Sunday School Beginning
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Sunday School Beginning
Page 137

Robert Raikes

Robert RaikesThe Sunday school as we know it today began in July 1780 at the suggestion of William King in Dursley Tabernacle, Gloucestershire. The grave of William King (1730-1803) is in the Tabernacle today and on it is a claim by the 19th century dissenters that King was really the "inventor" of Sunday Schools who suggested it to Robert Raikes. The first Sunday School beginning was on a Sunday afternoon in Sooty Alley, so named because chimney sweeps lived there, in the city of Gloucester in England. Boisterous children, normally shut up in a pin-making factory all week, played and shouted their freedom on this Sabbath day, much to the annoyance of Robert Raikes (1736-1811) a city gentleman and newspaper editor living nearby.

Child Abuse

Robert was all too aware of the many poor families who had been attracted from the country to the city workhouses by the lure of easy money. He was determined to give children some education though many were reluctant to receive it. C. B. Eavey (1889-1974) of the Wheaton College Department of Education and Psychology wrote, "He marched them there with wood tied to their feet to stop them getting away" though we have nothing to substantiate this. Because of the lack of legislation at the time, gin was also freely available to children on the streets. As a result, even young children had fallen into heavy drinking. This reminds me of young teenagers in our present generation especially in the far North of Canada resorting to sniffing glue from a paper bag to get high.

Other Early Schools

An interesting side note is that another claim to the first Sunday School comes from the work of the Methodist reformer, John Wesley (1703-1791) in Christ Parish Church, Savannah, Georgia. This church claimed to have a beginning in 1737 although this may have been more the daily teaching of the colony's children rather than a Sunday School as we know it today. Other claims to the first Sunday school come from Hannah Bell of High Wycombe in 1769 and Dr John Bellamy in Bethlehem, Connecticut in 1740. A Sunday school was started by the wife of the pastor of the First Moravian Church in Philadelphia in 1744 and one in Ephratha, Pennsylvania in 1739. The Sunday school of Robert Raikes stands out as not only giving Bible classes but also the beginning of general education meaning reading and writing to working people and especially children. Children were not protected by the State in those days and worked the same long hours as their parents literally from dawn to dusk. Few had any education, which was reserved for the wealthy elite in industrial England. Though the Sunday schools originally started as a way to get the children off the streets on Sundays and it soon became a wonderful opportunity in the hand of God to share the Good News with them and to teach them the basics of reading and writing.

"Sunday School Beginning"
by Ron Meacock © 1982-2019

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