Several years ago, I taught Sunday School for two years. I did so as I was not married, and it was apparent that I was approaching an age when it would become difficult, if not impossible, to have children of my own.
I felt that teaching the children would give me the experience of being a parent, at least for a few hours per week.
There were many great times in the class. With two to three other teachers per Sunday, we led and instructed a class of just over thirty students, ranging in age from first through the eighth grade. It was challenging to come up with lessons that would keep the attention of the young students and not bore the older students. We managed to do so and there were many memorable moments.
One challenge occurred at the beginning of the year. All of the boys sat on one side of the class, and all of the girls sat on the other side of the class. We couldn’t get them to sit next to each other, to talk to each other, or to cooperate, for the first few classes. Finally, we pushed the chairs against the walls and asked the boys to stand in one line on their side of the class, with the girls lining up on the other side of the class. Then we said, “Ok, it’s time to greet each other with the sign of peace.” We asked the boy at the head of the line to walk into the middle of the room, and we asked the girl to do the same. Then we asked them to shake hands, to say “Peace be with you,” and to walk to the end of their respective lines.
At first, the children were reluctant to do this and even laughed at it, as they were doing so, and with each other. Yet our efforts were met with success. The following week, some of the boys sat near some of the girls. We repeated this activity and over the subsequent weeks, it became a favorite time in the class. By the end of a few weeks, the boys and the girls sat together, fully integrated as a unit and team.
One activity we did was to ask the children to write letters of thanks to God. We wanted to see if our teaching was making an impact and we were curious to read what the children would write. We said that the letters would be anonymous, meaning, they should not sign their name at the end of the letter. We also suggested that if they did not know what to write, they could simply thank God for their lives. We then handed out index cards and pencils for the children to write with.
Most of the letters were sincere and touching. For example:
I love you god
Thank you for all the things you
done for me.
I love you so
so so much god
you done a lot of stuf I meen a lot of stuf.
mom will have a baby
Yet there is one letter that broke my heart in half, and made me cry when I read it:
I want to be in a safe home.
Of course, I was upset upon reading this, for it made me realize, I could not possibly know which child wrote it.
I discussed the matter with the other teachers, and we agreed that we should go to the church elder who was responsible for handling Sunday School concerns.
I’d like to say that the outcome was favorable, but I was disappointed. The church elder stated that it was “a family matter,” and “since we don’t know who wrote it, we can’t address it.” Then we were told, “Well, you know how kids are, they make things up and we have no way of knowing if this is true or made up.”
Why would a child make up wanting to be safe?
I did continue to teach for a while, but with a sense of unease regarding the matter. The other teachers and I agreed to do our best with all of the children and let them know they could talk to us if they were upset about anything. Sometimes, some of them did, but the child who wrote the heartbreaking letter about wanting to be safe never came forward.
I would like to think that this child, wherever he or she may be now, is safe and free from harm.
I will admit I do not have a strong sense of the infallibility of the church. While I possess and maintain deep faith in God, being asked to ignore another’s plight, especially the plight of a child, shakes me to the core. The church, no matter which church it is, remains an institution, founded and filled with imperfect human beings.
I hope that we, as imperfect Sunday School teachers, imparted love, wisdom, and faith to children, in our limited capacity to do so.