Is It Time To Do Away With Sunday School?
By Andrew Estocin
Apr 16, 2015 http://myocn.net/is-it-time-to-do-away-with-sunday-school/
Will our children choose to live as Orthodox Christians?
This is the most pressing question facing the Church today.
Over the years, the conventional path followed to form young people in the Orthodox Faith has included a Sunday school program. Today, it is a given that every parish needs a Sunday school in order to be considered successful. However, as more and more parishes face serious questions about their future, one must ask whether or not Sunday school has served our children well.
The answer to this question goes well beyond money. It should be noted that at no time in history has the Church in America devoted more resources to the education of its youth. A look at available budget data shows that national spending on education for the period of 2005-2016 will top $8,200,000. Combine that figure with expenditures on youth ministry and family ministry and that figure balloons to an incredible $17,600,000. Given these figures, you would think that our youth are thriving in the faith. However, this is hardly the case. Recent studies show that 60% of Orthodox college students leave the faith. Meanwhile, as many as 85% of marriages are now of the interfaith variety, with one spouse choosing not to be Orthodox. The reality confronting the Church today is that a family that is united in living the Orthodox faith is far more the exception than the norm. For many youth, Orthodoxy has become just another cafeteria-like choice between one parent’s church or the other parent’s church.
The greatest tragedy in the American Church today is that far too many parishes have alienated our youth by placing nostalgia before witness to Jesus Christ. Nostalgia can only sustain parishes for so long before demographic collapse sets in. As Orthodoxy comes to grips with this reality, it is evident that Sunday school programs have failed to provide the fundamentals needed to pass on the Orthodox Faith to a new generation. Despite the presence of dedicated volunteers and the best of intentions, change is needed.
Should parishes in America reconsider their Sunday school programs or eliminate them all together?
The answer to this question is a clear and resounding YES!
Today, many parishes have Sunday school programs that undermine the liturgical life of the Church and the unity of the family. The central message of Sunday school today is one of segregation, not integration. Parishes separate children from their families and place them in a classroom so as to teach them facts about the Church. This stunts their ability to experience the Church in all its depth and beauty. It also divides families at a time when they should be together the most – the Divine Liturgy. Sophie Koulomzin points this out clearly in Our Church and Our Children. “..the Sunday school movement proved to carry certain dangers within it…..The Sunday school replaced the Divine Liturgy, the classroom lesson replaced the Sacrament. Students graduating from Sunday school had not acquired the habit of going to church on Sundays. The life of worship, which is the essence of Orthodoxy, was thus undermined.”
What are some of the signs Sunday school may be undermining the life of worship in a parish? Consider the following:
Students show up late for Divine Liturgy, resulting in little actual time at worship before leaving for class.
Teachers are often late to Divine Liturgy as well and sometimes even skip liturgy to teach Sunday school.
Events like ethnic dancing and diocesan basketball tournaments take priority over the worship and witness of the Church.
Rehearsals and planning for seasonal events like the parish Christmas pageant are held during Divine Liturgy.
Graduating students lack the habit of attending Church regularly.
Challenging social and moral questions are avoided for fear of offending people.
Secular success is celebrated more than Christian witness.
Service to the weak and vulnerable is discouraged as vocation or career.
Teachers frown upon fidelity to the teachings of the Church.
Zeal for Orthodoxy is viewed as strange.
There is no question that the above problems exist in a wide variety of parishes across America. If our children are going to choose to live as Orthodox Christians in the years to come, then they certainly deserve to encounter the Church in its fullness, much like the early disciples did. Orthodoxy is not simply classroom knowledge or ritual knowledge. Understanding the faith is not the equivalent of learning answers to trivia questions. The Church is a way of being that shows us how to be truly human. This cannot be learned in a classroom. It cannot be gleaned from a textbook. And it certainly cannot be passed on through an educational bureaucracy created by paid professionals. Orthodoxy is learned when it is experienced both at Liturgy and through the lives of others who witness to Jesus Christ with humility, compassion, and devotion.