The New Student's Reference Work/Sunday-Schools

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Sun′day-Schools are schools for religious instruction, meeting on Sunday.  There were schools for religious instruction in connection with the Jewish synagogues and also among the early Christians.  Luther established such schools in Germany, and Knox in Scotland.  But the credit of founding the modern system of Sunday-schools belongs to Robert Raikes, who in 1780, when living in Gloucester, England, gathered the children from the streets on Sunday and hired teachers for them at 25 cents a day.  These schools opened at 8 A. M., lasted until the children went to church, and after the second service began again, holding until 5:30 P. M. The children were taught their letters, reading and the church-catechism.  The first Sunday-school in London was started by Rowland Hill in 1784. There are now, it is estimated, 7,000,000 scholars in the Sunday-schools of Great Britain, The first regular Sunday-school in America is thought to be the one started by Bishop Asbury in Hanover, Va., in 1786, though there had been schools for instruction on Sunday at Roxbury and Plymouth, Mass., as early as 1674 and 1680.

In 1890 the number of teachers engaged in Sunday-school work was estimated to be nearly 2,000,000, with almost 18,000,000 pupils, including all denominations.

The instruction is usually given by voluntary and unpaid teachers, a plan first adopted by the Methodists in England. The classes usually meet in the auditorium of the church represented and in any other available space in the church-building. It has been the custom for many years, also, to use a uniform series of Bible-lessons.

Quite recently the need for radical reform in the conduct of Sunday-schools has become apparent to many. These schools, as a class, in the quality of their discipline, instruction and equipment are recognized as far inferior to the day-school. Yet religious instruction should be as well-given as arithmetic or geography, any one will admit. To bring about improvement the first requisite is a well-ventilated, properly heated and lighted room for each class, as in any good school. To this end individual churches are beginning to erect separate Sunday-school buildings, with one assembly-room and many recitation-rooms.

Next, only trained teachers are desired, who have had time, energy and interest enough to prepare themselves carefully for each Sunday's instruction. To secure these, some churches are now paying these teachers a certain sum, as in the day-school. It is a great advantage for the superintendent of a Sunday-school to bear such a business relation to his teachers. He then has some means of influencing them to improve their work, when necessary, and to attend regularly. Beyond question very many persons have been giving instruction in religion who would not be considered for a moment as fit to teach any class in our public schools. Such a condition is bound to inculcate disrespect, on the part of many, for religion in general. Deep religious interest is essential to any Sunday-school teacher's success. But in addition to such interest there should be knowledge of the Bible and knowledge of good methods of instruction. It is to be hoped that the Sunday-school will improve during the next 25 years as much as the day-school has in the last 25.

Dr. Richard Morse Hodge of Union Theological Seminary, New York City, has been an active agent m bringing about improvement in the work of the Sunday-school.