In my rural Kansas farm home, Saturday evenings were spent preparing for Sunday school.
After supper, Mother set up her ironing board perpendicular to the kitchen sink. Laying me out on top, as I supposed Abraham laid Isaac on the altar of Mount Moriah, my shoulders were placed even with the end of the board so that my long hair could be washed in the sink.
Just when I was certain my drooping head would be severed like John the Baptist’s, and roll into the sink, Mother wrapped my tresses in a towel and lifted me onto a stool at the kitchen table, where my father and sisters bent pensively over their Sunday school lessons.
I sat as still as Lot’s wife-turned-pillar, threatened by the pointy end of a rattail comb. Mother, meanwhile, laboriously sectioned off my hair, rolled the sections up to my scalp, and tied them with rags torn from an old pillowcase. I felt a kinship with Jacob and his pillow of stone, sleeping as I did on those hard knots each Saturday night.
The next morning, wearing a starched dress with layered underskirt, I mounted my royal step-stool throne like Queen Esther, and watched in the mirror as each curl was combed around Mother’s finger, then pulled to shoulder length in regal fashion.
Finally, I collected my patent leather purse and matching shoes. The coins inside my purse, wrapped in a frilly handkerchief, would serve two purposes. During church, Franklin Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson would rock in their hanky cradle. During Sunday school they would be deposited into the offering for missionaries in the corn fields. (Much later I learned that “foreign fields” was the proper term for the missionaries’ location.)
Eventually my Sunday school preparations became primarily academic, and I joined my sisters at the table. I found the fill-in-the-blank lessons uninspiring, but dutifully completed them, nevertheless, because I would have been embarrassed not to. That was before I met Mrs. Sundeen.
Mrs. Sundeen took on the toughest class in church –junior high girls, and somehow infused us with real enthusiasm for our Sunday school preparations. Okay, she bribed us. She promised a genuine artificial jewel, as detailed in the instructions Moses received for Aaron’s breastplate, upon completion of each hand-written lesson on the twelve tribes of Israel. I felt like Solomon amassing his riches each time I plunked a new jewel into my drawstring velvet bag. But my interest was also piqued by an aspect of the Scriptures I had never before read, much less considered.
My admiration for Mrs. Sundeen only soared when she held a slumber-less slumber party at her home for the entire class. We gathered to sing Sunday school and campfire songs, as heavenly music flowed from her piano. Then she fed us frozen pizzas, a novelty at the time, and more home-baked cookies than I cared to remember. When dozens of donuts appeared for breakfast the following morning, I regretted lacking Daniel’s resolve in resisting rich food offerings.
Admittedly, my Sunday school preparations dwindled from that time forward. Sunday school attendance became merely habitual, lacking in any heart-felt enthusiasm. Finally, having completed the curriculum courses our church offered, and finding the electives unimaginative and stale, I ended my Sunday school tradition altogether.
I still wonder at God’s sense of humor, inspiring me, of all people, with the notion of an all-women’s Sunday school class. I was even more stunned by the many signs and confirmations I received that it was His will for me to carry out the plan. It was a new concept for our church, and one that sparked controversy, but eventually the elders agreed to allow it, and I marveled as the Goliath looming before me became conquerable.
That was three years ago. Now, once again, on any given Saturday evening, I sit hunched over the kitchen table preparing for Sunday school, this time with more enthusiasm, thoughtfulness, and prayer than ever before. Like Timothy, I study the Scriptures I learned as a child so that, unashamed, I can accurately teach the message of truth. And I often select a song to be sung a cappella by a room full of women that sound like angels.
Despite the superficial nature of my early Sunday school traditions, I’ll never regret learning that Sunday school is a special place for people of all ages to sing, learn Bible stories, and grow in their love and knowledge of the Savior. And that is worth some preparation.
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