“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).
Sunday school programs are wonderful times with all the children playing their roles (and especially my grandchildren now), and the adults singing in the choir, and me in the back row trying to find the bass part. We always have a wonderful time with a great meal and the chance to see our brethren and sisters from nearby ecclesias who, like us, are too busy in their own meeting to visit around much.
When I was a boy they were not called “Sunday School Programs”… they were called “Christmas Entertainments”. It must have been before someone discovered that Christmas as we knew it had some highly questionable ancestors and really shouldn’t be accepted into good company. I thought Christmas was a universally agreed all-around wonderful thing when I was a boy.
Our meeting was small in Jersey City. The Sunday school consisted of one class. My classmates consisted of Dave Link, Robert Lankow, and the two Ferraro boys, Jerry and David. Fortunately we were all very close in age. Later on, the Ferraros’ little sister Esther joined us. Auntie Min Link, David’s mom, was our teacher. So our Christmas Entertainment was not a long, drawn-out affair.
We used to do recitations mainly. We memorized what for us were very, very long poems — “Barefoot Boy with Cheek of Tan”, etc. If someone could play an instrument they would. Or they would try to. Robert was learning the violin and somehow too much wax got on his bowstrings before his big moment. He got up there and made a valiant effort but, try as he might, nothing came out. Everyone was a little nervous for the performer at the time, but eventually he gave it up and sat down; I doubt anyone truly minded.
The Newark ecclesia also had an Entertainment and if memory serves it was during the holidays as well. Like today these were big occasions for visiting back and forth, and so we went to each others’ program. We didn’t eat in restaurants in those days unless we could not get home, and it was not convenient to pack something. I remember eating lunch on a Sunday after meeting at Sherman’s cafeteria in Jersey City on the way to catch the train to Newark for their program. I had a cream cheese sandwich that was so thick I still remember it.
There were two high points at our program (besides the main one, which was after one had successfully finished reciting his and her poem and could sit down to the applause of the very friendly audience). For me, the two high points were when I was called up and given my “prize”, and when we all got up and marched around the room while somebody played the piano and we got to reach into Santa’s “Grab Bag” and pull out a present. We marched around until the bag was empty. The main prize we were given would always be a nice toy. One year I got a wood-burning set so it must have been after the war. I can still remember the smell of the charring wood as I tried to trace the pattern on the little plaques that came with the set and I lingered too long at one spot with the burning iron.
We do not have “Christmas Entertainments” since we learned about its background, and it is probably just as well. Now that the cat is out of the bag it might look to some like we were officially approving of the whole idea of Christmas, and we would not want to be seen as doing that. But we do still have Sunday school programs, and I really think they are a good thing.
We just had our program today and I’m sitting at home tired and spent but feeling good about it because, once again, it accomplished most of the goals that Sunday school programs can achieve. I don’t know why I’m feeling tired because I didn’t do the writing or the directing or the cooking or the serving, and not much of the clean-up either. Mainly, as I said earlier, I sat in the back row and tried my best to see where I was supposed to turn to get to the next item on the program. (I try to keep copious notes on the music during rehearsals: “back to pg 26 M 32 on 2nd run”, etc., but it’s not easy. My main goal is to concentrate on timing so I can avoid an unplanned solo. My solo-avoidance technique consists of waiting to hear what my fellows in the rear are singing and catching up as quickly as possible.)
I do believe Sunday school programs are extremely valuable. They are a tremendous amount of work and, like the battle at Waterloo, are usually “near run things”, but what else do we do that involves so many in the ecclesia in active participation, and quite often some of us that are not regularly employed in the normal round of Sunday duties? If you have ever participated in one you know what I mean. Usually there are a series of skits involved, and in our meeting there is a lot of music. One or more have to write it, the songs have to be chosen, someone has to lead the chorus, play the piano, get the microphones and move them around at the right times. Props have to be figured out, put together and painted and set up and changed from scene to scene. Food has to be planned, tables decorated, set up, and taken down. Arrangements have to be made to park cars and shuttle some people back to the hall.
Pictures are taken of our members during the year and shown on the screen at the opening so our brethren and sisters from the other meetings can be reminded of who some of us are. After all, they may not have seen us in a while; we can also match up the children with their parents.
And the practices. We had a lot of chorus practices, and we had two main Saturday night rehearsals with pizza. We have heavy adult participation and — between one thing and another — there would be over 60 of us all working together and striving to achieve our mutually agreed-upon goal. We had a good time. And no doubt we are making good memories that some of our children will recall when they are my age. (Instead of the smell of charring wood, it will probably be pizza).
If one objective of an ecclesia is the involvement of all its members, then a Sunday school program comes the closest to meeting that goal of anything we do.
I know they are not perfect. We do not strive for perfection, but we do strive to present a spiritually upbuilding presentation that will reach both our performers and those in the audience. (I have never participated in a skit where I did not gain a deeper appreciation of the lessons it contained.) Besides the mistakes we make, there will be disagreements about whether a certain song should be sung, etc. And you won’t win them all — which means sometimes you will be singing something that, while not totally out of place, nevertheless makes you feel less than comfortable. But as long as it is handled correctly, it provides an excellent teaching vehicle. There need to be standards and controls (at our meeting the full script is submitted to the membership for approval), but we also need to work together with as much give and take as possible. It is relatively easy to maintain a “good relationship” with brethren if our only joint dealings are for a few hours in a highly structured worship service once a week. But that is not much of an opportunity in which to develop a real feeling of working together. Of all people, we should be dedicated to developing Christ-like characteristics, those that make us willing workers and easy to get along with.
Our program is over now, and it will be two years before we do our next one. As good as they are, too much of a good thing is not wise. But before we know it the time will be upon us, and once more we will face the daunting tasks, the concerns about the time taken away from our scheduled classes, the reminders about all that can go wrong, and the recurring fear during the early stages that we just won’t be able to pull it all together.
I do hope we continue. There is so much more involved in a Sunday school program than meets the eye. There is so much more good realized than what occurs during the brief hour it lasts. We are developing our characters and building relationships that awake in us a sense of community. Surrounded with all our generations in one room, our relatives in Christ and our families in the flesh, all of us there to enjoy our children in a God-centered activity, we remind ourselves, without being told, that we truly are a family in Christ.
With love in Christ, Ken Sommerville
I recall an evening program at Pacific Coast Bible School a number of years ago, where all the three and four-year-olds were equipped with flashlights (“torches”, I think, to UK folks and others). The plan was to turn off all the lights and, in complete (mountain-top, country) darkness all the little tykes would turn on their flashlights simultaneously and — as the pianist played something like “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine” — they would all proceed out of their aisle and march up to the front singing, at which time the program would continue.
The problem was… before all the flashlights got turned on, the first little fellow in line tripped and sprawled in the aisle. This meant Number 2 tripped over Number 1, and Number 3 over Number 2, etc. Then general chaos reigned. As kids fell, and stood up again, and others tried to see what was happening, flashlights were pointing in every direction and sweeping back and forth across the congregation. The light effect reminded me of a grand opening on Broadway. Meanwhile the music continued, and some sang, and some screamed, and some squealed, and many laughed uproariously.
It was a most entertaining “entertainment”.