(At least I think I'm a member. As long as I don't show up and everyone's wearing the same t-shirt except me, I'm going to call myself a member; if I do show up and everyone's wearing the same t-shirt except me, I'm going to call the cops.)
It's both a wonderful opportunity and a huge responsibility. After all, what could be more important than the care and cure of tiny minds? It was also a chance for me to practice all the things I learned but never applied in my children's librarianship classes. I don't know why, but the attorneys I work for are never interested in my finger puppets.
After the initial excitement faded, I realized it was time to get down to brass tacks. I shadowed my buddy Jesse, observing him as he skillfully taught eight children. I knew he was making it look easy, but I could see myself learning. Soon after, I got my official copy of Young Children and Worship. I read the hell out of it, which wasn't easy, as there wasn't much hell in it to begin with.
I should have realized something was amiss when the book described reactions from children I'd never seen before. The kids in the book were from a 1950's Leave it to Beaver reality, constantly awestruck at the smallest thing. Where were the instructions for when a kid swallowed Noah's dove? When a wise man was firmly lodged in a nostril? That seemed like important information.
My first Sunday I was teaching the children about Christ's ascension. The lesson plan in the back of the book explained I'd do this with a candle and some fancy hand gestures, like magic.
It hit me that my first time with the children I'd be using fire. There were no training wheels on the children's church bus, I realized; I had to hit the ground running, and if the class got below fifty miles per hour it would explode.
By the grace of God (literally), I made it through the lesson without setting any children on fire. Probable or not, this was a real concern.
The real problem came during art time when I demonstrated Jesus ascending into heaven. To hammer the point home, I hid the Jesus figure between two yellow foam circles. These were our "creative reflection" materials, and I even had a little lesson about halos in Catholic iconography ready if any of the children that were interested in pre-Raphaelite art pointed it out.
Following my short demonstration, one little lady piped up, "Oh, I get it now! Jesus is the sun!"
I did not intend to turn the pastor's daughter into a member of a sun cult, but I played fast and loose with the craft materials and this is what I got.
"No, he's not the sun," I said quickly. Not sure where to go next, I lamely finished, "But he is the son of God. "
The little girl smiled and nodded at my non-sequitur of an answer, her brunette bob shaking as she did so. After all, she was now one box closer to Bingo on her "Outsmart the Sunday School Teacher" scorecard.
Meanwhile, a little boy had skipped the "Jesus" lesson entirely and was consumed by drawing a big chicken. "Big chicken!" he'd shout, working with single minded focus. "Do you like the big chicken?" he asked, holding it up. Before I could reply he shouted "Big chicken!" again and went back to work with scissors.
Children's church eventually came to an end, and I was proud that I got them to walk in a loose single file line back to the sanctuary. They grasped their crafts with nervous hands, excited to show them to their parents. It was a rough first time, but from the smiles of the congregation - and the fact that none of the children were charred, even a little - I gathered that I had done well.
The image of happy Christian children and responsible teacher was only slightly tarnished by the boy at the end of the line, holding a big chicken over his head.