I taught my last Sunday School class for the year the weekend our MRE retired (that’s “Minister of Religious Education” rather than “Meals Ready to Eat”). The kids had a special role in the program, so everyone had to be there an hour early. I hadn’t slept very well the night before, so that was just that much more of a challenge for me. When we arrived in the Sanctuary, we were given an additional curve ball: someone was going to read a story and the kids would have to answer with sign language. We practiced for an hour and got the parts down pat. The Sanctuary filled up with well-wishers and the kids did their singing and their sign language, and then filed out with nary a problem.
When I got downstairs, I found out I was working with a dozen kids with no help. On top of that, the curriculum was rather thin. The thought was we wouldn’t be together as long. What remained was a recurring exercise that has led to disaster every time I tried it. It sounds good in theory: have the kids start a drawing and then pass it to the kid next to them so it can continue. Once it goes all the way around the table, they all go home with a team drawing. The problem is the kids want to draw their own drawing and the other kids are just “screwing it up”. We’ve had fights and tears and ripping of paper. One kid got fed up and just drew black x’s across every picture that came his way. Without any assistance, there was no way I was going to try that again!
So, I made it up. We sat in the circle for a bit and I asked what everyone liked about Sunday School. The consensus was they liked when we went outside to play on the playground. It was a nice day out. We could see the blue sky and green grass through the windows of the room. But it was out of the question. Instead we played a little game I invented a few months back. We sit on a big circular rug. I had everyone stand up and asked them if they liked something. If they did, they jumped on the rug. If they didn’t, they jumped off the rug. We went around the class, so everyone could think of something. It shows how we all things in common, but we don’t have everything in common. That killed about ten minutes. We had a snack and then I let them play with the toys. We have some board games. I played Candyland with a couple of kids (I won). Some kids played “house” in the corner with the toy stove and refrigerator. Others played “store” with a toy cash register. I started glancing at the clock more and more often. Time was passing, but no parents were showing up. That wasn’t a big surprise; our MRE had been teaching for 19 years. She would have a lot of goodbyes to get through.
I knew I was in trouble when the kids got bored playing with toys. I read them a book called Ordinary Mary. Mary did one nice thing to one person, who then did nice things for five other people. Those five people did nice things for five people each… and so on… and so on… Eventually everyone does something nice for everyone else in the entire world, even Mary. The kids didn’t get it. They didn’t want to get it. We’d been together more than two hours by then and they were tired. The classroom was hot. One little girl tore the head off of My Little Pony. Another sat herself in one of the cubby holes for coats. I shut the door to the class to prevent escape attempts and prayed the parents would show up before we all passed out from the heat.
A long hour passed and finally the kids started getting picked up. I got a mumbled thanks from a few of the kids, but no one remembered to say goodbye. I tried not to take it personally; the kids are between four and seven years old. But I was really tired after spending almost four hours at church; trapped in a bad situation with a bunch of cranky kids. I just wanted to get out of there and – frankly – not come back.
But time has a way of healing hurt feelings. After a few days of rest at work, I got a call from the new head of religious education. Could I please help out again with the kids in the fall?
“Sure,” I said. “No problem.”