I was once bilingual. Sure, I was born on the West Island of Montreal (what up Dorvalians or Point Clairers!).
But when I was in school we had to take French, from kindergarten to Grade 12. And because of this, when I was selected to go to Rotary International’s “Adventures in Citizenship” in 1988, we (the teenaged participants) were able to communicate in a very impressive Franglais. By the end of the week, we knew exactly what we were saying whether we were from Sept-Isles or Nanaimo.
It was immersion.
Sure, you might have had a bit of technical knowledge of conjugation and the gender of words. However, what mattered most was understanding others and being understood.
It’s the same way, I think, in our small rural churches. We don’t have membership classes, or small group time and our bible study is known more for the foods that Betty and Jean, Erma and Joanne bring than my exegetical acumen. But I think people learn how to be Christian by being Christian. It’s the same way we learn how to parent or be in relationships. You can read What to Expect When You’re Expecting until the covers fall off, but nothing beats a teething 18-month old for “learning experiences”.
This came home to me a few years ago. We were watching some movie or other—not a “Christian” movie—but Emma and Mal were able to discern a decidedly Old Testament theme (Moses and the Burning Bush, I think) in this movie. I was dumbfounded. We are not a very outwardly religious family so where did they get this from? I don’t have a lot to do with Sunday school so I have really no idea what the kids get out of it and I’m not a very strict “Bible-enthusiast” when it comes to the children’s time in worship.
But then it dawned on me that a decade or so of hearing tidbits, of reading children’s bibles, of watching Disney and going to church week after week, Emma and Mal had taken as their own the story that the Church claims as its own (THE BIBLE), even if they had not read it because they were immersed in it. My girls were absorbing—thanks to their Sunday School teachers, coloured pictures, made crafts, performed skits and sung songs. We say the Lord’s prayer at the beginning of worship because, well, where else will children hear it during the week? And they do learn it. They hear the adults, during the lunches and suppers and coffee hours tell the stories of elders, ancestors and bible heroes.
And it sinks in.
It’s one of the reasons why I’m not as concerned with “confirmation classes” as I am with church attendance. You want to know what it means to live the biblical commandment to “Love Your Neighbour” (Matthew 22:39)? Then volunteer at the House of Lazarus, or take the pastoral care course. Because the life of faith is not about following some rules, or repeating some words, though these practices help at time. It is about living the life of faith. And you do that best by being around those who do so: not perfectly, not prettily, but those who pull on their boots and head out to find God in the places we don’t usually want to find him: in casserole dishes, soup kitchens, hospital rooms, coffee shops, tattoo parlours and, even, (gasp!) churches.
Some of my snooty minister friends talk about how awful some of “their people” are with their dreadful “Sunday School mentality and faith”. Pah! I’d take Sunday school faith over hot air and empty heads any day. And so would Jesus: “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. (Matthew 18:1-5)
Long live Sunday school faith!