Almost every time I meet someone who is new to Newberg Friends or looking for a faith community to join, I end up telling the person about an interactive, thought-provoking, faith-exploring, multi-generational gathering of Jesus-followers that happens at NFC every Sunday morning. Yes, that description fits our community worship service, but I’m speaking about the Sandals Sunday school class, where the “interactive” component tends to ramp up a couple of notches from the typical Sunday morning service.
For a number of years, church leaders across the country have recognized the value of small-group gatherings, whether in home groups, small groups, Bible studies, or even…Sunday school classes. One benefit of these smaller gatherings is the ability to grow deeper relationships than we tend to develop when sitting in a pew next to other worshipers. These settings also provide opportunity for a different type of interaction, one that often includes sharing personal thoughts, beliefs, and stories.
Those who started the Sandals class (before my arrival) wrote the following:
The vision of the Sandals Sunday school class is to be a marketplace of ideas waiting to be heard, explored, and used to change lives; to share life-strengthening support with each other; to influence the leadership, direction, and mission of the gathered body at Newberg Friends Church; to practice the presence of Christ; and to welcome all who desire fellowship.
Regular attendees identify the range of speakers, topics, and modes of interaction as one of the primary elements they value. Speakers occasionally come for one week, but more often are scheduled for two to six weeks. During the past several years, our “marketplace of ideas” has included:
• Melanie Mock on Mennonite conscientious objectors
• Dick Sartwell helping us consider the Seven Deadly Sins
• Fred Gregory sharing about what he has learned from the poor
• Becky Ankeny introducing us to Julian of Norwich
• Lectio divina, a process of “divine reading” of scripture
• Ron Stansell helping us learn about Islam, Muslims, and Christianity
• Steve Sherwood examining why young people are leaving the church
…and many others
On any given Sunday, the class will have 20 to 35 participants, though over the course of a year we might have 80 different attendees. Folks come from a range of denominational backgrounds, and although the majority of the group is between 35 and 55, we’ve had some in their 20s, a few over 70, and dare I mention one Friend who is over 90? Some folks attend almost every week of a series, while others might attend only one or two sessions. As a class, we tend to like discussion, whether fostered by questions for each table or in large-group discussion. One class member spoke for many others when she expressed appreciation that “everyone has an opportunity to share their views, ask questions, and disagree.”
And what about the name—Sandals? The class founders wrote,
We take our name from the passage in Exodus where God spoke to Moses, saying, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” We desire our gathering times – whether on Sunday mornings, weekend retreats, camping trips, or other get-togethers – to be holy moments during which we encounter Christ in the community of his followers.
That reminds me: I’ve not mentioned the annual men’s and women’s weekends, the annual camping trip, or the occasional potluck. Each of these, in addition to our Sunday morning class, contributes to camaraderie and connection as we enter the “holy ground” of relationship with each other. Class members have prayed with each other, performed service together, supported each other through difficult waters, lent (or in my case, borrowed) cars/trailers/campers, and more.
If you have kids who attend Sunday school, are looking to connect with adults around topics of faith, regularly attend the 10:45 a.m. service and need a reason to get up earlier on Sunday morning, or are just interested in hearing one of our speakers, come join us one of these Sundays. This fall, Paul Anderson is scheduled to lead us in a series on John; Carol Sherwood will help us “write our story”; and MaryKate Morse will lead a class on prayer. Our class meets at 9 a.m. downstairs in the social hall, and everyone—college students, twenty-somethings, young-married, parents of preschoolers, Boomers, Busters, Millennials, the Greatest Generation, whatever description fits you—is welcome to join us for one or more Sundays.
Rick Muthiah is on the leadership team for the Sandals class. He works at George Fox and appreciates the ability to draw heavily on the university (and our Friends community) for speakers.