By Pastor Robin Wells
When I was a child, I was very reluctant to leave Sunday worship with the other children. I did not like going to the front of church to hear a lesson before being whisked off to Sunday School. I never really latched on to the idea of Sunday School itself when I was perfectly content to remain with my parents in worship singing the songs and listening to the sermon. Most Sundays, I was able to evade the underage exodus to points beyond and to find my way back into the pew. My aversion to Sunday school may have had to do with an incident that my dad loved to retell about my precociousness as a child.
As you can imagine, the Sunday School teacher has the divine tasking of wrangling children into quietness and attentiveness in order for the children to receive their faith formation. But there was one particular class in which the teacher’s repeated shush-ing of the children was met with a continuing cacophony.
As the voices children’s continued to amplify, and seeing that the teacher was in need of assistance, I did what I thought would be helpful. . . by blurting out a colorful expletive—the kind of expletive that is of the bovine excrement variety.
Needless to say, the astonished Sunday School teacher turned to me and said, “Robin! What did you say?” And thinking that she must not have heard me clearly over the children’s voices, I said it again, but this time even louder and prouder. And so, the Sunday school teacher asked me if I knew what that word meant. At least I thought I knew what it meant as I had learned it. I said to her, “My daddy says that’s the Spanish word for ‘Shhh.’”
Despite my efforts to remain in Sunday worship, there was the occasional Sunday in which I was promised there would be singing in Sunday School—a continuation of the Wednesday night children’s choir practice. Despite the direction we were given into becoming one united voice praising God, I would compose alternative lyrics to the songs we were singing, and then whisper those lyrics to the kids on either side of me.
I vividly remember an instance of getting in trouble for changing just a single word to a praise song, and it was due to the influence of Shadoe Stevens, the DJ of American Top 40 and of Hollywood Squares fame. In the early years of his career in media, Shadoe Stevens had a recurring character in television commercials for The Federated Group, a chain of stores that sold name-brand electronics like cassette decks and Betamax players. These commercials were silly, juvenile, and just over the top with nonsense. But they were embedded in my childhood brain. I was continually drunk with the jingles and sound effects of television commercials and I had no hesitation in mimicking what I had seen and heard.