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The world's first Sunday Schools were established in the 16th century. In the 1770s the Unitarian minister Theophilus Lindsey provided free lessons on Sunday at his Essex Street Chapel in London. However, it is Robert Raikes, the owner of the Gloucester Journal who started a Sunday School at St. Mary le Crypt Church in Gloucester, who usually gets the credit for starting the movement. Although not the first person to organize a school in a church, Raikes was able to use his position as a newspaper publisher to give maximum publicity for his educational ideas.
The bishops of Chester and Salisbury gave support to Raikes and in 1875 a London Society for the Establishment of Sunday Schools was established. In July 1784 John Wesley recorded in his journal that Sunday Schools were "springing up everywhere". Two years later it was claimed by Samuel Glasse that there were over 200,000 children in England attending Sunday schools.
In 1801 there were 2,290 Sunday schools and by 1851 this had grown to 23,135. It was estimated that by the middle of the 19th century, around two-thirds of all working class children aged between 5 and 15 were attending Sunday Schools.
According to the LDS Church, the purposes of its Sunday School program are to:
- "Strengthen individuals' and families' faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ through teaching, learning, and fellowshipping, and
- "Help Church members 'teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom' (D&C 88:77) at church and at home." 
Early LDS Sunday Schools Edit
Historical records indicate that some form of Sunday School was held by Latter Day Saints in Kirtland, Ohio, and Nauvoo, Illinois, in the 1830s and 1840s. However, the meetings were ad hoc and no formal organization endured the Mormon exodus from Nauvoo.
The first formal Sunday school in the LDS Church was held on December 9, 1849, in Salt Lake City under the direction of Richard Ballantyne,  a former Sunday school teacher in the Relief Presbyterian Church in Scotland. Lacking a suitable building to hold the meeting in, Ballantyne invited his students into his own home approximately thirty Latter-day Saint children between the ages of 8 and 13 attended. The local congregation that Ballantyne belonged to—the Salt Lake City Fourteenth Ward—quickly adopted Ballantyne's Sunday school program and integrated it with regular Sunday meetings. Other LDS Church congregations followed the Fourteenth Ward's example and adopted Sunday school programs based on the Ballantyne model. At this stage, each Sunday school was completely autonomous and under the sole direction of the local bishop.
Deseret Sunday School Union Edit
Anxious to bring a standard structure and organization to the over 200 independent Sunday schools that had been created, LDS Church president Brigham Young ordered that a union of the Sunday schools be carried out. On November 11, 1867, Young and church leaders Daniel H. Wells, George A. Smith, Wilford Woodruff, George Q. Cannon, and Brigham Young Jr. met and organized the Parent Sunday School Union. Young appointed Cannon as the first general superintendent of the Sunday School, a position he would hold until his death in 1901. In 1872, the Sunday School organization was renamed the Deseret Sunday School Union.
The organized Sunday School addressed lesson topics and source materials, grading, prizes and rewards, use of hymns and songs composed by members of the church, recording and increasing the attendance, developing an elementary catechism, and libraries. It also sponsored the publication of administrative guidelines and materials for classroom use, resulting in increased uniformity lesson content.
Until the turn of the century, only children were taught by the Sunday School. Eventually, classes were added for the youth of the church in 1904, an adult Sunday School class was created.
Priesthood Correlation Program changes Edit
The 1970s saw dramatic change within the Sunday School. In 1971, as part of the church Priesthood Correlation Program, the name of the Deseret Sunday School Union was changed to simply Sunday School, and the Sunday School general "superintendent" was renamed the general Sunday School "president". Additionally, curriculum planning and writing became more centralized and coordinated for the first time, the Sunday School stopped providing unique lesson manuals each year, and the church began a four-year curriculum rotation pattern. In 1979, Hugh W. Pinnock became the general president of the Sunday School, the first general authority of the church to hold the position since apostle David O. McKay's tenure ended in 1934. In 1980, the church instructed the Sunday School to stop passing the sacrament during Sunday School classes, a practice that Brigham Young had begun in 1877.
Sunday School periodicals Edit
In 1866, just prior to the formal organization of the Sunday School Union, Cannon had begun publishing the Juvenile Instructor magazine. Although the magazine was owned and edited solely by Cannon, it nevertheless became the de facto official publication of the Deseret Sunday School Union in the late 1860s. On January 1, 1901, the church purchased the magazine from the Cannon family and the Juvenile Instructor officially became an organ of the church's Sunday School. In 1930, it was replaced by The Instructor, which was published until 1970. The Sunday School currently does not have an official periodical, but information that may be used in Sunday School appears in the Ensign and the New Era magazines.
Chronology of the general superintendency and presidency of the Sunday School Edit
|No.||Dates||General President |
(General Superintendents in Italics)
(Church general authorities in bold)
|First Counselor |
(First Assistants in Italics)
(Church general authorities in bold)
(Second Assistants in Italics)
(Church general authorities in bold)
|1||1867–1901||George Q. Cannon||George Goddard (1872–99) |
Karl G. Maeser (1899–1901)
|John Morgan (1883–94)|
Karl G. Maeser (1894–99)
George Reynolds (1899–1901)
|2||1901||Lorenzo Snow||George Reynolds||Joseph M. Tanner|
|3||1901–18||Joseph F. Smith||George Reynolds (1901–09) |
David O. McKay (1909–18)
|Joseph M. Tanner (1901–06)|
David O. McKay (1907–09)
Stephen L Richards (1909–18)
|4||1918–34||David O. McKay||Stephen L Richards||George D. Pyper|
|5||1934–43||George D. Pyper||Milton Bennion||George R. Hill|
|6||1943–49||Milton Bennion||George R. Hill||A. Hamer Reiser|
|7||1949–66||George R. Hill||A. Hamer Reiser (1949–52) |
David Lawrence McKay (1952–66)
|David Lawrence McKay (1949–52)|
Lynn S. Richards (1952–66)
|8||1966–71||David Lawrence McKay||Lynn S. Richards||Royden G. Derrick|
|9||1971–79||Russell M. Nelson||Joseph B. Wirthlin (1971–75) |
B. Lloyd Poelman (1975–78)
Joe J. Christensen (1978–79)
William D. Oswald (1979)
|Richard L. Warner (1971–75)|
Joe J. Christensen (1975–78)
William D. Oswald (1978–79)
J. Hugh Baird (1979)
|10||1979–86||Hugh W. Pinnock||Ronald E. Poelman (1979–81) |
Robert D. Hales (1981–85)
Adney Y. Komatsu (1985–86)
|Jack H. Goaslind (1979–81)|
James M. Paramore (1981–83)
Loren C. Dunn (1983–85)
Ronald E. Poelman (1985–86)
|11||1986–89||Robert L. Simpson||Adney Y. Komatsu (1986–87) |
Devere Harris (1987–89)
|A. Theodore Tuttle (1986)|
Devere Harris (1987)
Philip T. Sonntag (1987–88)
Derek A. Cuthbert (1988–89)
|12||1989–92||Hugh W. Pinnock||Derek A. Cuthbert (1989–91) |
H. Verlan Andersen (1991)
Hartman Rector Jr. (1991–92)
|Ted E. Brewerton (1989–90)|
H. Verlan Andersen (1990–91)
Rulon G. Craven (1991)
Clinton L. Cutler (1991–92)
|13||1992–94||Merlin R. Lybbert||Clinton L. Cutler||Ronald E. Poelman|
|14||1994–95||Charles A. Didier||J Ballard Washburn||F. Burton Howard|
|15||1995–2000||Harold G. Hillam||F. Burton Howard (1995–97) |
Glenn L. Pace (1997–98)
Neil L. Andersen (1998–2000)
|Glenn L. Pace (1995–97)|
Neil L. Andersen (1997–98)
John H. Groberg (1998–2000)
|16||2000–01||Marlin K. Jensen||Neil L. Andersen||John H. Groberg|
|17||2001–03||Cecil O. Samuelson||John H. Groberg||Richard J. Maynes (2001–02)|
Val R. Christensen (2002–03)
|18||2003–04||Merrill J. Bateman||John H. Groberg||Val R. Christensen|
|19||2004–09||A. Roger Merrill||Daniel K Judd||William D. Oswald|
|20||2009–14||Russell T. Osguthorpe||David M. McConkie||Matthew O. Richardson|
|21||2014–19||Tad R. Callister ||John S. Tanner (2014–15) |
Devin G. Durrant (2015–19)
|Devin G. Durrant (2014–15)|
Brian K. Ashton (2015–19)
|22||2019–||Mark L. Pace||Milton Camargo||Jan E. Newman|
Sunday School focuses on a study of the standard works of the church, which are considered scripture. The main class in Sunday School for those 18 years of age and older is called "Gospel Doctrine". In general, the Gospel Doctrine curriculum follows a four-year cycle:
- Year 1 (most recently, 2018): Old Testament (and the Book of Moses and Book of Abraham from the Pearl of Great Price)
- Year 2 (most recently, 2019): New Testament
- Year 3 (most recently, 2020): Book of Mormon
- Year 4 (most recently, 2021): Doctrine and Covenants and church history
However, there are also a number of "generalist" and "specialist" classes that may be taught in Sunday School. For example, Gospel Principles is a generalist class that is primarily intended for those new to, or inexperienced, in the church or for those with a calling related to missionary work. It is also common for a local congregation to offer specialist Sunday School classes in family history, temples, marriage and family relations, and teacher training.
In most church congregations, Sunday School is a 40-minute class which is held either immediately after or immediately prior to Sacrament meeting. Everyone 11 years of age and older are encouraged to attend children under age 11 have Sunday School-style classes taught to them in Primary, with those classes administered by the Primary organization.
Structure of Sunday School Edit
Local structure Edit
Each congregation (ward or branch) has an adult male priesthood holder who serves as the local Sunday School president. The president is called by the local bishop (or branch president) and, under the bishop's direction, he oversees the Sunday School. The Sunday School president may submit names to the bishop who then typically calls two counselors and a secretary to assist the president. Other adults in the congregation will serve as instructors in the various Sunday School classes. A stake (or district) Sunday School presidency provides support and training to the local Sunday School presidents.
Church-wide responsibility Edit
Under the direction of general authorities, the church's three-man Sunday School General Presidency oversees the program throughout the church. From 1979 to 2004, members of this presidency were general authority seventies of the church. In the church's April 2004 general conference, Thomas S. Monson of the First Presidency, announced that "a recent decision [has been made] that members of the Quorums of the Seventy [will] not serve in the general presidencies of the Sunday School and Young Men."  Since that time, church general authorities have no longer served as members of the presidency.
Since April 2019, the following men have comprised the Sunday School General Presidency: Mark L. Pace, President Milton Camargo, First Counselor and Jan E. Newman, Second Counselor.
The Sunday School General Board also assists in the leadership of the church's Sunday School programs and in the development of guidelines, policies, and materials.   
What is the Purpose of Sunday School: 4 Distinct Areas
1. Sunday school is the reaching arm of the church.
First, Sunday school is the arm that reaches people of all ages for Christ. “Reaching” is defined as making contact with people and motivating them to honestly listen to the gospel. Because evangelism involves spreading the gospel, reaching is basically pre-evangelism, for it gets people to listen to the gospel. In our text, it’s expressed in the word “gather.”
Note that those who gather are identified as fathers, mothers, little ones or children, and the stranger. Most church members have someone within their sphere of influence who is a stranger to the church and could be gathered into it.
2. Sunday school is the teaching arm of the church.
Second, Sunday school is the teaching arm of the church. “Teaching” means guiding the learning activities that meet human needs. The Deuteronomy verse expresses that step through the words “that they may hear.” The ultimate goal of teaching is “that they may learn.”
3. Sunday school is the winning arm of the church.
Sunday school is also the arm of the church that wins people to Christ. “Winning” involves communicating the gospel in an understandable manner and motivating a person to respond to Christ. The Old Testament expression “fear the Lord” means to bring a person to reverential trust of God. It was a concept of salvation. Today we might describe a person who “fear[s] the LORD” as a person who receives Christ, or trusts the Lord, for salvation.
4. Sunday school is the caring arm of the church.
Finally, Sunday school is the arm of the church that provides spiritual care to all members. One objective of every Sunday school is to spiritually care for people so they will “carefully observe all the words of this law.” Some people call this nurturing others call it maturing.
What is the purpose of Sunday school? It’s the reaching, teaching, winning and caring arm of the church.
However, this definition becomes a mosaic when applied to individual churches. Just as all the pieces of tile are needed to make up a mosaic, so all four aspects of the definition are needed for Sunday school. If we focus on only one section of the mosaic, we can destroy its beauty and lose the whole picture.
This happens when a church demonstrates a strong emphasis on only one aspect, such as gaining an abundance of visitors by emphasizing a bus-outreach ministry, for example. The focus on outreach causes a church to lose the perspective of teaching, winning and caring.
Some churches have strong teaching Sunday schools with a deep commitment to Bible mastery but no outreach. Others are committed to soul-winning their success is measured by how many people they’ve brought to Christ or prepared for church membership, but they lack a passion to oversee students to help them grow in faith. Finally, some Sunday schools do a great job of caring for students but ignore the other three objectives.
Each function is crucial, so don’t forget to build a balanced Sunday school. What is the purpose of Sunday school? The healthy Sunday school performs all four ministry basics equally: reaching, teaching, winning and spiritually caring.
Beginning in the 1770s, after the First Great Awakening, increasing numbers of slaves in the Southern states had begun converting to evangelical religions such as the Methodist and Baptist denominations. Many clergy in their churches actively promoted the idea that all Christians are equal in the sight of God, a message that provided hope and support to the slaves. Many white owners and clergy preached a message of strict obedience, and insisted on slave attendance at white-controlled churches, fearful that if slaves were allowed to worship independently in black churches they would ultimately plot rebellion against their owners. These white churches, in which ministers promoted obedience to one's master as the highest religious ideal, were seen by black slaves as a mockery of the "true" Christian message of equality and liberation in Christ. Around the turn of the century, basic reading, writing and math started being taught to the slaves in Sunday School.
Well into the 19th century, working hours were long for adults and children alike. The first modest legislative restrictions came in 1802. This resulted in limiting the number of hours a child could work per day to 12 (!). Moreover, Saturday was still part of the regular work week. Sunday, therefore, was the only available time for these children to gain some education, religious or otherwise.
After the War of 1812, Sunday school spread widely in the United States through the independent efforts of unorganized individual groups seeking to educate the poor. In the U.S. the emphasis of the Sunday school was primarily on the Bible because of the availability of public schools which taught more general subject matter.
From 1820 to 1835, the Great Revival in the U.S. changed the denominational face of much of the U.S. from Congregational and Reformed to Baptist and Methodist. This was reflected in the varied doctrinal content of the individual Sunday schools, based on particular catechisms.
Catechisms were intended by their authors to teach the whole system of Christian doctrine, but were summaries of the Christian faith according to the particular interpretation of each denominational group. They relied on questions and memorized answers.
The first national Sunday School effort began in America during this period. The American Sunday School Union, a cross-denominational national organization founded in Philadelphia in 1824, published curricular materials and children's books that were used in many Sunday Schools in that day its stated purpose was to organize, evangelize and civilize. The focus was intentionally evangelical, and so within the next 100 years the Sunday School had become the primary outreach arm of the Protestant churches.
In 1830, a Baptist Association in the state of Illinois passed a resolution which said, in part, "We as an Association do not hesitate to say that we declare an unfellowship with Foreign and Domestic Mission and Bible Societies, Sunday Schools, and all other Missionary Institutions." Since these had become independent efforts to do the work of the Lord, this raised significant concerns in many of the more fundamentalist groups that the church itself was being supplanted by a human institution. Therefore, these various efforts, including the Sunday School, were perceived by some to be an attack against the church itself, and thus the work of Satan.
By 1832 there were more than 8000 Sunday schools in the United States.
As the relatively novel concept of theological pluralism also began to take hold about this same time in 1832, one of the biggest Sunday school unions, The Union, decided to establish non-denominational Sunday schools in the "New West", the area of the Louisiana Purchase, as a missionary enterprise. Small communities would select a neutral place and Christians of many backgrounds would come together in what were called Union Schools. They decided to teach the Bible, because "the Bible unites", but catechisms divide. Because of this religious pluralism, Sunday school lessons focused on Bible stories rather than on doctrine, and on application rather than on interpretation. Publication of catechisms began to slow as a result. Sunday school students were often encouraged to memorize large portions of the Bible, earning prizes and incentives for doing so. This idea was dropped when it was realized that the students were more interested in the prizes than in God's word!
Most of the lay leadership of The Union was Presbyterian, and non-Presbyterians—Lutherans, Methodists, Quakers, Baptists, Episcopalians—worried that the movement might be a plot to bring the western youth into Presbyterianism under the guise of a non-denominational movement.
Meanwhile, the 1844 Factory Act lowered the 12 hour limit that a child could be worked to six and a half hours.
European immigrants during the 1800s found little land available to them to farm on the east coast, so they quickly re-migrated to the west. Many were Catholics so some Catholic leaders saw the Sunday school movement as a Protestant plot to capture the Catholic youth of the west. Many private Catholic schools were founded during this period as an answer to the Protestant education that then dominated the nation's public schools. In fact, the First Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1852 specifically urged every Catholic parish in the country to establish its own school for just that reason. In answer to this call, scores of Catholic parochial schools were established throughout the country.
Sunday School organization began expanding to include all ages. Sunday School became a way for unbelievers to be introduced to, and then assimilated into, the life of the church.
In 1873 the Methodist Episcopal Church started the first VBS (Vacation Bible School) under Bishop John H. Vincent in New York when he offered "summer Sunday school institutes that included educational and cultural components". Other churches quickly saw the benefits of including this kind of program.
By 1875 there were more than 65,000 Sunday schools in the U.S.. By 1889 there were ten million children in American Sunday schools and it was performing the heavy task of public education, sponsored by Christians out of their own pockets.
By the late 1800s, Sunday School was looked to as the main hope for church growth, a view that continued until the mid-twentieth century.
In 1898, Mrs. Walker Aylette Hawes established her “Everyday Bible School” to minister to the immigrant children who spent their summer days running the streets of New York City's East Side. She rented a beer parlor that was not used during the day (it was the only space available), and for six weeks, she gathered the neighborhood children together for worship music, Bible stories, Scripture memorization, games, crafts, drawing and cooking.
What does the Bible say about Sunday school?
The Sunday school movement began in Britain in the 1780s and spread to America in the 19th century. But the Sunday schools of that day were nothing like we have today they were schools very much like our public schools today, only with the Bible as a core component. They were established to provide an elementary education on Sunday for children who were employed in factories, stores, and farms the rest of the week. Eventually, child labor laws were instituted and the institution of the public school was created, relegating religious instruction to the churches. The American Sunday School Union, a cross-denominational national organization founded in Philadelphia in 1824, published curricular materials and children’s books that were used in many Sunday schools in that day.
The Bible does not mention the Sunday school. The idea of teaching, however, is present in the New Testament Greek word paideia and is translated “nurture” in Ephesians 6:4. This word is also translated “instruct” and “chastise” and has the idea of correction and instruction. This is also the purpose of the Word of God. We read in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that the word of God is profitable for teaching (which is the meaning of the word doctrine), for reproof, for correction and instruction so that the believer is equipped to obey God.
Israel was instructed to teach their children the statutes of the Lord, and the essence of that teaching is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-7: “Hear O Israel: The LORD our God is One LORD.” This is known as the Shema, which is the first word of verse four. Instructions to teach children are also found in Deuteronomy 4:10 and Deuteronomy 11:19. Throughout their history the Jews have conducted, and still conduct, the Yeshiva which is a school for teaching the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. It usually began when the child was three to five years old and it was taught only to the boys. That is no longer true. It could be that the Sunday school, which evolved in the evangelical movement, is based upon the premise of the Yeshiva.
We need to remember that in the early years of the church, believers met in homes or caves or areas where they would not be discovered due to persecution. The teaching of God’s truth to children was the job of the parents and was done in the home. Sadly, this practice is no longer a priority in the homes of many believers, and many leave the instruction in God’s Word to the church and what we now call the Sunday school. But what is taught in Sunday school should only be a supplement to what is taught at home. The ideal situation is when the church and family work together to educate children in the faith.
Robert Raikes and How We Got Sunday School
Robert knelt beside his father's grave after the funeral. Where would he go now? What would he do with his life? He'd always worked beside his father in the printing shop. But now those days were gone forever.
He mopped his teary face with a handkerchief and stood to his feet. Leaving the graveyard, Robert walked toward the printing shop that now belonged to him. He and his father had spent the last several years there, working on Gloucester, England's newspaper, the Gloucester Journal.
Robert opened the creaky front door of the shop and slowly walked inside. The familiar smell of ink and machinery greeted him. Robert picked up the last copy of the Gloucester Journal published by his father that year, in 1757. "I'll make you proud, Father," he said aloud. "With God's help, I'll keep your Gloucester Journal alive."
The days passed and Robert worked hard. He made the newspaper larger, improved its layout, and hired new writers. Soon even more people wanted to read the Gloucester Journal!
On his days off, Robert often visited prisoners in Gloucester. There he found the castoffs of society living in the most appalling circumstances. Most of them were sick or even dying from overwork. They lived in crowded, filthy spaces with almost no food. Even children were sometimes imprisoned along with the worst criminals. Robert felt sad to see these sick and starving prisoners. But what could one person do to ease the pain of so many? He decided to write about the terrible prisons in his newspaper.
The White Slaves of England
One evening he walked down St. Catherine's Street to look for his gardener. Suddenly, he saw a group of ragged children. They looked just as poor and overworked as the prisoners he visited. A little boy in a tattered blue shirt swore as he tackled another boy half his size.
"Git your hands offa me!" the little boy yelled as the two of them wrestled on the cobblestones. Soon a crowd of children gathered around, noisily cheering.
"Hey, stop fighting!" Robert shouted at them as he pulled the two boys apart. "Go home, all of you."
As the children walked away, Robert asked the gardener's wife, "Who are these children?"
"Ah, pay no mind to them," she answered. "Everyone calls them the white slaves of England."
"They work 12 hours a day or longer in the mills and sweatshops," the woman answered. "Most of their parents are in prison or dead."
Robert cringed. He knew that if his father had died when he was little, he could have been one of these poor children. "When do they go to school?" he asked.
"School? They don't go to school. They have to work to live." she answered.
And Sundays are the worst. It's their only day off and they run around like wild animals!"
Sunday Schools Started
Robert knew that the future was grim for these children who had to work all the time with no hope of an education. Worse yet, with no one to teach them the good news of the Gospel or how to live God's way, they were likely to end up cold, sick and starving in the dreadful prisons. An idea began to form in Robert's mind which he shared with his friend, Reverend Thomas Stock.
"Let's start a Sunday school!" said Robert.
"School on Sunday?" asked Thomas.
"Yes, school on Sunday!" answered Robert. "We'll teach them to read and write part of the day and teach them the Bible for the rest of the day."
"It's a great idea!" said Thomas.
Robert waited expectantly the first Sunday for the children to come to the new school, but only a few came.
"Marcy, why don't more of the children come to Sunday school?" he asked the little red-haired girl with freckles.
Marcy looked down. "Cuz our clothes ain't no good," she answered.
"Now I understand," answered Robert. "Well, you tell your friends that all they need is a clean face and combed hair, okay, Marcy?"
Robert squatted down beside her. "I'll tell you what, Marcy, I think you're nice, too. Here's a penny for coming to class today. If you work very hard and learn your lessons, you'll get a special reward."
"Really?" asked Marcy, her sparkling eyes fixed on the candy Robert held in his hand. "I'll do my very best!"
Sunday Schools Stop Crime
It didn't take long until Robert Raikes and Reverend Thomas Stock had 100 children ages 6 to 14 attending their Sunday schools. Even though the children were taught only one day a week, their behavior began to improve. Now they had something to look forward to after working so hard every day. The policemen of the city told Robert that the children weren't stealing and fighting like before.
Robert waited three years to see if his Sunday schools were a success. Then he printed a story about the new Sunday schools. Soon, about 4,000 new Sunday schools were started in towns all over England. Robert even used his printing press to publish reading books, spelling books, Bible study books, and copies of the Scriptures for the Sunday schools.
The World Marches On
One Sunday, Thomas and Robert walked up the street to the Sunday school building. Thomas said, "Robert, your father would be proud of what you've done with his newspaper. He'd be proud of your Sunday schools, too, although you know--everyone is calling you 'Bobby Wild Goose and his ragged regiment.'"
Robert laughed. "I've been called worse names than 'Wild Goose,' I think," he answered.
Robert looked around at the hundreds of children now attending his Sunday school and his face grew quite serious. "Thomas, my father died and his father before him died. One day we will grow old and die, too. But the world won't die with us. The world marches forth on the feet of little children."
Sunday Schools - History
Katy Ferguson: The Woman Who Loved All Children
In about 1774, Catherine Williams was born on a schooner. Her mother, a slave from Virginia, was being sent to a new owner in New York when she gave birth to the little girl who would soon be known as Katy. That child would show what a person with determination and generosity--and very little else--can accomplish.
At an early age, Katy's mother taught her what she knew about Christian scripture, and it made a deep impression on her. Even after the two were separated, when Katy was eight, the child went to church services and became a member of the Murray Street Church in New York City. She was not, however, taught to read and write.
When she was sixteen, Katy was purchased by a white abolitionist, who gave her half of her $400 purchase price as a wage for one year's work. A merchant named Divee Bethume helped her get together the other half and, by the time she was eighteen, she was free. Almost immediately, she got married and began to have children. Both of the babies she gave birth to died when they were infants. Her husband died not long after the children.
In the meantime, Katy had begun to make a living as a caterer and as a launderer of lace and other fine fabrics. But she was not satisfied with her modest financial success. Katy Ferguson had other concerns. She lived in a poor neighborhood near an almshouse. All around her were children whose lives must have wrenched her heart.
In 1793, when she was little more than a child herself, Ferguson started a Sunday school. She took forty-eight children into her home once a week to give them lessons in scripture and in the practical skills of life. She also did her best to find them homes.
Soon, the pastor of her own church, Dr. John M. Mason, heard about Ferguson's work and offered her space in his basement. He also provided assistants who could provide the basic education that she, still unable to read and write, could not. Under Ferguson's supervision, the Murray Street Sabbath School continued for forty years. It was New York's first Sunday School.
Katy Ferguson died of cholera in New York in 1854. In 1920, the city of New York opened a home for unwed mothers and named it the Katy Ferguson Home.
Where did Sunday School come from?
I love history. I love Sunday School. So it only stands to reason that I would love the “History of Sunday School,” right?
Here’s a short version, thanks mainly to an article by Timothy Larson of Christian History magazine.
Sunday Schools were originally schools where poor children could learn to read. The Sunday School movement began in Britain in the 1780s. The Industrial Revolution had resulted in many children spending all week long working in factories. Christian philanthropists wanted to free these children from a life of illiteracy.
Well into the 19th century, working hours were long. The first modest legislative restrictions came in 1802, limiting the number of hours a child could work per day to 12. This limit was not lowered again until 1844. Moreover, Saturday was part of the regular work week. Sunday, therefore, was the only available time for these children to gain some education.
The English Anglican evangelical Robert Raikes (1725-1811) was the key promoter of the movement. It soon spread to America as denominations and non-denominational organizations caught the vision and energetically began to create Sunday schools. Within decades, the movement had become extremely popular.
By the mid-19th century, Sunday School attendance was a near universal aspect of childhood. Even parents who did not regularly attend church themselves generally insisted that their children go to Sunday school. Working-class families were grateful for this opportunity to receive an education. They also looked forward to annual highlights such as prize days, parades, and picnics, which came to mark the calendars of their lives as much as more traditional seasonal holidays.
Religious education was, of course, always also a core component. The Bible was the textbook used for learning to read. Likewise, many children learned to write by copying out passages from the Scriptures. A basic catechism was also taught, as were spiritual practices such as prayer and hymn-singing.
Inculcating Christian morality and virtues was another goal of the movement. Sunday School pupils often graduated to become Sunday School teachers, thereby gaining an experience of leadership not to be found elsewhere in their lives.
In both Britain and America, universal, compulsory state education was established by the 1870s. After that, reading and writing were learned on weekdays at school and the Sunday school curriculum was limited to religious education. Nevertheless, many parents continue to believe that regular Sunday School attendance is an essential component of childhood.
Let me repeat that last sentence. Many parents continue to believe that regular Sunday School attendance is an essential component of childhood. That’s the kind of parent or grandparent I hope you are! I certainly believe and encourage that regular Sunday School attendance is an essential component of childhood.
So much good for your child can come from Sunday School. In our overly politically-correct secular society, where else can your children learn about the God who created and loves them … their Savior who died and rose for them … the true meaning of life and existence? Where else can your children be loved with an unconditional love?
One of my favorite observations about Sunday School is that there is an answer to every question in Sunday School that can never be wrong. For example the teacher can ask, “In the story of The Children of Israel being held in captivity as slaves in Egypt by the mean Pharaoh, who came to set them free and take them to the Promised Land?”
Well, the hands in the Sunday School class all shoot up, and the little voices squeal out, “Pick me! Pick me!”
So the teacher points to Johnny, and Johnny so confidently shouts out the answer he has come to trust as “The Sunday School Answer,” and he says, “Jesus!”
Then what happens? It goes like this: The teacher says in a calm and loving voice, “Well, yes, Johnny, Jesus is the ultimate power behind every act of faith, and it is Jesus who is working through everyone who does what God calls him or her to do, so Jesus could definitely be the right answer, but we also need to remember Moses in this story.”
See? It’s never wrong! And you know what I like about that? It’s true! “Jesus” is the “answer” that is never wrong. In every circumstance of life, good or bad, it is Jesus who is the “The Answer.”
You know where I learned that? In Sunday School. And, boy, I‘m glad I did!
What is the Purpose of a Sunday School?
Sunday schools render religious education to people of all age groups and serve as a platform for people to come together for a common noble cause. What is the purpose of a Sunday school? Read on to find out.
Sunday schools render religious education to people of all age groups and serve as a platform for people to come together for a common noble cause. What is the purpose of a Sunday school? Read on to find out.
The term, ‘Sunday school’ is used to refer to the system wherein religious education is rendered on Sundays by various religious congregations. Robert Raikes, an English philanthropist, felt the need to design a system, which could prevent the children in the slums from treading on the wrong paths in life. He is considered as one of the pioneers in the development of Sunday schools. By 1831, Sunday schools had become quite popular across Great Britain. Today, different forms of Sunday schools prevail in the Christian society.
Purpose of Sunday Schools
Most Sunday schools aim at providing the common masses with an opportunity to study the Bible. The Sunday school education often includes a comprehensive study of the Bible. It intends to imbibe in the minds of the people, the principles and philosophies stated in the Bible. One of the primary purposes of the Sunday school is to teach the Bible to the students. The Sunday school teaching aims at instilling in the minds of the students, faith in God and teaching them the principles, which Christ adhered to.
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The education imparted in Sunday schools is generally intended to promote Christian fellowship. One of the primary goals of a Sunday school is to evangelize the common people, thereby promoting the spread of Christianity. It aims at bringing people from different strata of society together. It aims at uniting the people under one common umbrella called Christianity. The preachings of Jesus Christ are shared with the common masses and they are encouraged to adhere to His principles.
Sunday school is meant to teach the common people, the principles of social service. Sunday schools are about teaching the people to be concerned towards society and work for its betterment. It is about encouraging the people to be positive in life and imbibe optimism in those around them. It is about instilling in the young minds, love and care towards others in society. The Sunday school education aims at bringing about the spread of justice and equality in society. It aims at developing a society that believes in living with peace and harmony.
Sunday schools aim at helping people from all age groups to adopt the principles of God. Sunday school education intends to teach people the ways to adhere to ideals in life. At times, this involves the learning of scriptures from the Bible. Learning what the Bible has to say helps the people communicate with God. Enabling the communication of a common man with God is an important goal of Sunday schools. They aim at bringing about a spiritual growth of their students.
The purpose of Sunday schools is indeed noble. One must not ignore the fact that Sunday schools give the society an opportunity to be a part of the mission of Christianity to establish equality, peace and harmony in society. They aim at the creation of a society that is based on the principles of Christ. They serve as excellent platforms to go closer to God.