Sunday School has always been a part of my life. My parents taught Sunday School in our Lutheran Church when it was their turn, and my mother has been more than once its Superintendent. I helped with Vacation Bible School while in college and since have taught Lutheran, Episcopal and Methodist Sunday School on occasion. My first experience of Unitarian Sunday School was as a DRE and it was an interesting transition to go from Bible based (albeit moderate) curricula to the diverse and far-flung interests of a UU based program. What should or can a non-creedal, often non-theistic church school teach? The question is not new. Here is Sylvester Judd on the Sabbath School:
"CHARGE THEM THAT THEY TEACH NO OTHER DOCTRINE, NEITHER GIVE HEED TO FABLES AND ENDLESS GENEALOGIES, WHICH MINISTER QUESTIONS, RATHER THAN GODLY EDIFYING, WHICH IS IN FAITH. NOW THE END OF THE COMMANDMENT IS CHARITY[love] Out Of A Pure Heart.— 1 Timothy i. 3 - 5.
In addressing myself to the teachers of our Sunday school, let me premise that I consider it a department of the Church, coming fully within the precinct of Church influences and authority ; it is a sort of seed-bed and nursery of the Church. One of its leading objects is to prepare the children to be mature Christians, true Churchmen and Church- women. I hold that all who enter the Sunday school do, to a certain degree, commit themselves to the Church, and to a Christian life.
The office of the Sunday-school teacher is a kind of delegated pastorate. He deals with the undergraduates of religion, he takes the spiritual meat which is served to the people generally, and, so to say, cuts it up for the little ones. The great thing to be taught is Christianity; not in the artificial shapes that abound on every hand, but just as we find it in the simple text of Scripture. And when I say Christianity, I mean, of course, among other things, moral duties.
The Gospel is not a simple book to us. It is wrapped like a mummy in countless folds of ignorance and mistake, and its fresh, beautiful life is smothered and well nigh lost. Ages of misinterpretation obscure it. A superstitious light gleams about it. We approach it under the disadvantage of all the wrong education we have received from our childhood to this day. I could sometimes wish that the Sunday-school teacher, as well as others, might for a moment forget that he had ever seen the Gospel of Jesus, so that he might go to it as a new book, a new history, that he might thus experience all the freshness and beauty of its revelations, and with unbiased mind and childlike heart endeavor to appropriate its great truths. It is of the highest importance that we should understand the New Testament, for the reason that to us it is the sole rule of faith and guide of life. We reject the commonly received creeds and formulas of churches about us, and betake ourselves to the simple word of God, in which all-important rules of duty and forms of faith are simply expressed."
To a degree, we are blessed in our modern Unitarian Sunday schools that the teachings of the Bible (and scripture of all faiths) are often new to our students and can be presented in all their "freshness and beauty." Tomorrow, "the question whether you should teach the children doctrines." Blessings