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Yarrow, British Columbia

Edited by
Esther Epp Harder, Edwin Lenzmann, and Elmer Wiens

Yarrow Mennonite Brethren Church
Sunday Schools

Proverbs 22 : 6

Peter D. Loewen, the first Sunday School Superintendent, established Sunday School departments based on age: "Anfaenger"—Beginners, pre-school; "Unterstufe"—Primary, grades 1-3, "Mittlestuffe"—Juniors, grades 4-6; "Oberstuffe"—Intermediate, grades 7-9, and Young Adults, grades 10-13. Each division had its department head and group of teachers. Great care was taken in selecting Sunday School teachers, with Loewen holding a practical veto on appointments. Enrolment in the Sunday School climbed from 250 students in 1940 to 450 students in 1949. Thereafter, enrolment declined as young Mennonites found employment away from Yarrow. While in the 1930s and 1940s, Sunday School classes were only taught in High German, by 1960 most classes were taught in English (Neufeldt "Education").

A child born into a Mennonite Brethren family in Yarrow started Sunday School in a beginners' class ("Anfaenger Stufe" ages 4 -6) held in the basement of Church. Before separating into age-determined classes on Sunday morning, the beginners joined the primary aged children in a common room to sing hymns. After the group sing-along, beginners' classes relocated to small rooms on the north west side of the church basement. The children sat in chairs, painted a pale blue colour, similar to today's car seats, on a board that joined the flat sides and the back of the chair. This seat board was located so that when the chair was turned upside down, younger students could sit with their feet on the floor. The high sides of the chair restrained these often-rambunctious students. Turned right side up, older, taller students could also sit comfortably, but without the need to be as restrained. When these functional chairs were laid on their sides, a teacher could sit on one while teaching.

Sunday School Display
Yarrow MB Church 80th Anniversary Celebration
Sunday School Kindergarten Classroom
Modernized Sunday School Kindergarten Chairs

The teachers of the boys and girls in these kindergarten classes were customarily female. Because curtains closed each classroom, the low-keyed murmur of female voices drifted through the church's basement as the young teachers imparted their lessons. Two teachers of the 1944 birth-year, co-ed cohort were Frieda Reimer (later Mrs. Hans Kasdorf) and Tina Wittenberg (later Mrs. Corny Wiebe in Sumas Prairie). On the other hand, the teacher who led the group sing-along was customarily male, one being John Ratzlaff, Sr.

Sunday School Kindergarten Class
Sunday School Kindergarten Class
Teachers: Left Sara Martens Esau, Top: Annie Hepting Enns

The "Anfaenger Stufe" class programmes consisted of stories from the Bible, appropriate for the time of the year, with visual aides affixed to a cloth covered display board. For example, a story about baby Moses was illustrated with pictures of palm trees, a cradle-ark made of bulrushes, some blue waves signifying the river, and various people representing Moses's mother and sister, and the Pharaoh of Egypt's daughter and attendants. The teacher would move the figures around the display board as she related the story of the birth of Moses, and how three months after his birth, Moses was cast adrift in the cradle-ark to prevent the Pharaoh's soldiers from finding and killing him. Miraculously, while bathing the Pharaoh's daughter finds baby Moses drifting in the river. Deciding to keep the baby for herself, she asks Moses' sister and mother to raise him for her, eventually claiming Moses as her own son. This story fascinated the children in those days before television, and undoubtedly it still does.

Sunday School Class — 1948. Teacher: Gertrude Esau
Sunday School Class - 1948. Teacher: Gertrude Esau
    _____, Frieda Klassen, _____, Hilda Reimer, Joan Suderman, Esther Epp
      Front: _____ Nikkel, _____ and Art Loewen.
The photo is taken at a Sunday School party at the Esau home on Dyke Road.

Primary ("Unter Stufe" ages 7-9) students were approximately age equivalent to primary students in secular schools, but were separated by gender. All kindergarten and primary students met together to sing hymns for about fifteen to twenty minutes. By the time students reached the "Unter Stufe," they knew the children's hymns by heart, and enthusiastically lead the singing with the teacher, while the primary students sang along as best they could. Among the teachers for the girls' were Helena Abrahams and Elizabeth Dyck Peters; the teachers for the boys included David Klassen, Henry Enns, and Corney Giesbrecht. The girls "Unter Stufe" classrooms were located in rooms along the south east side of the church basement, while the boys classes were in the south west side. This west-east gender division paralleled the female-male division in the church's nave.

Primary Sunday School Girls' Class
Sunday School Primary Girls' Class
Teachers: Frieda Martens and Eva Janzen Loewen

Students were marked on attendance, punctuality, contributing to the collection, and memorizing Bible verses. Their performance was recorded on report cards, and sent home to parents, quarterly.

Elmer Wiens Sunday School Report Card Edwin Lenzmann Sunday School Report Card
Edwin Lenzmann Sunday School Verses

Towards the end of each class, students were given a Bible verse to memorize for the next class. These Bible verses were to be pasted into a booklet, filling the entire booklet if a student attended all classes in the year. The Sunday School year ran from October to September. Students were generally placed in classes according to their birth months within a given calendar year, but exceptions were sometimes made. For example, students born in 1944 started grade one of the "Unter Stufe" in October of 1951. After three years in the "Unter Stufe," these students graduated to the "Mittle Stufe" (Junior class) at the end of September of 1954.

Primary Sunday School Boys' Class —1951-54.
Teachers: D. Klassen and H. Enns
Sunday School Class - 1951-54. Teachers: D. Klassen and H. Enns
Victor Kopp, Abie Klassen, David Nickel, Ernest Neufeld, Mr Henry Enns
Mr David Klassen, David Dyck, Edwin Epp, Allan Martens, Rudy Baerg, Danny Loewen
Walter Teichgrab, Gordon Paetkau, Elmer Wiens, Robert Giesbrecht
David Klassen, Willy Langemann, Don Fehr, Victor Janzen, Edwin Lenzmann

Graduating from the "Unter Stufe" to the Junior classes ("Mittel Stufe" ages 10-13) was an important rite-of-passage for Sunday School students. At the age of ten, students were considered old enough to read the Bible, and to understand its contents with only some interpretive assistance. At the ceremony held in the Church's sanctuary, students were called by name to the front of the congregation. The Sunday School Superintendent shook each student's hand, and awarded the student a Bible and a verse. In the early 1950's, these Bibles were still in German as translated by Martin Luther. Although most students were also enrolled in the German Religious School held on Saturday mornings, many students found reading their Bibles printed in Gothic script somewhat difficult.

Primary Sunday School Girls' Class
Teachers: Annie Derksen and Helen Harder
Primary Sunday School Girls' Class
Back: Annie Derksen, Ruby Klaassen, Tina Unruh, Hildegard Rempel, Martha Fast, Mary Emma Lenzmann, Helen Harder
Front: Hilda Reimer, Bertha Harder, Erica Kaethler, Minnie Plett, Kathy Enns, Erna Janzen

Primary Sunday School Boys' Class
Mr Corney Giesbrecht, Teacher
Sunday School Class - Mr Corney Giesbrecht, Teacher

With their Bibles in hand, the new "Mittel Stufe" students attended classes in one of the small buildings at the northeast corner of the churchyard, used at various times for classrooms of the secular Yarrow Elementary School, the Elim Bible School, and the fledgling Sharon Mennonite Collegiate. This move was not only a physical separation for these students from the children of the kindergarten and primary Sunday School classes, but also a physical and emotional separation from their parents who met for their own Sunday School classes in the Church's sanctuary.

Junior ("Mittel Stufe") Sunday School Class
1947 — Lena Giesbrecht, Teacher
Junior Sunday School Class - Lena Giesbrecht, Teacher

The buildings at the northeast corner of the churchyard were rudimentary, sometimes described as remodelled chicken barns. The eastern building had a room large enough to seat all the "Mittel Stufe" children while they sang their religious songs. The girls sat on the west side of the room, while the boys sat on the east side. This seating arrangement was okay, because the east windows looked onto a ditch with an enormous frog population, an occasional muskrat, and a few flocks of ducks. This slough began as seepage from the Vedder River dykes, flowing south, east, and south to cross Central Road. It then meandered across many backfields of farms before crossing Stewart Road on the north side of the Sharon Mennonite Collegiate schoolyard. The west windows looked onto the church parking lot, providing a view of late arriving "Ober Stufe" students, and parishioners arriving early for the morning church service.

Mr. Henry ("Verily") Janzen led the singing for the mixed group of "Mittel Stufe" boys and girls. Students sang some of the easier, and livelier songs from the church hymnal. After about twenty minutes, students segregated into age and gender based classes. Teachers of the boys' classes included Peter Tilitsky, Dave Giesbrecht, Harvey Neufeldt, and Karl Bartsch; the girls' teachers included Helena Abrahams, Elizabeth Dyck Peters, Gertie Esau Martens, and Annie Enns Loewen. In the 1950s, the classrooms' furniture consisted of leftovers from the buildings previous usage. Students sat on a bench attached to a slanted writing table, with three or four students to each bench. These group desks were painted a dull grey, obviously layered on many occasions.

The curriculum for the "Mittel Stufe" division was based on passages of the Bible that reflected the students' maturing aptitudes. Bible stories, such as the fall of King Saul and the rise of King David, were studied for their messages. For example, Saul's disfavour with the God of the Israelites began when he disobeyed God's commandments. When King Saul and his garrison encountered a large horde of Philistines, Saul presented a burnt offering to God, an act strictly reserved for the priesthood.   After King Darius casts Daniel into a den of lions, however, Daniel survives the night because he faithfully serves his God. Daniel continued to pray upon his knees facing Jerusalem three times a day, even though Darius had been tricked into passing a law forbidding a petition, or prayer of any God or man for thirty days, except for King Darius himself.

In these "Mittel Stufe" classes, the question of using the German or English language became an issue. After three years in an English secular school, some students preferred instruction in English, especially if their parents and siblings generally spoke English at home. Yet, many students were perfectly bilingual for their age, and had no particular language preference. However, children of parents who spoke Low German ("Plattdeutsch") at home probably felt some discomfort with the strict grammar and pronunciation rules of High German. Nevertheless, newly arrived children from Germany, Mexico, and Latin America with only basic English much preferred their instruction in German.

Sunday School students attended the "Ober Stufe" classes located in the old Elim Bible School at the northwest corner of the churchyard. Well lit by windows on its north and south sides, this building offered pleasant, comfortable surroundings in which to spend part of a Sunday morning. The acoustics of the large, assembly room on the second floor facilitated enthusiastic singing by students led by a conductor and accompanied by a piano. With their maturing, experienced voices, "Ober Stufe" students attempted more difficult hymns. While most students still sang the melody of the songs, some advanced students tried to harmonize by singing the base, tenor, alto and soprano parts of the hymns.

After the group session, students separated into age and gender based classes, with the option to attend a German or English class. Intermediate teachers included Annie and Susie Funk, John Ratzlaff, John Kroeker, and Aaron Rempel. These well-loved, and respected teachers were known to have a rapport with teenagers, and understood the challenges and temptations that accompanied puberty.

Intermediate students were expected to understand increasingly more sophisticated theological concepts. For example, while the New Testament superseded the Old Testament, the experiences of the Israelites as described in the Old Testament were a necessary precursor to the birth of Jesus Christ as the saviour of Jews and Gentiles alike. An outline with a key Bible verse in a pre-printed workbook augmented each class's lesson. As homework, students answered questions in the workbook by referring to relevant passages of the Bible. Their answers were then marked at the following Sunday's class.

Sunday School Students - 1948
Sunday School Students — 1948
Approximately 400 Students

Men's Sunday School Class
Teacher Rev. David Klassen, Middle.
Men's Sunday School Class - Teacher Rev. David Klassen, Middle

2 Tommothy 3 : 14-15

Sunday School Dreams
Sunday School Dreams

Podcast: Sunday School Dreams


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