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United Methodist makes Sunday school a lifelong commitment

 


United Methodist makes Sunday school a lifelong commitment

Feb. 17, 2005       

A UMNS Feature
By Kathy L. Gilbert*

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (UMNS)—On a cold, snowy, Sunday morning, Gene Pitzer is the only person on the street warming up the truck and shoveling snow from the driveway.

He knows his wife is serious about getting to church. Mary Lou Pitzer hasn’t missed going to Sunday school in 51 years, and she is not going to let a little snow make her miss church today.

Pitzer fell in love with Sunday school when she joined the United Methodist Church in 1953. She was 11 years old and soon started teaching Sunday school for the 2- and 3-year-olds.

“I didn’t start off to make any record,” she says. She is surprised everyone is making such a big deal out of her attendance record. “I never thought about it; that is the thing you do, you go to Sunday school. Everybody keeps telling me that this is really something else, but I never really thought about it.” A high school math teacher, she never misses a day of school either.

The first church she joined was United Methodist Morgan Chapel, a small rural congregation in southwest Virginia that shared its pastor with another church. “We didn’t have worship service every Sunday, but we had Sunday school every Sunday,” she says. “Sunday school seemed to me to be the part of church that I belonged to.”

Push her on her record and she has an answer for every excuse most people would use to miss church.

She has never been sick; both her children were born on Sunday, and she made it to the hospital chapel; when her children were sick, her husband took care of them; and when the family went on vacations, Sunday school was part of the destination.

Even her wedding day was arranged to accommodate Sunday school.

Laughing, she says she planned a Sunday afternoon wedding.

“I refused to get married on Saturday because I knew it would be asking too much to drag him to church on Sunday morning,” she says. “It didn’t seem like a big deal to him, but I guess for most people that was a big change—most weddings are on Saturday. That was one of the biggest decisions I had to make.”

She didn’t always insist her husband and two children attend church with her, but most of the time they went along.

“Someone asked me, ‘Didn’t you ever complain?’ and no, it was just an expectation—you go to church and that was that,” says her daughter Valerie Wicks, who along with her mother and father is a member of St. Matthias United Methodist Church. “I grew up with an expectation that you would go to Sunday school and go to church every Sunday. We never fought, we never complained.”

Having a brother came in handy on those occasions when they made a stop along the road to attend church, Wicks recalls. “That was probably one of the few times I was thankful I had a brother because when we would go into strange Sunday school class it was always nice to know one other person.”

Not every church Pitzer has attended has been United Methodist. “I have been to a Mormon church, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Baptist, Catholic,” she says, counting them off on her fingers.

Her husband says the pressure was on a few times to find a church at 10 a.m. on Sunday. “Sometimes it gets down to the wire. I think we may have been a few minutes late for some of them, but we managed to get there.”

“In my travels, I have learned so much from other churches about how people believe,” Pitzer says. “They open up their hearts to you in a Sunday school class. ... You just feel a part of God’s work.”

St. Matthias held a reception to celebrate Pitzer’s special achievement. She received a letter from Bishop Charlene Kammerer of the Virginia Annual (regional) Conference, and her daughter ordered a specially made pin from the United Methodist Publishing House. “I’m not sure they ever had a request for 51 years before,” Pitzer says, smiling.

The Publishing House doesn’t track Sunday school attendance, but Senior Vice President Harriett Olson says she hasn’t heard of anyone with such a record as Pitzer’s. “It is unusual evidence of the formative power of Sunday school in the life of a faithful United Methodist,” she says.

At St. Matthias, the Rev. Paula Werner kicked off the reception with a prayer and praise for Pitzer’s faithfulness.

“She doesn’t just come to church, she literally comes and helps with children ministry, she helps with worship,” Werner says. “We thank you. We thank you for being so faithful.”

Jim Haney, who has been Pitzer’s Sunday school teacher for about 12 years, says she is someone he can always depend on.

“You know what it is like when you have a Sunday school class, you need that little group that’s always there. Mary Lou is always there, and she is also the substitute teacher. Whenever I leave town, I can just call her at the last moment and she will take over and do something.”

Joe Dunkin, another member of Pitzer’s Sunday school class, calls her the “backbone of the church.”

“I have known Mary Lou for about 30 years. We taught at Stafford High School together. She is probably one of the best people I know.”

On most Sundays, Pitzer’s three granddaughters—Brandi, 11, Lauren, 6, and Maya, 14 months—also attend.

Brandi loves Sunday school too. When she got up to a snowy Sunday morning, she didn’t have any second thoughts about making it to the church.

“After what my grandmother has done, gone through snow and blizzards just to get to church, I don’t think it was too bad,” she says.  

“I hope someday I break my grandmother’s record for being in church for that many years.”

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


 

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