Children in rural Saskatchewan learn Sunday school lessons that came in the winter by post.
A historic church program in western Canada is returning with a modern twist as the diocese of Keewatin marks a century of Sunday School by Post by inaugurating a Sunday school course on the Internet.
On Feb. 10, the first Sunday of Lent, the diocese will launch on its Web site (www.dioceseofkeewatin.ca) the “virtual” Sunday school for children in remote communities, said Bishop David Ashdown. He said he believes Keewatin is the first Canadian Anglican diocese to inaugurate such a program.
“It will be a weekly electronic lesson format that can be downloaded at home. It will also contain links to other Web sites. There will be activities and a story time and it will all take about 30 minutes,” he said in an interview.
Keewatin, which is based in Kenora, Ont. and includes northwestern Ontario and eastern Manitoba, has many congregations in rural and aboriginal communities. Sunday School by Post was started in 1905 by Rev. T.G. Beal and Evelyn Gwynne of Grenfell, Sask., in the diocese of Qu’Appelle.
Bishop Ashdown, who is 57, experienced Sunday School by Post growing up in Okla, Sask., in the diocese of Saskatoon. “In winter time, the roads were often blocked (by snow) for two to three months at a time. Church was four miles away. We’d go at Christmas, traveling by horse, and then probably Good Friday. School was closer – one and a-half miles – and we could walk there,” he recalled.
Keewatin’s communications director, Fiona Brownlee, who in the 1980s participated in the writing group for the ecumenical Sunday school curriculum called Whole People of God, is designing the Internet Sunday school program.
“We’re trying to do something for the smaller churches in the diocese that don’t have the financial means to get access to the curriculum,” she said, adding that her parish of St. Alban’s Cathedral in Kenora spends about $300 per year on Sunday school materials.
“Some families can’t get to church on Sunday because of shift work or hockey practice, so they could still do something at home in terms of Christian education with their children,” she said.
Weather is also a factor in the diocese. “If it’s minus 30 degrees and minus 50 with the wind chill, you may not be going to church,” she added. Snowy roads are still an issue, although “most of the folks have snowmobiles.” In northern aboriginal communities, families go out on the land to hunt, trap or fish, and the Internet Sunday school could be printed out and taken along, she said.
Working with such diocesan aboriginal leaders as Archdeacon Larry Beardy, Archdeacon (acting) Lydia Mamakwa and layperson Sheba McKay, Ms. Brownlee will incorporate aboriginal elements such as prayers including the four directions and said she intends to have environmental components in the program.
The material is intended for children ages five to 12, with age-appropriate activities. “The 12-year-olds can be the readers, while the five-year-olds need something to engage them,” such as physical activity, song or drama, she said. There will be suggestions for craft activities, outreach and prayers.
Although the diocese is sponsoring the Internet Sunday school, “anyone who wants to use it, can use it,” said Ms. Brownlee, who added that she intends to invite other writers to contribute.