Monday, September 06, 2010

What? We are Skipping Sunday School!!!???!!!


Wow, I have not been blogging very much lately. It's because I've been so busy. Crazy busy. I hate the amount of stuff there is to do. I've decided to step back from choir for a while in order to lighten my load a little bit. That will take a bit, a teensy bit, of the load off for a while.

Sunday was so nice, sitting with the family. We got there early and sat in the second pew and I loved it up there. The iconostasis is so beautiful to look at, and it was nice to be able to see and hear the liturgy so well...not that sound is ever a problem, but right up front, wow! And, it was a very non-distracting spot for the kids. Back ground noise is an issue for some in our family, so people shuffling, whispering, active kids nearby, etc. can be extra distressing.

Hmmmm, what else is going on...ah yes. We've made the potentially controversial and radical decision to NOT do Sunday School this year. Except for Maia...she wants to do Sunday School...so someone will take her and go to Matins. Here's our thinking: At least half our kids strongly dislike Sunday School, to the point of being a gibbering mess of tears or jerking movements after that hour and unable to deal with Divine Liturgy. Second, Sunday School has not yielded ANY friendships for my kids in the almost two years we've been here. Zero. Zip. Nada. Third, my kids claim to already know the stuff that gets taught in SS. I don't want my Aspie kids being basically fried by the time liturgy is starting.

I want my kids to love Church. I want them to love the Divine Liturgy as a way to worship God. And in our case, Sunday School is distracting from that, and detracting from that. So, out it goes. I'm not saying this to say anything bad at all about the program here. It just hasn't been a good fit our our family, despite the wonderful teachers. The kids are less than friendly (that just means they are normal/typical kids who fear that Aspieishness/extreme nerdiness is a communicable disease), with the exception of a few more mature high schoolers (recent graduates actually) who have been nice to my teens.

So, I'd love to hear opinions and feedback...especially from Orthodox Christians. Sunday School, after all, is a recent and an American invention...and has not historically been a part of the building of children's faith. Does it add, or distract? And what should a parent do at home to intentionally shoulder this responsibility? (I have some ideas there...perhaps the topic of future blog posts?)

And while we are on the topic of Sunday School...here's more food for thought at Adventures of an Orthodox Mom. You can weigh in on that discussion over there.

And here's a nice link to a good resource: Making God Real in the Orthodox Christian Home.

20 comments:

elizabeth said...

I think with the difficulty that Sunday School brings to your kids it is totally understandable to let them instead be at liturgy; I am up towards to the front at my church and love that.

all the best with all you have to do. it can be overwhelming at times, I know... ***hugs***

Anonymous said...

"Orthodoxy is life. One cannot talk about it, one must live it." Elder Nektary of Optina

Alana, I feel for you. It has become so ingrained in our churches that attendance at Sunday School is so important. I believe said attendance is well intentioned. Children grow up and children leave the faith. Adults want to stop that trend. However, I truly believe that the only attendance that has importance on a Sunday (or any other day for that matter) is at the Divine Liturgy. It is at the Liturgy where we learn. It is at the Vespers and Matins that we learn. It is in watching our 'elders' that we learn.

As a mother myself of young children, it is my deepest wish that the Orthodox parishes would switch to a mid-week class if such academic-like instruction is necessary. Tamara

Athanasia said...

As a Sunday school teacher, I see nothing wrong with a parent who wishes to instruct their children in the religious teachings of their church. That is how it should be. This is to say, good on you Ma for doing what a righteous parent should do. Thanks be to God there is at least one of you on the planet.

Sunday school, I believe, was implemented because of the lack of Christian education going on in homes. Its purpose is not to cause or add stress to a family's life. If it is, then it is failing in its purpose.

That your children were unable to make friends in the program, I feel, is the fault of the teacher and the program's design. The program should have been altered to accommodate the educational and social needs of those children who have special needs in those areas.

Frankly, I've yet to see an Orthodox church with a vibrant and successful Sunday school program. That makes me very sad.

Britta Stokes said...

I totally understand your decision to not do Sunday School. Speaking as a mother of a child who craves in depth knowledge of EVERYTHING, we have had similar struggles at churches in the past. My DD was always bored to tears (literally) in SS. She learned much more about her faith by sitting with her parents and following along with us.

Luckily we have found another SS situation for her at a place that really DIGS DEEP into it's religious ed, so she is challenged and fulfilled. If she started having trouble sitting through class again, we would take her out.

So anyway, my DD isn't autistic nor are we Orthodox, but I wanted to chime in here with a vote of support for you. You're a good mom who listens to her kid's needs.

Britta Stokes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous 2 said...

To put it in very brief shorthand, since I've been a homeschooling mom for many years because I don't like the schoolishness of schools, I have no problem with someone ditching a Sunday School that mimics the schoolishness of public school. As others have noted, the divine services are where we really need to be, and kids need to learn the faith, by example probably more than by words, at home from their parents. So, I think you're doing the right thing. Oh, also, you're so right when you suggest that making them attend SS when they hate it could really backfire and make them hate church all together.

Athanasia, I'm sure you didn't mean it, but your remark thanking God that you've found at least one righteous parent on the planet sounded rather snooty. Heaven knows I don't measure up, and my irritation at reading your remark only proves how badly I don't. Still, there it is. You sound like you've anointed yourself Judge of the Christian Parents, Most Of Whom Don't Pass Muster. Which is exactly the kind of attitude in a SS teacher that would make me want to pull my kids from the class. And yet, I liked everything else you said.

Alana said...

Schoolishness...complete w/ an awards program at the end of the year for perfect attendance...which is to say a reward for those blessed with good health.

Athanasia said...

Britta,

Forgive me! What came through is my frustration and sorrow with the attitude of the people in my parish.

I appreciate your calling me on it.

In Christ

Anonymous said...

We tried Sunday School last year. Briefly.
My 3.5 yo insisted (through tears and puppy-dog-eyes) that I stay with her, so I did with the plan of weaning myself out of class after a few weeks.
I wasn't impressed with the class, and each Sunday spoke with my husband about not returning (and he always encouraged me to give it more time).
Sugary snacks, stimulating cartoon movies, and pure chaos -- more than my child could handle, and too much for me, too.

After 3 weeks, my little one got "the bug" that was going around the class. We skipped church next week recovering. The following week, Sunday school, then sick again. Etc.
We finally dropped out and I don't have plans of returning until we hit a new class-room-level with more structure, perhaps.

just my limited experience.

Tabitha said...

Alana, I know you and I know your kids. It sounds like your solution is perfect and flexible. SS is not a one size fits all (which I have never seen work!)

I agree with many of the comments here. SS is often viewed by parents as an easy way out of catechising their kids. That just can't work, what isn't lived out isn't learned. (I say that with fear and trembling, realizing just how much I fail to live out my faith for my kids.) That said, I believe that children's classes at church can be a valuable asset for many families.

I too, think that Sunday morning before Liturgy, on empty tummies is a horrible time for school. I would much rather start Liturgy earlier and break the fast! (My own weakness is speaking here.) Of course, I am often told that potential SS teachers are too burned out after Liturgy and Common Meal to be willing to consider the added drain of managing kids who've been cooped up all morning. Mid-week classes sounds great. Come to think of it, I remember reading Christian novels written in the early part of the 20th century where SS was an afternoon/evening thing that you came back to church for later in the day.

I suspect the Sunday morning model evolved to try to catch maximum attendance from Sunday-only families. Maybe if we switched away from a reactive model to a proactive one, we could find that having church school at a different time might turn some Sunday-only families into twice a week attenders! Then again, I've been known to sport rose-colored glasses.

I have had some struggles with SS as well. My third child wouldn't have anything to do with it throughout his early years, not even if I went with him. When he was 4-1/2 someone suggested moving him into the K-1 class and suddenly he loved SS!

Then there is my pre-teen who basically wants craft and social time and has yet to appreciate the educational efforts of any of her teachers! We are starting a youth program on Sunday evening next week, no idea yet what that is going to be like, but she is convinced it will be awful and she will hate it because she finds SS soooo boring! I don't want her to hate church. I fear her walking away from the faith. But I don't know what to do. Everyone says that parents of youth should absolutely NOT be in the classroom. So I'm left relying on the abilities and insights of whoever volunteers for the position. Not that I think I would do any better, probably WAY worse, as she already thinks I'm boring at home!

Tabitha said...

Alana, I know you and I know your kids. It sounds like your solution is perfect and flexible.

I agree with many of the comments here. SS is often viewed by parents as an easy way out of catechising their kids, which just can't work. That said, I believe that children's classes at church can be a valuable PART of catechism for many families.

I agree that Sunday morning on empty tummies is a horrible time for school. I'd rather start Liturgy earlier and break the fast! (My own weakness speaking) Of course, I am told that teachers are too burned out after Liturgy and Common Meal to consider manage kids who've been cooped up all morning! Mid-week classes sounds great. Come to think of it, I've read Christian novels written in the early 20th century where SS was an afternoon/evening thing that you came BACK to church for.

I suspect the current model evolved to catch maximum attendance from Sunday-only families. Maybe if we switched away from a reactive model to a proactive one, we could find that having church school at a different time might turn some Sunday-only families into twice a week attenders! Then again, I've been known to sport rose-colored glasses.

I too have struggled with SS. My 3rd child wouldn't cooperate with it throughout his early years, not even if I went with him. When he was 4-1/2 someone suggested moving him into the K-1 class and now he loves SS!

Then there is my pre-teen who wants craft and social time and has yet to appreciate the efforts of many of her teachers! We are starting a youth night next week, no idea what it will be like, but she is convinced it will be awful and she will hate it because SS soooo boring! I don't want her to hate church. I fear her walking away from the faith. But I don't know what to do. Everyone says that parents of youth should absolutely NOT be in the classroom. So I'm relying on the abilities and insights of whoever volunteers. Not that I think I would do any better, probably WAY worse, as she already thinks I'm boring at home! I'm still hoping this may be her turning point.

Tabitha said...

Sorry about the nearly identical double posts. My computer told me the original was too big so I tried to condense it down and posted again not realizing it had actually accepted the first!

Anonymous 2 said...

Athanasia: You're certainly forgiven, and really I probably should have just kept my irritation on such a little thing to myself in the first place. Heaven knows I say much worse stuff when I'm feeling frustrated, as you were.

Please note, it was I, Anonymous 2, who addressed you before, not Britta. The way the comments and names are laid out, I see how it'd be easy to think that comment was by Britta. But it was not.

Alana said...

Oh Tabitha, please don't tempt me to rant against SOYO! ;-) I used to LOVE Youth Group as a kid, and tolerate SS as an extension of the same. It was the entirety of my teenaged social life: Sunday night, Wednesday night...but then I was never the "I hate Church" type, either.

Mimi said...

As a Sunday School teacher, we have parents who have made the same decision for similar reasons, and I totally accept and respect those decisions.

deb said...

Our parish has church school every other Saturday (during the school year), late afternoon, ending with enough time for kids to have a snack before Vespers starts. Works pretty well for us. One of the first principles decided upon when planning our church school was that it will not be scheduled on Sundays.

Lisa said...

Alana, I'm not Orthodox,but I wish we had taken our son out of S.S. He has ADHD and as a young kid he was "weird" to the other kids. He fidgeted, talked out of turn, etc. You know how it is. He didn't make any friends either, and actually had kids leave when he walked up to a group! When he was about 17 he decided he didn't need the Church or God. "What has God done for me?" I listed all kinds of things, but they didn't matter as much as how people treated him. He is 25 now and still won't go to church, has lived with a girlfriend for 3 years, and has a very dark personality. Of course it's the Enemy that has him in his grip. I don't know if S.S. was a large part of that, but I wish we had done something different. God bless you and your family.
Lisa King
Vancouver,WA

Abigail Holt said...

Alana,
I read this post, it sparked my interest. I'm obviously not a mother, but I did go throgh sundayschool at st. michaels myself. There were so many sundays, I didn't want to go... I dreaded going. I felt like I didn't get anything out of it. I was never really friends with the kids from church during my school-age years... and I often felt very alone in the church social circles.

by the time I fell in love with the church in my early years of college... I had outgrown the teen soyo and sunday school routine.

I can't say that those memories of sitting in the loft of the chapel on sunday mornings are necessarily wonderful... but there is a feeling of loyalty that I somehow keep with me. I remember mostly boring chapters about the design on the church, and awkwardly reading "round robin style" from the Bible...but if I dig a little deeper I can remember feeling that my teachers really did care about my spiritual well being... I can remember that quietness when I walked into the chapel before anyone else got there.

I can say that now, I also feel a sort of connectedness with the people that I went through Sunday School with. I'm still not best friends with any of them, but it is nice to have a history with people... there is something to be said for enduring growing up together.

I don't know if pulling your kids out of Sunday School is right or not. I guess my point is that I hope that we can improve Sunday school as a community, through prayer and labor. Whether its perfect or not, its ours...

Alana said...

Definitely food for thought, Abbi. I do appreciate your perspective.

Right now I'm particularly motivated, not by what Sunday School at St. Michael's is or is not, but by what I perceive to be my kids' social energy levels. People on the autism spectrum often have a rather limited capacity for "people time"...or crowd time, before exhaustion hits them. I've observed over the past year that by the time Sunday School is over and Divine Liturgy is starting, the kids are utterly fried and in a very bad place mentally, emotionally, and physically, to the extent that Divine Liturgy becomes a painful blur for them.

So pulling them out of Sunday School is not so much about rejecting the program, rather than it is about making choices to keep the main thing the main thing. If Sunday School were somehow AFTER liturgy, and AFTER they get something to eat, or on a different day than Liturgy, it would be a whole different thing.

Anonymous said...

Alana,

Nobody can fault you for doing what is best for your kids. You can't make them like Church School if they don't. I grew up hating Sunday School and Youth Group- I actually had experiences that are book worthy in their awfulness. For me, there was definitely a direct correlation with my negative experiences and refusing to attend church for a number of years. I am close to approximately none of the people I grew up with in church (my only social outlet as a child). Actually, it was the existence of Matins (not that I go nearly as often as I should) and not having to go to Church School that made me like Orthodoxy even more when I discovered it (I go to St. Michael's too). Because of my own past issues- I'll never attend adult Church School when Matins is available.

Michelle A.