Learning Time for Sunday, March 19, 2023 at Harrow United Church

“Shepherds and Sheep”

When my kids were growing up we lived in Oakville. My wife Lexie and I both worked as ministers, always in different churches. For part of that time she was a minister of Education and Pastoral Care, so it was natural our kids went to her church. It was also natural, that because our kids and their mother were very involved in the life of that congregation, that I would help when I was available. 

I did a lot of gathering craft materials, and cutting out bits and bobs, gluing, and painting, and generally getting stuff ready. I also helped set up Sunday School rooms, and lay out costumes. A lot of this would happen on Saturday nights.

The best years of that Sunday School were when they worked on the Rotation Model. The kids were gathered in groups according to age or grade level, and the groups would take turns at a series of stations that brought a Bible story to life in different ways. There was often a kitchen unit that involved making or baking something good to eat. There might be song time, a story time, a time to act out the story, or a craft time to make something connected to the story. 

The kids would explore and learn the story in several different ways, over the course of a few weeks. I know a lot of those kids as adults, including our own, and they remember their time in Sunday School.

Learning the stories provides a great foundation for when the child grows up. They can think about the stories, and the stories may help them develop their own ideas about faith, and life, and God. Beyond the stories, the kids have this experience of being loved, and cared for, fed and played with, and feeling at home. That’s a feeling that can be important in later years, when life becomes more complicated for them, and the questions get bigger and more confusing.

Something I thought was absolute genius, that my wife did with the Sunday School, was create a role she called “Shepherd”. A shepherd was a person responsible to help a group of kids make their way from one activity area to the next.

It was a big church building, with music happening in the auditorium, cooking in the kitchen, woodworking in the basement, puppet show in the library, science lab on the stage in the gym. Groups of kids needed to be escorted from one exciting venue to another, perhaps with a bathroom break along the way.

The shepherds were more than tour guides. They really had to shepherd the kids. Make sure they didn’t get distracted or lost along the way. Kind of like what actual shepherds do with actual sheep, except they did not have those big staffs to help them herd the little lambs.

My wife, the genius, recruited shepherds from that group of people who’d say, “You’re doing such great work with the children. I would love to help, but I’m not a teacher, I don’t know the bible and I can’t sing, draw or do crafts.” 

Every church seems to have people who cheer from the sidelines, or have ideas about what programs a church needs to offer, but don’t necessarily step up to make them happen. Some may feel they aren’t qualified. 

From this large pool of people who claimed they had nothing to contribute, Lexie and her Sunday School Superintendent recruited a whole crew of shepherds. There was no age limit to who could be a shepherd, and no particular skill set required. She’d sign them up on a big sheet where they could each commit to a certain block of weeks. They weren’t signing on to be there always and forever. They could take turns.

I noticed over the years that some of the shepherds became repeat customers. They’d come back and help again and again. Some would also volunteer to be shepherds, or serve snack and juice at Vacation Bible School in the summertime.

Some also discovered they liked being around the kids, got over some of their anxiety and inhibitions, and realized they did have talents, gifts, and skills to offer. They could demonstrate a craft they enjoyed, or talk about one of their hobbies. Almost everybody could read a story book out loud. Even those who didn’t like to read, could just be there, as another friendly face.

I saw some older folks become transformed by the experience of helping out. It was a reminder that the mission of a church should include the ongoing education of people of all ages.

It’s not just the kids in Sunday School who learn and grow. We are all works in progress. We can all learn by doing, and by growing into new roles, and accepting new challenges. As long as we are alive, we can learn, and grow, and we can help. We can find ways to contribute.

The people my wife recruited had opportunities to learn through lived  experience what it means to be a shepherd. It gave them glimpses of how God loves and shepherds us. 

They were reminded that we all get to be God’s sheep, and also be a shepherd to others at the same time. 

Today we baptized the amazing, delightful Mia. I had the folks stand up as a congregation, and promise to be there for her, as a community of faith. 

We stood in support of Mia and her family, her god-parents and grandparents and in-laws and out-laws and neighbours and friends of her family. We did that because we know that none of us can do well on our own, at the awesome, huge, and wonderful, overwhelming job of raising, guiding, teaching, inspiring a child.

It’s a cliche’ to say it takes a village to raise a child. During the land acknowledgment today I talked about the Wendat people. In their tradition, all the children were the shared responsibility of all members of the community, not just the biological parents. 

There was a shared understanding that everyone has a stake in instilling the knowledge, values, survival skills, and spirituality that sustain each child, and also help ensure the long-term survival of the people.

It’s common sense. We should take care of everyone in the community, so there can be a community.

I take my wisdom where I can find it. I enjoy mystery novels, and one of my current favourite writers is Michael Connelly. 

Connelly has a character called Harry Bosch, who is a homicide detective. I like characters who, although they are basically broken and faulted human beings, like everyone I know in real life, also have a strong sense of purpose, or a moral code that guides them.

The fictional Detective Harry Bosch, who is relentless in his pursuit of truth, and never gives up until he finds the killer, has a good motto. He says, “Everybody counts, or nobody counts.” 

It’s simple, and to the point, and I think, very much like Jesus. Everyone counts. No one should be left out. We treat everyone with equal love and respect, because each child, each person matters.

The flip side of that is that everyone can be counted, and counted on, to have something they can contribute, to add to the life of the faith community. To be the community God dreams we can be, everyone has something to contribute. We actually need everyone. Everyone counts. Amen

Here is a link to the Youtube video of this week’s worship service, which includes this learning time:

1 Comment

  1. Ann-Marie says:

    Thanks for the reminder that we can all contribute in so many different ways.

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