New Wine, Old Wineskins....

Being an all-converts-all-the-time parish (no wait, there's that russian lady and her mother who come now, and all the kids we've had...)...OK, mostly-all-converts-mostly-all-the-time...we all bring our experiences from various backgrounds into Orthodoxy with us.

One of those things is Sunday School. We have a wonderful Sunday School in our parish. We love our kids. We have piles of them too. We not only want to teach them at home, we want to teach them at Church. And we do. Dedicated teachers, brilliant Sunday School know the drill.

But something is niggling on my mind. And it is this: When Sunday School starts at 9 a.m. (and it IS alot of work), and the Divine Liturgy does not start until 10 a.m. (and it is also alot of work) it really really reduces the number of people who can effectively fully participate in the pre-eucharistic fast. (Not that it's really any of my business, so I'm speaking of myself here.) 10 am DL with a half a day's work in advance of it? I get up, I cook food for common meal, I get my family ready and out the door, I teach Sunday School....this would leave me exhausted and hungry on any day, even WITH breakfast. And I AM exhausted on Sundays, even WITH breakfast (hypoglycemic I am, and all, health concerns, yadayadayada...but it bothers me that I can't cut down more, fast better, participate in the life of the Church more.)

I know I'm going out on a limb here, but it seems to me that we have a clash of paradigms going on here: do we prepare to meet Christ through Bible stories, on an intellectual and rational level, or do we as Orthodox prepare to meet Christ through taking in his Body and His Blood in the Eucharist FIRST, without then neglecting the study of the Holy Scriptures as well? And what are we teaching our kids this way, really? Is our late start time preventing people who otherwise would from coming forward for communion?

And I'm not saying Christian Ed. is not important. Goodness knows I work hard to make it happen, and I have a heart for it. But more and more I'm starting to wonder if it needs to happen some time OTHER than right before Eucharist, first thing Sunday morning?

What if Divine Liturgy were at eight o'clock or eight-thirty? It'd be over by ten. More people could fast more fully and the day would be open for the rest of it: the Sunday School, the meal together, etc. after that.

Is this not perhaps a case where we have New Wine, but we are trying to let it mature in our old wineskins?


Laura said…
This is probably a common discussion in most parishes. This is how we do it: Matins begins at 8:15 AM, DL @ 9:30 and Coffee Hour at 11:30 ish. Sunday School happens after DL during Coffee Hour. Our SS teachers are on a rotation schedule so that no one teaches every Sunday. The kids and teachers are given some time to eat before SS starts. I don't know if this would work for your parish or not. It certainly isn't a perfect system for ours but we mostly make it work.
alana said…
I'd even be willing to explore the idea of a pre-vespers Sat. late afternoon Christian Ed. hour.
Luke Seraphim said…
Our parish has a similar schedule to Laura's. We have Hours at 8:30, DL at 9, and Coffee Hour/Sunday School sometime around 10:30 - 11:00. This way everyone can grab a snacky cake or some fruit and head off to SS. As Laura commented, it's not perfect, but it's worked for us for years. I think your concerns are very valid and they give me yet another chance to pause and think about the mix of "Old World Orthodoxy" and "New World Orthodoxy". One and the same in most aspects, however, coming from Protestant backgrounds, we're great at programming and education. Trying to tie this in with the fast and the cycle of prayer can be difficult - IMHO. I think they very much go hand in hand, but it is tough to find that Godly balance and moderation between the two.

What exactly am I saying? Uhh...good luck. :-)

Please tell Bethany I say "Hello!" and "Yes, I'm still wearing diapers...." ;-) She was a real blessing to have at Summer Camp again this year. Thank you for sending her!
DebD said…
Our church does it quite similar to Laura's. This way everyone can participate in the common meal and then go to sunday school. It seems to work quite well.
james said…
My opinion is this (and people will disagree, but that's okay). Fasting is great as long as it does what it is supposed to do, which is bring one closer to God. When we feel guilty for not being able to, then it isn't bringing anyone closer to God.

We need to start asking why we're feeling guilty. It could be a number of factors that could be psychological, environmental and so forth. "Why do I feel guilty for missing even one Sunday? Why do I feel guilty if I have to eat a little something before receiving the Eucharist? Why do I feel guilty for making love with my spouse on a Saturday night?" Hmmmm ... the attitude among many people who aren't "all convert all the time"" is one of apathy. I've been told this by more than one "non-convert." That' isn't ideal either. Their question should be the similar, except they should start out, "Why don't I care that ..."

Balance is a good thing, though. I think it's good to have a mixture of convert and non-convert. This can't always be helped, but it's good.
Arielle said…
Our schedule is like Laura's (Matins at 8:15 am, DL and 9:30 am) but we have Sunday School during the 1 1/4 hour of Matins. I think it works well because the parents have reason to show up for Matins (I think far fewer would come if their kids weren't in Sunday School) and the kids would have a really hard time making it through Matins AND DL. I also like that the kids and teachers are around for all of coffee hour - it's always disappointing to me on the few days where there's a big meeting for teachers/women's group/whoever and half the parish leaves during coffee hour for the meeting. I've always thought the reason our parish family is so close is largely due to the amount of time we all spend together during coffee hour, and after church the kids are SO ready to be running around outside. I think it would be like pulling teeth to get them to sit in SS after church.
Mimi said…
We've done it every which wasy - Saturday nights, Wednesday nights, before Liturgy during Matins, and right now, we do it after Liturgy and coffee hour. We actually are beginning a new schedule of 1st Sunday - potluck no class; 2 & 4th Sunday - class; and 3rd Sunday all the kids meet to have a discussion with the priest.

I don't know what the answer is, because as you say, the pre-Liturgy fast is difficult on teachers and on the students in class, but then afterwards you get the soccer games, and the exhausted kids.
alana said…
James, it's not so much about guilt as it is a desire to be able to avail ourselves more fully of the opportunities given to draw near to God. I believe that the asceticisms given by the Orthodox Church are time tested ways of doing just that, not that one can't draw near to God if one does not "jot and tittle" every thing correctly, but my point is that perhaps on a parish wide level, here is one way that would make it easier for more people to more fully embrace this fast and the drawing near to God that it can bring.
Anonymous said…
The parish I attend usually has any form of education whether it be Church School, Lectures or other programming after Divine Liturgy. For awhile my parish held a lecture series almost every Tuesday evening as well. This would seem to be a much more practical idea than doing everything prior to Divine Liturgy.

As for a meal/repast afterwards, maybe a rotating list where individuals or families could commit to providing for and cooking the dinners. That has worked at my parish for many years. Unfortunately as the meal has to follow almost immediately after Liturgy it has to be prepared at an earlier time.

As for the pre-Communion fast and your health speak with your priest or spiritual father about this. You may be able to get an 'exemption' to partake of medications or a small amount of food.
Tabitha said…
We actually took up this question in council a couple of times during my tenure there and every idea we came up with got shot down. There just isn't a perfect solution. During Matins splits attendance between prayers and adult class. Same problem for holding it during choir practice plus the fact that SS teachers couldn't be choir members! After Vespers is too late, before Vespers is transportation trouble. Before DL lengthens the fast. Afterwards and kids are purportedly more stir crazy. And this begs the question of whether to go straight from Liturgy to SS or break for common meal/coffee hour. If the food is held till after SS then we risk losing our time to welcome and fellowship with visitors not to mention being really hungry during class! If we feed the children and SS teachers first and have them go to SS during/after the meal, then the teachers feel left out of adult interaction. Of course, this assumes that there is no adult class. If everyone eats and then goes to SS would that work? Those who want to socialize more could skip SS I suppose and perhaps help with clean up? What about punctuality issues: is it better to have people late for singing time (the 1st part of our SS) or late for Liturgy? (I know, its better to not be late, but no-one seems to believe in that one and even I am skeptical). SS is critically important and must be done to the best of our abilities. Afterall, it is part of the children's catechism. Still, the when is problematic.
alana said…
So basically the conclusion in our parish, then, is that SS is more important than the Eucharistic fast. This is precisely what I"m wondering about.

And of course we could NOT do SS after DL before eating. From a physical/eating stand point, that would be the same as what we are doing right now.

We want an oustanding choir, and we have one. And we want an outstanding SS program and we have that as well.

At what cost? And perhaps there is in reality no real cost at all. I'm just thinking out loud, here.
Tabitha said…
I feel I should point out that most of my post was my own perspective on the situation and should not be construed as actually representing the stated opinions of anyone else (especially on Council). It has been a long time since this was brought up and I don't remember the discussion clearly enough to be able to quote. I'm just getting my thoughts out there for discussion's sake.

I'm not sure that saying SS is more important than the fast is a fair understanding of the situation. After all, the prayers of the hours and proskimeda (sp?) are going on concurrently with SS, so its not like SS is actually delaying the liturgy. Perhaps we should consider moving up the start time of the whole shebang and keeping the current line-up. Then we'd be done with everything sooner. This is a question I defer to those who actually know whether or not Father has to be there significantly earlier for some other function I'm not aware of. But if he and those working with him are starting around the same time as SS, why not just move it earlier? School starts at 8a.m. and many people have to report to work then as well. I know it would change our schedule because dd is the only one out of the house that early right now, but if it is for the good of the parish, I'll give it a try. Even a half-hour earlier can make a big difference on an empty (or nearly empty) tummy.
Tabitha said…
As for the "new wine, old wineskins", I'm not really sure that this has anything to do with that. I've seen older parishes with SS before, during, after and not at all. I figure that as long as we stay away from "during" and "not at all" that we'll be doing just fine. BTW I'm looking forward to listening in on the curriculum this year. You've been doing a bang-up job and I'm excited to see the OT through new eyes, myself.
Susan Sophia said…
Arielle speaks of my church and the only thing that I'd complain about with having SS during matins is that so many come late! And even up to half-way through. It's not as big of a deal to be late for SS as it is to be late for Liturgy.
We will be attending a new Church when we move and it will be interesting to see how I feel about the change in schedule as they have SS during coffee hour. I wonder if it can be a blessing as it gives the kids something to do besides run around driving mom crazy as she wonders where the heck they are and "what are they getting in to, I hope they aren't up behind the altar." It'll be interesting.
About the breakfast thing, I never thought about how with church school they are usually needing to wait even longer before communion and my eldest, who is 9 1/2, started fasting Sunday mornings when she was 8 and started confessing. She didn't make the connection either, I guess anyway, otherwise I would have heard about it.
Karen said…
I was thinking the same thing that Laura said... would it be possible to have Sunday school after divine liturgy rather than before?

Like, after coffee hour, so you can get something to eat first?
james said…
Grrrrr ... I can't reply without sounding like a complete jerk! I've tried and tried, but it just doesn't come out the way I want it.
basil said…
I've been to several other Orthodox parishes (one of the few advantages I can think of in my current situation). The small OCA parish in CT did SS during coffee hour/common meal. The Greeks in Portsmouth did SS during DL, of all times, then bring the children up at communion. The OCA cathedral in Boston does not have SS, that I can tell, on Sunday, but the parish hall is filled with felt banners that are obviously meant to describe biblical stories and legends on a child-like level. Perhaps they used to have SS? There don't seem to be as many children as in other parishes I've attended, but the number is growing.
SusanSophia said…
Divine Liturgy starts at 10 a.m. right? Well, to me I'd much rather have my kids at Church School on an empty stomach and in Church than at home on an empty stomach. In fact, I let my eldest, the only one of the children who fast, sleep as long as she possibly can. It's hard for her to watch the little ones eat breakfast. She basically dresses and gets in the van. If I had to hang out with her in my home for another hour or 2 until liturgy starts I would go nuts. At home it's a constant "I'm hungry!" but the minute we are in the van and at Church where they are kept busy I don't hear it anymore. Church school keeps them busy, Liturgy is also interactive.
As long as their minds are off their stomachs.

I didn't understand what Tabitha meant about starting Church school an hour early? Would that be in hopes to start Liturgy an hour earlier as well?

We don't have an adult class so there is no worries about that during matins. In fact many love it because the parents can attend matins in quiet prayer whereas many with small children don't get that opportunity during Liturgy.
Anonymous said…
How about liturgy at 9, eat at 11, SS at 12 or 12:30 -- and anyone not involved in SS gets to minister by cleaning up? NO food available after the start of SS, just to draw some lines. I am idealistically thinking that people not involved in SS are interested in ministering and would do it. Just a thought for everyone's constructive critique.
Anita said…
We have church school two Saturdays per month at 4:30, before Vespers, which is at 6:30. The kids bring sack lunches. True, it's a bit of a transportation issue for those who live at a distance, but those parents sometimes do errands during that time. We only live 15 minutes from church so making two trips isn't a bother for me. Plus I enjoy the two hours of peace and quiet (this year all four of my children will be in church school and my husband is one of the teachers). Our priest believes Sundays should be for worship only and that the labor of church school should occur on Saturdays. It helps that it's only twice per month.
Xenia Kathryn said…
We have matins (8:45), liturgy (9:45) and once that's done we have "Coffee Hour" (which is ideally about about 20 minutes, though OUR great difficulty is starting on time... each year it's the same problem!). During coffee hour everyone gets a chance to have a snack, drink some coffee and "refuel."

Overall, this works very well. We have a ton of kids at our church, so they usually have some time to run around and get the ants out of their pants before Sunday school begins. Then the adults have "Theology 101," where we all sit in a circle in the fellowship hall and ask Father questions about the sermon, the gospel or the epistle reading.

It does make for a long day (folks head home around 1:00, sometimes!), but it really works and we're just used to dedicating a majority of our Sundays to being in church.
Susan Sophia said…
I REALLY like how your Sunday is scheduled out!
Philippa said…
All of you must be at huge parishes with many converts and a lot of commited people. That is not the case where I go.

Our schedule is: 8:45 a.m. Sunday School (altar servers dismissed at 8:20); 9:00 a.m. 3rd & 6th Hours; 9:30 a.m. Divine Liturgy. I'm fortunate if I get a solid 30 minutes for a lesson.

There are about 20 kids on the rolls. Maybe 12 show up. Sunday school only goes up to grade 8. And we are down to one teacher - me! So this year we are doing a one-room school house situation.

Our *single* classroom is in the basement of the rectory. NO adult from the parish ever comes to visit the room. They don't even know what it looks like. Some don't even know where it is.

Coffee hour is most important. I doubt they'd be willing to sit through an adult Sunday school class while they're kids went to Sunday school after coffee hour.

Thus I'd be thrilled with another teacher and about 10 more kids, evenly split between elementary school and middle school.

Also, how does one have an effect Sunday School program with virtually no money? Maybe $350 to $400 for ALL materials.

Sorry I sound bitter. I'm not. I *love* teaching and being with the kids. I just wish there was more I could do to make our program thrilling, fun and bigger. But there is only so much one person can do.

Prayers appreciated.

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