Sunday School: From Memorizing to Asking Deep Questions

By Barbara Meachin


“Children were treated as smaller adults, little men and women who happened

to be dressed in bibs and pinafores.” 

This sentence explains much of the difference between Christian education for children at our founding and today. There was no “Jesus Loves Me” or colorful illustrations of Bible stories. In fact, there was no Sunday School for members’ children at all.

Just like adults, children were expected to know and understand the foundation of the Presbyterian faith. They learned the Westminster Shorter Catechism of 1648, 107 questions and answers designed to educate children and others "of weaker capacity" (according to a preface written by the Church of Scotland). Even so, we must respect their capacity for memorization.

The Shorter Catechism has a lot to recommend: it is thought-provoking, fairly easy to understand, and gets right to the point.

You may have heard of question #1: 

Q. What is the chief end of man?

A. Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

  A question about prayer provides an eloquent definition: 

Q: What is prayer? 

A: Prayer is an offering up of our desire to God, for things agreeable to his will, in the Name of Christ, with confession of our  sins, and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies.

How did 18th and early 19th century Presbyterian children absorb all this? The family had the primary responsibility for teaching. There was also a weekday class for children on the shorter catechism, and they were quizzed during pastoral home visits. In addition, our first pastor Dr. John Rodgers held Thursday evening lectures which were intended for older children but usually drew an overflow crowd of all ages.  

By the mid-1830s, members’ children were learning the faith at Sunday School. They took part in devotional exercises, studied a passage from the scriptures and on the fourth Sunday of the month, focused on the shorter catechism.

1837 was a watershed year for Christian education at Brick Church: for the first time the idea arose of adding a small amount of play to the Sunday School’s rigorous program of study. Unfortunately we don’t know what kind of play was allowed.

Today Brick Church hosts one of the largest urban Sunday School ministries in the country. We average between 275-300 children registered each year, 2 years old through 7th grade with 100 volunteer teachers.

For our younger children, play is an important part of learning. They dress in costume as Biblical figures and act out Bible stories. As tangible reminders of Bible stories, they  make crafts—their own colorful coat for Joseph, listening ears for the story of Samuel, and Pentecost headbands—and biblical stories are taught through music and song as well. 
Older children focus more on discussion—wondering about the events of the Bible and how God may be  speaking to us today. They are encouraged to wonder and question as they seek to make their faith their own. 

 

 



"A Fellowship of Kindred Minds" Pre-Order Now Available

For the first time in over a hundred years, a full-scale history of The Brick Presbyterian Church in the City of New York will be published and available early 2017, but you can reserve your copy now with a pre-order. Be one of the first to explore this fascinating saga and reserve a personal copy by clicking here.


The Brick Church 250th Anniversary Commemorative Jewelry

     Did you know that you can purchase jewelry
commemorating The Brick Presbyterian Church's
250th Anniversary? To find out more or to
purchase jewelry online, click here.
 
 
TO PURCHASE OTHER COMMEMORATIVE ITEMS
     CLICK HERE

2016-17 Anniversary Calendar
Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017
Third 250th Anniversary Service of Worship – 11 a.m.
Guest preacher: Rev. Leslie Merlin, Pastor at Second Presbyterian Church
Guest Lecturer in Adult Education: Rev. Dr. James Moorhead, Princeton Theological Seminary – 9:30 a.m.
 
Sunday, March 12, 2017
Fourth 250th Anniversary Service of Worship – 11 a.m.
Guest preacher: Rev. Dr. Jon Walton, Senior Pastor at First Presbyterian Church.
Guest Lecturer in Adult Education: Rev. Dr. Bradley Longfield, University of Dubuque Theological Seminary – 9:30 a.m.
Great Choral Music of the Ages
Chancel Choir Concert: 4 to 5:30 p.m.
  
Thursday, May 4, 2017
250th Anniversary Celebration Evening
 
Sunday, May 21, 2017
250th Anniversary Ice-cream Social
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