Thursday, April 23, 2009

Past: Sunday School

I think I've been to thousands of church services over the last 48 years. My mom and dad used to drag all four of us kids to the Akron Baptist Temple each week whether we wanted to go or not. Sunday school is not quite a church service but I think it still counts; I racked up hundreds of hours there - what do you think?

The Akron Baptist Temple (ABT) was actually in the Guiness Book of World Records when I was growing up, as the church with the world's largest Sunday school - wow did I think we were cool. I remember there were nearly 40 full-size church buses parked out back that picked up thousands of kids all over the city on Sunday morning - affectionately known to us as "bus kids." The Sunday school was housed in a bunch of connecting buildings (added on as the church grew) and you were assigned appropriately to a floor in one of the buildings with kids your own age. On your floor was the main "worship" area and then several dozen classrooms surrounding the worship space. We'd meet in the middle at the beginning, sitting on long, hard, high-backed slatted benches to sing the classics...The B-I-B-L-E, If You're Saved and You Know It, Jesus Loves Me, I am a C, I am a C-H, I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N (Amen!) and on and on; usually accompanied by a 300 year-old lady on an upright piano in a print dress that had been going there since the place was still woods, and a Rodney Dangerfield-looking song leader that never made it as a soloist in "big church," always trying to be funny. After 15 minutes of songs and announcements, it was off to the lesson time.

Every fall during Sunday School promotion time, (when you got promoted to a new age group and shuffled to another floor in the complex) it was always a time of anticipation to see what teacher you would get for the next year, and to see what kids were going to be in your class - including bus kids. Usually, the teachers were nice and used flannel graphs to tell Bible stories, and after a month or two they would remember your name. I would do my best to go every week (like I had a choice) because you got a cool prize if you made it 13 weeks in a row. Can you imagine that now? Thirteen weeks is like an eternity - would that be defeating to an 8 year old trying to win something? What if you were a bus kid? I'm sure that parent advocates have passed some sort of Sunday school law against that 13-week-perfect-attendance thing by now. Thirteen weeks was a huge investment when all it got you was a white plastic bank shaped like a church that glowed in the dark (eternal benefits not quite understood.) Be that at as it may...I had quite a collection of glow in the dark banks. Eventually when I got old enough, I would shoot for a voucher for $2 off the price of a week at church camp (the prize got better as you got older) - that's about 15 cents per Sunday...tough economy back then. Hey, some years those vouchers almost covered the whole cost of camp for me - that's a lot of 15 cent Sundays.

The thing is...I had no reference as a kid for what was really happening at Sunday school. I was learning the truths of God's Word from that Sunday School teacher. Rodney Dangerfield and the long ago-passed-away piano lady were helping me discover God's magnificence and learn about God's creation through song. And all of that seeped deep into my spirit, so that when the time was just right, Jesus Christ became Lord of my life.

Keep watching.

Hey, you can leave comments you know... I'd love to hear about your Sunday school adventures.


  1. Now thats what I was talking about! Amen!

  2. No little old ladies playing piano at my church growing up. I was the piano player for Sunday school from the age of 12 until I went off to college.

    I could probably still play half those songs from memory now.

  3. JOhn - you captured it. I had forgotten about the little church-shaped banks, but not the 13 week perfect attendance awards. :) Why don't you post this on our ABT alumni page, too? I think a lot of our friends there would enjoy it. Sally Patton Spears