Week 55: "I recently noticed that Mary Baker Eddy specifies in the Church Manual that Sunday School is for kids up to 20—but she doesn’t specify a lower limit! When is a good time for the littlest kids to start attending Sunday School?"

Response 1: Mark Swinney

I love this question! I’d say right from the start that, just as each person is quite individual, the specific time to enter Sunday School is individual, too. Often a parent brings a child to church and the very first stopping point is a Sunday School class, but just as often, the child already has already spent some time around church, being cared for tenderly in the children’s room. What happens next is that he or she then has the opportunity to make a transition from the children’s room into a Sunday School class.

I’ve seen that, while kids in the children’s room can be quite young, the adult attendants can do a lot to help the transition along by reading children’s books about Bible stories aloud or occasionally talking about other things relating to God. These explanations aren’t used to control or to make children behave—they’re just introductions to things that will be explored in class later. The transition, rather than being a push, is best gently directed by divine Love. That way, what is natural and appropriate for each student becomes clear.

A good time to initiate the introduction to Sunday School is when a child is beginning to talk and interact with others. The introduction can include coming into Sunday School from the children’s room just to sing a hymn or even sitting in on a class for a few minutes. A child may then spend longer and longer increments in class. If the child begs to return to the children’s room after a while that is fine, but there will come an appropriate day to tell him that he’s now ready for Sunday School. Teachers can make sure that the child entering Sunday School class feels welcomed, included, and loved.

I’ve always appreciated this comment Mary Baker Eddy makes in Science and Health: “Jesus loved little children because of their freedom from wrong and their receptiveness of right. While age is halting between two opinions or battling with false beliefs, youth makes easy and rapid strides towards Truth” (p. 236). Sunday School teachers are witnesses to these spiritual truths and, as they watch students progress along during the Sunday School years, they can’t help but overflow with heartfelt gratitude for the privilege of conducting a class. And one added bonus is that the teachers end up making “easy and rapid strides towards Truth,” too!

Response 2: Dawn-Marie Cornett

I love this question as, to me, it has implications fundamental to Christian Science. You are so right that Mrs. Eddy does not limit the lower age for Sunday School. In her writings, it is evident that she does not limit, because of age or any other mortal constraint, the intelligence or ability of anyone. She teaches that God is infinite Mind, and that we are the intelligent outcome of that Mind.

So, to me, there is no age when an individual is too young for Sunday School. If a child is welcomed into our church anywhere from birth to 20 years old, they deserve that most blessed education. A tiny infant is God’s, Mind's, expression. To believe that the child will not understand words of love and grace limits our concept of God's reflection. Wouldn't we teach a 5 year old that they are the outcome of Mind, that they are intelligent and infinitely capable because of this fact? Was there a moment when this fact was not truth? Of course not.

Sunday School is the congregation and worship space for children and young adults up to the age of 20. From their very first moment in church, they are valuable additions whom we can and should teach, and from whom we can and should learn. Though we will always tailor a class relative to the individuals in that class, I don't believe there is a moment when a child would not be benefited by and interested in being told about God, their beautiful, ever-present, divine Father/Mother.

  1. I must say that "This Week's Question" is one to which I have never given much thought. I suppose that I have always just assumed that a child went into the Sunday School when she/he was able to pay attention sufficiently to make it worthwhile for the child and the Sunday School. Common sense would dictate that a child who is unable to sit at least for a short time without excessive "fidgeting" should probably remain in the pre-Sunday School section for a while longer. Is there such a section where the child would stay for a short period between the Nursery and the "official" Sunday School?

    A much more interesting question (at least in my mind) is why is there no provision for some kind of "adult" Sunday School experience. Many other churches seem to have great success with such activities. I have a good friend who attended the Sunday School at the Mother Church when he was in his late teens. He had not been raised in CS when he was younger (he attended an Episcopal church in Cambridge, MA) and he said that he had been visiting different churches to find something that would more closely meet his needs. Somehow (I am not quite sure of the details) he "discovered" the CS church. He told me that he very much enjoyed his class at the Mother Church Sunday School (his teacher was John Peterson, who later became President of the Mother Church). After he turned 20, he tried attending the Sunday service at TMC, but found the experience somewhat of a "let down" after his very lively class with Mr. Peterson. My friend said that he found the service somewhat stiff and formal after his Sunday School days. After a time, he stopped attending services entirely, although he still, to this very day, retains an interest in Christian Science. Perhaps this "adult" Sunday School might keep some of the 20+ young people in the church. Just a thought.

  2. I've always thought of the children's room as a preparatory class for Sunday School, too, and not just a holding tank until low-number-aged mortals are "ready" to learn spiritual truths! Even silently declaring the children's completeness and full expression of divine Mind each week as the attendant lovingly goes about the task of caring for them is a huge help in preparing their thought metaphysically for Sunday School. And refuting all the claims of ageism systematically frees them (and everyone else!) from the belief of chronological progression.

    I've also taught the first classes in Sunday School many times during my decades as a Sunday School teacher, and have consciously avoided "dumbing down" my lessons. The spiritual ideas shared in the early classes can be every bit as potent as those shared in the later classes, although these little metaphysicians often require me to be constantly growing and expanding in my methods of expressing these ideas. Strong, consistent metaphysical preparation is key, as is the willingness to let go of outgrown beliefs about the "right" way to share metaphysics.

  3. Brad's comments are interesting. I believe Mrs. Eddy did establish an adult Sunday School ; it's called Class Instruction and is designed to teach us to be healers. Our role in church matures to heal and support others. I do think we could probably do a better job of the transition between Sunday School and church membership. That is a job for the older Sunday School teachers to prepare their students for the next step. Inviting them to attend church on Wed. night and give testimonies, encouraging them to submit testimonies and articles to the periodicals, teaching how to give a solid treatment to heal world issues--all tools to prepare our students for being part of the global Christian Science church. Grand work! Great questions, great answers!

  4. Brad, your suggestion of an adult Sunday School has always been in my thinking. If you come in to CS after the age 20 wouldn't it make seance to be able to learn some of the basic truths from someone that has been more understanding. After grade school you go on to High School and after high school to college. After that if you want to keep learning to go to grad school. So why not be able to go on to higher education in CS before you are ready for Class Instruction.

  5. There are plenty of channels to get an education in Christian Science. I hardly had any Sunday School teaching myself. First, you can always study on your own. I got a lot out of the Questions and Answers section of Miscellaneous Writings by Mary Baker Eddy (p. 31). You can also strike up a conversation after a church service and find out what other people think about certain subjects. Reading Rooms are another resource for studying. Not to forget the periodicals.

  6. I hope it's ok to reply to the comment re the preference expressed for the more lively environment in SS over the quiet church service. I think it's about examining one's motive for attending. I grew up in a mainline Protestant church and attended SS all my life from the cradle up into my adulthood. My experiences with adult SS classes were fine but never made me stretch spiritually. And yes, it was a stretch to sit through the VERY quiet church services at first. In fact, it was difficult to stay awake. My desire to grow spiritually was awake, however, and I listened for ways I could work to remain alert during the services. I worked on reading the lesson during the week, when possible. I began to use the Quarterly while at church and listened for words that stood out and I'd note them in the margins of the page next to the citation. I began losing the urge to doze off. My growth Spiritward was gaining ground. It's not that the service is dull compared to the more social classes with others. I think the resistance is to the demand to learn about going higher and how to listen effectively and commune alone with Spirit/Mind and learn Mind's ever-presence and how we may reflect that. The friend who didn't like the tone of the service may very well decide someday to go back. He could discover he's grown and changed and is ready and willing to love the peace-giving Bible lessons.

  7. It has always been a joy to me to teach the little ones from age 2, and I have learned much from them. We learn straight from The Bible and "Science and Health." Using Art.20 of the "Church Manual," we work each week on learning the "first lessons" as our Leader requires. They are so receptive and learn so quickly. They love to give testimonies of healing, and soon learn to tell the Bible stories to each other. They like to know that they are in Sunday School to learn to heal rather than to play. Rather than using crayons and paper or picture books, they draw thought pictures by closing their eyes and thinking of things such as rainbows, Noah's arc, trees, flowers, lakes, people, animals, etc.

  8. I will never forget when my daughter was almost two and I got a call from a Sunday School teacher at our new church. She was someone I had known for years and we were together again. She said "Do you have your daughter ready for Sunday School. We start them at two". She suggested that she learn the Lord's Prayer which her father taught her (he was not a Christian Scientist)and she went to Sunday School and I always felt that was the beginning of her father turning to Christian Science and joining the church eventually.

  9. This avenue of sharing ideas is wonderful. So often we have certain ideas about things and another's thought and experiences opens up our thought to further listening and growing. My experience in teaching SS is very similar. The importance to listening to what the child needs and not limiting them at the same time. To drop preconceived ideas of what I think should be done and let the Father tell me what is needed in each case. Our church too is listening to how we can break the barriers in our own thinking about age and gently introducing more SS activities in childcare and bringing the children in for part of SS activities. We have also had the membership committee involved with SS graduates to help meet their needs as they begin going to church. This has worked well. In addition, we have a Youth Committee that begins getting involved in church prior to leaving SS, planning ideas, studying Mrs. Eddy's vision of church in the Manual and exploring their own vision of church based on hers. In addition to class instruction and RR, we offer men's and daytime Bible study as a group, and bring in Bible scholars to offer Bible classes to help further adult education.

  10. I came to Christian Science as an adult. I was blessed with the Christian Science Sunday school experience by becoming a Sunday School teacher. It was great fun and a great help to me in my spiritual journey as we all learned together.

    As the others here have said, class instruction and our periodicals and our weekly Bible lessons provide ongoing education. But the greatest spiritual lessons I learn are those that come during my alone with God time.

    Thanks everyone for all your sharing and caring.

  11. Most of the comments are right on. The test should not be age, or grade level, but individual readiness to benefit from the earliest teaching. Our goal should be to see that readiness in every pupil, and not limit the ability of the truth and the quality "to be like a little child" to any and every child.
    Brad's question (#1) about adult sunday school raises a good point, addressed by several others. The suggestions, Class Instruction, periodicals, reading rooms, etc. are all good. May I add Bible Chats in reading rooms or after church, and personal groups or individual meetings with new attendees, dinners, etc, plus opportunities after lectures. Invite others to come and discuss. The opportunities are available to us all, not just denominations that send out members door to door. We all have those opportunities if we are alert and seize them.

  12. David, I think that's so key - being alert to seize the opportunity. It's important to let our love for God and God's ideas be the guide - "Love illumines, inspires, designates, and leads the way." The words 'adult Sunday School' seem to have a very different connotation for many folks - I'm not sure exactly what anyone else who says 'adult Sunday School' really means! David, your examples of Bible chats in Reading Rooms, etc. are so eye-opening. Why shouldn't we dive in to opportunities to organize get-togethers like that? Our church has really enjoyed having Bible studies once a month in the Sunday School - there are probably 10 or 12 regular attendees, we all bring something for a potluck dinner, and then we dive in for a couple hours! Always very illuminating.

    Love never leads us halfway! We can certainly love how our nature as the cherished children of God makes it so clear when we should enter Sunday School as a child, and what we can do to keep cherishing that unfoldment in thought every day.

  13. When I went off to college, a kind couple would invite me to their home for lunch after church (although, I was still in Sunday School). Each of them had an exceptional understanding of Christian Science and I grew from weekly conversations. When I learned that one had been raised in Christian Science, attending Sunday School, and the other had come into Christian Science only after their marriage, it dawned on me why individuals over 20 do not need Sunday School. They both seemed on the same level of understanding. The "up to 20" provision was answered for me!

  14. When I started bringing my little ones to the church nursery, I was told children "graduated" to Sunday School when they became toilet trained.

  15. I did decide to attend a class in translating new testament Greek to English, at a nearby Baptist church. They had a two story building of adult classes. The fall class of first year was not the beginning. The class had started the previous spring, so I was in the middle. I had to first learn the alphabet, and the pronunciation (at a nearby park while my toddler slept in his stroller). The class was full, and many men were very proficient. I came to admire the professor, who had a 30 year career, and from time to time had to verify a word in the Greek dictionary, himself. I felt I could trust the sincere scholarship of translators and commentators, and that my focus should remain on learning scientific metaphysics, while utilizing the fruit of their studies.
    Mrs Eddy did not limit people in their studies, but did recommend individual study. We don't have to take on old theology.

  16. In my late teens I started attending a Christian Science Sunday School on a regular basics before that my parents had taken me to many diffrent churches. My Sunday School teacher would take me to Lectures and explained the transition from Sunday School to church to me. I joined the Mother Church soon after. When I went to college I joined the CSO, joined a branch church, and served on many committees. A couple years after college I taught the youngest Sunday School Class, ages 2 to Kindergarten, for about five years before excepting the First Reader position. Now I am Assistant Super-Intendent of the Sunday School and serving on Lecture Prep Committee.

    As a Sunday School teacher I would let the kids decide when they wanted to start coming to Sunday School. Most children come in at 2 and are fine. Some students have needed to break half their time in Sunday School and half in the Children's Room to transition. We include the Children Room children in the hymns and Sunday School service portion from the beginning.

    The Manual provides for many ways 20 and ups as well as Sunday School students can grow spiritually. From the first lessons, being a church member, to Class Instruction.

    Our church has done Bible study groups in the past. When Lectures come in our area many people car pool. One new thought is inviting new attendants to come to Lectures.

  17. Someone mentioned to me once that Mrs. Eddy didn't approve of adult Sunday School and it's noted somewhere in her correspondence or writings. Does anyone know where this might be? I'm not familiar with it. This idea was presented to me in a prison outreach committee meeting as we discussed ideas on how to share CS with inmates.

  18. It's possible that Mrs. Eddy might have said this someplace in one of her writings, but, if so, I've never heard of it. In any case, if she did say that, I don't agree with her because I think that today any way that opens up in spreading the word of CS is a good thing, even if it is not specified in the Manual, etc.

    In a way, I guess that the Bible studies that many CS churches now sponsor are a sort of "Adult Sunday School".

  19. It is my understanding that adult Friday evening classes came BEFORE children's Sunday School. (I believe they were held in the original Boston reading room location...then called "dispensary.") Mrs. Eddy eventually stopped those adult meetings. (She didn't always explain why she did what she did.) But she did establish class teaching for adults. A special experience! And Association meetings thereafter.

    We here have discovered that reading biographies of MBE (so far) and discussing them together is a great way to have a type of school class room experience. One might be surprised at the metaphysical points that support everything Mrs. E. did in "planting and watering the vineyard." (We hold these discussion in our reading room twice a month in the early evenings. They are open to members and friends.)


  20. Looking forward to chairing the children's room beginning in April, I am so glad to have found this helpful page of thoughtful contributions to the subject of Sunday School, from the children's room transition, and so on.

    Thank you, everyone, for your caring and sharing.