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Where it all started

All three of us were born in Victoria, British Columbia, in the 1960s and grew up in the Sunday school there from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s. Our names are Stephen, Mark and Shawn Snobelen, and we began to attend the Victoria Sunday School in that order at the age of three. We are thankful for the example of the fine brethren who acted as Sunday school superintendents and ran our Sunday school.

We are also enormously grateful for the many brothers and sisters who taught us and our fellow Sunday school scholars over the years, some of whom have fallen asleep in Christ, but most of whom are still living.

In our younger years, we think of sisters Joyce Holt, Arla Easson and Pauline Northcott. In our teen years, we well remember the instruction of brothers “Mac” Macpherson and Gordon Dangerfield. Our Bibles are still filled with notes on first principles we learned during those years — an investment for a lifetime! Interestingly, not one of our teachers was born in Victoria; instead, they hailed from the Prairies, Ontario, England and Australia, thus providing us with a rich mix of Christadelphian traditions and the benefits (through our teachers) of Sunday schools in far-off lands.

The memories are many. When we reach far back in our memories, we can recall the old King’s Road Hall, built with the loving hands of brethren in the 1950s. When our ecclesia outgrew that hall, we spent a couple of years in facilities of the Lake Hill Women’s Institute. Memory verses were then a staple of our lessons. We first began to love the classic Sunday school hymns at this time, and we well remember singing “All things bright and beautiful” on the stage at a Sunday school event in those years.

Shortly afterwards, we moved into the current hall, again built largely by brethren and completed in 1972. In addition to the Sunday school instruction, we think back to the many plays and skits performed at New Year and at the end of the Sunday school year. We all still cherish on our shelves the many books received at the annual prize-giving, an event we always looked forward to with great anticipation. And then who could forget the annual summer Sunday school picnic? It was held, then as now, at the Vancouver Island Rangers’ Park near Happy Valley: fried chicken, coleslaw, watermelon and pop after the races and the talk. Sometimes the talk would be given by guest speakers, and we all remember one such talk with props given by Bro. Bob Lloyd, familiar to all Tidings readers. All of this emphasizes the importance of creating spiritual memories for our children that will last a lifetime.

During the mid-1990s, university and work took two of us (Stephen and Shawn) away from our hometown. Shawn now resides in Hamilton, Ontario, the hometown of his wife, Sis. Marnie. Stephen lived with his family first in England for five years and then relocated to Halifax, Nova Scotia, for work and to help out with a small ecclesia there. One of us helps run a landscaping company, another is a businessman, and the third a university lecturer. Not only did we choose different lines of work, but we also reside in different parts of Canada. In fact, the three of us are quite spread out, with Mark on the West Coast, Shawn in central Canada, and Stephen on the Atlantic Coast. Seven hours of airline travel separates the two coasts, and yet the family and ecclesia ties still bind us closely together. All of us are now married, and each family is blessed with three young Sunday school scholars. And then, a few years ago, we all became Sunday school superintendents of our respective ecclesias. This was a turn of events none of us could have ever predicted two decades ago when we were still Sunday school scholars ourselves.

Unexpected though this was for all three of us, we have benefited greatly from the foundation laid in Victoria Sunday School so many years ago, as well as the commitment to the Truth of our mom, dad and grandparents; they made the Bible the centre of our lives (Deut. 4:9; 6:7). Whether or not this is the first time in North America that three brothers in the flesh have simultaneously served as Sunday school superintendents at three separate meetings, we cannot be certain. Whatever the case, we felt that this was a good opportunity to reflect on the importance of laying foundations for our youth in our Sunday schools. We also thought it was a good opportunity to introduce our ecclesias and Sunday schools to other brothers and sisters. And so we begin our tour, beginning with the West Coast, where, for us, it all started…

Victoria Ecclesia, British Columbia (Mark)

There has been an ecclesia in Victoria since 1888; the earliest record of this ecclesia having a Sunday school dates to 1893. I believe that I may be only the second superintendent in Victoria who was born here, attended Sunday school here and now acts as superintendent. This can be explained by the fact that we have in Victoria a fair movement of families and brothers and sisters in and out of town. This is a mixed blessing, as some leave, but there is always someone new moving into town to replace them.

We currently have eight classes including a pre-school class that does crafts and basic lessons, all the way to a young peoples’ study class and two adult classes. One adult study class can have as many as fifteen to twenty participants on a normal Sunday morning. We have an adult class for our interested adult friends as well. By the grace of God, a number of those who have attended the adult Sunday school class for interested friends have put on the saving name of Christ in baptism. Thus, we have six children and youth classes, and two adult classes. We currently have about 40 scholars (down from a peak two years ago of 50) in addition to the numbers in the two adult classes. When everyone is in attendance (including teachers) we can have as many as 75 children, young people and adults studying their Bibles.

Our C.Y.C. and Sunday school are currently blessed with a large group of young people aged 15 to 25. More than ten have been baptized in the past three years. We hope and pray that this continues. I like to believe that this is due in some part to the wonderful work our teachers are doing! We try to have at least two Sunday school outings each year. This past fall we went for a hike at Goldstream Park to see the salmon spawn, and enjoyed roasting hot dogs and marshmallows over a fire. This past spring we had a joint Sunday School / Junior C.Y.C. hike around Swan Lake and did the readings on the slope overlooking the lake.

Children’s studies this year spanned the time from the conquest of the Promised Land to the time David became King and the promises were made to him. Our play presentation evening is held in the middle of June each year, and most of the Sunday school students were involved this year. The theme was the early life of Samuel. Our prize-giving is held on the last Sunday of the Sunday school year (the third Sunday in June, usually) and this year the students received t-shirts and books. Our Sunday school picnic is held on the last Saturday in June each year and is a joint picnic with nearby Saanich Peninsula Ecclesia. It is really an ecclesial picnic, as it has always been well attended by young and old alike. We are usually blessed with 100 or more of all ages in attendance. I am thankful for the continued commitment of our teachers and everyone who contributes to our Sunday school.

Hamilton (Ewen Road) Ecclesia, Ontario (Shawn)

Greetings from the mid-Canada Snobelen Sunday School, Ewen Road Ecclesia, in Hamilton, Ontario, founded in 1961. My wife Marnie’s parents, Gordon and Edith MacFarlane, were early pioneers of this ecclesia. Thus our three children are blessed with grandparents who are long-time members of this ecclesia, as well as grandparents who are long-time members of the Victoria Ecclesia. Our current enrollment includes 36 full-time unbaptized students and 37 full-time baptized students. Our ecclesial hall and Sunday school are bursting at the seams. Recently, our ecclesia purchased the lot next to our hall and there are plans to expand our facilities, including the area available for Sunday school teaching and activities. One idea would be to build a new hall on the new property and use the old ecclesial hall for Sunday school.

We like to begin and end our school year with a huge pancake breakfast. Our teachers use the Australian Christadelphian Sunday School Association series of notes for all ages except the teens. Our teens enjoyed a study of the book “Be Ye Doers of the Word”, led by Bro. Ian Macfarlane, which lends itself to practical application of God’s Word. We have great support for our two adult classes, which studied Christ’s apostles and the angels. We provide a monthly newsletter to keep members updated with information about various activities. We also add some fun with word games and “guess who” photos.

Our main event this year was a trip to the Ontario Science Centre; this proved to be entertaining and educational for all ages! We rented a bus so we could travel as a large group. This year we introduced a new joint venture with McNab Street Ecclesia that involved a weekend camp-out at a nearby conservation area. We all enjoyed God’s beautiful creation and fellowship with our brothers and sisters. We hope to add this as a yearly event due to its overwhelming success.

We have our annual entertainment in May, and we always look forward to the children’s plays and various talents. In June we have our Sunday school picnic along with McNab and Greenaway Sunday Schools. We always have a fantastic turnout for this: more than 100 brothers, sisters and children.

At the end of each year we are always overwhelmed by the dedication and efforts of the teachers who work every week with their classes, building up the knowledge of our students and preparing them for the kingdom. This is our duty, and with God’s help we will continue our work in this regard as we await the coming of His Son.

Halifax Ecclesia, Nova Scotia (Stephen)

There has been an ecclesia in Halifax, Nova Scotia, since the Victorian period. In the days of Robert Roberts, we are told, the ecclesia numbered around 100. The first Christadelphian preaching in Halifax was conducted by Bro. John Thomas, who spoke to crowds numbering one thousand! For various reasons, ecclesial numbers have been low over the past half-century or so. There are two small ecclesias and a total of 17 brothers and sisters in Nova Scotia (one sister is a member of the Sussex, New Brunswick Ecclesia). While this is a far cry from our heyday in the Victorian period, with God’s blessing we have been growing in recent years. The Halifax (Bedford) Ecclesia now has nine members with the addition of Bro. Mike and Sis. Ruth Carr from Ontario in August 2005. Numbers had grown sufficiently by the time of our arrival here in the summer of 2001 to merit the re-establishment of a Sunday school in the Bedford Ecclesia.

My wife, Sis. Julie, and I supply the three youngest Sunday school scholars, while Sis. Cathy Long (a member of the Hamilton (West Avenue) Unamended Ecclesia), a constant visitor during the Sunday school year, has supplied our three oldest Sunday school scholars. The ages of our scholars range from four to twenty. In addition to two children’s classes and a teen class (yes, sometimes these classes have only one or two students), there is also a lively adult class.

The only person attending our Sunday school and meeting who was born in Nova Scotia is our son Jedidiah. Everyone else was born elsewhere: Ontario (6), England (3), British Columbia (3), Manitoba (1) and Quebec (1). In an interesting twist, Bro. Ken Easson, who relocated here in 2002, was born in Victoria and attended the Sunday school there when young. I well remember Ken, who is four years younger than I, as a young boy at Victoria. It has been nice to get reacquainted with him on the “other” coast three decades later, and to work side-by-side with him presenting Bible seminars and doing other work in the Truth. In a second interesting twist, Ken, Bro. Todd Hill, and I (who all find ourselves now in the same ecclesia) were all at different times taught Sunday school by Ken’s mom, Arla Easson (Ken and I in Victoria, and Todd through the Isolation League Sunday School). The Christadelphian world is in some ways a very small world!

Although our numbers are small, we enjoy regular visits from families who attend the Sussex, New Brunswick, meeting, as well as many visits from much further afield. These visits are always highlights for our small meeting, and are always greatly appreciated. Our children have close friends in the much larger Sussex meeting (a three and a half hour drive north of us), which is blessed with an abundance of young kids. Having the Sussex Ecclesia relatively close has made all the difference for us. It is a strength on which we can lean.

All of our members came to Halifax with memories of ecclesial and Sunday school traditions, and we have implemented many of these here. Thus, in addition to our regular Sunday morning classes September through June, we hold an annual prize-giving at our meeting place in late June. When numbers have allowed it, the children have put on a play. In other years we have played Bible Pictionary — which everyone always enjoys. An annual Sunday school picnic is also held at nearby Oakfield Park. Although our ecclesia is small, we can say that virtually every member, young and old, makes it out to the picnic. Because our numbers are small, the picnic activities usually involve both the young and the young at heart. At our Sunday school, a race for four-year-old boys would be won by the only competitor!

Being part of a small ecclesia and a small Sunday school has both blessings and challenges. On the blessing side, we are very close and every member is sure to greet every other member on a Sunday morning. How many ecclesias can say that? It is also a blessing that virtually everyone plays an active role, and this includes Sunday school. With three Sunday school classes for the young and one adult class, we need four class leaders — which is almost half of our ecclesial membership! And, at our ecclesia, the Sunday school superintendent is not exempt from teaching a class. We have also been blessed with help in our first two years from Sis. Sharon Abel (now Keene), who acted as a teacher and helped organise our small C.Y.C. Finally, it has been a great blessing to work with my wife Julie who, if truth be told, performs a lot more work in service to the Sunday school than I do.

At the same time, it has been challenging for Julie and me to adapt to a small ecclesia and Sunday school, having been used to large Sunday schools in Victoria (where I was a scholar, and where Julie and I both taught in the early 1990s), Shelburne (where Julie was a scholar), and England (where Julie taught and our oldest attended). Because of this, one of our goals is to see our Sunday school grow in size. This is one of the reasons why we have been appealing for brothers and sisters to consider relocating to Halifax to add strength and experience to our ecclesia. We are especially keen on seeing young families with children come here to add to our Sunday school and provide spiritual friends for our children. If you think you may be able to help us out in this regard, please do get in touch! I can assure you, your presence here will almost certainly be much more meaningful than it can be in most large ecclesias and Sunday schools.

Final reflections

Our collective experiences both as Sunday school scholars and as Sunday school superintendents have taught us a great deal. First, organization is a key element. A good Sunday school requires a lot of forethought and organization. A good, sound class that a child will remember (and in which he or she will grow) requires thorough preparation. A lackluster class can lead to lackluster students. And then there is the importance of teamwork. The success of a Sunday school does not depend on any single person, but rather on brothers and sisters working together for the common goal of the spiritual development of our children, young people and interested friends. The support of the children’s parents (that is, those who are in the Truth) is also crucial. Parents who prioritize their children’s attendance, make certain that any homework is completed, and bring the children to Sunday school on time help out immensely. Better yet, parents can attend Sunday school themselves and ensure that it is truly a family event.

We have also come to appreciate the great value of adult Sunday school classes. This is sometimes overlooked, but as many will agree, the best Bible class of the week is often the Sunday morning adult Sunday school class. You certainly don’t need to have children to attend Sunday school! Additionally, an extra adult Sunday school class for interested friends can form an integral part of ecclesial outreach. The success of the Victoria adult Sunday school class for interested friends speaks for itself.

Many other things could be mentioned, but we will limit ourselves to one further thought: the importance of creating memories. Just as the three of us well remember and cherish our years as Sunday school scholars, years in which we learned about the wonders of God’s Word and His promises to us, so will our own children and Sunday school scholars remember the Sunday school classes, the plays, the prize-givings, the picnics, the friends they grow up with and, above all else, the Word of God, which will become a part of the fabric of their very beings. These are the reasons why we have Sunday schools, why we exert so much effort to teach our children, and why our work is not in vain. If you ever wonder whether the effort is worth it, think of the children and think of the spiritual memories you are helping to create. These are memories that will last a lifetime and, ideally, will serve as a source of tremendous strength upon which to draw when our children become adults and, in their turn, begin to act as teachers and leaders of our Sunday schools. We are reminded of Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Nor must we ever forget that our children (specifically and generally) are a heritage to the LORD (Psa. 127:3). They have been entrusted to us for a few short years; it is important that we encourage our children to remember their Creator while they are young (Eccl. 12:1). Let’s make the best possible use of these few short years.

Stephen, Mark and Shawn Snobelen, Halifax, Victoria and Hamilton

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