This week I watched “The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song,” a four-hour, two-part series from producer Henry Louis Gates, Jr. This four-hour special traces the 400-year history of the Black church in America.
While watching, I kept thinking about the most impactful part of my Black Church experience at Campground A.M.E. Church in rural Arkansas. Sunday School kept coming to mind. I thought long and hard about what institutions, outside of grade school, impacted my life the way Sunday School did, and I couldn’t think of anything. Below I share five ways Sunday School Prepared me for life.
My parents read to me in the womb (not that I can remember) and continued reading to me and teaching me how to read before I started kindergarten. Sunday School reinforced these reading skills.
My Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Frances Christian, patiently encouraged four-year-old me to read the beginner lessons during Sunday School. If I got a word wrong or needed help, she gently corrected me. By the time I got to kindergarten, I felt like a professional reader. My kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Funderburg, even had me read books such as Green Eggs and Ham to the class. I was brave enough to read to the class because of my Sunday School experiences.
As an adult, I read every day, and I am eternally grateful because my Sunday School experience helped shape this part of me.
In addition to reading support, Mrs. Frances helped me learn to count money. Every Sunday, our class collected $2-$3 for the Sunday School offering. Mrs. Frances made sure the students counted the money. If we had a bill and some change, she would wrap the coins in the bill so we wouldn’t drop it on the way to the offering table. Eventually, I got so good at counting money that I was appointed junior secretary for the Sunday School. I counted and reported on all the money collected from each Sunday School class.
As an adult, I’ve taken financial accounting classes for fun and continue to learn how to be “where the money reside.”
Like many Black churches, Campground hosted Easter and Christmas programs where the youth recited speeches. Some said their speeches with confidence. Others waited for their mothers to mouth the words or outright say the speech for them. These Easter and Christmas speeches happened twice a year, but weekly, youth public speaking happened during Sunday School. Our Sunday School class had to present the class report to the entire Sunday School, and once a month, the class had to summarize, to everyone who attended Sunday School, what we learned in class that day. Applause always followed this summary.
The public speaking opportunities in beginners Sunday School helped prepare me to teach sixth-grade science, give the class graduation speech at my graduate school, and even share God’s word to congregations in several states. I would not have the public speaking confidence I have now if it were not for my early Sunday School experiences.
As I mentioned earlier, I served as junior secretary of the Sunday School. This role taught me to keep records. I was responsible for reporting on total attendance, birthdays, sicknesses, guests, and monies raised. I also presented this report to the entire Sunday School after the classes ended.
Eventually, when I was a teenager, I became a Sunday School teacher. I taught the beginners class, and like Mrs. Frances, I helped the students read, taught them to wrap the coins, and did my best to make the lessons fun and interactive.
Currently, I am a Sunday School teacher and I teach Bible Study. My early experiences prepared me for both roles within the church. Outside of the church, I started two businesses and a nonprofit organization. The early leadership skills of record-keeping and reporting currently help me in my professional roles.
Sunday School helped me process my developing Christian beliefs. We opened the Sunday School class with prayer, and we learned scriptures and Bible stories during class. We also had to say a scripture when we paid our offering in Sunday School as a way to reinforce the biblical text and to teach us to be grateful when giving our time, talent, or treasure.
Those early lessons led me to the field of philanthropy, serve as a missionary, and commit my life to Christian service.
I am forever grateful for all of the lessons I learned in Sunday School.