The Anne of Green Gables continues with "Chapter XI: Anne's Impressions of Sunday School." Sunday School teacher and Pastor's wife, Betsy Durand," gives us her impressions on Anne's first day in church.
Chapter XI: Anne's Impresions of Sunday School
By Betsy Durand
There is much to love and enjoy from “Chapter XI: Anne’s Impressions of Sunday School,” since the reader, just as Marilla, is still learning about the spunky, humorously dramatic Anne! It is in this chapter that we first learn of Anne’s intense admiration of puffed sleeves and all things frilly, which stands in stark contrast to Marilla’s conservative, no frills approach to all things sensible. It is a contrast in life perspectives that will develop for the rest of the book, as Anne encourages Marilla to see the adventure in life and Marilla strives to instill some restraint in her headstrong adopted daughter. But, there is more we learn of Anne beyond her fascination with puffed sleeves. It is at this point, in fact, that Montgomery takes us from the triviality of puffed sleeves to much deeper waters of religion and theology, for the discussion of puffed sleeves centers around Anne’s first visit to Avonlea’s church.
We first gain a glimpse into Anne’s perspective on prayer in this chapter, as she plainly responds to the matter of puffed sleeves by saying, “I prayed for one, but I didn’t expect it on that account. I didn’t suppose God would have time to bother about a little orphan girl’s dress.” Prayer, in Anne’s mind, doesn’t work, because God is too busy to deal with the small and seemingly unimportant. If only Anne had read 1 Peter 5: 7 which is an invitation to believers to “cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” Or, better yet, Matthew 6:28-30 when Jesus reminds His followers, “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow…Now if God clothes the grass of the field…will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” But, in Anne’s mind, prayer does not work. Prayer, as she understands it, is not a matter of conversing with the God of the universe, but rather telling Him all that is wanted.
Not only does prayer not work, church-going does not work…at least not church-going like the type in Avonlea with all its empty traditions and meaningless rituals. Anne drives at the heart of her disgust with Sunday School when she recounts her experience to Marilla and bemoans the use of the dreaded Sunday School quarterly and the rambling prayers. Her disillusionment with the church centers on its lack of imagination and freedom. She feels confined and restricted and would have seen the whole experience as completely pointless had she not come to terms with what prayer really should be—a conversation between the Heavenly Father and His children by faith. In typical Anne fashion, she grows lost in her daydreams during a monotonous point in the Sunday school time, looks out the window and finds herself overcome with gratitude for the beauty of creation. She realizes then that prayer is more than just asking for things and more about a response to the giver of all good things. Anne reminds us, in fact, that as Marilla quietly concurs, there is much concerning organized “religion” that is not right and that traditions we often hold dear can become meaningless should we do them out of ritual instead of worship. And what an important reminder this is!
Not only does this give us a greater understanding of Anne’s perspective on church and the place of God in one’s life, but in Montgomery’s as well. For just as many other things in this wonderful book, Montgomery inserts her life story and it is here we are reminded of her frustration over the organized church with its lack of imagination and freedom. This is particularly striking when we are reminded of Montgomery’s role as a pastor’s wife and Sunday School teacher. She never truly felt comfortable with either role, since she found the church as a whole completely imprisoned by rules and empty traditions. Yet, she never seems to make the great leap as Anne does to believe that not all is lost with the church and its problems. For in a few chapters, Anne will learn that the church is not always led by those who are dull and boring and, dare it be said, unimaginative, but rather by ones who rightly grasp the meaning of enjoying the things of God and encouraging other to do the same. Anne will soon meet another Sunday School teacher, yes, even a pastor’s wife, with whom she can share a different type of “kindred spirit.”
Betsy Durand and her husband live in North Carolina, along with their four boys, where she serves as a Pastor’s wife, Sunday school teacher (who also tends to shy away from Sunday School curriculum), and also works part-time as a middle school and high school English teacher. She was graduated from Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois and later from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. She enjoys all things Anne and recently discovered the pleasure of reading and teaching Anne of Green Gables with a group of middle school girls.