This week and next, we will share articles by Dean Phillips—the only two articles he wrote for Christian Standard—from 1937 and 1939, respectively.
In this article, Phillips recounts a spur-of-the-moment decision to teach the worst class of boys in the church. Next week, we share his recollection of the minister coming to his office and shouting, “Your committee’s ruined the church!” (Phillips was then serving as head of the finance committee.)
All that we know about Phillips is that the 1939 article says he is/was from Rock Island, Ill.
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It was his first Sunday back after years of neglect, but he took the—
Worst Class in School
By Dean Phillips
March 6, 1937; p. 5
I shall never forget how I happened to become a Sunday-school teacher, nor the real abiding joy it brought me. It entailed considerable work, of course, and some heartache, but all in all I consider it a delightful, inspiring experience.
I had drifted away from the church for some years when one day the minister called to see me and urged me to come to Sunday school. For a while I held out. He was a frank red-headed Englishman, about forty, I suppose, and I became interested in his fighting spirit. At last I decided to go and was assigned to his class.
Our lesson had scarcely begun when the superintendent came into our room and said that he must have a teacher for a class of young boys. Naturally, I sat still. I had had no particular training, no experience, and I was surrounded by the elders and the deacons of the church, the members of the official board and other men who had attended regularly for years and should have been qualified to teach a few boys. But to my amazement no one uttered a word. When the superintendent had repeated his request three times without response I became disgusted and arose. “I’ll teach them,” I said.
Pleased with the prospect of enlisting a newcomer, the superintendent led me to a barren, unattractive space about four by six feet at the head of the stairs leading to the balcony of the church, where four boys around twelve years of age were huddled upon dusty, uncomfortable chairs. “Boys,” he said in his nervous way, “I’ve brought you a new teacher. If you don’t make good, out the window you go!” Trustingly to me, he added, “This is the worst class in school; they’ve ditched four teachers already!”
I liked neither the superintendent’s attitude nor his words, which I was sure the boys had heard. Loudly I replied: “Why, I don’t think this is the worst class! I think it’s the best! If it isn’t, it’s going to be!” I was sounding a new and strange note, but the boys liked it. Their faces lighted and were wreathed in smiles. Their eyes shone. I felt that I would at least get a chance with them.
When the superintendent left us alone, I sat down and said, “Well, I suppose the first thing to do is to get acquainted.” I told them my name and asked each of them his, writing it down in my quarterly. We also exchanged addresses. I was stalling for time, trying to size up the boys and the situation.
“Naturally,” I said, “people in Sunday school ought to be honest. This is my first Sunday in school for a long time. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I do not even know what the lesson is. Does any one of you?” They shook their tousled heads. “Then let’s find out,” I suggested, opening my quarterly. “We’ll study it together,” I said, beginning to read the Scripture aloud. When I had finished, I explained it and asked questions, being particular to give each boy a chance to express himself.
“It’s too bad the others are not here this morning,” I said. “I’d like to invite them to come next Sunday and plan a meeting in the park that afternoon. I think this class ought to be organized. It ought to have a name, colors, officers, wear pins, have hikes—go places and do things! But I don’t see how I can get word to them. I don’t know their names nor where they live.”
“We’ll tell ’em,” all four chorused. And they did! Next Sunday twenty-four eager-faced lads swarmed around me, anxious to help plan the future of a class that had been throttled, almost destroyed, by teachers who failed to attend regularly, did not prepare lessons beforehand nor present them in an interesting manner, did not understand boys, and made little, if any, effort to keep the class alive and interested.
One rainy Sunday I asked the boys if they would not like to attend church. The minister had invited us several times, but I did not wish to force the boys. If they attended, I wanted it to be of their own accord. To my delight, I was privileged to march into the church at the head of my class, which then numbered forty-five. I saw the minister gasp in surprise, then smile as we filled the pews. He changed his sermon and preached one of special interest to the boys. Later, several of them joined the church.
I offered small prizes for home study of the Sunday-school lesson, for written work, for prompt and regular attendance, for bringing an earned offering, and the like. It helped greatly.
During the seven years that I taught the class we had many happy hikes and parties of all sorts. One party that was particularly successful was given on Halloween at my home. We went to the woods and got leaves and branches which the frost had colored, and decorated the house with them from attic to basement. Each boy came dressed as a ghost and told a ghost story as his contribution to the fun. Simple refreshments were served, and to this day, years afterwards, the boys still talk about that party when I see them.
On my birthday, near the end of the first year that I taught the class, the boys gave me a surprise party, and brought me a book as a gift, accompanied by a letter saying that they hoped I would accept the book “as a token of their love and esteem.” Each had signed the letter, and I still treasure it. Something worth while I felt had been accomplished when “the worst class in school” loved and esteemed its teacher!