During the summer months I would like to foster conversations in our community about our faith, which touches on the most profound matters of our lives. To help get the conversation going I’m providing a weekly set of questions that you can use to help tell parts of your faith story.
I invite you to pick a question and share your answer with a family member or friend, and, if you would like, write it down and share with me. I would love to hear your story! I would also love for our members to hear each other’s stories, so be sure to let me know if you’d be willing to share in the weekly newsletter. I will never publish your story without your consent.
Here are this week’s questions:
Memories: Tell about your first recollection of Sunday School.
Memories: Tell about a childhood religious education (e.g. Sunday School) teacher you remember. Why does this person stand out?
Etchings: Tell about an experience that changed your life.
Actions: Christ asks us to “take up our cross and follow” him. What comes to your mind when you consider what this command might mean for you?
Tell about a childhood religious education (e.g. Sunday School) teacher you remember. Why does this person stand out
As children go back to school this week with all the usual trepidation and excitement this time of year brings, plus the additional anxieties around Covid, I thought I’d invite reflection about our early experiences of religious education. Although for me—even though September back-to-school time has always been one of my favorite times of year—truth be told, I have few specific early memories of Sunday School or the teachers.
I was raised in a very faithful household; weekly church attendance was taken for granted. The church of my childhood in Red Deer was called Trinity Lutheran. Its building dated to the 1950’s and followed a classic design: a long knave with the sanctuary and altar area at the front. Tall gothic arched stained glass windows in a colorful abstract mosaic design let in lots of light. The Sunday School rooms were on either side of the basement fellowship hall. I know I went to Sunday School regularly in those rooms, but I don’t have any recollection of the classes or teachers. What I DO remember is the annual Sunday School Picnic.
Once a year in June the whole congregation would gather in a nearby park on a Sunday afternoon after church for a potluck and games. (Or church may have been held outdoors in the park too—I don’t remember that.) What I loved was the freedom to run and play in the grass. There was ice cream in little cups with cardboard covers and tiny wooden spoons built in. There were colorful Jello salads. (I could never figure out why these dishes were included with the green salads and coleslaw—they tasted like desert to me, except when you’d get horribly fooled by a savory tomato aspic!) There was Kentucky Fried Chicken. There were macaroni hamburger casseroles, macaroni ham salads, and macaroni marshmallow desserts. And of course, every kind of pie. Basic apple was usually my favorite. Adults sat on lawn chairs and did boring adult things while the kids played exciting games like tag and hide-and-seek. I remember there being a lot of kids around in those days. But the organized games were the best to me. I loved the three-legged races, and water-balloon tosses. It was fun to play these games with other kids and adults together.
Today I’ve come to realize that this experience of the church picnic is shared by many, many people. The same food and the same games have been shared for years and years. And this is a wonderful feature of congregational life. The church is a rare institution in today’s world, in that it brings people together across the generations for a shared experience—of worship and community life. Today more than ever, as we miss our ability to gather in person, we are conscious of what a precious gift our church community is.
One particular gift of that multi-generational community of church to me was one of our elders, Eva Castella. Eva and her husband Eilar were faithful Lutherans, and part of the founding community of Camp Kuriakos. They lived in a modest apartment not far from my house so they were neighbours, and they had a small cabin on land adjoining the Kuriakos property on Sylvan Lake. I remember gatherings they would host for the congregation at their cabin. These felt just like church picnics. Eva was joyful and warm to us kids. We all gravitated to her, and she, I think, to us. She reminded me so much of my own grandmother that it felt natural to call her Grandma Castella. Eva was one of the saints who mentored me in the life of faith at an early age—without thinking about it as a mentorship or anything so official like that. She was just a “model of the godly life” that is natural to see in any church community.
Although I don’t remember many specifics of my Sunday School experience, I am grateful for the foundation in faith my congregation gave me. Especially I am grateful for Grandma Eva Castella who was a model of love and hospitality for me at a young age.