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The New International Encyclopædia/Sunday-Schools

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SUNDAY-SCHOOLS. An agency of the Church for giving religious instruction to learners of all ages. The method of instruction is generally interlocutory and the subject of study more particularly the Bible. In its essentials the Sunday-school or Bible-school was an important part of the early Jewish educational system. About B.C. 80-70 Simon ben Shetach established a system of religious schools in connection with synagogues in Palestine, making attendance obligatory. Historians like Edersheim and Schürer confirm the general existence of such schools then and later in the time of Christ.

Bunsen says that “the Apostolic Church made the school the connecting link between herself and the world.” Her catechetical instruction (cf. Luke i. 4; Acts xviii. 25) grew so steadily in acknowledged importance that church buildings were designed to provide special accommodations for the Bible-school. These early catechumenical schools included children and adults, who were taught individually, by the interlocutory method, subject matter beginning with the Old Testament story of creation and proceeding to practical Christian living. Gregory the Illuminator Christianized Armenia at the beginning of the fourth century by a compulsory system of Bible-schools for children in every city, while at that period similar schools were to be found in Mesopotamia, Cappadocia, Egypt, and elsewhere. In all these schools the Bible text was the main subject. In the Middle Ages the Bible-school idea was adhered to among the Waldenses, Albigenses, Lollards, Wiclifites, etc. A notable example of the Bible-school, apparently in many ways like our modern institution, were the schools of Charles Borromeo, Archbishop of Milan, in the middle of the sixteenth century. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the direct study of the Bible gave way to the rote memorizing of set answers in catechisms not intended for such uses, and genuine Bible teaching was thus largely displaced.

It is to Robert Raikes (q.v.) that the modern revival of the Sunday-school is justly accredited, although numerous isolated Bible-schools were to be found both in England and America prior to his time and pioneer efforts were made in America independent of his example. (Consult Trumbull, Yale Lectures on the Sunday-school, Philadelphia, 1889.) According to contemporary testimony Raikes gathered some street boys in July, 1780, into a room in Sooty Alley, Gloucester, England, under the temporary care of a Mrs. Meredith, but soon transferred the school to the house and care of Mrs. Mary Critchley, in Southgate Street, where the first permanent Raikes school was established. The pupils were instructed not only in the Bible, but in reading, and in catechisms of the day. Later the school was held in Saint Mary de Crypt Church, then in the Crypt Grannnar School, then at the Corn Exchange, and thence was transferred to the church again. The school seems to have had as many as 100 scholars at a time, the teachers receiving a shilling a day from Raikes for their work. Raikes worked quietly and experimentally for three years, and then on November 3, 1783, began to publish his idea in his newspaper, the Gloucester Journal. He published as early as 1785 The Sunday Scholar's Companion. In the extension of the Sunday-school idea Raikes accords much credit to John Nichols, of The Gentlemen's Magazine. The cause was notably furthered by Hannah More, John and Charles Wesley, and Whitefield, and even the Queen expressed an interest in the movement by sending for Raikes in order to hear his plan described. In 1784 Rowland Hill started a Sunday-school in London at Surrey Chapel. William Fox and Jonas Hanway were instrumental in organizing a general Sunday-School Society in 1785, of which on June 11, 1787, Raikes was elected an honorary member. In 1786 five schools were reported in or near London. In ten years from that date the society had distributed 91,915 spelling books, 24,232 Testaments, and 5360 Bibles, to 1012 Sunday-schools and 65,000 scholars. From 1788 to 1800 the society had paid more than $17,000 to teachers. Gratuitous teachers were utilized in a school in Stockport, England, toward the close of the eighteenth century, and paid teachers gradually ceased to be generally employed. Before Raikes died, in 1811, there were 400,000 children in the Sunday-schools of Great Britain alone. In Scotland, where the need was not so greatly felt, and in New England, the Sunday-school met with little favor at first, as seeming to endanger the sacredness of the Sabbath, and to relieve the home of some of its duties. The Archbishop of Canterbury summoned a council of bishops to consider means by which the movement might be stopped. Yet notwithstanding all opposition the Sunday-school idea constantly gained in favor.

On December 19, 1790, twelve Christian workers held a meeting in Philadelphia, which led to the organizing on January 11, 1791, of a Society for the Institution and Support of First Day or Sunday Schools in the city of Philadelphia, with Bishop William White as president and Matthew Carey as secretary. The Reverend Robert May, of London, gave a new impetus to Sunday-schools in Philadelphia in 1811, urging the need of a general union. On January 13, 1816, in New York City, was formed the Female Union Society for the Promotion of Sabbath-Schools, and on February 26, 1816, the New York (male) Sunday-School Union. In 1817 the Sunday and Adult School Union was formed in Philadelphia with Alexander Henry as the first president, and this developed on May 24, 1824, into the American Sunday-School Union. The records of this great agency, interdenominational and national in its scope and support, showed in 1899, on its seventy-fifth anniversary, that through its efforts 100,928 Sunday-schools had been organized, with 578,680 teachers and 4,070,346 scholars, and that the union had distributed publications amounting in value to over $9,000,000.

At an anniversary of the American Sunday-School Union in Philadelphia on May 23, 1832, fifteen States Were represented. It was then decided to call a general national Sunday-school convention to meet in New York in the autumn of that year to consider 78 questions on Sunday-school work sent out to 2500 persons throughout the country. The first national convention, therefore, assembled on October 3, 1832, in Chatham Street Chapel, New York City, and chose the Hon. Theodore Frelinghuysen as president. The National Convention as an independent organization met subsequently in Philadelphia, May 22, 1833; Philadelphia, February 22-24, 1859; in Newark, N. J., April 29-30, 1869; and in Indianapolis, April 16-19, 1872, at which convention the uniform lesson system was inaugurated, after much discussion, by the appointment of the first lesson committee to select the lessons from 1873 to 1879. The united interest of Bible students in selected portions of the Bible, in the progress of the uniform lesson plan, has given rise to a literature, both permanent and periodical, that has widely popularized Bible study. The international lesson system now includes a special beginners' course of Bible study for the youngest children, and still other modifications are under discussion. Other lesson systems are in use in some schools and in a few denominations, but in the vast majority of schools the international uniform lesson system is used.

At the next convention in Baltimore, May 11-13, 1875, the convention became international in scope and name. This convention has met every three years since that time. It is composed of delegates from auxiliary State, Territorial, and provincial Sunday-school associations in North America. Its work is conducted during the triennium by an executive committee; a lesson committee, international and interdenominational in its personnel; a primary department; and a field workers' department. A World's Convention, under the auspices of the London Sunday-School Union and the International Executive Committee, was held in London, July 1-4, 1889, thus establishing an institution comprising all the countries of the world, and meeting since then in Saint Louis, Mo., September 3-5, 1893, and in London, July 11-15, 1898. In the improvement of teacher-training and Bible study what is known as the ‘Chautauqua movement’ has been an important factor. See Chautauqua.

The Sunday-school is the pioneer religious agency in new communities, and the conserver of neighborhood religious instruction for the entire family in every community where it exists. It is extended to frontier or sparsely settled districts in America by the various denominational mission boards, and by the American Sunday-School Union. It is stimulated to better work, and is made acquainted with the most recent methods, by means of conventions and institutes, some 18,000 of which are held in North America yearly, under the auspices of the International Convention and its auxiliary State, provincial, county, township, and district Sunday-school associations.

At the tenth international Sunday-school convention, held at Denver, Colo., in 1902, the following statistics were presented as to the Sunday-schools in the United States, including Hawaii and Porto Rico: Number of Sunday-schools, 139,817; officers and teachers, 1,419,807; scholars, 11,493,591; total enrollment, 13,092,703. In 1898 the corresponding figures for the entire world were: Sunday-schools, 254,698; teachers, 2,410,818; scholars, 23,227,330; total, 25,810,861.

Bibliography. (1) Historical: Pray, History of Sunday-schools and of Religious Education from the Earliest Times (Boston, 1847); Watson, The History of the Sunday School Union (London, 1853); id., The First Fifty Years of the Sunday School (ib., 1873); Centenary Memorial of the Establishment of Sunday Schools (ib., 1881), a collection of informing addresses and papers containing valuable historical material; Trumbull, Yale Lectures on the Sunday School (Philadelphia, 1888), the most comprehensive and thorough treatment of the whole subject; Harris, Robert Raikes, the Man and His Work (Bristol, 1899); Brown, Sunday School Movements in America (New York, 1901), deals with special phases of Sunday-school progress, and the general field in America; Hamill, A Brief History of the International Lessons (Chicago, 1901). (2) Practical: Trumbull, Teaching and Teachers (Philadelphia, 1884), the standard manual for the thorough study of the work of the teacher; Vincent, The Modern Sunday School (New York, 1887), a comprehensive detailed outlining of the school itself; id., The Church School and Normal Guide (ib., 1889), deals with the character of the institution and methods of Bible study and teacher-training; Schauffler, Ways of Working (New York, 1895), practical hints out of a varied experience; Foster, A Manual of Sunday School Methods (Philadelphia, 1899); Peters, Practical Handbook on Sunday School Work (Philadelphia, 1900); Oxtill, The Organized Sunday School (Nashville, 1901); Hamill, The Sunday School Teacher (Nashville, 1901); Pattison, The Ministry of the Sunday School (Philadelphia, 1902); Blackall, Our Sunday School Work and How to Do It (rev. ed., Philadelphia, 1902); Schauffler, Pastoral Leadership of Sunday School Forces (Nashville, 1903).