Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Revival of St. Philip's Sunday School: Building Community to Serve

St. Philip's is proud to announce the revival of its Sunday school program after a protracted hiatus. St. Philip's used to have a thriving Sunday school, but like so many other churches it was suspended due to dwindling enrolment. In recent years, St. Philip's has been undergoing its own revival and as attendance grew, so too did the numbers of young families with children. It became apparent that there was a need and so in the Fall of 2014, a rejuvenated program was resurrected. The new program is called "Holy Moly," and it is designed to be exciting, fun and engaging.

Brooke Struck, the Coordinator of St. Philip's Sunday school, has dedicated his energies into crafting a program that integrates children into the community in an atmosphere that peaks their interest and encourages their involvement.

Brooke is well known to parishioners at St. Philip's. His mother, Barbara Baily, started coming to our church in the mid-60s. She was married in the church in 1975, and Brooke was baptized here in 1988. Brooke's two siblings, Alexandrea and Jordie, were also baptized at the church.

As a boy, Brooke attended St. Philip's Sunday school, and later he joined the choir, which left a strong impression on him. He fondly remembers Claude Bernier as a "fantastic" choirmaster, whose spirit left an indelible mark. In 2010 Brooke left Montreal to pursue a PhD in Philosophy, and he returned in 2013 with a desire to "serve the community that he knows."

In addition to rejoining the choir and sitting on the Advisory Board, Brooke volunteered to coordinate the curriculum for the Sunday school. He was inspired by his sister's children and his hope to be able to provide them with a place at the church. "We cater to the older generation through our outreach, but we also need to cater to kids," Brooke said.

While there is also an undeniable sustainability issue involved in bringing children and their families into the church, Brooke chiefly emphasizes passing on our traditions. He is a strong believer in the role that the church can play in the community. "There is a strong tradition of service at St. Philip's" he explained. "Sunday school can introduce you to a tradition, and gives you the tools you need to engage that tradition."

Brooke currently oversees 8 volunteers who animate the program week after week. In addition to formatting the curriculum, Brooke provides the logistical support and orientation sessions for all the volunteers. He also provides support materials for each of the twelve sessions that make up each module.

The program is not rigid or literalistic; it leaves room for questioning, allowing children to express their natural curiosity and encouraging them to ask questions about God. As Brooke explains, "our diverse group of volunteers gives the program balance." It allows kids to partake in an environment where, "differences of opinion are not just tolerated but explored."

The reasons why young people should come to Sunday school are the same reasons that bring anyone into church. This involves, "regular rituals [and] coming together to reaffirm values we all espouse."

The curriculum focuses on Biblical stories. "We have a shared bedrock of stories that does not move; but what does move is what we take from these stories," said Brooke by way of explaining the relationship between the Sunday school and scripture.

"The church has a role to play with regard to our attitude toward answering questions." He went on to explain that rather than being didactic, the adopted approach sees learning as more of a process. At Sunday school kids can "learn the stories and give them some experience figuring out what they mean."

The Holy Moly program gives kids a chance to discuss Biblical stories in groups and then do arts and crafts related to the readings. Rather than setting out one interpretation as correct, this approach provides important ways for kids to start engaging with and understanding these stories for themselves, hopefully providing tools to go back to these stories again and again, each time gaining new insights. "Educating children is not like computer programming where you enter the information and just walk away," Brooke said.

The school is ideal for children between the ages of 5 and 10. The wide range of ages gives kids a chance to learn from and to teach one another.

Acknowledging that not all children are exactly alike, it is the educator’s job to figure out how each individual child can be involved. As Brooke explains it, Sunday school is a, "starting point from which to build. It is not a catch-all, but rather a catch-most.”

So far, things have gone extremely well and at the last session there were 14 children, who by all accounts enjoyed their hour.

Sunday school is an important part of teaching children about scripture, worship and a life of community service; however, like so many other churches, the future at St. Philip's is uncertain. As Brooke concluded, "it is precisely because the future is not assured that our efforts matter so much."

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