Sunday School: Killing the Church?

I’d like to share two articles with you that have been floating around in the circles that I travel in. The first is a blog entitled Sunday School is killing the church (http://www.theologyinworship.com/2014/09/08/sunday-school-is-killing-the-church/) and the second is a response to it entitled Why Sunday School still matters (http://www.buildfaith.org/2014/09/17/why-sunday-school-still-matters-and-why-it-still-works/).

Those of us working on developing and living into Spirit Space are very much aware of this tension and are trying to walk in the space between. To balance the desire for Christian education with providing space and opportunity for spiritual formation and exploration. To balance the reality that adult worship is primarily designed for adults with the value of intergenerational spaces and providing experiences of corporate worship for kids. To imagine the ways that both worship and education programs can be different.

I’m interested in your thoughts and experiences and reactions to these pieces. A lot too comes out of our own experience – were you forced to sit through church services as a child? Did you rarely experience church services and found when you “graduated” Sunday School that worship was a strange land you were expected to migrate to but rather just drifted away? Or did you experience neither or some incarnation of both or something else entirely?

Spirit Space – FAQs

The official launch of Spirit Space is this Sunday! Here are some of your questions, answered!

1)      What is Spirit Space and what makes it different from a traditional Sunday School? There are many ways that it is different. Three key features are that it is a multi-age program, allows children to make choices about how they feel called to respond to a Bible story or theme, and that it introduces paid leadership who will provide continuity and special skills. It recognizes children’s need to worship God as well as to learn about God and the Bible.

2)      Why the change? Many reasons – one primary driver being the 2013 Sunday School survey that allowed children and adults to give feedback about what they liked and wanted to see change in Fairlawn’s children’s ministry. Also, the need to change came out of the challenge of attracting volunteer teachers and the desire to offer continuity in leadership to nurture relationships amongst the children. Finally, we wanted to try something that would deepen children’s engagement and broaden the types of programming we could offer.

3)      Is anyone else doing this? Yes and no. There are many churches that are experimenting with new children’s ministry programs right now – some are adding paid staff, some are trying multi-age programs, some are experimenting with new approaches that emphasize spirituality and worship. The exact program we are launching is unique, but many churches are heading in this direction. Check out September’s Observer magazine to learn more!

4)      How much is this going to cost and where is the money coming from? The total cost for our four staff is $12,000 per year, $9000 of which came from the former Sunday School Administrator position and $3000 of which was approved last winter by Executive Council.

5)      Is there still a place for volunteers? Yes! Definitely. The toddler room is still staffed by volunteers and for Spirit Space, we are hoping to involve an even wider set of adults. We are hopeful that in pairing Spirit Space staff with adult members of Fairlawn, we will be able to have Fairlawn members offer their experiences and skills in ways that they feel called by God, rather than volunteering out of necessity.

6)      Will it make a difference? We think so! We will continue to ask for feedback and change the program as we go, but already we have been able to offer a wider variety of programming, and hire some very skilled new staff who bring to us their experience and training in education, theology, the arts, etc. We were able to do a multi-day intensive training program together and are ready to try new things and also continue well-loved traditions.

Fall Family Dance – Saturday, October 18

Mark your calendar!

Fall Family Dance – Saturday October 18 – 4-6pm. This is a joint event with the Fairlawn Neighbourhood Centre! Families of all shapes and sizes (grandparents definitely included!) with children up to age 10 are invited to a fun afternoon of fall themed activities, crafts, snacks, and an old time country dance! The cost is $20/family at the door or $15/family if tickets are purchased in advance. Teens and adults are needed to volunteer at the event as well. Please contact Sheryl for more information!

Welcome Back!

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Welcome back! As many of us return to our regular routines and also experience the changes of new schools, new people, new activities, and new seasons God is with us, through it all. 

Last Sunday, we explored this tension of constancy and change. We talked about metaphors for God that focus on both stability and change (i.e. rock and wind) and how both are important. God is both the constancy we can hold to amidst change and also the change that moves our complacency and challenges our desire at times for stability in our lives. An interesting exercise could be to brainstorm images of God from the Bible and also imagine our own images for God. Which ones might we want to call on at particular times? Sometimes, when are are worried or lonely or overwhelmed it can be hard to recall a comforting image, so it can be helpful to write or draw or sculpt that image when we are feeling good so we can have it on hand. We can even carry things with us, like rocks or prayers or other images in our pockets or backpacks. 

Here is some information about what is coming up! 

Spirit Space Launch – Sunday, September 21! We are very excited that our four new children’s ministry staff and our new children’s ministry program are almost ready to launch. We would like to extend a warm welcome to our four new staff, Samentia, Meghan, Joanna, and Lauren who will participate in their staff training Sept 12-14 and be working with our children beginning Sept 14. Spirit Space is an innovative multi-age program that we are developing uniquely for the needs and gifts of Fairlawn Ave. United Church. Each week, we will introduce a Bible story in a creative way, have the children check in with staff in age-based home groups, and then choose how they would like to respond to the story through anything from poetry to dance to photography to launching a social justice campaign. The program will also give children space to explore their spirituality through prayer, song,  offering, Biblical engagement, and a wide variety of other spiritual practices. Please contact Sheryl if you have any questions or input! 

 
Welcome Back Barbecue – This annual barbecue lunch (with vegetarian and gluten-free options) will be held after the service on the lawn outside the church. All are welcome! Our new children’s ministry staff will be present for you to meet them – please say hello! If you are able to bring a ready-to-serve contribution for our dessert table (i.e. cookies, squares, cut fruit, etc.), that would be greatly appreciated. 
 
Youth Group Launch – Our first gathering for high school aged youth will be held from 6pm-8pm on Friday, Sept 19 in the youth room with pizza, games, and opportunities to help plan the year’s programming. Our first tween (grade 5-8) event will be Friday Oct 3. Please stop by the Children and Youth Ministry table at coffee hour for more information! 
 
Children and Youth Ministry Registration – It is very important that all of our children and youth have registration forms completed! Please complete the form on the church website http://www.fairlawnchurch.ca/family/children-youth-registration/ or get a paper copy at coffee hour at the Children and Youth ministry table. 

Pentecost!

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Pentecost is a Christian holiday that is celebrated fifty days after Easter – landing on June 8 this year. It is a very interesting story (found in Acts 2) of the Holy Spirit coming to the disciples as “tongues of fire” and allowing people to speak in many world languages they had not known previously, but still able to understand one another. It is a great opportunity to talk about languages and the power that can come from understanding one another across language difference. Pentecost can be a great opportunity to learn a few words in a different language or to think about non-verbal communication and ways to show hospitality and friendship that don’t rely on words.

Pentecost is also known as the birthday of the church, the birth of a movement that led to what we now know as Christianity. There is a strong “go out into the world” impulse in the story – a call to be church in our everyday lives and to be a church that is engaged and responsive to needs in the community and the world. The image of the spirit as wind, propelling us forward really connects to that I think. The season of Pentecost can be a great time to fly kites, be out in the wind, imagine how the spirit moves us to particular actions, and connect with the idea of the breath of God sustaining us in our lives.

Tree Planting!

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A few weeks back, a great group of about 20 people of all ages participated in a tree planting day put on by the City of Toronto at Newtonbrook Park. It was a lot of fun – despite a bit of a drizzle at the end!

When you do something outdoors, consider asking your kids where they feel/see/hear God. How does how we treat the environment around us relate to how we connect to God? How does the way that the natural world affects us connect to how God relates to us as humans? There are many metaphors and images in the Bible that relate to things like seeds, winds, trees, growth, rocks…can you think of others? And find them in the Bible?

Looking back, looking ahead!

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This is the time of year where we often reflect back on what the year has been, and look forward and begin planning for what is to come in September. This image was taken at one of our Messy Church sessions when we asked the question “what is the church” and explored how the church could be more accessible, welcoming, and honouring of/to kids! Adults completed a survey and kids engaged the question in a variety of ways – including building representations of kid-friendly churches with blocks and taking the floor plan of the church building and creatively re-imagining the space. Kids also brainstormed the values they thought church should have and the things that could be done to live out those values practically. Thanks, everyone! 

This is something that can also be done at home or as a family. When you are walking or driving, look at different church buildings and consider how they represent welcome more broadly, and to kids specifically. Visit other churches to get new ideas and to experience being a newcomer/visitor. Talk to your kids about how they feel when they come to Fairlawn and how they feel when they leave. Share ideas and reflections with me or anyone else in leadership!