My wife and I went loom hunting recently and we found ourselves in a former Sunday School hall in an old Victorian town which pre-dates the gold-rush of the 1850s. The hall was magnificent; a celebration of Sunday School education. There were stained glass windows, as well as beautifully carved texts and Christian sayings over the windows and doors. Walking through these old rooms was an exhilarating excursion into the past.
The reason we were there, however, was to pick up a weaving loom. This wonderful hall was now a place for arts and crafts. I have nothing against arts and crafts but it is sad that the voices of children learning the gospel no longer rang through these rooms.
We’ve all seen churches turned into pizza shops, discos, theatres and so on. The church where I was baptised as a baby later became a car workshop. But I digress. My distress at the Sunday school hall is that it reflects how low as a society we have sunk. There was a time when teaching our children gospel truths was a cause for investment of time, money and creativity. It was a communal task of the utmost priority. Annual Sunday School celebrations saw hundreds of well dressed and enthusiastic children fill churches in every town and suburb.
Sadly, that has not been the fact for many many years. The Sunday School buildings that haunt our towns now, too often, stand in mute testament. Ironically, countries like France and post riot England are seeking ways to teach manners and values. The solution is far deeper than a cursory icing of manners and morals. What is required is the radical, life changing gospel of Jesus Christ. This is not the empty Christianity of moral platitudes, as that is no different to “manners and values”. It is the reality of a new life under the headship of a new king, preparing for a new kingdom. The key is that the preparation starts here, now – in the present. It is a kingdom where the values are not about money and success but grace and forgiveness. It is a kingdom of stewardship in a broken world. It is a kingdom of healing the broken hearted and poor, and renewing community. In this kingdom the “other” is important, not as the ad agencies suggest, “me”. It is a kingdom where the rule of the king is honoured in all that we do.
On deeper reflection, I’m not hearkening back to an age of big Sunday Schools – they were the product and response of an era. Our era needs new, current and future looking responses that deal with the issues and ugly realities of this age. However, we can learn from the passion and purpose of the past. Also, the message at its core is the same – it is Christ, and Christ alone. The transmitters of the message are the citizens of that kingdom: the church, the representatives of the king.
When you walk past an ex church building or Sunday school building, ask yourself, where is that investment in the spiritual future of our children today? Where is the kingdom being proclaimed?