I Remember: AWANA

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When I was in kindergarten, someone invited my family to attend an AWANA program at a local church. I participated in AWANA for the next twelve years, memorizing hundreds and hundreds of Bible verses. I could write about AWANA for pages and pages, but this is just one post, so I’ll try to hit some of the highlights.

AWANA stands for “Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed,” which, you guessed it, comes from the Bible: II Timothy 2:15 – “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” The entire point and soul of the program is Bible memorization, which it begins at age three. Each week I memorized verses out of my workbook, and then recited them to my leader at the weekly meeting. She then signed off the sections I’d recited correctly, and I moved on to the next sections.

AWANA is also geared toward evangelism. Every year, one section of our workbooks required us to bring an unchurched friend to AWANA with us. The leaders were really hard core about this requirement – it had to be someone whose family did not regularly attend church. This proved to be a problem for my siblings and I. We didn’t have any unchurched friends. We explained and explained, but it seems like we got a hard time about that every year.

I remember one year when I was about ten one of the other kids invited a girl whose parents were actually atheists (as opposed to backslidden Christians). This girl enjoyed herself, so she came again. And again. And before a month was out she had prayed the sinner’s prayer and converted to Christianity. The leaders were overjoyed, and prayed that her whole family would come to Christ through her. I remember, even then, wondering just what her parents thought of all this.

This brings me to another point. AWANA was fun. We had uniform vests and workbooks just like Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts. We participated in quizzing where we competed against other AWANA clubs at other local churches to see who had memorized the most scripture. We won points for good behavior and got to “spend” them at an annual auction. We had snack time each week, and we also had game time in the church’s gym. We heard Bible stories, and while we took turns saying our verses those of us who weren’t busy with the leaders reciting sat around socializing – or getting in some last minute practice at those verses, of course! There was silly hair night and every year in late October there was the Harvest Fest, with costumes and games and candy in the gym. And at the end of the year there was an awards ceremony with ribbons and trophies for those who had completed their books.

I have to be honest: I loved AWANA. I was a very competitive person, and raced through my workbook each year, trying to beat everyone else in my age group. There are other reasons I loved it, of course. For one thing, it was one of the two times a week I could count on seeing my friends (the other being church, of course). I looked forward to AWANA with excitement each week because of this. For another thing, AWANA gave me the only participation in sports I had growing up – even if that was only twenty minutes of dodge ball in the gym. I was colossally bad at whatever we played, but I still loved it.

Ironically, AWANA gave me one of my only opportunities to socialize with “normal” people. Most of the kids there went to public school, had only one or two siblings, and were integrated into mainstream culture. The leaders were just ordinary fundamentalists or evangelicals, not into the more extreme Quiverfull or Christian Patriarchy at all. I’m not sure how much I really benefited from this, though, because I didn’t associate with the public school kids. My homeschooled friends and I sat on one side of the room while the public schooled kids sat on the other. Not much passed in between, save perhaps horrified looks from my side of the room when the other side discussed things we considered too “worldly” and horrified looks from their side of the room when we completely missed cultural references (like the time I interjected into one of their conversations to ask just who in the world this Brittany Spears person they were talking about was).

One final point. In many ways, AWANA represents the fundamentalist fusion of God and country. Every week everyone started out in the gym, standing at attention, to sing the AWANA theme song (see the video above) and  pledge allegiance to the AWANA flag, the Christian flag, and the American flag. We also sang patriotic songs on occasion.

And so there you have it. AWANA. Did any of you attend AWANA? If so, what were your experiences?

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.