A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE SUNDAY SCHOOL
The Early Days • 17th and 18th centuries experienced the Industrial Revolution in both Europe and the Colonies • Transformed agrarian cultures into urban centers • Need to increase the labor force • As a result, children were placed in factories or the fields
The Early Days • Few children went to any type of school. • “Public” education did not exist • “Common schools” quite expensive • As a result, most children were illiterate.
The Early Days • In 1780-81, a Protestant English newspaper publisher, Robert Raikes, decided to develop a school to promote literary among the children of Gloucester, England. • Since the children worked in the factories, the only day available for instruction was Sunday, the “Lord’s Day”.
The Early Days • Raikes believed that salvation from ignorance and illiteracy would result in better citizens. • The English aristocracy feared this new social experiment, maintaining that it would breed social chaos.
The Early Days • But crimes instigated by children had increased significantly (especially on Sunday) • A “Sunday school” would keep the children off the streets. • Raikes wanted to reshape the morals of the lower class
The Early Days • Raikes’ Educational Philosophy: • Adults must be involved as instructors • Assure the upper class that the poor would “stay in their place” • Promote the freedom to learn and read • Devout religious orientation (focusing on the Church of England) • Teach children to say prayers and collects
The Early Days • In 1780, Raikes hires a teacher to instruct a small group of children • By 1788, the program was widely replicated with over 250,000 children attending Sunday schools. • By 1790, the Sunday school among Protestants served as the major evangelization tool
In the United States • The first American Sunday school opened its doors in 1790 • Called the “First Day Society”, the school taught reading, writing and the formation of moral consciousness. • Located in Philadelphia among the city’s poor.
American Sunday School Union • The American Sunday School Union formed in 1824 in Philadelphia. • Sought to establish Sunday schools in “every destitute place, where practical, throughout the Mississippi Valley” • Increased focus on evangelization and teaching the Bible
American Sunday School Union • Believed the only way to bring about a moral, humanizing conscious among all persons in the country was “understanding the Biblical message”. • Established Sunday schools among Native Americans and slaves
Methodist Episcopal Church • One of the first Protestant denominations to embrace the Sunday school • Forms its own Sunday School Union in 1827 • Established Sunday schools as the missionary schools for the poor and frontier children while creating church schools for church members.
The Methodist Episcopal Church • By 1860, Church schools and Sunday schools are merging • Emphasis on reading and writing decreased • Greater focus on Christian instruction and memorizing Biblical text and doctrine. • Maintained the emphasis on evangelization
Instruction of Slaves • From 1667 through the Revolutionary War, any formal Christian education for slaves occurred under the guidance of the slave master. • For most slaves, such education did not exist • But two theological questions arose:
The Theological Questions • “If slaves are baptized and educated into the community of faith, did these actions mean that slaves possessed the same religious status as the freedman?” • “Does the freedom of grace experienced through baptism nullify the institution of slavery?”
Changes in Slave Religious Education • Religion instruction for slaves, it was thought, must affirm the institution of slavery • Baptismal vows for slaves were revised, deleting the section which called for the child to be raised in the midst of a Christian home or family.
Changes in Slave Religious Education • In 1701, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts(SPG) established. • Sought to share the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the New World with Native Americans and Slaves
The SPC • King William III issued the charter on 16th June 1701, which established the SPG as an organization able to send priests and schoolteachers to America to help provide the Church's ministry to the colonists. • By 1710 the Society stated that the “conversion of heathens and infidels ought to be pursued preferably to all others”. • By 1776 the SPG supported the work of about 300 men would make a substantial contribution to the foundation of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
Changes in Slave Religious Education • Following the Revolutionary War, many Protestant Episcopal churches established “Colored Sunday schools” • Christian story taught orally • Most of society thought it dangerous to teach slaves to read and write • Purpose of Colored Sunday school: evangelization of the slaves
Changes in Slave Religious Education • Only certain verses of the Bible were recommended for slave instruction (for instance, no references to freedom) • Bishop William Capers of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South wrote a catechism for “colored persons”
From Capers’ Catechism • “It is believed that a Catechism for the mass of colored people, whether children or adults, had better be confined to the rudiments of Christian knowledge, simply, than diffused through a wide range of Scripture topics, doctrinal, historical, biographical, &c.; our object being not barely to communicate knowledge, but such as tends most to the glory of God--the knowledge of salvation.”
From Capers’ Catechism • “The present little work has been composed under a persuasion that the persons to be instructed can more easily conceive the truth than comprehend the terms in which it is apt to be expressed. We have therefore discarded all hard words, and aimed to present truth in a guise so simple as to suit their capacities. This, however, is very difficult; we can only say, we have done what we could.”
From Capers’ Catechism • What did God make man out of? • The dust of the ground. • What does this teach you? • To be humble.
After the Civil War • Most “white oriented” Black Sunday schools abandoned by both blacks and whites. • 1863, in St. Louis, the International Sunday School Convention sought black religious leaders to design a new Sunday school for blacks • Four planners emerged:
The Four Planners • L.B. Maxwell • Silas X. Floyd • G.B. Marcus • James E. Shepherd
Clifford Conference • 1908 brought the formation of the Clifford Conference • Group of black and white religious educators • Discussed the future of the Sunday school • Developed the Clifford Plan
Clifford Plan • Advocated teaching courses in Religious Education in the emerging black colleges. • It was hoped graduates of such programs would return to their local congregations and train local leadership • One of the largest training endeavors ever undertaken
Other Notable Events in the 1800s • Adult Sunday school classes formed • These classes often met in stadiums or other large arenas, numbering in hundreds • Focuses on biblical instruction, character development and evangelization • First Methodist Episcopal Church, South, in Shreveport hosted the “Four Square” class, numbering over 400.
Other Notable Events in the 1800s • Formation of the Unified Lesson Series • Development of the Akron Plan • The Buffalo Convention
Unified Lesson Series • A multi-denominational curricular resource that taught the majority of the Bible over a six-year period. • Used internationally. • Sought continuity in Sunday school instruction • Now known as The International Sunday School Lessons Plan
Akron Plan • An architectural design to accommodate large adult Sunday school classes in a church • Developed in Akron, Ohio, the plan was first used in the First Methodist Episcopal Church.
The Akron Plan • The main feature of the Akron Plan is a large open space, the "rotunda," surrounded by smaller classrooms on one or two levels. These classrooms open onto the rotunda by means of folding doors or sliding shutters. In large churches, the plan may have included as many as 25 classrooms, contrasted to smaller rural churches with only two or three classrooms on each floor.
Local Akron Plan • Noel Memorial United Methodist Church still reflects the architecture of the Akron Plan, although greatly modified over time. • Originally, the sanctuary was surrounded by classrooms on two stories. The classroom only separated from the sanctuary by sliding partitions.
Buffalo Convention • First international conference (two Canadians attended) to train Sunday school teachers in the “new science” of education. • Took place in 1880 • Most denominations currently have their own conventions or conferences.
Sunday School in the 20th Century • Most Protestant denominations developed extensive Sunday schools • Broadly vs. Narrowly Graded (1908) • Formation of curriculum resource materials • Built educational centers • Youth movements such as Epworth League and Christian Endeavor started
Character Education • By 1910, a new focus for instruction called Character Education emerged. • “A process oriented toward aiding self-realizing persons to function in social groups as intelligent, effective personalities” • George Albert Coe advocated a “democracy of God” • William Clayton Bower believed the experiences of the individual should be the curricular resource of instruction.
Sunday schools never dropped a single agenda it had thrust upon it. Literacy Biblical studies Doctrine Evangelization Moral Development New Education Professionalization Standardized curriculum Community formation Character Education Social Justice So What has Happened?
So What has Happened? • Most Sunday school classes have 35 minutes of instruction by volunteer teachers often lacking any training • “Dumbing-Down” curriculum • “As goes the Sunday school, so goes the church”