National Youth and Family Ministry Volunteer Appreciation Day

How Do You Thank a Sunday School Teacher? Just Do It!!! 

What  are we going to do for people, who come to church every single solitary Sunday, with a lesson prepared, to sit in a room full of students and lead them through the intricacies of the Bible, teach them, raise them up, pray for them and guide them to be in touch with their inner wisdom and Christ light?  Whatever we are planning to do… it is not enough! So until they can receive their heavenly reward, they will smile happily and be genuinely grateful for the lovely bookmark or refrigerator magnet that I give to each of them. They will appreciate the card I took time to write, or the plant I tied the bow around. They will most likely kick their toe in the dirt or study the intricate weave of the carpet, as I have them stand in front of the congregation while extolling their virtues. And all the time they will blush and think about how grateful they are that Teacher Appreciation Day only comes around once a year! In the end, all they really want to do is get back to their classrooms and to their students, because that is where God speaks to them and feeds their soul. They are the ones we can’t ever pay back for the time, treasure, and talent they have given away.

But as an adult, have any of you reflected back and considered writing a thank you note to a former Sunday School teacher? Well now, this is my attempt to do so.  I recently came across the obituary of my youth Sunday School teacher and was surprised by so much of what was there that I hadn’t known. He was only ten years older than me putting him in his twenties when he was my mentor. Wow, was that a surprise to me! I would have thought he was so much older.  He holds college football records that led him to be placed in Halls of Fame. He has a bridge named after him. He went on to continue to be a youth leader and deacon of a church he helped to build in Cobb County and attended there until his death at age 77. He raised two daughters and has five granddaughters and a wife of fifty-five years who also was a part of my youth ministry. This is a couple I admire for their wisdom, their enthusiasm for life, their passion for youth, their humility and their love for God and their community and especially their unconditional acceptance and love for me, not for their worldly accomplishments, which were many.  I no longer remember the specifics of each Sunday School lesson, but I do remember how much fun it was to get up on Sunday mornings and beg my Dad to get me to church on time to meet with my gaggle of friends and to join in lively and meaningful discussions facilitated by Johnny Grisham and his wife Lynda. I also had no idea the appreciation that was garnered to them by the administration of the church... how much their leadership was valued, how much time and talent they gifted to their spiritual community, or how much preparation they were willing to give to their ministry. Did they see this as a sacrifice or a blessing? A job or a ministry? A chore or a calling? I now know the answers to these questions myself.   

My sister just commented recently to me how she remembered our mother pour over Sunday lessons all week in preparation to teach her adult Sunday School class. She now says she witnesses that in me. I’m honored and grateful for the role models in my life. Mrs. Bartholomew gave me my first little blue New Testament Bible with my name engraved on it that I hold dear to this day. I also started as a volunteer for children’s church decades ago, and now I am blessed to know  many other volunteers under my direction become similar touchstones to the youth that cross their path. I want to mention Annette who now serves as assistant teacher in our youth ministry but started as a volunteer for me with the lower elementary youth who were also eager every Sunday to gain her acceptance and attention. I watched her develop bonds and learn as much, if not more, from the munchkins than she could teach them. I am grateful she has followed me here to help grow our program. She has a heart of gold and is a fountain of youth. 

These last eight months have put a strain on church growth and a steady volunteer force, but some folks have remained steady and others are eager to return.  Lucy brings her son even if no one else will be here.  She continues to guide him and support the church ministries with her spirit of volunteerism. Grandparents and aunts  lovingly share this spiritual community with their growing families and even encourage them to join class on ZOOM. Our older youth step up in leadership roles to provide spiritual community in the region and in their families. Parents like the Partens are bringing their youth back to church with a willingness to support the program in any way possible to bring us back into the church building. In the past we had diverse volunteers willing to share their talents: art, yoga, spiritual practices, native traditions, story telling, counseling, but most of all, their Christ Consciousness and oneness shown through their understanding, love and acceptance of all of God’s children. All it takes is a little willingness and faith to see us through even the most challenging times. Together we can continue to create a thriving community of Youth and Family Ministry at Unity of Gainesville. What is your part in making it happen? 

Helen Vaughn

Director of Youth and Family Ministry

Unity of Gainesville