“The purpose was to teach working children the rudiments of learning (reading and math) on Sunday, their free day. And of course, the Bible was a primary tool for teaching.”
We Always Had Sunday School…
No we didn’t. Sunday School did not begin with Adam and Eve reading Bible stories to Cain and Abel. Jesus didn’t hold a Torah School for little children either. Where did this practice come from?
Sunday School didn’t begin until the 1800s. Robert Raikes, a devout Anglican layman and newspaper publisher in Glouster, England established a school in “Soot Alley” for poor children of the city as part of his efforts at prison reform in 1803. The purpose was to teach working children the rudiments of learning (reading and math) on Sunday, their free day. And of course, the Bible was a primary tool for teaching. No separation of church and state back then!
Sunday School associations were formed to carry on the work and the movement found its fullest expression in the United States, beginning in Philadelphia in 1824 with the Sunday School Society. It spread to the frontier (west of the Appalachian Mountains) with readers, song books, Bibles and other materials in saddlebags, making Sunday school an established part of the each pioneer village at an early stage of its development.
The mid-1800s and the period after the Civil War were times of expansion for the Sunday school. Local, county, and state Sunday associations were formed in virtually every state in the Union. Less liturgical churches, such as the Methodist, Baptist, Congregational, and Presbyterian, were most prominent in these associations, the Lutheran and Episcopal less so, and the Roman Catholic almost not at all.
Large conventions were held around the world where Sunday School workers joined together, with the World Sunday School Association being formed in 1907. Changing its name to the World Council of Christian Education in 1950, it merged into today’s World Council of Churches in 1971 as their program unit on education. In all this institutionalization of a grassroots movement, one contribution made its mark on Christian education today. A curriculum was developed, the Uniform Lesson Series and teacher training became a model for twentieth century graded curriculum across denominational lines. This series still exists today as the International Bible Lessons, as well as International Sunday School Lessons proving materials for learners from preschool through adults.
Its roots were with the concern of social uplift (personal hygiene, literacy, and personal morality), evangelization of the unsaved or the education of believers in the faith. Lots of changes have occurred since then, but this is enough of a history lesson. Toothbrush in one hand, Bible in the other!