Leah Francis : Finding the Way contents

Around the Streets

SUNDAY SCHOOL

Our shop was close to Hurstville Methodist Church. When I was about three, two teenage sisters, Millie and Daphne Piccard, offered to take me to Hurstville Methodist Sunday School. I loved it.

I revelled in singing the little hymns and doing the actions the teachers showed me. I was excited by the stories they told, and especially enjoyed holding out the basket to receive the the offering- "Hear the pennies dropping, listen as they fall. every one for Jesus – He shall have them all."

I was able to join in most Sunday School activities – making plasticine models or building in the sand tray to illustrate the stories we had heard, crumbling bread on to the lawn, to feed the birds God made and cared for.

One teacher made me a paper model of the house to which a man, "sick of the palsy", was taken to see Jesus. His friends could not carry him through the crowd into the house, so they took him up the outside steps and lowered him through the roof and down into the midst of the crowded room where Jesus was standing.

I had my own square house, a long flight of carefully folded paper steps leading from the ground to the flat roof which had an attic on one corner. I remember simple, uncluttered models like this one much more clearly and in more detail than many things which have been described for me, and than many more detailed and complex models I have seen.

As in most aspects of life, I sometimes missed out at Sunday School. On the week before Mother's Day (when I was about six) we all received tasks to perform of our mothers. Auntie came to watch me, but my teacher was away and nobody knew what I was supposed to do. I knew I should be cutting paper to cover a book, but nobody could understand what I was saying. While the others were working and chattering, I did nothing but try to hold back tears.

I have often felt ashamed and unhappy because I am blind. These are hard experiences but they prepare me for what is to come, and perhaps to develop the strength to hold swallow at least a little of my hurt and pride.

In junior Sunday School we began to use hymn books. I can see light, and colour from my right eye if the light is good and the colour is bright. I would hold the books close to my eye to see what colour they were. The others thought I could tell colour by smell, so they would test me by holding objects to my nose and asking me to tell the colour. At eight years old, it's not easy to explain such complexities, so I said nothing to dispel the myth. I believe that to this day some of those Sunday School friends are telling how I could smell colour.

When I was eight and in junior Sunday School I first sat for public examinations. While the others silently wrote their answers, I sat in a separate room where one of the teachers read the questions aloud for me and wrote the answers I dictated. These were sent with the others to the central office of the Methodist church in NSW for marking. I used this method through Sunday School, highschool, the "leaving certificate", teachers' college and many university examinations.

Each year I managed honours in Sunday School exams. My prizes were braille editions of books of the bible which the Church bought through the British and Foreign Bible Society. They were heavy, bulky volumes, usually containing just one book. Blind children were used to handling these unwieldy tomes. At prize giving nights the treasurer always read the account paid to the British and Foreign Bible Society. I knew these were the cost of my prizes and felt embarrassed.

When I could, I read the passages set for Sunday School lessons and learnt the memory verses from these hefty volumes.

I was always obliged to read at anniversaries and on other special occasions. Never a fast reader, I would stumble through the few verses, nervous and embarrassed because I read so slowly, and because I was different.

One day when I was practising a passage with Auntie, I read a word incorrectly. She corrected me, and I told her there was one dot too many in the word. She asked which dot, so I touched one at random. With the handle of a knife, Auntie rubbed that dot out. Never again did I tell that lie!

At Sunday School I often felt different, though I was rarely left out or given special attention. As always, I made a few friends, but most people avoided playing with me because I was not quick enough to join in games, was unaware of their body language, and made no visual response. Many of the children were strangers to me. I knew their names and their voices, but not them. For our lessons we were divided into small groups, and I formed good friendships with these class-mates. I have always found it easier and more comfortable to be with a small group than with a large one.

As I grew into my teens, conversation became more relevant and games less important, at least among girls. It was not until we vied for boys' attention that I again felt left out. What boy would bother with a girl who couldn't see!

One Sunday a guest preacher came to urge us to "sign the pledge" never to drink alcohol. I was ashamed because I could not sign my name, so I did not queue up to sign the pledge. The Lord blessed me by sparing me guilt. Almost every day I thrive on a drink or two.

I am thankful to the teachers and my peers at Hurstville Methodist Sunday School for the richness of knowledge and experience lent to my young life. While the Department of Education would not allow me to go to their schools, Hurstville Methodist Sunday School put thought, sensitivity and money into ensuring that my religious education was adapted to my needs and equal to everyone else's. Aunt and gran and grandfather supported them. They read the Bible to me, helped to prepare me for Sunday School examinations, sent me to Sunday School in clothes I could be proud of, gave me money for the collection, bought me a hymn book and a bible and helped me to write my name and address in them. They welcomed my friends and supported me at every Sunday School event.

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