Anne Lamott talks of being a Sunday school teacher at a failing church. The context for this description seems to be, or at least include, the fact of low prayer turnout. 

She talked on Rainn Wilson’s Soul Boom podcast of teaching Sunday school to two nine-year-olds and two teenagers in the same class, by way of describing the 

“failing church.” 

I’ve never known how to describe the church I grew up being taken to by my parents. Not now and not when I was a kid trying to avoid the subject altogether with friends. 

My parents both were ordained elders in the church, though that alone, I am sure, was not the root cause for my attendance being intensely mandatory. When our family of five, me by far being the youngest, showed up every Sunday, we formed a sizable portion of the number in attendance. Because the congregation was so small in terms of member roles, I’ve not known how to describe it to anyone. “Small.”

I’d suggest Anne Lamott’s descriptor of a church as failing, if based heavily on turnout, is discussable. It depends on the intentions of those involved, I think. 

But if numbers are the focus and Anne’s Sunday school classes have but a few to a handful of kids in a broad range of ages, it’s worth noting that at my church there were years when I was the entire attendance of the Sunday school class. And my teen years when I was the entire youth group.

It’s also worth noting that in that context, I learned there’s nowhere for a Sunday school teacher to hide when the lone child in the class, a rather thinking and curious boy, questions the existence of God and the underpinnings of the whole system. 

I witnessed the uncomfortable smile, the breaking of eye contact and the fumbling of segue to some other topic. Any other topic. No answer to arrive. The aversion to such questions and potential answers was clear and palpable.

Now, I’d propose that that is a quality perspective of “failing church.” At least a failing moment within one. But who am I to question the phrasing of the tremendous writer Anne Lamott?

The Church is #Ten in the weekly memoir series, Among Other Things. What’s it about? Read Introducing ‘Among Other Things,’ A Weekly Memoir Series.