Wednesday, August 20, 2008

History of Sunday School

Over the past century, Sunday School has remained a constant in the life of the Church. Initially, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) believed that it was a parent’s privilege and responsibility to train children in the faith. Our initial distrust of Sunday School was rooted in its history.

Sunday School, as we know it today, began in England when many “high-church” Anglicans noted that children were running the streets on Sunday morning. As the Industrial Revolution had reached full swing in larger towns in England, families had given up farming for work in the new factories that doted the urban landscape. Just as children had worked the farms, they were required to work in factories that proved to be extremely dangerous. Factories shut down on Sunday morning so that workers could attend worship. The Church of England was embroiled in its own debate over clergy who favored a more formal and disciplined expression of the faith versus evangelical clergy who had claimed power and influence in the English Church. As these evangelical clergy, who ironically had gained their influence through their ministry to the poor, attained positions of power within the Church, the evangelical bishops began assigning these “high-church” clergy to poorer congregations as punishment.

In an effort to give the factory children an education, these “high-church” clergy started Sunday Schools, where in addition to Bible, children were taught reading and math. Meanwhile, the Methodist-Episcopal clergy of the United States quickly adopted Sunday School as a way to teach the faith while they were away circuit riding. The movement grew, adopting their own structure, banners and flags. The Christian Flag of today started out as the Methodist Sunday School Flag. These Sunday Schools were instrumental in teaching basic Christian doctrine throughout the frontier. Soon, the Sunday School movement had become a mainstay in all denominations.

Today, Sunday School is an opportunity for children and adults alike to spend devoted time in Bible Study and in learning the basic tenets of the Christian faith. They are small groups where individuals can develop friendships and are a perfect venue to engage one another in matters of everyday life. As one of your pastors, I encourage you and your whole family to attend Sunday School.

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