Eleanor Cunningham, 87, who has taught Sunday school for 72 years, recently published a book of poetry, Portraits in Poetry, which was featured in a news story on Gazette.Net.
Nazarene cultivates lasting experience with Christ during 72 years as Sunday school teacher
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Gaithersburg, Maryland
By NCN News Staff
Eleanor W. Cunningham stood before an altar in her home church and promised God she would follow His will.

The preacher gave a special invitation that night, and although she was 10, “I knew God wanted me to be a Sunday school teacher.”

Her first opportunity to teach occurred six years later in 1939 at a Church of God (Anderson) in Maryland. She never looked back. Now at 87, Cunningham continues to teach Sunday school at the Gaithersburg, Maryland, Church of the Nazarene.

She started teaching in primaries – elementary-age children – moved on to teach junior high school students and then high school students for several years at the Church of God.

“That’s where I got my roots,” she said. “It was a good church.”

But after marrying Floyd E. Cunningham in 1953 and then having three children, she knew her family needed more spiritually.

In 1964, the Church of the Nazarene opened in Gaithersburg. Eleanor had heard about the Nazarene church, so she decided to attend a Sunday evening service.

“I went and sat in a pew, heard the singing, and heard the preaching. I went home and told my husband that’s where we belong,” she said. “My church knew about holiness, but I found a new understanding of holiness when I became a Nazarene.”

Becoming a Nazarene was a great blessing for her family, she said. Her children, now grown, were saved at an early age and continue in their walk with the Lord.

Her daughter, Diane Leclerc, is professor of historical theology at Northwest Nazarene University. Her other daughter, Janice Elder, is president of Tender Loving Cat Care, Inc., and is the customer service manager for a Christian publisher, The Word Among Us. She’s also a member of the Hagerstown, Maryland, Church of the Nazarene.

Her son, Floyd Cunningham, is president of Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary, and has taught in U.S. Nazarene universities while on furlough as a Nazarene missionary in the Asia-Pacific Region.

The Nazarene pastor visited the Cunninghams the week after the family attended their first Sunday at Gaithersburg. Eleanor began working in the nursery almost immediately. She soon filled a position to teach a juniors – older elementary age children – Sunday school class.

She knew this is where God wanted her to serve Him, but as most Christians know, she said, serving Him can reveal itself in different ways.

In the early 1980s, she sat next to a family from Cambodia in a Sunday morning service.

“The Cambodian lady leaned over and told me she couldn’t understand what (the preacher) was saying,” she said.

Cunningham resigned as teacher of  her Sunday school class and established a small Sunday school for the Cambodian family.

“We had a small room where we met and I began to explain things to them,” she said.

Cunningham procured a Cambodian language Bible from the American Bible Society and the family used it to follow what she read and taught from an English language Bible. The family moved six months later, but went away with a better understanding of Jesus, holiness, and the Nazarene church, Cunningham said.

But this left her without an assignment.

In 1985, she took a position as a Sunday school teacher in a senior adult class. Although she had taught children and youth most of her life, she felt comfortable and knew God had opened a door.

Now after 72 years of teaching, 25 years in her present class, she plans to take a two-month sabbatical.

“I never took any time off before,” she said. “But I don’t want to give up teaching until the Lord calls me home,” she said.

God has given her many blessings in her life, including her many years as a secretary for the Montgomery County Public School District in Maryland, but teaching Sunday school has drawn her closer to Lord.

“It gave me a stabilized experience with God that’s been precious for all these years,” she said.

She wants to devote the next two months of her sabbatical to the Sunday evening service she started in her retirement community.

Cunningham wrote a book of poetry, Portraits in Poetry, about her life and experience with God. She uses the book, which she published in December, to befriend people in the Asbury Methodist Village where she lives.

“I found many people here who need the Lord,” she added.

Through giving out copies of the book, she invites people to attend the Sunday evening service. She has even recruited a retired Methodist minister and his wife, who live in the apartment next door to her, to play piano and lead the singing.

“Many people don’t understand the way of salvation,” she said. “God has given me a call to help people understand what he has in store for them.”
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