grade — and a new group of kindergartners will arrive the next Sunday morning to start the process all over again.
My church's experience — with the kindergarten class and other grade levels — is a far cry from what I read about in a recent Wall Street Journal story:
As best I can tell, this Journal feature makes the case for improving Sunday school by, um, eliminating the Bible.
Go ahead and read the lede, and tell me if my synopsis is an exaggeration:
To capture the attention of her young charges one Sunday morning, Mandy Meisenheimer sang, danced and drew some life lessons from the Old Testament story of Joseph and his brothers.
“Families aren’t always that loving, are they?” she asked. “Raise your hand if your family has ever had an argument. Raise your hand if your parents have ever made a mistake.”
Mrs. Meisenheimer used the class to debut a new song, marching around at times with her arms sweeping in ballerina-like movements. The three dozen children, who ranged from first- to sixth-graders, were rapt.
This is how Mrs. Meisenheimer, the children and families director at Riverside Church, leads a jazzed-up version of Sunday school, without a Bible in sight.
Keep reading, and the Journal describes how this "liberal Protestant" congregation and several other churches in the New York area are rethinking their approach to religious education. The newspaper relies on the ever-squishy "experts say" to suggest some churches are scrapping Sunday school altogether and making other changes. That may be true, but this piece lacks the hard data and firm attribution that typically distinguish the Journal from lesser newspapers.
The story provides no numbers on the Riverside Church's overall Sunday attendance and gives no details on the church's overall membership trend (although the Sunday school revamping would tend to indicate a decline).
But the Journal does note:
The 85-year-old Riverside Church has spent about $300,000 overhauling its Sunday school classrooms to create bright, flexible spaces, including a lounge area for teens. The revamped curriculum, introduced this fall, embraces the ethnic, economic and religious diversity of New York and is adjusted for families led by a single parent or same-sex parents.
The story prompted this note from one frustrated GetReligion reader:
They spent $300K to take Scripture out of Sunday school?
I mean, mainline Protestantism abandoning Scripture isn't that newsworthy, is it? Was Sunday school the last to go?
The Journal needed to do a better job of putting the Riverside Church's experience into proper context. And adding a "liberal" before the "churches" in the headline might have helped frame the reported trend more precisely.
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