Tuesday, March 25, 2014


My sisters and I were raised Christian.  As we got older this meant something different for each of us.  I had my fill of attending church and dealing with the hypocrisy that seemed to take hold of so many people after I saw how things really were.  When my sisters and I were growing up we were very active in our local church.  We attended Sunday School and church services, we were part of the children's choir and later the adult choir, we were acolytes (lighting the candles at the front of the church and helping with communion), ushers, Sunday school teachers/assistants, attended confirmation classes when we were old enough, and members of the hand-bell choir.  Of course some of those rolls we grew into, but we were always a part of something.

Valerie and I being awesome acolytes
The congregation was on the smaller side and primarily comprised of elderly retired people.  It was nice to feel like we had this wealth of adopted grandparents, but it was rough not having many kids our age to interact with, especially in my age group.  One of the ongoing goals for the  church was trying to bring in more young couples and children. As long as I can remember it was always the Pastor's son, Jeff, and I.  He was a year older than me, but we were the consistent two.  There would be kids a few years younger than me and a few kids older than Jeff, but they would come and go.

As Jeff and I got older they had a hard time figuring out what to do with us.  When we were in grade school it was easy enough to put us into a Sunday School class with younger kids.  It became more complicated as we entered middle school and then high school.  We would sometimes get to have a class appropriate for our age level, but it never seemed to last long because it always ended up being just Jeff and I.  We had to be in a class, so they would put us in with the next grade down.  We found the class to be less than stimulating.  Jeff was a trouble maker on a good day, he was even more so if he was bored.  After numerous complaints from teachers they tried putting us in the adult class.  We found the adult class hard to follow and were again bored.  I know Pastor tried to make it interesting but it was just too over our heads.  We were falling through the cracks at an age where we probably needed the guidance.

Confirmation, my grandparents from both sides were there
I was complaining (whining) to my mom one afternoon on our way home from church, she suggested I help her with her Sunday School class.  She taught the preschool/kindergarten age group.  That was a fun age, once they got to know you they were incredibly sweet and cuddly.  While they could be a handful (think trying to herd cats), they didn't sass and roll their eyes like older kids did.  I was much happier teaching with my mom.  And I was actually helping her.  My mom was a nurse and would be on call a few weekends every month.  Usually if she was called in it would be during church, but if she had to go in earlier I could teach the class in her place and she didn't need to find a last minute sub.

I loved those mornings with mom and the kids.  I think at first I was as shy as they were, but together we found our way.  Mom showed me that if you made it fun for them, encouraged them to help you tell the story they were much more engaged.  One of our teachers was leaving, her family was moving out of town, and my mom offered to take over her class.  She suggested I continue to teach the kindergarten/preschool class.  Pastor was willing to let me try and none of the other teachers said anything against it so it became my class.

I was nervous at first, but the kids made it easy.  They liked me, and for them class was fun time.  The lessons were created for a very short attention span.  This meant there were lots of visual aids and activities to keep them interested.  There was a bible story, usually some cut outs to help act out the story, some coloring, a craft they made in class to take home and a very short bible verse to memorize.  We we start learning the verse right after the story.  While they were doing their coloring and craft project I would go around the table and see who could remember the verse.  If they remembered the verse (even if I had to help them) they got to pick a sticker from my special sticker box.  They were so shy, but the call of the sticker was so strong.  They would come over and whisper it in my ear in this soft tiny voices.  Sometimes they would surprise me and remember the verse, sometimes they needed a little help.  If they could come up with even a few words and finish with my help they would get a sticker.  They would put the sticker by the verse on their take home sheet so they could show their parents.  The idea was that they would recite the verse to their parents.  I wasn't sure how many kids actually did that, but I'm pretty sure they at least showed off their sticker.  I had excellent stickers.

When I first started teaching solo some of the parents would hang around and watch, probably to make sure I was doing my job and not ignoring the kids.  After a few weeks I was watched less.  I was happy, I was connecting with these tiny humans and they were teaching me as much as I was teaching them.  I had parents come up to me after class when they were picking up the child and tell me that their child looked forward to coming and seeing me every Sunday.  I also had parents tell me that their child would share the bible verse they had learned in class, sometimes several hours after learning it.  It meant the world to me that I was having a positive affect on these kids and that I was making Sunday School something they enjoyed coming to.  I loved those kids, and their sweet shy way they wanted my attention.  I didn't have any problems with any of my kids.  No parents ever came to me with complaints.  I thought things were going well.  I didn't even see what was coming next.

After many months of teaching, at a teachers meeting, everything changed.  The meeting started the way they usually did.  We talked about class size, we talked about how we thought the class materials were, and how to encourage growth.  Then before the meeting was over there was time to talk about any problems, concerns, brainstorming, etc.  Fawn Sutter, one of the teachers and a woman I had known ever since we started attending the church, said she felt she needed to address a concern some parents had brought to her.  She told us one of the parents had come to her and expressed concerns about me teaching.  What?  She went on to say they didn't feel I was old enough or responsible enough to be teaching.  I asked which parent because I was confused, no one had given me any kind of indication they were concerned.  Fawn said she didn't think it would be helpful to disclose names.  Names?  Fawn continued by tell the group other parents had then approached her with the same concerns.  I noticed the other people around the table were nodding.  I didn't understand what was happening.  Then Fawn suggested that it would be better if someone else took over teaching my class.

I was stunned.  I didn't know what to say, it was like a bad dream.  My mom stepped in for me, she said she knew I was following the material and presenting it to the kids in a way that kept them interested, and anyone who watched me would see the kids adored me.  I knew I had to say something.  I told them about the mom that told me her child actually liked coming to Sunday School since I started teaching, and the parents that had told me their children would share the bible verse with them after Sunday School.  As I looked around the table I could tell by the looks on their faces they weren't even listening.  They had already made up their minds, they didn't want me teaching anymore.   The only person that stood up for me was my mom.  They didn't give me a chance to prove the concerns were invalid.  I was just out.  I noticed more than just Fawn looked satisfied.  They didn't care that they had just completely crushed me.  And then as we were leaving they acted like nothing happened, like they hadn't all just turned against me.

The next Sunday I was back in with the adult class.  I didn't want to go, my parents had a hard time getting me out the door that morning.  I didn't want to see anyone.  I didn't want to have to explain why I wasn't teaching and I didn't want to pretend everything was okay.  I was not okay.  I managed to hide and avoid people until after the service.  I got trapped trying to get out and a few of the teachers came up to ask me "isn't it much better being in the adult class?"  They acted like everything was just fine.  I could hardly speak I was so mad.  As much as I wanted to I couldn't hide forever.  When people asked me why I was no longer teaching I told them what I had been told; apparently some parents had complained about my age and that they had decided I couldn't teach anymore.

Over the next few Sundays I got a better idea of what had actually happened.  Basically someone said something in passing about my age, then Fawn got the idea in her head to ask some of the other teachers and parents how they felt until she had convince a small group into having issue with my age and abilities.  Why?  Because she wanted one of her friends to teach my class.  Fawn manipulated people and the situation get get what she wanted, what I wanted or even what may have been better for the class was irrelevant.

What I had been though, small in the scheme of things though it might have been, opened my eyes to something bigger.  People I believed to be good and honest, my role models, had let me down.  If Fawn wanted someone else to teach my class she could have just asked.  Instead she had to be underhanded and manipulative.  And after that I saw her as insincere and fake.  I saw a lot of that in the people I had looked up to.  I felt like it was all just a big lie, and I was done being a part of it.  I sat in the class they told me to, but my mind was elsewhere.  I wanted to stop participating in the activities I had been a part of but my parents made me continue, I suppose I had to be an example for my sisters.  Once I graduated and started college I was able to withdraw and have no commitments with the church.  I still attend services when I was home because it was what my parents wanted,  but when I moved to the college area permanently I didn't go back except for the occasional holiday.

I don't attend church anymore.  I'll go for the occasional Christmas service because sometimes I really miss the traditional music.  I will go for my nephew and nieces, and I will support them in their religious growth because I appreciate the morels and values I gained from attending church and Sunday School.  And while I chose not to attend I respect other peoples choice to do so.  I refuse to be a part of people who can't even practice what they preach, and judge people while they themselves are less than perfect.  Life is too short, and I would rather surround myself with people who love and appreciate me and who appreciate the beauty in the world around us.  I don't need to be in a church to be thankful for what I have.  I just have to remember to be thankful.

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