I grew up in Sunday School. From the time I was three years old and we were going to church at Augustana Lutheran, the church where my father grew up, I went to Sunday school every Sunday. Even when we visited my grandparents in southwestern Minnesota, I went to Sunday School. I didn't especially enjoy going to Sunday School when we visited a strange church, but I went. They sent a postcard back to my Sunday School letting them know that I had attended.
I loved Sunday School, mostly. I loved my teachers, who were not my parents, and who taught me that other adults in the church cared about me. I loved learning the stories and playing the games with the other students, some of whom were my friends. I liked when we drew pictures of churches, but then our teacher told us that the church wasn't the Building, it was the People inside who were the church. I remember learning about the Old Testament and the New Testament, and about the parts of the liturgy, too: Collect, Kyrie, Agnus Dei.
One week we had a Bible story about forgiveness, about how Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive. Seven times? When Jesus told him, "70 X 7", our teacher told us to try to figure the problem out. But since we hadn't learned long division yet, all we could come up with was that it must be A Very Large Number.
Another time I was in 6th grade Sunday School and we were giving our teacher a bad time. I think we were already thinking that this was boring and we didn't want to study the lesson. Our teacher was a new member of the church, a young dad with three little girls. We were giving him a tough time, so he decided that he would just share a little of his faith story with us. He told us that they had had one other daughter, who had died of leukemia, and how that affected his faith. I still remember that.
So, I grew up in Sunday School, and I learned some things. I learned some things about relationships. I learned some things about the church. I learned some things about the Bible, although there were some gaps. For example, I did not have a very good idea about how the stories went together, for one thing. This was true even though I went both to church and to Sunday School every single week.
So I have to admit that Sunday School was not perfect, and it is even less perfect now. Perfect attendance is rare now, for one thing. It is hard to find enough teachers, and even if you find enough teachers, it is hard to find enough students who really want to go. There are plenty of other options on Sunday morning. Every parent can teach their child about Jesus, but not every parent can be a good Sunday School teacher.
I have loved Sunday School, but I have to admit that, for a lot of churches, and a lot of children, it isn't working. They are not learning the stories of the Bible, but most of all, they aren't learning that other adults in the church care about them.
But one of the gifts of the church is still relationships. It is a place where we can meet each other and know each other across generations, where we will realize that Forgiveness Is a Really Big Number, and where we can share stories and songs and pray and catch faith from one another.
If only we will only make the space.