I was asked this week if I could recall my earliest memory of a bible story. The question came from a friend who is presently studying at Knox College, one of our denominational seminaries. Her query was prompted by a paper she is busy writing on the faith journeys of children. She is hoping to sprinkle some of these personal stories of treasured memories throughout her paper as illustrations of how children grow in faith.
What a delightful invitation to take a trip down memory lane.
I had to admit I couldn’t recall a particular bible story from my earliest years; instead I remember the people who shared those stories with me.
I remember my Kindergarten Sunday school teacher who had a new bible story picture book to share with us every week. There we sat in a circle of chairs on a dark stage in the basement gymnasium hidden behind the curtains from the other classes that were spread throughout the auditorium. We had about half of the stage to ourselves with the other half filled with stacks of extra chairs and Christmas pageant stage sets. Yet all of that disappeared when our teacher opened her crisp new bible story book each week and transported us to another world.
She would tell us why it was one of her favourite stories of all
She loved the stories she shared with us. Every week she held a new and precious picture book, and before opening to that first page would tell us why it was one of her favourite stories of all. I felt honoured to share in her love of these stories and, because she loved them, I knew I would love them too. She read each story slowly and made sure we could all look at the pictures on each page before turning to the next. When she closed the book she would hand it to the person beside her and let each of us read it for ourselves, or we could instead go to the bookcase of bible story picture books that was growing each week and find an old favourite to read once again.
When Christmas came we climbed up on that stage to discover a stack of beautifully wrapped Christmas presents sitting on her desk. Before she gave each one of us our gift she told us that each present was very special to her and that she hoped each of us would discover our most favourite bible story under the Christmas wrappings. She let us know that she had been watching and listening to us every Sunday throughout the fall as she read those treasured story books and she had taken note of which story book seemed to be our most favourite of all. She’d kept a list and when Christmas came she had selected one special book out of her collection for each one of us.
That Christmas she also invited us to her house for a Christmas party. Now, I first have to tell you that my memory of this wonderful teacher was that she was quite old; definitely older than my parents. She was also quite proper in my mind. She wore support hose and sensible shoes, a longer wool skirt and a buttoned up blouse every Sunday that was held firmly in place with an antique brooch. She wore her hair in a bun and reading glasses were perched on the end of her nose. So imagine my shock when we got to her house. She opened up the best of her home and hospitality to us and treated this unruly pack of five year olds like royalty. We were ushered into her family room where a brightly decorated tree stood in one corner of the room while a heavily laden table of Christmas goodies stood in the opposite corner. I will never forget that she trusted us with her finest china that day, offering us cookies on delicate plates and hot chocolate in her wedding tea cups. We knew we were special and welcomed because her every action told us we were.
Later that afternoon she had a Christmas craft for us to make for our mothers and then she concluded our Christmas celebration by reading to us the Christmas story as we sat by her Christmas tree; another book to be placed in her now depleted bookcase of treasures.
She took us on a multi-sensory journey through the stories of Jesus
I also remember my Grade Five Sunday school teacher. This teacher was young, wore mini skirts and took us on a multi-sensory journey through the stories of Jesus. The Sunday school curriculum had begun to make a shift from telling bible stories and then asking clarifying questions toward the practice of active learning with bible stories, games, crafts and discovery.
I particularly remember learning about the travels of Paul through the creation of a huge salt and flour map we made over a number of weeks that year. We painted the water, mountains and roads in bright, glaring colours and then wrapped wool strands around little flags marking each of the journeys Paul undertook. We showed off our map to everyone in the church during a Sunday school open house where we recounted all that we had learned. We felt like teachers ourselves and valued in our church community.
Then we were faced with getting our map creation out of the classroom to make the room ready for our next unit. It was way too big to get out the door! We tried shoving it out the window but were finally faced with sawing it into pieces to get it out. I think we each took a piece home with us as a souvenir. A fun memory to have.
My fondest memory of this teacher was the day she came to class, sighed and put down her bible to tell us another story. This story came from her own life and not scripture. She recounted that the night before she and her family had come home very late only to discover they were locked out of their house. It was snowing and cold and they had two young children tucked in the back of their car. Her husband grabbed his coat and gloves and started checking to see if any of the windows had been left unlatched. Meanwhile my teacher cuddled up with her kids in the back of the car, holding them close and letting them know it would be all right.
She then told us that she began to pray. I’m not sure that I remember anyone ever telling me about their prayers before – in my family prayers beyond a spoken grace at meals were considered to be private matters. She told us that she prayed that God would intervene, that they would get into the house and that all would be well. But it’s what she told us next that I remember most clearly of all. She told us that she stopped midway through her prayer and began to question why she only seemed to pray when she needed God to intercede on her behalf. She wondered why she forgot to pray in the good times and seemed to leap to prayer only in difficult times when she wanted something. She thought about the varied stories of prayer found in the bible and told us that she had made a decision in the back of that car to pray daily and in all circumstances. She invited us to pray in all times too, through the good and the bad, entering into daily conversations with God about everyday things and concerns.
What I remember most is feeling that her faith was a meaning-filled, active thing for her and not merely an exercise in reviewing historical stories that had no connection to our world. I also remember that she trusted us with the stories of her own faith journey, revealing that she wasn’t perfect, but that her faith mattered to her deeply and was growing and changing over time. I felt honoured that she was willing to share with us her vulnerabilities and faith experiences.
What wonderful memories to have!
As we think about the occasions we will have this year to interact with young children; whether through the Sunday school, sharing a pew, or within our families, remember that above all else when it comes children’s faith – Relationships Matter! It’s not the individual stories that are critical in children’s faith journeys; it is the relationships children have with those people who share these stories with them that are transformational. Children explore and grow in faith first through the faith of those they love the most and who actively invite them to share these stories together.
Thank you Fiona for inviting me travel down memory lane this week.