There’s a new church plant in town, at least if the town is North Liberty, Iowa. What’s it’s name? Agua’s Trough? Washington Knolls? The Back Street? No, try Saint Silas Lutheran Church. This new church plant, located just northwest of Iowa City, is being supported by Iowa District East. Pastor Andrew Richard, the Assistant Pastor at St. Paul’s Lutheran Chapel in Iowa City is planting the seed. As you might have guessed from the name, this is not a plant based on a seeker sensitive model, it’s a liturgical church with an emphasis on Law and Gospel. I’m sure they will appreciate your prayers as they endeavor to spread God’s Word in an area that sorely needs to hear it. If you’d like to help water that seed with a contribution, contact Rev. Dr. Dean F. Rothchild, Iowa District East LCMS, 1100 Blairs Ferry Road, Marion, IA 52302.
On September 7th St. Silas began having Sunday School. This had been in the works for some time, and you can read about the planning stage here. Sunday School is at 9:00am, at the same time as Bible class. Families come to the church building together, the children meet in the back of the sanctuary, the youths and adults meet in the first few rows of the nave. We open with prayer together, have our respective teachings, and at 10:00am we all come back together for Divine Service. We have nine children at Sunday School on a regular basis. This year they’re working through an overview of the Bible, hitting the major accounts in the Old and New Testaments.
The teaching and activity for each biblical account focus on what God has done for us in Jesus. One week the reading was the fall of man into sin in Genesis 3. For the activity each child fashioned a serpent from clay, a crucifix was passed around, and each child stabbed the serpent in the head with Christ crucified. I doubt any of them will ever forget the meaning of the Lord’s words to the devil in Genesis 3:15, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
On some Sundays after reading and reflecting on the text the children act it out. This past Sunday (October 12, 2014), I overheard Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac. Fortunately the Lord provided a substitute, just as he has done for us by sending his Son, Jesus.
For God’s covenant with Abram the Sunday School students made stars and wrote the names of everyone in the congregation on them. They hung them in the window with a window cling of Abraham looking up at them. The Lord promised Abram, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15:5). The children learned the meaning of Galatians 3:29, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” The week after that the children took down the stars and between Sunday School and Divine Service handed the stars to the members of the congregation saying, “you are Abraham’s heir by faith.” Everyone received a star with their name on it and the reference to Galatians 3:29. We hope to encourage such cross-talk between the Sunday School and the congregation as a whole. The children have opportunity to repeat what they have learned and solidify it in their hearts and minds. The congregation has opportunity to be reminded of biblical accounts they might not otherwise hear on a regular basis. And the whole congregation is built up!
Along the way in each lesson there is also opportunity for instruction in God’s commandments, reflection on the examples of the saints who have gone before us, and especially a call to repentance and faith. Reading the account of the fall the children reflected on God’s severe, and yet just, punishment of death for sin. They were then pointed to Christ crushing the serpent’s head, not just for Adam and Eve, but for them! In connection with Abraham the children have been learning what it means to fear, love, and trust in God above all things and keep the First Commandment.
Effort has been made to show how the teaching that’s learned in Sunday School plays out in the Divine Service. There Jesus gives us his Word of law,just like he preached his convicting Word to Adam and Eve, and through Noah to the people of his day. There Jesus gives us his Word of gospel, just like he preached his comforting Word to Adam and Eve, to Noah, and to Abraham. The children connected God’s promise to Adam and Eve to the promise of forgiveness given to us in the Absolution. God clothed Adam and Eve with garments of skins, and so he has clothed you with his Son in Holy Baptism. Noah was a preacher of righteousness and Jesus still causes his Word to be preached to you to this day.
Hymns also give great connections. For four weeks we sang “All Mankind Fell in Adam’s Fall” (LSB 562) as the opening hymn to continue teaching the fall of man into sin and the condescension of God into man. Now we’re singing “Saints, See the Cloud of Witnesses” (LSB 667) as the opening hymn for four weeks while the children learn about the patriarchs of the book of Genesis.
One of the emphases at St. Silas is to assist the heads of house in bringing up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. In fact all of the goals for Sunday School begin “Assist parents with…”
Assist parents with
- giving their children a good knowledge of the Biblical narrative, both Old and New Testaments. Along with this teach the proper distinction between Law and Gospel.
- Assist parents with teaching their children the basics of the faith as contained in the Small Catechism. Assist catechumens in learning the catechism by heart.
- Assist parents with teaching their children the meaning of Christian worship by studying the liturgy, the Church year, hymns, and the sanctuary.
To assist parents the children are sent home with a review sheet so that parents can re-read the reading for the day, review the main points that were taught, and ensure that their children retain the Word of God and take it to heart. Families have also been given copies of The Story Bible or 120 Bible Stories and a hymnal for use in the home. Click here for a sample review sheet: 5. Covenant to Abram.
As a further help Learn-by-Heart booklets have been made. They’re designed for different age ranges and work up to learning the whole Small Catechism by heart. Each Sunday before Sunday School/Bible Class and after Divine Service, members of the congregation recite their section for the week to learn-by-heart guides, who then initial the booklets. The children are working on parts of the Creed. The Bible class is working on the Table of Duties as we study the topic of vocation.
Well, this has become a rather lengthy write up that hasn’t even stuck with the topic of Sunday School. We’ve wandered into the Divine Service, into the home, we’ve roped parents and pastor and the whole congregation into this. And yet this is what makes for solid catechesis that spreads to the congregation, that ventures out the door and into the home, that is reviewed and learned by heart, that is repeated, that is sung. I’m not sure we can fully grasp what effect this will have on the children of the congregation, or the congregation as a whole, but it will certainly be a good one.