Monday of Pentecost 7– Prayer of the Week

Blessed Lord, since You have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning, grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Many years ago, a pastor with the unlikely name of Abatte Castelini de Castello cast a worried gaze over his flock. Many of them were taking up strange new ideas which concerned him. But the people of his parish were vulnerable to these ideas because they had never really been taught the faith. He decided to do something about it. He started teaching children. This might seem obvious to us today, but pastor Castelini was the first person we know of to land on the idea of religious education directed at children outside of a formal school. At the time, very few children attended school. You might call this the first Sunday School, and, in fact, Pastor Castelini’s work is one of the important roots of what you and I call Sunday School today. The other roots are found in literacy programs for slum-dwelling children in Victorian England. Pastor Castelini was an acute observer of human nature. He bribed children to come to class with an apple.

Most of us have memories of attending Sunday School as a child. I have a distinct memory of my mother pointing to the words of a song hand-printed on a large sheet of paper as we all sang along with her and the other teachers in the Trinity Lutheran Church Sunday School near Ft. Dodge, Iowa. Our parents wanted us to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Word of God. It has been a treasure which has blessed me throughout my life.

There is an irony, here, however. Pastor Castelini lived in Milan in the 16th century. The ideas which bothered him were streaming over the Alps from Switzerland and Germany, ideas which came from the pen of Martin Luther. Luther also quickly realized the need to educate children and soon competing Sunday Schools were building up the youth of Germany and Italy. Shamefully, it took such a crisis before the leaders of various Christian areas realized the need to educate children. I am wondering what God will have us see in these days of crises. The Sunday School movement seems all but spent in North America. Yet, we still need to read, mark, learn, and digest this Word. As you pray this prayer, also pray for discernment. How shall we do this? The pandemic has familiarized so many with distance learning. Has a door opened for us? Do we need to walk through it? What would that look like?

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