Week 67: "Two local branch churches have no regular pupils attending Sunday School. How can we best address this issue and support those ready to teach each Sunday?"

Response 1: Chet Manchester

First of all, there have been some inspiring things shared recently on Church Alive that speak to this very need: The Sunday School in Watford, England, for example, grew from two students to almost twenty students. Their approach began by asking the entire membership to embrace the Sunday School in prayer. They also encouraged their two students to invite their friends and to realize that the Sunday School wasn't just for Christian Scientists.

You could engage your members in a similar way by asking them to let their friends know about your Sunday School as a vital resource for moral and spiritual education. Cherishing the idea of our Sunday School as a universal idea is a strong starting point for our individual prayers and discussions. I like to value and pray about the Christian Science Sunday School in a similar light to The Christian Science Monitor. Sunday School is to spiritual education what The Monitor is to journalism: thoughtful, unbiased, solution-oriented, compassionate, global. The vision Mary Baker Eddy had for her Sunday School is just as grand and compelling as the vision she had for her paper: "to spread undivided the Science that operates unspent" and "to injure no man, but to bless all mankind" (see The First Church of Christ Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 353).

Here’s another idea: Why not ask your members to write out a letter of gratitude to the Christian Science Sunday School for what they gained from it, including any healings they had as a result of what they learned? This collective gratitude will be a powerful prayer. I would also recommend letting your members know about the inspirational resources for Sunday School teachers that are available in the "Global Sunday School" area. These audio and video materials can be shared with friends via email and are a wonderful way to introduce others to the ideas at the heart of our Sunday School. And, lastly, keep an eye out for a brand new "app" that is now available for cell phones and mobile devices. It's a topics-based tool for searching the Bible and Mary Baker Eddy's writings on your cellphone and was designed for Sunday School students, teachers, and supporters. It will make it easy and fun to share inspiration from the Pastor with others and can be a wonderful resource to share with friends and neighbors. Visit www.goverse.org to learn more.

Response 2: Melanie L. Daglian

One of the most powerful ways to transform a Sunday School is to recognize what its real purpose is. As part of the revelation of Church that divine Love gave to humanity through the discovery of Christian Science, Sunday School is actually Love’s provision of spiritual education for the world’s children.

It’s important to embrace the entire community, even the world, in our prayer for Sunday School. God has already revealed the form of spiritual education that will meet the needs of all children, enable them to know their divine Parent, and to recognize their own unshakable spiritual worth When our thought opens in this way and our prayer spreads its wings over the whole community, wonderful things happen.

A friend told me about a time when she was preparing to serve as Superintendent of her branch church’s Sunday School, and spent much of the preceding day in consecrated prayer. She prayed with the definition of “Children” from Science and Health, that reads in part, “The spiritual thoughts and representatives of Life, Truth, and Love” (p. 582 ). She gained a wonderful sense of the infinitude of God, and His limitless, pure representation. She said that the next day they had more children than they had ever seen in Sunday School — dozens, in fact — including many they had never seen before. There were so many children, they didn’t have room to hang all the coats! As she was relating this to me, I realized that her selfless prayer had had no limits — she wasn’t praying for children to come to Sunday School, she was simply becoming conscious of the spiritual reality of an infinite God and His infinite reflection, a truth that embraces all. As a result, many parents and children were able to hear the Christ in consciousness that weekend, and the natural result was to come to where they could receive the form of spiritual education Love has provided for all children.

This friend also shared how at another time, they were setting out copies of the Christian Science Quarterly on chairs for the opening of Sunday school. A fellow member said, “We only need one row.” My friend said, “Let’s put out two rows.” They did so, and that morning both rows of chairs were filled with children.

Jesus’ promised Comforter has come. Our entire community can hear the voice of that Comforter as it speaks to humanity with the love and truth they are seeking. Prayer that recognizes that the Christian Science Sunday School is here for everyone, and embraces all in its scope of love, brings tangible, healing results.

  1. The Question for this Week is one that should interest and concern every member of the Church.

    Thanks to Chet and Melanie for their very inspired blogs on this important topic! I very much enjoyed reading their "metaphysical" approach to this issue.

    However, I must also hasten to add that I am more of a practical "feet on the ground" sort of guy. My first instinct, I confess, is not to think "metaphysically" about this sort of thing, but to look at the "nuts and bolts" of the Question.

    First, let's be clear about one thing. This problem of young people today not being interested in "spiritual things" is not just an issue affecting the CS Church. For many years now, I have attended the Episcopal church, first in Chicago, back in the 1990's, and now, for the past 11 years, here in south Jersey.

    At my local Episcopal church, there is no Sunday School, and there hasn't been one for years. Back in the 1950's and 60's, so I understand, there were alsmot 100 students in the Sunday School. What happened? For one thing, today, unlike years past, there are many, many distractkons on Sunday morning.

    A few years back, I was on my way to church, when I was shocked to see a sports practice sponspored by the local public school, during the time when, at least when I was young, most young children would have been in Sunday School. Big, big change!!

    I really applaud all the efforts that are being made by the Mother Church in providing more interesting material for use in the Sunday School. I have already told the story on this site of how, when my aunt was a teacher in the Sunday School of Second Church Philadelphia (1950's), she was reprimanded for bringing Bible study maps into her class. Thank heavens that we have moved on from those times!

    I look forward to hearing the thoughts of others on this vitally important topic.

  2. Some practical steps: Get to know some young people and find out what things interest them - what music, school activities, discussion topics, family/relationship issues. Develop a dialogue - speak their language, literally and figuratively. What do kids like about other churches they've been to? My child really likes the rock music they sing at a friend's youth-group services, and does NOT like the King James translation. Does your Sunday School facility look & sound old-fashioned? Out-of-touch?
    These things are important too. Is your church presenting great ideas in "packaging" that is woefully old-fashioned? Church members may even need diversity training to overcome prejudicial thinking. Accommodating the diversity of our youth is perhaps difficult but that doesn't mean it isn't important - and possible. Jesus spoke "inappropriately" to the woman at the well - we can be "inappropriate" too!

  3. Hi Anonymous--

    I could not agree with you more!! If the CS churches have any hope at all in bringing more young people into their Sunday Schools, they will have to make sure that their teaching techniques are up with the times and relevant to today's youth. If the young people find the material dry and boring, you can be sure that they won't stick around for very long.

    Fortunately, I believe that the Sunday School headquarters in Boston has read this message loud and clear and is responding to this need. They have produced, over the last few years, a great quanitity of really good teaching materials. At least this is a good beginning.

    It is up to each branch church/society to make sure that they are making use of these new teaching techniques and materials. If there is resistance to that which is relevant to today's youths, then such a church can't expect anything except an empty Sunday School!!

    Also, more thought should be given to social activities for the young people. When I was in Sunday School (many years ago) there were such groups like the CS Monitor Youth Forums. We had some really great times together and we also had pretty full Sunday Schools. Today I don't think that there is anything like the Youth Forums. I believe Boston "dropped" them back in the mid-1950's. For what reason, I can't imagine.

    I know that there is an organization called "Discovery Bound" on a national level. Apparently, this group also has chapters in some of the larger metropolitan areas. Their goal is to provide social activities for young people. This is fine as long as you are located in one of the larger metropolitan areas, but what if you are more remotely located? This is why it is important for the local churches to also provide social activities for their young people.

  4. I have had an experience in a small way of growing a Sunday School. I was given the role of Sunday School Superindentant, there were not many students. Each day I took the paper, in my lunch break, and looked for articles relating to children and young people. Then I woud pray about these world issues. This praying for the children resulted in a number of visitors both occasional and regular coming to the Sunday School. Shortly after this I needed to move on, and although this was a number of years ago now, I have not forgotten the impact of this prayer. I write it here in case it is helpful to anyone reading these comments.

  5. The CS Sunday Schools are doing well in some places and in other areas, it is tough to find many young people to attend. It is a reflection on parents/family and how many children they may have, as most CS Church attendees are older folks and may not have children around any longer due to age, but may have grandchildren in the area. It somewhat all depends on weither the children in the CS Sunday School stay in the area raised and also remain in Science, or get married and have children that could attend. Some CS Churches have fellowship gatherings with food etc; after Sunday School, as noted in the recent Church Alive Summit I attended. This brings a more open and friendly atmosphere where friends of school mates/neighbors, that are not from a CS family, may attend along with parents and may become interested in the church. Activities need to blend in with spiritual ideas or concepts during fellowship gatherings. It should not just be for food and games and focus on knowning what CS is about to the new young folks.

  6. This whole thing is a critical issue...our churches/societies essentially no longer have a "pipeline" of young people coming along. It seems to me that MBE's definition of Church applies equally and simultaneously to each branch church and its related Sunday School. If a branch church is actively engaged in "rousing" and "elevating" and demonstrating "proof of its utility" (and that's a key one!) in a community, the Sunday School will follow suit. If, on the other hand, the branch church is so uninvolved with its community that no one would notice its absence, then the Sunday School has little chance. And let's note that it's clear many young people ARE interested in spiritual matters and much more ready to talk and think along those lines than we CS's tend to think.

  7. Thank you Chet Manchester and Maliane Daglian for these inspiring healing responses to our Sunday Schools. I will share this with our Sunday School Superintendent. We have one child now and we are grateful for him. Our Sunday School has given our intire church members an assignment to pray for the children of the world for the rest of this year! Many thanks to both of you. I will send these Church Alive SS ideas along with much JOY. Carol

  8. I agree with you, Brad, that we should expect "feet on the ground" action to flow from our prayers for Sunday School. I love the fact that Mary Baker Eddy speaks about "receiving" children in the Sunday School in her Church Manual By-Laws - which I take as a call to cultivate my own receptivity to the childlike qualities of students and to actively PREPARE for my classes by digging into the Bible in fresh and inspired ways. Is the Bible Lesson really coming ALIVE for us? Are we in tune with young people and the heartfelt issues they're thinking and praying about today? Are we actively exploring ways to connect the dots between students' needs and the insights inside each Bible Lesson? And, are we willing to do more LISTENING in our classes than "preaching" or teaching in a heavy-handed way? These are some of the key questions that I believe will help us successfully receive students into classes where they'll feel at home and deeply appreciated.

  9. THIS IS WHAT WE DID WHILE LIVING ON WHIDBEY ISLAND AND ONLY SUNDAY SCHOOL CHILDREN WERE OUR THREE KIDS. SO I TOOK IN SOME THREE LITTLE CHILDREN INTO MY HOME UNTIL THE PARENTS COULD FIGURE OUT WHAT THEY WERE GOING TO DO. THAT ADDED THREE MORE TO OUR LITTLE SUNDAY SCHOOL HELD IN THE ADJOINING LIBRARY NEXT TO THE CHURCH. LATER ON ANOTHER BOY JOINED THE SUNDAY SCHOOL AND FAMILIES WERE ADDED TO OUT CHURCH.OF COURSE WE PRAYED FIRST AND THIS WAS THE ANSWER WE GOT.

  10. Hi Everybody again,

    What really great responses!

    To Bob (#6)-- I stand corrected. I did not mean to suggest (which I saw after re-reading my post) that young people today are not interested in "spiritual things". I really do think that there is interest on their part, but that the Sunday School lessons have to be put in such a way that the young people will be find the material interesting.

    I agree with Walter (#5) that most CS churches have older congregations which would obviously not have much of a "pipeline" to feed the Sunday School. When I was in the Sunday School (back in the 1950's) in First Church Rutherfod, NJ, we had about 45 in the Sunday School and a steady flow of new kids from the congregation. The Rutherford church closed in the late 1990's and is today a Muslim temple!

    For the CS churches to attract young people from outside the congregation (from the neighborhood) the "radical reliance" emphasis on physical healing would have to be somewhat "played down". Most parents, I think, would be put off by the "radical" approach.

    Now, to change the subject a bit. I guess this is put to Chet, as an official in Boston. Would it be possible to see some videos of the new Mother Church Sunday School quarters? I know that at Annual Meeting there were tours of the new Sunday School quarters, but how about the rest of us?

  11. Hi Brad,

    There's going to be an article about the new Sunday School in an upcoming issue of the Christian Science Journal, so keep your eye out for that!

    I'm not sure whether there are any video tours of the new Sunday School or plans for tours, but I'll ask around and see what I can find out!

    all the best,
    Inge
    Church Alive Team

  12. Hi Inge,

    Thanks for the info. I will watch for the Journal article.
    A video would be nice too!

    Brad

  13. Hi All,
    We saw DiscoveryBound mentioned in the conversation and wanted to share with you more about our organization. DiscoveryBound is a community outreach program that provides local family gatherings, regional retreats and national teen conferences for Christian Scientists and their friends. These activities provide an inspirational atmosphere where everyone relates based on the shared values of Christian Science. DiscoveryBound Chapters organize events in local areas to meet the needs of their communities. They can serve teens, families and even young adults. Chapters can originate in any geographic location. To find out more about this program, we invite you to visit: www.discoverybound.org

  14. I must say that I am quite surprised that there has not been more of a response to this question about how to increase Sunday School attendance.

    Perhaps most people who visit this site have nothing more to say on the subject or feel that there is not much in a practical way which can be done to improve a rather "sad" situation.

    I really expected that there would be quite an outpouring of posts on this topic, but here we are at Saturday (June 30), and already we are awaiting the next "new" Question on Sunday, (if my "internal" calendar is correct!)

  15. These comments are wonderful and make me think of my friend Caryl Krueger, since I believe her experience is similar to many. She was 5th generation CS, had four children who went to CS schools and had class instruction in CS with nine grandchildren. Her sister had six kids and dozens of grandkids. However, none of the children are in CS Sunday Schools today. They all tried but none found the active, nurturing environment they wanted for their children! When Caryl passed on a couple of years ago, she was the last CS church member in her family. All of the children are dedicated to their churches and Sunday Schools – four of the children are in a church which has 800 SS students!

    As a foster parent, I had 12 children varying in age from newborn to 11 years old. Caryl used to present Sunday School workshops called “One precious hour.” She recommended I get a children’s Bible which is the best thing I ever did. Every SS should have a supply of the NIRV (used often in “My Bible Lesson”) as it is written at a 3rd grade level. Then there are a number of translations related to KJ that are about the 9th grade level – NKJ, NRSV, etc. (CSPS and reading rooms don’t sell NIRV, but they do sell NRSV in a separate book and NKJ, NLT, ESV and The Message in a Parallel Bible.) The Oxford Version of the KJ translation that CSPS produces and sells is rated at a 12th grade reading level, but I find it is difficult for anyone who did not grow up with it! For the SS, get a few study Bibles (even KJ study Bibles are better than nothing.) In Mrs. Eddy’s day, the Bibles all had some form of what they called “helps” in them. The 1795 Bible she inherited from her Grandpa was full of dictionaries, concordances, maps, etc. The period that Brad speaks of when no teaching helps were allowed in the SS is truly a dark period in CS history. (One book of helps Mrs. Eddy recommended in the CS Journal is 1100 pages of all the latest Bible info…)

    The foundational trademarks of our church (CS seal and CS Monitor) both have verses from non-KJ Bibles on them and show what amazing and ahead of their times Bible scholars Mrs. Eddy and the early workers were! Every English speaking child should have the same advantage of all non-English speaking children to get to know and love a Bible in their own language. Jesus taught in the language of the people, and we should too.

  16. Years ago I asked myself, how can I support our 6 kids, now age 8-19, to discover the great worth of Sunday School and the answer that came to me was, " healing" . I shared this idea with them and we started to look around for whatever needs healing from the view of the kids. I prayed to know that God would provide opportunities for healings, that would fit to our understanding. As Chet mentioned, we made the BL become alive. It was and still is amazing to see the opportunities we got, all just right, the kids experienced healings in school with classmates, with their pets, physical healings, healings with their parents :-) ... and after each success, we stopped and put it in our gratitude box, that was one with Church and Sunday School. Sunday School became synonymus with healing and so out of their own actual experience, the subject was filled with joy, eagerness to learn more and share ... and today they are happy to go to Sunday School. Still it remains very important to support them find the words in daily life in their practical aspect. Kids want to feel unity and it means a lot to them,especially when they feel the classmates are included in the good they experience through Christian Science...

  17. Hi everyone. I'm a friend and neighbor of Brad Thurber and live in the same complex here in Palmyra,NJ. I'm very sad to say that Brad passed away on July 25th of a heart attack. He was a great guy and everyone thought the world of him. They had his service yesterday at his church which was Christ Church Palmyra. I thought I'd let all of you know since he posted here. thank you.

  18. Dear Ron,

    Thank you so much for letting us know. We very much appreciated Brad's many contributions to the Church Alive community. Our thoughts and prayers are with you, as well as Brad's friends and family.

    Warmly,
    Inge
    Church Alive Team

  19. Dear Inge,

    Your welcome and thank you so much. Here is a link to his obituary

    http://www.phillyburbs.com/obituaries/burlingtoncountytimes/bradford-c-thurber/article_410378e5-fcac-5b57-86cd-be65a0af842f.html

    When Brad passed, I was in Boston that week and when i arrived back home that Friday July 27th is when I found out and was in shock and I'm still kind of in shock since I seen him the Sunday before on the 24th when I was packing my car to leave the next day. Anyway, I had heard that afternoon he was having chest pains and instead of calling 911 he decided to drive himself to Kennedy Hospital in Cherry Hill,NJ which is about 20 minutes from Palmyra.Now for some reason Kennedy could not treat him which I don't understand they had a EMT take him to Lourdes Hospital in Camden,NJ which was at least another 15 minutes and during that time he went into a full cardiac arrested and passed away. I met Brad when he moved into the Palmyra Harbour Complex in 2001 from Chicago with his roomate Edgar. I remember the day he moved in and I went over to welcomed him and introduce myself. over the last 11 years we became friends, I would BBQ and he would come over to join and eat and many conversations and our complex has a pool so we would go swimming together. In fact when my Father passed in 2005, he was there offering support for me and when one of my cats died in 2010 he was also there for me. Such a great guy who we be missed by myself and the whole Palmyra Harbour Community. Even though the obit says he was 76, he was 74 and this past Sunday August 5th when they had his service, it would've been his 75th birthday. At the end of the service, we all sang happy birthday. Anyway, sorry this is lengthy, I just wanted everyone here know what a guy Brad Thurber was. I really miss him alot. Thank you.

  20. I meant Sunday July 22nd, not the 24th. Forgive me ,sometimes I'm not too good with days and dates.