Coming this summer: An audacious plan for all-ages Sunday school

In the midst of all the joy that was Easter Sunday at St. James, there was one comment made that’s been causing me to lose sleep. 

It came from the grandmother of a child who was baptized here, but whose family no longer attends. “The only reason we left,” she said, “was because you have no Sunday school program for children. We’d come back here if you did.”

I would give anything to offer a Sunday school program for children. I believe regular exposure to Bible stories and age-appropriate discussions of the basics of our faith are among the most important gifts we can give our children. But how do we offer a Sunday school program for children when we only have one child who regularly attends St. James? In a time of limited resources, shouldn’t we focus on our core constituency, which is decidedly older? Who would lead a Sunday school for kids? 

We are certainly not the only church to face this dilemma. It’s a problem in many places. And the success record of places who’ve tried to turn things around is mixed at best. Let’s face it, it would be far easier just to keep on doing what we’ve been doing.  

And then that grandmother’s words come back to me. So I toss and turn and ponder this some more.

Friends, I think we have to try. So it is with excitement mixed with just a touch of anxiety that I announce the upcoming launch of “Cherish & Nurture: Godly Play for All Ages,” beginning Sunday, June 10. This is to be a pilot program for the summer, and at the end of summer we’ll assess whether to continue it into the fall. 

Some of you may be familiar with Godly Play. It’s a teaching method that many parishes use in their children’s classes. It engages children’s imaginations and invites them into Bible stories in new ways. But like the best animated movies, Godly Play can engage adult minds right along with children’s. Done well, Godly Play is suitable for all ages. And that’s what we want, at least over the summer. We want to offer a class that is inviting and enjoyable for children from toddlers right on up to their older siblings, and to their parents, and to their grandparents, and to all the members of our congregation, regardless of age.

The class will be held in our Parish Hall, beginning at 10:45 a.m., right after Coffee Hour. We don’t normally have adult Christian formation classes during the summer, so it won’t be dislocating any other class. We may set up the room a bit differently, with an area for kids to be seated on mats on the floor, and adults in chairs encircling the kids. 

Because it’s summer, and because many churches don’t offer Sunday school classes during summer, we will be able to borrow not only the necessary Godly Play materials, but also trained Godly Play instructors. The class requires two instructors, and we plan to use two guest instructors for the June classes. In July, we will pair a guest instructor with one of our parishioners each week. The guest instructors will mentor our homegrown teachers. By August, we should be able to provide both instructors from within St. James and not rely on guest instructors. 

Meanwhile, we’ll begin publicizing the class, in hopes of enticing families to come to St. James to check us out. And this is where YOU all come in. No new family wants to be the only ones in class. How awkward would that be? So please do come and sit in on this class. Help us create a warm, welcoming kid-friendly environment where everyone feels comfortable, and to which newcomers will want to return.

I’m pitching this to you as an opportunity to help us grow St. James. But you know what? I’m betting that if you come, you will actually enjoy it. We’ll spend the summer immersing ourselves in the great stories of the Bible, starting with creation, the flood, the exodus, the exile and return, the prophet Jonah. As the season progresses, we’ll talk about baptism, about Easter, about some of Jesus’ parables. We’ll ask questions and encourage wonderment. It’s the Bible as you may not have heard it read before. It’s playful and engaging. It may touch your imagination in new and unpredicted ways. Yes, it’s meant for the kids, but adults may be absolutely charmed as well. We are never too old to play.

And here’s a really big ask: Would you be willing to learn how to lead a Godly Play class? Because if this works and we get a passel of kids in here, we’re gonna need teachers! But first things first. For now, would you be willing to be paired with a trained instructor this summer to learn the basics of Godly Play? If so, please let me know ASAP. No previous experience necessary. What you need is a playful heart, a desire to pass along your faith, and a willingness to try.

We’re still working out all the details about this pilot program, so stay tuned for more updates. And please keep St. James in your prayers as we attempt this audacious project. We’ll be counting on more than a little help from the Holy Spirit.