by Margie Schlinker, member of Messiah’s Story Team
It’s that time of year again, when we say good-bye to the carefree days of summer and turn our thoughts toward school schedules, homework and a more regimented lifestyle.
At Messiah, the month of September is always exciting…lots of faith-based activities start up again and everyone can feel the anticipation and excitement in the air.
In the Adam O’Haire household, three kids—Aidan, 8; Audrey, 6; and Ella, 4—are looking forward to returning to Messiah’s Sunday School for the fall kick-off, Sunday, September 11. It’s an important time for the kids, and also for their parents.
Adam and his wife, Christy, became official Messiah members in November 2015, but they have attended services here since 2009. “Our friends, Karen and Brad Dickinson, invited us to come to Messiah and we really enjoyed the worship service,” Christy remembers. “We knew we wanted to come back.”
Originally from mid-Missouri (Jefferson City and Columbia), Adam and Christy come from different religious backgrounds. Christy was raised in the Disciples of Christ Christian Church and Adam was raised in the Roman Catholic faith. “When we moved to St. Charles County in 2007, we were looking for a church where we felt like we could fit in and feel at home,” Christy explains. “We found that feeling at Messiah. Now we want our kids to grow up in a meaningful and beneficial Christian environment.”
With that goal in mind, the O’Haires make it a priority to enroll their children in Sunday School and to see that they attend regularly. Eight-year-old Aidan, a two-year Sunday School veteran, says that he enjoys learning the Bible stories and is especially interested in Bible history. He can relate to the stories easily because the teachers present the material in a meaningful way. “I enjoy seeing my friends every week,” Aidan says. “And I like that my teacher helps me learn how to do the right thing and make good decisions.”
At the age of six, Audrey says that her favorite Sunday School activities are singing, enjoying snacks, getting up and moving around and…the stickers she receives each week. On a recent Sunday morning the kids in her class got to build things using sand and rock. “We learned that it’s not good to build things on sand. Rock is better,” she says. The lesson for that Sunday? Build your life on Jesus…the rock of our salvation. The kids also learn how to reach out to other children and make them feel welcome. Audrey recently had the opportunity to welcome a new soccer player on her team.
Four-year-old Ella, who felt a little separation anxiety during her first experience with Sunday School last year, always came away from class with a positive attitude and interesting stories to tell. As she prepares for Sunday School this year, she says in anticipation, “I like to play!”
“The kids have made lots of friends in Sunday School,” Christy says. “One group lives close to our house and goes to the same public school that our children attend. And Aidan plays a lot of sports with a Sunday School friend who attends Messiah’s grade school.”
As all parents know, it’s often a struggle to get kids up, dressed, fed and out the door to go to school. Making that happen over the weekend takes an extra commitment from mom and dad.
Christy knows all about this challenge but recognizes that regular attendance at church and Sunday School has a positive impact on her family. “Church is important to us because we want to grow spiritually as individuals, as a couple and as a family. We want to grow in our knowledge of the Bible and want the messages of the church to guide us in raising our children.” At a time in our nation’s history when a flippant, disrespectful attitude toward Christianity seems to be escalating in intensity, working to develop a faith that is firmly rooted in God’s Word is critical.
“I chose Messiah because no matter the life experience I faced, Messiah educators and leaders had an answer; they always seemed to relate real issues to teachings in the Bible,” Adam says.
When the O’Haire children walk into their new Sunday School classes this September, they will follow a time-honored tradition that has been a part of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod since the early decades of the 20th century.
According to an article in the June 2006 edition of The Lutheran Witness, the concept of a “Sunday” school began in late 18th-century England when Robert Raikes (1735-1811), a British publisher and philanthropist, hired a woman to “instruct boys in the four Rs—reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic and religion” on the only day the boys did not have to work – Sunday.” The articles goes on to explain that, “Although Sunday Schools began to appear in the Missouri Synod in the 1840s, many distrusted the movement because of its lay orientation and doctrinal laxity. Not until the early decades of the 20th century did Sunday Schools find general acceptance in the Synod.”
So our modern-day LCMS Sunday School initiative was shaped to help children learn the stories of the Bible, and to get to know Jesus better, in a format and at a level that they could understand.
Director of Children’s Ministries Renee Borgmann says that last year’s Sunday School enrollment was about 316. “We pray that this number continues to grow,” she says.
Messiah’s Sunday School is broken down into six different age groups with two or three small group classes in each level, depending on the number of students enrolled. Last year, approximately 29 teachers or small group leaders worked together to bring God’s word to Messiah children each week.
According to Renee, “Our teachers are dedicated volunteers who love children and want them to learn about their Savior, Jesus, and to become familiar with all the stories of the Bible. They also want to help them interact with one another and build Christian friendships. I am always amazed at their level of commitment to our students.”
Messiah member Cheryl Hazen will start her third year of teaching on September 11. “This will be my second year teaching full-time,” she says. “I was a substitute teacher for the second grade my first year. Last year I taught third grade and this year I’ll teach the fourth grade.
“When I think about our Sunday School I have to say that we are so fortunate to have Renee Borgmann has our program leader,” Cheryl continues. “She tells the Bible stories in such a meaningful way that the kids really understand and relate to them. And for me, teaching the stories is a blessing in disguise because I’m learning those life-lessons as well. It’s also a blessing to see the kids learn and understand the story of Jesus, live it, and keep Jesus in their hearts.”
King’s Kids is another integral part of Messiah’s children’s ministry. “My understanding about King’s Kids is that it is a religion class for students who attend public schools,” Christy explains. “The educational structure closely follows what the kids learn at Messiah Lutheran School during the week. The program also prepares children for confirmation.” This year both Aidan and Audrey will participate in this program.
After strategy meetings with Pastor Paul Schult regarding ways to provide more in-depth Bible study for students who do not attend our grade school, Renee launched King’s Kids in 2002 with an enrollment of 22 students. In the last fourteen years the program has grown in popularity. Children in first grade through sixth grade are eligible to attend. Last year, King’s Kids enrollment was 70 and, of course, Renee prays that this number will continue to trend upward. “We average about 12 new kids every year,” she says.
“The King’s Kids curriculum rotates through three themes,” Renee explains. “The first year we feature the parts of Luther’s Small Catechism in chronological order, and pair up Bible stories with each part. The second year we feature the Old Testament from creation through King David, and pair up catechism parts with each story. The third year we feature the New Testament—the life of Jesus—and pair up catechism parts with each of those stories. We use both a large group and small group structure.
“Every class period features a Bible story and a part of Luther’s Small Catechism, (one of the 10 commandments, one of the articles of the Apostles’ Creed, one of the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, or the Lord’s Supper)” Renee continues. “The students are also encouraged to memorize Bible verses.”
King’s Kids meets from 7:00 to 8:15 p.m. on Wednesday nights. Class sizes range from 9 to 14 students. The programs starts this year on Wednesday, September 14. Registration is open now online.
According to Renee, since King’s Kids began in 2002, 165 students have participated in the program. “Some attend for all six years, some only a few years, some only one year,” Renee says. “But any amount of time is beneficial for them.
“We have had kids from other churches attend King’s Kids and we have had kids who attend school at Messiah also come to King’s Kids,” Renee says. “All are welcome!”
The program has seven teachers.
Julie Ake has been a Kings Kids for the last 10 years. Renee recently approached her about teaching again this year. “You never have to ask me that question – just keep me on the permanent list,” Julie replied. “There are so many rewards about teaching Kings Kids but I think one of the biggest ones is when you witness a child working on a worksheet or sitting in large group listening to Mrs. Borgmann explain a bible story, and they all of a sudden ‘get it!’ In Kings Kids the majority of students are public school children who are not exposed to the teachings of the Gospel during school time. It never ceases to amaze me how much their minds are so ready to soak in the love of Christ through the great lessons taught in Kings Kids.”
Terri Hoormann taught Sunday School for 11 years and added King’s Kids to her teaching efforts six years ago. Now she is just teaching King’s Kids. “I loved Sunday School because the three and four year-olds I taught were like little sponges, they absorbed everything…even when I thought they weren’t listening. Then they would go home and tell their families about their lesson. Now, as a King’s Kids first grade teacher I really enjoy the discussions we have and I am amazed at how much they understand. I learn as much from them as they learn from me. I think the King’s Kids program is so important because it helps them prepare for Confirmation.”
King’s Kids is different that Sunday School in significant ways. “The King’s Kids program contains more in-depth content than a Sunday School lesson,” Renee explains. “And the advantage is that kids more often attend class every week for King’s Kids as opposed to sporadically attending Sunday School. Their regular attendance enables us to build on the information that we teach each week and we get to know the kids better and they get to know us. Sunday School, which includes crafts and games, is more activity based, while King’s Kids focuses on lesson content.”
Renee adds that it is a privilege to get to teach the truths of the Bible to our kids a Messiah. “In a world where the messages can be confusing or worrisome, we help our kids get to know that they have an amazing, all good, all powerful, incredibly awesome God who loves them more than they could imagine,” she says. “That knowledge will be the rock that they can cling to when they step out into the world. I love to see the look on their faces when they ‘get it’…when they get excited about the things that God has done through history, and they have the confidence that God is working among us today. Sunday morning Sunday School and Wednesday evening King’s Kids are among my favorite places to be! And I love to watch our teachers interacting with the kids, learning right along with them, and having the kids catch their love and passion for Jesus.”
Many of us are blessed with special Sunday School memories…the songs, the crafts and games, the friends, the stories…the teachers…the “no homework” part of learning. But most of all, we’re blessed with the knowledge that Jesus is our Savior; He died for us; He loves us; and He is our constant companion through life and through eternity. Sunday School helped to shape our spiritual lives.
With Sunday School, King’s Kids, and all the other carefully planned programs for children, it’s really no wonder that Messiah is a church where kids want to bring their parents!
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