“Those kids give me 500% back of anything I give– the joy I receive is far greater than what I ever could contribute.”
One of Sonya Matchan’s favorite lessons to teach her first and second graders in WOW starts with an old photo. It shows her son, five years old at the time, stepping over a stream at Itasca State Park in Minnesota. Sonya explains to her young students that the tiny stream pictured becomes the powerful Mississippi River. “I tell them that the stream has no idea what it becomes,” she says, “and that is just how their kind words and good deeds multiply. We never know how we impact others, but God does.”
This is the type of theme Sonya stresses on Sunday mornings in the 8:45 WOW class, which stands for “Wonder of Worship.” In addition to learning The Lord’s Prayer, The Apostles’ Creed, Gloria Patri, and Baptismal and Offertory Responses, these young children are encouraged to think about their broader place in the world and what worship means to them. Sonya wants her students to do much more than just memorize the words of our faith–she wants them to truly understand the meaning of Jesus’s teachings and why we worship. In fact, she goes through each text line by line to make sure the children understand every word that they memorize.
Sonya’s Sunday School teaching career spans two churches and over 45 years. She is a native of Minneapolis, where she met her husband. After they married, they moved to Detroit, Charlotte, and then in 1971 settled in Atlanta and joined St. Andrew Presbyterian Church.
From 1972-2012, Sonya taught Kindergarten, first, and second grade Sunday School. At the end of 2012, St. Andrew closed its doors and Sonya joined her daughter, Nancy Nunn, and Nancy’s family, here at Peachtree Road. Sonya immediately signed up to teach, and has been a staple of the WOW program ever since.
Some of the traditions she started at St. Andrew have found their way into her classroom at Peachtree Road. She made an altar in her classroom, and her students talk about the importance of each item placed upon it. She also hopes to include a lesson on the loaves and fishes by making Stone Soup. At St. Andrew each year, Sonya taught the traditional folk tale to her young students by helping them make a big pot of soup to serve the class and their parents. “Peachtree Road is bigger than St. Andrew was, and so pulling it off will be a challenge, but I want the children to understand that sharing is at the heart of the loaves and fishes story, and an integral part of what Jesus did was all started by the boy sharing his food.”
She also incorporates curriculum unique to PRUMC into her class. During December, Sonya’s WOW class was treated to a demonstration of the Uzima water filter, and then the children brought change to donate. Together, all the small gifts were more than enough to buy a water filter for a family in Kenya—truly emphasizing that when we all give what we can, God can use our gifts tremendously.
Although she teaches such timeless lessons, Sonya also recognizes that children at Peachtree Road have a vastly different experience at church than she did in the 1940’s. “Back then all the kids in Sunday School knew each other. We were from the same neighborhood and went to the same school. Now, we have to work to make the church feel like a community. So, I spend a little time each morning before the lesson helping the children get to know each other. We talk about who is playing soccer, what they did that week and more.”
When not teaching WOW, Sonya stays busy. The 80-year-old works part-time as a client liaison for the insurance company Valic, is a docent at the Governor’s mansion, and also volunteers in the library at Warren T. Jackson Elementary School. At Peachtree Road, she is a member of a disciple class and the Timothy Sunday School Class; enjoys the volunteer choir; and serves at Great Day of Service and Christmas Kindness every year. Of all the things she does, teaching WOW is the most rewarding. “Those kids give me 500% back of anything I give– the joy I receive is far greater than what I ever could contribute” she says.
Like the lesson she teaches her students about the mighty Mississippi River that starts as just a tiny trickle, no one on this side of heaven will ever know the full impact of all Sonya does. How fitting that one of her favorite Bible passages is John 7: 37-38. It says, “On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of flowing water will flow from within them.’”