BY NANCY WILLIAMSON CADWALLADER

How many times do we walk into the house of our Lord without thinking about why, where, and how we worship?  How do we learn to worship? Do we just know how to worship, or must we be taught? Well, for many years, the Kindergarten Sunday School Class has been doing just that – teaching how to worship and what to do in our worship services!

Many years ago the teachers of the Kindergarten Class: Ann McMains, Tena McConnell and Adele Williamson began to develop what we know today as our Church Readiness Program. These three ladies recognized the need to develop a program to systematically teach our children about our worship services, the hymns and prayers. This program has evolved into today’s highly structured and multi-faceted program.

The 1996 Kindergarten Class with teachers: Adele Williamson, Ann McMains and Tena McConnell

The 1996 Kindergarten Class with teachers: Adele Williamson, Ann McMains and Tena McConnell

Every year, right after Easter, the children of the Kindergarten Class are given their own Church readiness study booklet. These study booklets include a calendar for the remainder of the year along with the material that will be studied. In the booklet are a vocabulary list, the church seasons and colors, the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed, a Kindergartener’s Creed, the Gloria, the Doxology, Sanctuary Manners (written by the Children), as well as the Commandments according to Kindergarteners. Now all prepared, we take off learning and studying.

Russell Bender, remembers the flash cards of vocabulary words – playing quiz bowl games with the flash cards and that his favorite vocabulary word was “synagogue.” Russell’s father, Bill, remembers that Russell was excited about coming to Sunday School and learning, (and, yes, receiving prizes for correct answers!)

One highlight of the Readiness Program is when one of the ministers teaches the lesson on Communion. Recently Rev. Whitton met with the children and their parents in the Sanctuary and talked to everyone about Communion, the meanings behind Communion, and how to “receive” (not take) Communion. At the end of his presentation, the children had the opportunity to receive Communion with their family. Lisa Spillers wrote, “I really appreciate all that the teachers of the Kindergarten Class did to help Hicks and his classmates get ready to transition to the Sanctuary. The Communion service meant so much to Chad and me – to be able to experience Hicks’ first Communion with him in a more personal setting. This is one memory that we will cherish as parents and look back on with great appreciation to the class and the Church.”

Throughout the program, members of the church staff and ministers come to the room to speak with the children; for example Rev. Becky comes to talk about prayer and Lamar Drummonds comes to explain how the worship service is organized. The children love showing Mr. Lamar how well they could sing the Gloria!

As the children continue to learn vocabulary – Communion, Last Supper, Eucharist, Lord’s Supper, Church, Synagogue, Temple, Sanctuary, Big Church, they also continue to learn the church calendar, the seasons, and the colors of the Church seasons. Red is for Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, so there is a birthday party for the church! Eva and Sofia Lockridge remember learning about the colors of the Church Seasons and learning that the stoles that the ministers wear match the paraments on the altar. Eva mentioned that Purple is for Advent and Sofia added that Green is for the “growing season or Kingdomtide.”

Lee Ann and Eric Lockridge said, “the class provided the girls with a solid introduction to the many elements of the worship service, including prayers and creeds, as well as the seasons of the church and associated colors. We were often impressed with how much they learned and were able to share with us after church each Sunday.”

As the program progresses, the children’s knowledge increases. They learn the Gloria and the Doxology, and we discuss the meaning of the words in these songs. Although Children of this age cannot really comprehend the meaning and learn the Apostles Creed, an effort is made to go over the words and their meanings. Again, through the use of vocabulary words and their meanings – they begin to understand The Trinity, the Doxology, and the hymns we sing. This past summer one vocabulary word took on a special meaning…the word being Parable. When Miss Nancy mentioned that Rev. Brady was using one of our vocabulary words as a sermon series topic, Will Stout said, “Really, you’ve got to be kidding, he is using one of our vocabulary words?”

The Kindergarten Sunday School class has fun while learning, we play games, we sing songs, we have birthday parties for the church (and class members), we have prizes, yet we take our task of teaching our children about our worship services seriously.  Amy Groves Lowe wrote: “Our family’s experience with the Church Readiness Class was exceptional. 

My husband and I started coming to First Methodist because of the wonderful things we heard about the Sunday School program. Our daughters, Rebecca and Charlotte, not only learned so much in the class, but they LOVED going. In the middle of the week.

Charlotte would ask ‘how many days until I get to go to Sunday School?’

Both of our girls shared what they learned with the family at dinner time, demonstrating that what they learned in the class took root and was helping them mature spiritually. We have been so blessed to have our children learn under the teachers who give their time so unselfishly to plant the seed of God’s love in our children’s hearts.”

Upon completion of the Church Readiness Program, the children are honored at “Big Church” where they say the Kindergarten Creed and receive a Certificate of Accomplishment. After the service, the children and their families are honored at a luncheon given by the Church and their teachers.

While the teachers of the Kindergarten Class at First Methodist have developed the Church Readiness Program for our children, they have also been to both District and Conference workshops to share the concept and materials with others. It is hoped that this program has assisted other Congregations in developing their own Church Readiness Program.

The current teachers of the Kindergarten Class, Leslie LaBorde, Lucy Mayfield and Nancy Cadwallader strive to continue the legacy that their predecessors began and to instill in the children the love of worship. Todd Rossnagel’s statement embodies what the teachers hope the children will take away from the program, “what I remember most about church readiness is the tremendous attention that was placed on what it means to be reverent. My children better understood how and why to respect the holy time of worship and it had a tremendous and lasting effect.”