Sunday School Beginnings

Sunday School Beginnings
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Robert Raikes Statue

Robert Raikes StatueThe Sunday school as we know it today began in July 1780 on a Sunday afternoon in a place called 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, played and shouted their freedom on this Sabbath day, much to the annoyance of a city gentleman and newspaper editor living nearby by the name of Robert Raikes (1736-1811). 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 some were so reluctant. C. B. Eavey (1889- ) 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." Because of the lack of legislation, gin was also freely available even to children on the streets. As a result many children had fallen into heavy drinking. Some teenagers in our present generation especially in the far North of Canada also resort to sniffing glue from a paper bag to get high. An interesting side note is that another claim to the first Sunday School comes from the work of the Methodist reformer, John Wesley 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 in Pennsylvania in 1739. Robert Raikes' Sunday school stands out as not only giving Bible classes but also beginning of general education 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 from dawn to dusk. Few had any education, which was reserved for the wealthy elite in industrial England. Though the Sunday schools started as a way to get the children off the streets on Sundays and help them to read and write it soon became a wonderful opportunity in the hand of God to share the Good News with them.✞

"Sunday School Beginnings"
by Ron Meacock © 1982-2018

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