We took the boys to the UU (Universalist-Unitarian, although most congregations reverse the order) church last Sunday. I had been the week before, and T-Guy was eager to go, to see some new friends he had met last month.
So we went. We promptly signed the boys up for Religious Education, and after about 15 minutes of the main service they were "sung" out of the sanctuary to join in age-appropriate groups for some sort of lesson.
T-Guy announced that it was just like public school. Really funny, because he's never been. Perhaps he recalls my mentioning that public school children must sit in their seats, raise their hands to ask questions, and ask permission to use the restroom. Anyway, they talked about animals.
Yesterday, I sat with a few women whose children attend religious education. We talked about it, but only with the idea that it is absolutely necessary. We discussed the issue of snacks and the needs of food allergic children as well as the desire of mainstream children to have mainstream snacks, and the desire of the toddler parents that their children receive something healthy.
I know I hit a nerve when I mentioned that the snack was little more than a time killer before the parents pick up the children. I was told that the snack is supposed to be a time of fellowship for the children.
I didn't see that. I saw a bunch of kids munching cookies and drinking punch. The fellowship that I saw came later, when the children ran and screamed and played on the church lawn. That is how children connect, through play.
I kept thinking about the entire situation, and finally it occurred to me to ask myself, why do my children need to be sent away from me during the main service?
Will religious education teach my children things that Papa and I can't teach them ourselves? No.
Do we want to give someone else the responsibility for teaching religious education to our boys? No.
Is religious education a separate subject that requires teaching by people following a curriculum? No.
So, why send them? If it is to make the main service more enjoyable for the adults, then I object, strongly. Why are the kids separated out? Is the main service to mature for them, too inaccessible? From what I have heard so far, no. They might not get it all, but they are not harmed by remaining with the community and hearing what the adults are discussing. Are we protecting them from boredom? If we are, then the main service must be boring for us as well.
My role, while these boys are children, is to guide them. To guide them in all things, even those that touch on the moral, the ambiguous, the painful. Especially those things that are moral, ambiguous, and painful.
We are visiting the UU church to determine if it is a good fit for us, if we can participate in a community of like-minded people. I believe the community needs the children present, reminding us of why, as human beings, we go on. Mentoring the children in the lives of adults rather than taking them away and then dividing them into age groups.
T-Guy is right, it's like public school. Sunday school (call it religious education if you want to) is modeled after schooling.
I don't know what the answer is going to be. I'd like to ask my boys to stay with us during the service; I believe that they belong by our sides. It may be boring until they learn to listen. It may be hard to sit still for an hour ~ it is for me.
This may make or break us attending this church. I absolutely don't want to send my boys away from me. I don't like that the community is divided this way. I don't like the idea that children need to learn religion/kindness/ethics/etc. from people other than their parents and the larger community around them. I don't believe it needs lesson plans. If you want to transmit values to children, you live them. If you believe that children are valuable, you keep them with the community.
Most everyone will disagree with me; they usually do. But when it comes to religious education, I have a feeling that we are not Sunday schoolers, we are life long learners. It doesn't get separated out on a single day of the week. It doesn't require a planned curriculum.
It's been an interesting idea to explore. I definitely chose a crazy month to revisit my feelings about church and to attempt to find the larger community we are seeking. But I never said I wasn't crazy . . .