Imagine a line of people in a church fellowship hall, each representing a person from the Bible and history. Imagine them putting themselves in order of most evil to most good. Where would you put Gandhi?
At First Mennonite Church in McPherson Kan., Gandhi ended up in the “not good” half because he was not a Christian. When some of the participants didn’t agree with this, the group had a fruitful discussion as part of their Whole Church Sunday School study of the Ten Commandments.
“One of the best outcomes of our Whole Church Sunday School was the integration within the congregation of all ages mixed together in ways we normally didn’t gather. This sparked great communication and creativity,” said Cora Duerksen, who was part of the planning committee.
For years, First Mennonite has used the summers to explore the Bible together. They’ve studied the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ parables. They have used two all-ages curricula, Detectives of Divinity and God Rocks, from Springs Forth Faith Formation, an Anabaptist organization.
“The Bible stories come to life when we think about the characters and situations they found themselves in,” said Donna Zerger, another member of the planning committee. “We understand their reactions and relate it to our own lives. We see they had many of the same problems we have — jealousy, injustice, foolishness, fear.
“When a story becomes as well known as these Bible stories are, one can repeat the narrative and gloss over the human element. We try to bring that element back by identifying with the people who lived so long ago.”
Bringing Scripture to life means connecting the biblical story to a contemporary story or situation.
When the group studied the account in Joshua 3-4 of the Israelites crossing the Jordan River, Zerger told of her husband’s grandmother crossing the Volga River in Russia as part of their journey to America.
When the group studied the Parable of the Persistent Woman (Luke 18), it was time to read Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham.
The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders (Matthew 7) led naturally to the story of the Three Little Pigs.
A study of Peter involved learning stories from Peter’s life and telling them in first-person format.
The commandment on not committing adultery led to creating a game show, “The Oldlywed Game.”
“Our congregation featured puppets, writing together as a group, storytelling and acting for much of our learning together,” Zerger said. “One of our members, Mark Stucky, is a genius with puppets. He would take a story and retell it with the puppets and find ways to have the children’s life experiences connect to the Bible story.”
The Whole Church Sunday School meets in the church basement, where all generations sit around tables together, and begins with drinks and doughnuts. Each lesson starts with a question such as, “When did you not follow instructions and ran into trouble because of it?” or “How do you make important decisions? With whom do you consult?”
“I learned some amazing things about people I had been going to church with for years,” Zerger said. “The ‘superficial’ talk can be just as valuable as the deeper discussions.”
These discussions happen in the last 15 minutes, when children participate in a game or craft time while the adults dig into the topic a little more.
When First Mennonite wanted to encourage the congregation to learn about the Bible together, it wasn’t just the children who called on their imaginations. When everyone engaged with the stories, the Bible did come to life.
Carol Duerksen is a writer and editor from Goessel, Kan., and staff member of Springs Forth Faith Formation Inc.