Some people may think that's an overstatement. And I am given to overstate things, so maybe that's the case. But I'm willing to push this one. When people who have grown up in the church are asked to name someone who has been influential in their journey of faith, the vast majority will tell you about a Sunday school teacher (or youth sponsor). They will not tell you about their pastor who preached long pedantic sermons, or even the pastor who always remembered their birthday. They will tell you about the little old lady who taught their preschool class and always had candy in her pocket. They will tell you about the young man who treated them with as much respect as he would an adult. They will tell you about the teacher who shared stories, who did action songs, who knelt on the carpet, who prayed for their cat.
Sunday school teachers are given a tremendous responsibility. They have the responsibility to model the love, inclusivity, mercy, grace, justice and compassion of Christ.They are asked to present images of God to children, both through their own actions, and through the stories and words that they speak.They are required to share their own faith and live it in real time and with authenticity.
And this responsibility is at the same time the greatest gift. I cannot stress this enough. It can be heavy, and it can be time consuming, but it can also be so very life giving! To offer a child unconditional love and support on their life journey (which is so much easier to do in 45 min. chunks!). To share what has given you life and touched your heart. To be reminded each time you prepare a lesson that you are part of the larger story of God's redemptive work in the world and then to have the opportunity to invite the children before you to participate in the divine activity that surrounds them. To name for a child that they have been created in the image of God and that they are at their very core, part of God's holy goodness on this earth. This is sacred work. This. is. gift.
So if you are a Sunday school teacher this year, I invite you to take advantage of your super powers and use them for good. Nurture your own spiritual life, dive deeply into the biblical story, become absorbed in rituals and practices, reach out your arms to embrace the beauty in God's diverse creation. For some day, a child in your class will be asked who impacted them the most in their faith journey, and they will say your name with thanksgiving because you invited them into the world of the holy and the sacred.