Growing up in my Little Bitty Home Town in Texas, we attended church every Sunday at the local Baptist church. I really didn’t enjoy it at all which is strange considering how it’s something I look forward to now. (Now, it's Episcopalian.)
Anyway, for a while when I was about nine or ten years old, we gave this elderly woman a ride to church every Sunday. Her name was Mrs. Clark and she lived on a really run-down farm located on a dirt road a few miles outside of town.
Every Sunday morning, we would drive up to the gate at the edge of her property and either my younger brother or I would have to get out of the car, open the gate and stand there while my grandmother, Budgie, drove up to the dilapidated old farm house to fetch Mrs. Clark. We’d stand there with the gate open, being eyed by threatening cows, until Budgie would return with Mrs. Clark in hand, close the gate and hop back in the car.
Every Sunday, it was the same. Soon before we got to the gate, my brother and I would begin arguing over whose turn it was for gate duty. There was a reason for this. Mrs. Clark would always give the gatekeeper a whole quarter for doing the job. Twenty-five cents! That was 25 percent of my whole weekly allowance; quite a haul for opening and closing a gate, perilous cows notwithstanding.
Yes, it was great to have a shiny quarter given to you for such an easy job. But you see, Mrs. Clark’s huge payroll came with a strings attached. It was meant, not for our benefit, but as earnings destined for the church collection.
We were only in possession of our cash for an entire fifteen minutes. Once we got to Sunday school, it had to go into the Official Sunday School Collection Envelope. I’m sure that anyone who grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition has seen one of these dreadful things:
Not only did The Envelope gobble up your earnings, but it documented your dedication to Sunday school (or lack thereof) and graded it. Here’s what it graded you on:
Present? (20%) That was easy. Was I present at Sunday school? Was I there? Check.
On Time? (10%) Oh my goodness; well if I was on time, I was also present. Check
Bible? (10%) Southern Baptists shouldn’t be without their bible. And it had better be a King James Version, too. None of these high-falutin’ International versions. Check
Offering? (10%) Well, it was an offering envelope after all. Yeah, my hard-earned quarter’s in there. Check.
Lesson? (30%) This was the kicker. Did you study your Sunday school lesson ahead of time? No way! That’s like homework. Yes, they call it Sunday school, but don’t expect me to do homework.
Preaching? (20%) That meant “Are you attending church afterward to hear the preaching?” No small feat since Southern Baptist sermons often ran 45 minutes, if not more. Check.
So, I’d always get a paltry grade of 70 on these things. It also asked you how many people you invited to church, how many phone calls you made, etc. (Yeah, right, like I’m gonna invite any of my friends to come to a place that expects extra homework.)
So, yes, Sunday school sucked. You were graded, had homework, had to give up your money, and were imperiled by cows.
I could never understand why Mrs. Clark actually wanted to be taken there every week.