This week, as part of Black History Month, Sherrill Burton reflects on her Sunday School experience on the Island of Barbados as a child.
Two things caught my attention as I read St James’s Weekly Newsletter this past week: that Sunday 23 October was Bible Sunday, the other was the Children’s service – the Service of Godly Play, led by our ordinand David. Both of these notices made me reflect on my Sunday School days so many years ago. Sunday School was my first introduction to the Bible.
Some of the congregation may recall from when I did the session with Lucy on The Gospel According to You, that I grew up in a small village on the Island of Barbados and how big a role the Church played in my young life.
Anyone growing up in the Caribbean at that time will tell you that we went to Church ALL DAY on Sunday, and sometimes twice during the week in the evenings! Sundays started with Sunday School, followed by the main service, sometimes in the afternoon would be Bible study then evening service.
In our Sunday school class we learned bible stories of those I would now call HEroes and SHEroes – of Daniel, of Jonah of Noah and his Ark, of Moses and Abraham, of David who defeated the giant Goliath, and of the virgin Mary, of Sarah, of Jochebed the mother of Moses, of Ruth and Esther. We learned of Jesus’s birth, his death and resurrection, his preaching and teachings and the miracles he performed – we all tried at some point to turn water into wine! We learned of lost sheep and Shepherds, which those who tended their family’s sheep could identify with, as they knew sheep would wander away during the day and you spent valuable play time trying to find then in the evening. So many stories. They kept us entertained but also served to introduce us to the Bible and the scriptures.
While thinking of what I was going to write for my Thought for the Week, I was reminded of quite a funny story from a friend whose daughter went to mass on Good Friday and on returning home was very quiet and very subdued. On inquiring why she was sad, she said she didn’t understand why they would torture and crucify the Lord, why didn’t they just shoot him! Which is a good example how young minds can apply these stories and their interpretation of them.
Another part of Sunday School would be reading the Bible and memorising a passage to be recited during the class. There was always that one person, who having forgotten to learn their verse, or to be funny, would say ‘Jesus Wept’ (John 11:35), which caused much laughter. However, you were only allowed to do that once! Some recited a poem from school, which, as long as it wasn’t to way off course was acceptable. But there was a very stern reminder that it should really come from the bible next time!
We learned children’s hymns and songs – Tell me the Stories of Jesus I love to hear, Jesus Loves Me, This I Know, for The Bible Tells me So, He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands and so many more.
These Sunday School classes laid the foundation on which my faith is built. They were my introduction to God and the Bible, which became a source of comfort during challenging times in my life, and I learned to pray. Little did I know that one day what I was taught then, would lead me back to the faith that has kept me grounded. I am forever grateful to those teachers for their patience in keeping our young minds focused and entertained and for making the stories interesting while keeping us children quiet enough to listen. Some of my classmates from that time would later become priests and pastors and would say that it was during our Sunday School classes, they first felt the call to serve.
I hope that the children of St James’s will enjoy the Service of Godly Play as much as I enjoyed my Sunday School days all those years ago, and as they grow up they will recall those moments, and the impact the memories will have on their lives as they grow in faith, for it is there, in that time that the seeds of their lifelong faith will have been planted.