Advent Hope: Online program equips Sunday schools

During Advent, a season of hope and expectation, features weekly stories about Anglicans sharing Christ’s hope with the world. Each story connects with a Mark of Mission and includes a giving opportunity through the Anglican Church of Canada’s new gift guide, Acts of Faith.

Sunday school students dressed up for Halloween at St. Luke's Anglican in Dryden, Ont.
Sunday school students dressed up for Halloween at St. Luke’s Anglican in Dryden, Ont.

Marion Dennis felt a little overwhelmed when she was asked to lead her church’s Sunday school several years ago. The Dryden, Ont. woman had just come back to the church and was already juggling several volunteer gigs. She served as president of the Newfoundland club, sang in a praise group, and on top of this she worked full time at a busy government centre that serviced her northern community.

But the nudges kept coming. First, Ms. Dennis’s friend, Louise Lomas, a sixty-something seminarian, spoke words of encouragement. Then the minister at St. Luke’s, the Ven. Patricia Cleghorn, recommended theVirtual Church School, where Ms. Dennis could download lesson plans online.

Four years later, she’s off and running. The school has expanded from two children to ten, ranging in age from nine months to 14 years.

“We use Virtual Church School as a base for everything,” she said. “The lesson plan is very helpful. We follow the church calendar, and the craft ideas are good for the little ones and the older ones.”

Curriculum is a gift to the church
Since 2008, Fiona Brownlee of Kenora, Ont. has been writing and posting these Virtual Church School lessons for each Sunday of the year. She serves as communications coordinator for the Council of the North (the church’s ten northern dioceses) but the program is available for anyone to use. Although she does not track locations of downloads, Ms. Brownlee has heard of it being used in southern Ontario, B.C., and even Guam.

“It’s our gift from the Council of the North to the rest of the church,” she said. “We have been gifted with so much, and this is one way we can give back.”

The project arose from a real need in her area. Ms. Brownlee saw many churches, especially in Indigenous communities, with many children but few resources. Her boss, Archbishop David Ashdown, remembered learning through the Sunday School by Post program when he was a child in rural Saskatchewan. Together they updated the idea into Virtual Church School.

The program became a passion for Ms. Brownlee, who has worked as a professional church curriculum writer and has taught Sunday school on and off since she was 16. The idea also attracted two key volunteers: French translator Michel Gagnon (Diocese of Montreal) and Bernadette Njegovan (Diocese of Brandon), who writes seasonal prayer suggestions.

Ms. Brownlee said the program is a great example of the second Mark of Mission, “To teach, baptize, and nurture new believers.” The Marks of Mission, developed by the Anglican Communion, are a priority for the Anglican Church of Canada.

“There’s that basic command that Jesus gave to the church, to share the gospel with all the nations,” she said. “That’s the basic hope of sharing the love of God with all and this project helps us to do that by passing faith on to the next generation.”

That’s the hope that Ms. Dennis sees when she teaches in Dryden, Ont. She notices that the Sunday school program has helped nurture many good intergenerational connections.

“The Sunday school kids enlighten the lives of the elderly,” she said. “We had a party and this brought such vitality. It was so much fun to see kids having fun.”

Support the Virtual Church School and other ministries in the Council of the North by donating through the Acts of Faith online Gift Guide.

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