By Starrla Cray
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN From creating clay bricks to baking unleavened bread, Sunday school at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Lester Prairie is anything but ordinary.
“We do rotational learning, in which students stay with one Bible story for six weeks,” said Jenna Countryman, director of Christian education at St. Paul Lutheran Church.
The first week, children watch a movie to introduce them to the story, while the teachers meet to prepare for the weeks ahead.
In the remaining five weeks, first- through fifth-graders rotate through five activity stations, each designed to teach the same Bible story in a fresh, interesting way.
“We’re on our third year of doing this,” Countryman said. “Our attendance has gone up, and the kids know the Bible stories more in depth.”
St. Paul utilizes curriculum from PowerXpress!, which became available to the public in March 2001.
Repetition is a key part of the teaching. By reinforcing the ideas, students have an easier time understanding and remembering the stories.
“The kids love it, and the teachers love it,” Countryman said.
The five stations at St. Paul Sunday school are as follows:
• Our Lord’s Lab science projects
• Creator’s Craft arts and crafts
• Christ’s Café cooking (and tasting!)
• Savior’s Stage drama and acting
• Almighty Arena games
“All of the stations are related to the story,” Countryman said.
Throughout the school year, St. Paul focuses on five Bible themes, including the Christmas and Easter stories.
The Christmas rotation, which began recently, concentrates on the perspectives of John the Baptist’s parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah.
“It’s told from a different perspective every year,” Countryman said.
When students arrive at Sunday school, grades one through five all meet in the Almighty Arena.
Volunteers, known as “shepherds,” travel with their assigned grade to the stations. Shepherds are not responsible for teaching, but they help give students continuity from week to week.
“It’s nice for them to see a familiar face,” Countryman said. “The shepherds are also an extra set of hands to help with the activities.”
On an average Sunday, 18 shepherds, teachers, and music helpers contribute to the Sunday school program’s success.
Age 3 to eighth grade
At St. Paul, rotational learning is for first through fifth grade, but Sunday school extends from ages 3 through eighth grade.
“The younger kids get excited when they see the older ones with their crafts and food,” Countryman said. “They’re looking forward to getting into the rotation.”
Ages 3 through 5 each receive their own children’s Bible when they start Sunday school.
“Parents are encouraged to read their children the story throughout the week, so that they’re already familiar with it,” Countryman said. “Then, when they come to Sunday school, we can focus on enrichment activities that enforce the story.”
The older children, grades six through eight, use “talk sheets” to learn Bible themes.
“We take the Bible and relate it to their lives,” Countryman said.
Topics such as music, fear, peer pressure, purpose in life, and following Jesus are addressed in an age-appropriate way, to help students make wise decisions.
“They like it,” Countryman said. “Kids are interacting more in class, and they’re opening up and sharing.”
Although Sunday school ends after eighth grade, high school students still have opportunities to study God’s word.
“We meet Sunday nights from 5 to 6 p.m.,” Countryman said.
High school students are also welcome to attend adult Bible class Sunday mornings.
Outreach is an integral part of St. Paul’s Church, and Sunday school students support local and global mission work.
Currently, they are sponsoring an 8-year-old Ugandan boy named George.
“We just got a letter from him,” Countryman said, explaining that it is fun for the children to see where their offering is going.
Throughout the year, Sunday school students also collect change for the Orphan Grain Train, assemble birthday kits for the McLeod Emergency Food Shelf, donate socks and underwear for homeless people in Minneapolis, and much more.
“In the Bible, God talks about loving our neighbor,” Countryman said. “Our neighbor can be anyone in need.”