Gelsinger on Sunday Schools, Part 1: Religious Education in Orthodox Parishes

Fr. Michael Gelsinger. He is pictured in a suit and tie because he was, for most of his priestly career, also a university professor.

Editor’s note: In 1938, Fr. Michael Gelsinger, with his wife Mary, published a Handbook for Orthodox Sunday Schools. Gelsinger was one of the most influential convert clergymen in American Orthodox history. He served in the Antiochian Archdiocese, and this book was published with the blessing of Metropolitan Antony Bashir. Today, we’re presenting the first of a four-part series, taken from the introduction to Gelsinger’s book. We’ll run this mini-series on each of the next four Thursdays.

It is impossible to operate a Sunday School without spending money. Some Parishes can afford to spend more than others can, but every Parish must be willing to provide for its Sunday School as generously as its resources permit. Afte the first year of operation a Sunday School can usually finance itself, especially if the Parish provides adequate equipment at the beginning so that the School can do its work effectively.

The first requirement is that a Sunday School must have a suitable place in which to meet. There should be a room or hall large enough to accomodate the whole Sunday School when it meets for Assembly; and there should be smaller rooms in sufficient number to provide each class with a room of its own, so that when classes are in session they cannot see or hear each other.

In many Parishes, however, it will be impossible to provide a separate room for each class. If several classes must be taught in one large room, they may be separated from each other by screens. Satisfactory screens can be easily and inexpensively contrived by nailing wallboard to wooden frames which have been hinged in pairs. When not in use the screens can be folded up and put away. Screens, of course, will not prevent classes from hearing one another, and a certain amount of noise and confusion is unavoidable when they must be used; but noise and confusion are deadly enemies to the effeciency of the School, and every effort must be made to conduct classes as quietly as possible.

Since the majority of the members of a Sunday School are young children, the accomodations provided must be both safe and pleasant as well as sufficiently spacious. There must be good light, good ventilation, adequate heating, spotlessly clean floors and walls, and spotlessly clean toilets to which no persons except members of the Sunday School are allowed to go while the School is in session. If the hall provided for the Assembly has a concrete floor, it is absolutely necessary that a good wooden floor be built in; for a concrete floor is a menace to the health of the children. The walls should be painted, not in some ugly utilitarian color, but in some pleasant tint; and on them should be hung some appropriate pictures. It will not matter if a child of wealthy parents finds that the Sunday School lacks luxurious appointments; but we are disgraced if we give any child the least reason to think that the place where the Sunday School meets is dirty and cheerless.

Every class needs a table and a supply of chairs. Strongly built card tables, two or more to a class, will serve very well; and an advantage in using them is that they can be folded up and put away when not in use. The chairs should be folding chairs, preferably metal ones that cannot easily be damaged. There should be at least twice as many chairs provided as there are members of the School, so that it will never be necessary to move chairs from one place to another during the session. Money saved by buying fewer chairs will be lost over and over again in damage to the School’s efficiency, for chairs cannot be moved without noise and confusion and loss of valuable time. In providing chairs as in providing other necessities for the Sunday School, stinginess does not save money but throws money away.

The Syrian Archdiocese is preparing lesson materials to meet every need of Orthodox Catholic Sunday Schools conducted in the English language. Music will also be provided. It is surely unnecessary to remind our people that only Orthodox books and Orthodox music should ever be used in teaching our children.

Roll Books and record books, of course, and other supplies of that kind, must be purchased from Sunday School supply companies. No supplies should ever come from any other religious organization, not even if they are offered as gifts; for we are disloyal to our Orthodox Catholic Religion whenever we give anyone even the least reason to believe that the Orthodox Church is dependent upon any other religious organization or in alliance with it. Supplies should always be purchased from a company which is not connected with any particular religious organization. One of the best companies of the kind is the David C. Cook Publishing Company, of Elgin, Illinois, whose catalogue lists an immense variety of supplies for Sunday Schools.