School? On Sunday?!

Growing up, my parents took me to Sunday school and church every Sunday morning.

Then we went home, had lunch, visited our extended family, ate dinner, and then headed back to church for the Sunday evening worship service. Sundays were pretty busy! My favorite Sunday afternoons were during the summer when we would often times have a picnic at my grandparents’ pond and then go swimming all afternoon. Sundays were a wonderful church day, family day, and those summer afternoons at the pond were the best!

Things have changed a lot in churches over the years. Many churches, including our own, no longer have Sunday evening or Wednesday evening services, but we do still have Sunday school classes every week! I recently read an article about how the whole idea of Sunday school was started – it’s pretty amazing, actually.

In England, a man by the name of Robert Raikes ran and owned a printing shop that produced the Gloucester Journal newspaper. He had worked in the print shop for years with his father, who died in 1757. Robert decided to continue printing and running the Gloucester Journal, and worked hard to improve it and keep it going – as a loving tribute to his father.

Robert was a very compassionate man and often times visited the local prisons, and worked to improve the terrible conditions. He also wrote about those prison conditions in his newspaper to make people more aware, but he wanted to do more.

While walking around a very impoverished part of town one evening, he noticed that there were many children playing in the streets who were behaving badly. He asked a local woman what was going on, and she told him that the kids worked 12-hour days six days a week, and then they ran wild in the evenings, and she told him that Sundays were the worst because the kids were off work and had nothing to do. Robert asked her when the children went to school. School? These kids have to work to live – they don’t go to school. There were no schools for these children. Schools were for the affluent, not the poor.

Robert thought about this for a while and spoke with a close friend of his, Thomas Stock, who was a pastor at a local church. They decided that something had to be done to help those kids so they didn’t end up as criminals and in prison, too.

Robert and Thomas decided to open up a school for boys, initially, and separate schools for girls later. At first they met in a home, but later met in the church. These kids couldn’t read or write and had no manners when they started. Robert personally funded the school, and Thomas helped some. The Bible was the main classroom book students used to study and to learn how to read, and later, Robert wrote and printed additional classroom books for the students at his printing shop. He bought shoes for kids who had none, and for kids who barely had any clothing, he bought clothes. Local policemen soon told Robert and Thomas that the crime rate among children had declined significantly.

The school began to grow, and four years later – in 1784 – there were 250,000 children participating in Sunday schools around the country (he had written newspaper articles about his school), and by 1831, there were 1,250,000 – over a million! – children in Sunday schools. That means that 25% of England’s population was enrolled in Sunday school, getting an education and learning the Bible.

It all started with a man who loved children (had 10 of his own!) ... a man who had compassion for the poor ... a man who felt God calling him to make a difference in the lives of kids who were within walking distance from his home ... An ordinary man who listened to God, and then took a step out in faith to share God’s compassion and love with those around him, organizing volunteers to help work with and teach the children.

Things have changed a little over the centuries. There are now public schools that children attend during the week, but we still have Sunday school classes that meet each week at 9:30 a.m. They have a different emphasis now – children no longer get their general education at that time, but they do come to hear the stories of God ... to read and study the Bible ... to get to know God, and to discover that God is just crazy about them. Oh! And it’s not just for kids any more – it’s for adults, too! Join us!



Cathy Harris ovalCathy finds great joy in serving as co-pastor at Spiceland Friends Church and in ministering alongside the wonderful folks in our church family. She loves music and enjoys singing, playing the piano, and dabbling a bit on the mountain dulcimer, autoharp, and lap harp. She enjoys being outdoors and spending time with her husband, Tom, their children, and her granddog, Jack. Her greatest desire is to serve God with all her heart.

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