Reading the Record earlier this year, I had a flashback to the sand and surf at Huron Feathers, the summer day camp at Sauble Beach on Lake Huron. My kids attended there for years and loved the games, crafts, waterfront time and field trips. I had the utmost confidence in my kids’ well-being, thanks to the well-trained student counsellors, many from Redeemer University. Some leaders were specifically trained as lifeguards or in working with special needs kids. An idyllic moment from bygone days.
Or is it? The time is upon us when we must consider recreating this safe, secure, still fun setting in our weekly children’s Christian education (Sunday school) programs—and in churches at large. We can do this our way, or wait for insurance companies to set the terms.
For instance, in reporting on a conference this spring at Mount Allison University on student mental health, CBC News noted 15 per cent of students have some sort of anxiety or mental health condition requiring outside help. Seventeen per cent of adults with a mental illness had first onset signs under age 20. Well, college students and adults were children once, and some of our Sunday school kids need help.
We’ve all had a disruptive kid in our Sunday school classrooms and sanctuaries. Sometimes kids have special needs as well. And we as parents and volunteers have all felt the guilt of not knowing how to provide a nice experience for these kids who really need it while preserving a calm safe experience for those who aren’t carrying the same heavy load. Sunday schools have been run by well-meaning volunteers ever since Moses rocked in a rush basket and the impulse to help is good one. But we must ask ourselves honestly, can we properly offer programming for these groups of kids if we have no one on the ground trained in special needs?
Churches should seriously consider dedicating a portion of their budgets to retaining, at least part-time, a CE coordinator or resource person who is trained to work with special needs kids. Let’s face it, curricula is readily available for free on the web. Yet it would make a world of difference to Sunday school kids, parents, volunteer leaders and church vitality as a whole to have someone in place who can manage the crazy joyful mixture of kids that bless us with their presence for an hour a week, keeping things fun and safe for all.
I think it’s a calling churches should enthusiastically adopt. We’ve done Sunday school for years, taught Bible stories and provided breaks for ‘mainstream’ parents. By integrating trained staff into church life, we take it to the next level—providing healing and fortifying an intergenerational environment. Nobody should do intergenerational better than churches.
Picture this: your church becomes a fun, safe place where families race in the door, rather than rush for the exit due to an unstable program run by overwhelmed volunteers.
One of my favourite Bible stories is Jacob’s reunion with Esau. After the two brothers have made peace, Jacob tells Esau he’ll be along soon; he wants to “lead on softly” at a pace the children can endure. I had always thought the operative word here was “softly.” Now I think it is “lead.” Let’s take up this challenge and make every Sunday school like a day at the beach.