Saving Sunday School, Gospel Principles 2 Style
I’ve been ditching Sunday School since I was released as a Gospel Doctrine instructor 3.5 years ago. It’s been nice, actually. I only live five minutes away from the church, so after Sacrament Meeting, I would drive home, enjoy half an hour or so in the quiet house without the kids, and then drive back to church for Relief Society.
Though I’ve enjoyed my alone time during the second hour of church, a part of me did wish we had a Sunday School class that addressed my needs. Gospel Doctrine just wasn’t working for me. I didn’t feel free to contribute my thoughts, questions, or experiences. Not that the instructors were bad or shutting me down or anything – but the very assumptions about testimony and belief that were embedded in the discussions made me feel like an outsider. I would sit in silence. Who was I to steer discussions in places the teacher didn’t want them to go? And did I have the emotional fortitude to be vulnerable and honest in this setting that wasn’t really looking for that kind of honesty? No, it was better to not say anything. And after a while, it just felt better to not even go.
Several months ago, however, my bishopric came up with the idea for a Sunday School class for people who didn’t feel at home at Gospel Doctrine or Gospel Principles. (Full disclosure: my husband is a counselor in the bishopric.) They wanted a class for people who were in different places on their faith journey, a safe place where they could share their questions, experiences, insights, and more. The bishopric saw this class as a chance to minister to an at-risk population which needed a different kind of conversation than a traditional Sunday School class could provide.
So after much discussion among the bishopric and potential class members, Gospel Principles 2 was born. It’s a discussion based class led by skilled facilitator, a PhD student familiar with difficult Mormon issues, and it’s premised on the value of honesty and authenticity. It is built around class members’ particular questions and interests, and it was described to the ward as a place where people, especially those who feel they don’t fit in, can more freely and openly talk about gospel topics and their own unique faith journeys. So far we’ve discussed race and Mormonism, Book of Mormon translation/historicity, the nature of revelation and authority in the church, sacred vs. secret, and gay marriage. The readings have been chapters from the Gospel Principles manual and the gospel topics essays. Usually the class has 7 to 11 people attending, and about a third of us are people with serious questions and issues with Mormonism, and the others are people that are interested in talking about these issues, even if they’ve never been much of a problem for them.
It’s been fantastic. For the first time in years, I’ve felt free to talk, question, contribute and more openly share my true self. People who haven’t had the same questions I’ve had have thoughtfully listened and asked questions to try to understand. They’ve shared their perspectives and thoughts as well. Not that there’s not some tension sometimes. It can be a bit uncomfortable for orthodox people to hear my perspectives, and it’s a bit uncomfortable for me sometimes to hear their perspectives, especially opinions that tie everything up in neat tidy bows. A few times I’ve felt somewhat silenced despite the efforts of our wonderful facilitator, depending on who decides to attend the class. But overall, it’s been a liberating, invigorating, and thoroughly enjoyable experience. I look forward to Sunday School every Sunday. I love that we’re talking about hard issues that so often are never broached in the three hour block.
Last night I told my husband that I’ve been spiritually suffocating in our ward for the past few years. It’s the first time I’ve articulated it that way to him, though I’ve articulated it that way to myself for a while now. But thanks to Gospel Principles 2, for the first time in years, I feel like I can breathe.