Published: 7 years ago

For Whom The Sunday School Bell Tolls

This weekend Merriem and I got to catch up with some of our oldest friends on the planet. Not Methuselah-style old friends, but friends-since-college friends.

Mike Waddey and I were roommates back in the day, and then he and Robin lived a few doors down from us in married student housing. For the last several years he’s been pastoring a small rural church in a little bitty town in northwest Tennessee. Mike is the consummate small town pastor. His heart beats for rural ministry the way mine beats for Reese’s Cup milkshakes from Cook Out (take a HINT, people).

And that’s where today’s blog post begins, because my kids were introduced to the rural church way of doing church this weekend. In other words, not the way they’re used to. There were points during the weekend when I could almost feel myself channeling a Dana Carvey character: “Back in my day we didn’t have all of those fancy lighting systems and fiberglass pulpits and drummy sets. If we wanted light in our auditoriums we had to set the Sunday School quarterlies on fire with the discarded cigarette butts that the deacons flicked onto the front yard. That’s the way we had church, and we liked it!

Because you see, I realized that my kids haven’t grown up in church the way I grew up in church. Exhibit A: just a few minutes before the worship service began, we were hanging out in the auditorium, when suddenly a long, lonely bell rang. And rang. And rang. And my kids’ eyes all got just a little bigger. I think my ten year old was ready to stop, drop, and roll. And it was then that I realized that they’d never heard a Sunday School bell. Astonishing.

(And by the way, if you’ve never heard a Sunday School bell, it is a specific instrument of God’s grace that saves your life or at least your sanity and makes the Sunday School teacher wrap up the lesson that he’s meticulously planned for all week long, and by that I mean he read to you from the Sunday School curriculum for a solid hour.)

Exhibit B: a few years ago my oldest son went with us to visit the first church where I’d served on staff. He picked up a Baptist Hymnal and said, “What kind of book is this?” I’m an ordained Southern Baptist pastor, and my kid doesn’t recognize the second holiest book in the pew rack*? Sheesh.

And don’t get me started on the fact that my kids don’t know what a fellowship hall is, they’ve never skipped a third stanza, they’ve never attended RA’s, and they wouldn’t know a good business meeting fist fight if they saw one.

So what about you? What is it that you held dear as a church-going youngster that your own child will never experience? Comment below.


*The first holiest is The Baptist Faith and Message. What did you think I was talking about?


  1. Connie Pearson says:

    Being on the Cradle Roll. Being a Sunbeam. Marching behind the flags into the auditorium for VBS. Junior Memory drill. Training Union where you were encouraged to “say” your part, rather than read it. Evangelists wearing a different rainbow-colored suit each night FOR TWO WEEKS. Having to check off on your offering envelope if you were “on time,” or “studied your lesson” or “daily Bible reading.” On your birthday putting a penny in the jar for each year for Lottie Moon . . . and knowing exactly who Lottie Moon was.
    Shall I go on? Well, these would apply to my grandchildren. My children DID experience a few of these. Well, maybe not.

  2. Brian says:

    My grandfather rang the Sunday School bell 5 minutes before SS was to start and my Dad rang it with 5 minutes to go in the SS hour. Every Sunday we sang “The Lord Is In His Holy Temple” right after the SS bell rang. And we were happy if there were 100 people in Church that day. My how things have changed. Great post!

  3. Amanda says:

    My Daddy was SS Superintendent when I was growing up. I played the piano for the Youth Dept opening exercises. We sang “Standing on the Promises” every Sunday. The entire congregation sang “There Shall Be Showers of Blessings” faithfully during the summer droughts being in a farm community. Revival was the way kids knew the summer was over and school was starting back. And yes the entire family went every night – Daddy even came in from the fields early to go each night. The Doxology was always sang after the offering which happened BEFORE the sermon. The Lord’s Supper was quarterly (just like conference – Daddy was the moderator). The Deacons (Daddy was chairman each time he served) led the congregation out of the church after the Lord’s Supper singing “Blest Be the Tie” a cappella. VBS was the highlight of the summer and the only time you were allowed to wear shorts and flip-flops to church!

  4. Anne says:

    What makes me sad is that so many of the things from the “olden” days are made fun of instead of valued as part of tradition. Guess that makes me one of those old ladies now.

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