This has been running back and forth through my mind lately and I know why. It’s because the people involved were all women who had an influence on me. A good one. All ladies in my church. These were ladies I grew to know and love from the time I started at Southside Baptist Church. I was in the 6th grade. These were ladies who were already adults when I was a child and so they were my teachers and my leaders and my examples.
I trained several years while I was in college at Glorietta Baptist Assembly in Glorietta, NM. I wouldn’t expect you to know about this place unless you were a Southern Baptist. There was another one in Ridgecrest, NC. In those years, people would travel for a week or two to one of these assemblies and stay on the grounds. Then they would go to classes in their area of service during the day. Every evening there were services with the visiting pastor for the week. Each night was like a good ole Baptist Revival. The best preachers were there…the best singers were there. And, helping to run it all was college students from around the country. Most were employed to clean cabins during the day, or work on the grounds, or serve in the kitchen…cooking and cleaning. Some were used in the recreation for the visiting children. And, a few…just 5 or 6…were selected to work in the preschool department.
I was one of those. Now, I didn’t realize just how fortunate I was at first, but anything was better than cleaning and making beds or washing 600 dirty breakfast plates! Thus began my training and subsequent love of preschool education in the church. The leaders in each of these areas were the tops in their field. These were the people who wrote the literature. They wrote the books on how to teach. The wrote study course books outlining how to set up a preschool department and why. These people were amazing. They wrote children’s books and children’s music. They did it all. And, for 2 summers, I was directly under their direction and leadership and teaching.
This is the way it worked. We all got a crash course in teaching preschoolers. We’d watch and learn. We’d do something wrong and learn. We’d read and learn. And, soon enough, we would take the whole room of children and be responsible for them. See, the parents who came to attend classes would bring their children. We in turn would keep them and teach them…like a Sunday School department. There were classrooms set up. And, all around the outside of the room were dark screened rooms with chairs. The leaders would hold classes elsewhere for those who were interested in preschool work and then sometime each day they would quietly enter those darkened screen rooms and observe what we EXPERTS were doing. Believe me, if we did not not handle a situation right…it was used to talk about the right thing to do…and we were made well aware of the blunder! They would sit quietly for 30 or 40 minutes and then leave. The children never knew they were there. (I do remember one little boy coming up to me and saying that the “that wall has coughing in it!”)
I can’t even begin to tell you how soon I began to know just how blessed I was. This method of teaching made perfect sense to me. A department was set up with certain areas in it….art, home living, blocks, puzzles, books, etc. These were a constant each week. Then an activity was prepared for the child to do in each area. An activity that went along with the lesson. The children made the choices as to the areas they visited…but in each one they had the opportunity to hear the Bible Story of the day. So, by the time they got to Large group time, they had heard the story at least 3 times already! Then all the lessons followed a rotation system in the areas of God, Jesus, Natural World, Self, Others, Family, Home. It changed either monthly or quarterly.
This system made such sense to me and it still does, though few follow it anymore. I began to to work in a local church while I was in college. And, I had already taken 2 years of Early Education courses at Samford University. Don and I married and I taught in our church in Birmingham until we moved back to Dothan. About that time, our home church began a major building project for a new education building and a preschool building was included in that. I was able to give some input and insight into the building…and they used consultants from Baptist State Boards to make sure it met the requirements they had set forth. How blessed to be able to teach in a building, and have the materials to teach, all according to the proper set up! I started my work in preschool at Southside as Preschool Director. I stayed in this position for some 20 years. I then passed the job to capable hands and began teaching the kindergarten class each Sunday. This was probably another 20 years. I worked as Director again for a few years when we remodeled again, but now I am out of it altogether. Age and family and health…you understand. But, I miss it every single time I am at church!
One of the things I worked on in those years is getting trained teachers for all the classrooms…babies, toddlers, threes,fours,and fives. And I was able to do that. I taught classes for all ages. One of my greatest success stories was the Threes!
I don’t remember exactly, but this is my recollection. My Mom came to me and said that she and two of her friends wanted to teach the threes. Well, this was just as I was looking for new workers. I told her that would be great! So the team of Mom (Eloise Townsend), Jeanette Glover, and Rudean Newton was formed for our three year old department. They were willing and anxious to learn the ‘right ‘ way to do everything! They knew how important it was to have training, and spent a week at an Alabama assembly that taught classes similar to the bigger assemblies. This was Shocco Springs. They learned and began the work with our threes. What a wonderful job they did! Oh, and how thrilled I was to see things done the right way…the way for optimum teaching of little ones. They worked together for quite a few years. I don’t remember exactly why, but Mrs. Rudean had to bow out….and was replaced by the wonderful Betty Swicord. She fit right in and things went on just as smoothly as before. I had forgotten this but Jeanette told me Sunday that when Mrs. Betty had to exit, another lady stepped in. And, through all the years, when one or another of the ladies were unable to be in attendance, Shirley Hammond was the designated fill in person. She was as talented as all the others and could move in with ease.
This post is a thank you to this group who saw the need for preschool education. They didn’t think threes were too young to teach. They understood the principle that, starting with babies, you build a foundation that church is a happy place to be. People love me at church. People take care of me at church. We do fun things together at church. This foundation carries on and is built upon as the child grows. Soon he is able to learn more about why we come to church…eventually learning to love God and surrender their lives to Him.
The saints in this group are no longer all together. Mom and Mrs. Rudean have moved to Heaven.
Mrs. Betty is dealing with serious health issues, Mrs. Jeanette has just undergone some serious health problems, as well. In the midst of the illness of both of these ladies, they have been faithful and continue to serve the Lord.
Shirley Hammond is no longer a member at Southside, but is doing well and serving the Lord in many ways. She is and will always be a part of us!
I want to honor these ladies and the example they are to me! I have watched you all for many years. I see what you do and how you act. I see how you suffer and continue to smile. I see you faith in our Lord shining through adversity. I don’t think I can ever measure up to any of you, but you are my inspiration.
My mother was wise in many ways. She was a friend to many. These ladies were dear to her and loved her. And, she loved and trusted them. At times, in church, I get a little emotional, when something reminds me of Mom. These are the ladies I want to hug…because they loved her, too. And, I feel almost as if I can feel her though their hugs.
Mom, Rudean Newton, Jeanette Glover, Betty Swicord, Shirley Hammond…thank you. You have a special place in my heart of hearts.