Project Canterbury

The Best Mode of Working a Parish
Considered in a Course of Lectures Delivered in Denver Cathedral, January and February, 1888,
and in Some Sermons Prepared for Various Occasions.

By John F. Spalding, S.T.D.,
Bishop of Colorado

Milwaukee: The Young Churchman, 1888.

Chapter III. Lay Work in the Sunday-school

Isa. xxviii, 9: Whom shall he teach knowledge? And whom shall he make to understand doctrine? Them that are weaned from the milk and drawn from the breasts.

ALL education begins in the family. Here first is the field for Christian nurture. Here the Christian knowledge, that is its chief instrument, is first imparted. Here the holy influences so indispensable in promoting it make their first and most indelible impressions. The baptized child is from the first the subject of grace. There is no point assignable after baptism at which it is expected to begin to grow "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." The Christian family is the original school of Christ, "the Church that is in the house" (Col. iv, 15; Rom. xvi, 5; 1 Cor. xvi, 19). Its training is continuous from earliest youth to manhood. Its power is not lessened, whatever outward helps are afforded. The character is chiefly determined by the education that is imperceptibly received in the earliest years. Not more sure in its results is heredity upon moral and intellectual character in the offspring than is the influence of parental [34/35] training, through example, love, sympathy, associations, and positive instruction. This is the divine plan and order.

But in a certain stage of development the child perceives itself to be already a subject of other than family relations. It is a member of the State and of the Church. A training for the duties involved in these relations is necessary. The State must have its schools. The Church must institute her methods of instruction, her means for the moulding of character. These are the three divine institutions. In the family, in society, in the Church of Christ must all the education be afforded which is requisite for all life's duties and responsibilities. The subjects of one are to be the subjects of all. Each must be trained to filial obedience, to the rights and obligations of citizenship, to the functions and duties of immortal beings in the sphere of grace. Without the Church the education given, whether by the family or the State, alone, is inadequate. Christianity must permeate and mould the family, the State, the social organism, to make the training they can give effective for their own respective spheres. The Church must lend her aid in making good children and good citizens. Hence distinctively Christian education is necessary. It begins in the Christian family. It is to go on in the Christian school. It must be unintermitted in the wider school of life. The Church has in charge the nurture and discipline by which to attain the [35/36] stature of true and complete manhood. To this end she is constituted the keeper and witness of the Word of Truth. She is to give to all the requisite instruction and insure to them the needed influences for their moral, intellectual and spiritual growth. She is to do all this by her Ministry of the Word, of prayer and Sacraments, by her pastoral care, by the examples of her Saints, by her environment of grace and holy associations, and not least by the direct personal influence and teaching of all her people.

The most important class of those who are to receive the care and instruction of the Church, are those whose minds are forming, the young in all stages of their progress, from the time they become cognizant of their Church relations. And we must include with these all whose minds are undeveloped and immature, who equally need religious instruction and training.

Thus we have the sufficient justification of the Sunday-school. It is an instrumentality employed by the Church in her teaching office. The Sunday-school is specially important, because the Church by its means, more than in any other way, calls out and utilizes the help of her laity.

We may admit that the Sunday-school is a modern device, an expedient. From the time Christianity gained ascendency in the world the Church largely controlled and directed all schools of learning, and education was more or less Christian. To learn the facts of the Christian Creed and the doctrines and moral principles of [36/37] Christianity, was everywhere a part of education. Parish Schools, Colleges, Universities, were Christian schools. The training in these was supplemented by habitual catechizing by the Clergy. George Herbert's "Country Parson" represents the custom of his time, which had doubtless long prevailed, and continues in many parishes to the present day. On Sunday afternoons a service was held especially for youths and adults needing instruction. Parents, employers and masters brought them to Church, having first taught them at home. They joined in the Common Prayer, and after the Second Lesson, the children and young people coming forward to the chancel, were publicly examined and catechized. Leading questions would quicken attention and help to suggest the answers. Thus the mind would be developed, the understanding instructed, and the heart improved. Many a shaft of truth would strike home to the hearts of the older members of the flock. All would become well grounded in the elementary principles of Christian truth. The Bible and Prayer Book, made the basis of teaching, would become thoroughly familiar to the people. Thus the foundations would be laid for a healthy, robust and manly piety. So was it substantially in the early Church. So, in her best days, has our Mother Church in England trained her young and ignorant for the Christian life. It is a great misfortune that this excellent method has been suffered, to such an extent, to fall into disuse. Its revival [37/38] is, on all accounts, desirable. But even if revived and brought into general use, the Sunday-school, in some form, would still be necessary in these times.

Sunday-schools were originally for poor children and others who had in an evil age--it was the latter part of the 18th century--fallen outside the pale of the Church, and were intellectually and spiritually uncared for. They were called "ragged schools," because the children could be gathered into them from the highways, from the miserable hovels of poverty, and from the slums of vice, in the condition in which hearts of mercy sought them out and found them, and instructed in the simple elements of secular learning and in the Word of Life. Such they were when first introduced into this country.

The Church won her first triumphs by "preaching the Gospel to the poor." In the course of centuries, it came at length to be preached chiefly to the rich, to those who could pay for it, the poor having fallen beneath its influence and being thus excluded from its blessings. This is the perversion of the Divine ordinance. The scope and use of the Sunday-school have been similarly changed. Within less than a century it was exclusively for those who could not be instructed without it. Now it is too commonly the children of well-to-do families of Christian people, who can pay for seats in Church, to whom its benefits are offered. For these the Sunday-school is made to stand as sponsor, and to discharge the parents' duty. [38/39] In some places it almost looks as if the Church stood aloof from her young, and was not expected to feed and nourish them, and extend to them her sheltering care until the time of their confirmation.

In some Christian bodies the Sunday-school seems fast becoming the only church of the children. It is losing all relations to the Church. Its features are more and more unchurchly. It seems to be adapted to unfit those who love it, to love and to be edified in the Church. Graduating at an early age from the Sunday-school, they are not prepared to take pleasure in the Church services, and hence they relapse into the world. Thus Sunday-schools may be of such a character as to be an evil. They may be a hindrance to the reception of the Gospel of Christ in the Church. Such they will certainly be, when they assume for children the place of the Church; when their promoters think and speak of them us the children's Church; when parents delegate to them their own duty of Christian teaching, and they abuse their trust, by making the Church, so far as the children are concerned, a nullity.

It is often said that the Sunday-school is the nursery of the Church. This conception, as often understood, involves the fatal error alluded to, though of course there is a sense in which it is true. The Sunday-school must not be made a nursery outside the Church, in which the young plants are to be trained to a certain degree of maturity, and [39/40] then transplanted into the field of the Church. The Sunday-school must, to serve the ends which make it legitimate, be the very garden of the Lord. It must be a choice part of the field of her culture. It must be within, not without the Church. Its instrumentalities must be the Church's own. It must be thoroughly Churchly and Christian in all its methods. The Pastor must be, and be recognized as the head and chief instructor. The teachers must be Christians. The right use of the Prayer Book,' training in worship, with heart and voice, is an essential part of its purpose. The early habit of public worship, devoutly and intelligently rendered, must be promoted. Then the Sunday-school may be of very great help and advantage.

We must take the Sunday-school as we find it, improve its excellencies and remedy its defects. Conservatism has long opposed it, except as restricted to its original purpose. There are many Churchmen who only speak of it in disparagement. They allege that it is needless; that parents, and the Church by her ancient and proved methods of catechetical teaching, could do much more effectively what it is expected to do; that from the difficulty of getting competent teachers, they are forced to employ the young and inexperienced; that the teaching is often false and injurious; that the children swarm out into the streets at the time of service to desecrate the Lord's day: and so they go on through all the counts of the terrible indictment, which [40/41] is, in the character of some Sunday-schools, for the most part justified.

But these objections do not apply in any such disastrous measure to the Sunday-schools of our own Church. We have the Sunday-school. It is a fact we must take account of. If we do not maintain, perfect and use it, the denominations which make much of it, will educate our children for us. We cannot rely on the other agencies which in former days were effective. We need not make it a substitute for any others. All approved means should be used. But we shall surely make a most fatal mistake, if we do not take the Sunday-school, which is so universally accepted and so generally popular, and make it what we feel it ought to be, and thoroughly use it as an agency which is our own--for it was in the Church that it had its origin--and make it, as we most unquestionably can, a blessed instrumentality of the Church.

Let us briefly consider some of the conditions of success. What are we to make of the Sunday-school? How are we to conduct it that it may be what it ought to be to us?

Whether the school is large or small, it should be graded into three departments: the infant school; the school for the young, till they are prepared for Confirmation, or later; and the school for young people and adults needing instruction. Besides the superintendent and the Pastor, the infant school needs but one teacher, though [41/42] assistants may often be usefully employed. This teacher will ordinarily be a woman, but not necessarily. Men are sometimes found, and ought to be, in most parishes, with the necessary qualifications. This teacher must be a Communicant, fond of children, one whom children will instinctively love, able to talk to them, and interest them in whatsoever is taught; one who can both sing and teach singing; one competent in Bible history and the elements of Christian knowledge; one whose loving heart, much more than brilliancy of intellect or wide learning, can lead the young in the footsteps of the Child Jesus and to His faith and love.

The Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments are the first things to be learned. They must be taught orally, little by little. No reliance is to be placed upon lessons being learned at home. Text books are not essential. Simple catechisms are to be used as helps explanatory of the chief things a child ought to know and believe. The answers are to be taught viva voce, and given, for the most part, in concert. Stories from the Bible or other sources are subsidiary to the main object and help to give variety and interest.

The devotional part must not be of secondary importance. The education of the heart is quite as important as of the intellect. Collects from the Prayer Book and special prayers for specific objects should be learned. The Church canticles and good hymns should be committed [42/43] to memory. It should be a special aim to teach little children to appreciate, and love, and to join with their voices whenever practicable in the services of the House of God. The infant school must be furnished with all needful helps. An organ is very desirable. Catechisms, picture cards, papers for distribution, are necessary. Library books may be dispensed with. Few of this class of children can read. They learn first from example, and by the hearing ear. Then will come the understanding heart.

They are of all classes, but the poor and those of the self-respecting working class preponderate. They are gathered in by systematic visiting, and by all those nameless acts of kindness, which win their young hearts and gain the confidence of their parents. These are often brought into the Church through the instrumentality of their children, seconded by that of the teacher and district visitor and Pastor.

It is quite essential that the children should be baptized. The teaching, all pre-supposes that they are in the state of grace and salvation. The parents' consent must be given. No effort is to be spared to win the parents with the children, for until they are in the sphere of the grace and under the obligations of the Christian Covenant, the greatest power of teaching and influence over them and their children is lost.

The infant school ought to have a separate room, so [43/44] constructed that it can be opened into the larger school. If this can not be provided, what can not be done in the school must be done at the home of the teacher, superintendent or Pastor, or at other hours than those of the general session of the school.

From the infant department the children pass into the school of youth. Here, if possible, one uniform plan of instruction is followed. It was common a few years since, for some Pastors to work out for their own children a complete course, and at the beginning of the year (Advent) to print a large card specifying the passages of Scripture and the portions of the Church Catechism to be learned by heart, with perhaps the Collect for the day; and each week or month, to set forth, in print, if necessary, his own questions, references and answers in explanation, and himself personally teaching every lesson beforehand to his own teachers. This is a great labor, but if pursued with skill and diligence, cannot but be rewarded. At present the leaflet system is in full vogue. Doubtless this plan has its merits, such as uniformity of lessons throughout the Church, the helps given to teachers who will study, the great amount of Scripture knowledge given; but it has its disadvantages also, except for very advanced classes. The lessons are generally too long. Few can commit them to memory, and it is exceedingly important that all Scripture lessons, as well as the Catechism, should be accurately committed. The Word, [44/45] sown in good hearts, is sure ultimately to germinate and bring forth fruit. The knowledge gained is general, vague, indefinite. Too little attention is given to the Church Catechism. Too little is learned concerning the Church, its polity, history and ordinances. As we best learn any natural science, by using the labors of investigators who have collected and systematized the facts for us, and generalized their laws and principles, rather than by beginning anew, and without guidance, going out alone into the fields of nature in individual exploration, so we may best study the Holy Scriptures. The Church has formulated their essential facts and doctrines. In the Catechism, the elements of Christian doctrine and duty are set forth from the Scriptures in a form easily learned. Devout and able men have systematized the teachings of Scripture. We can only make real progress in the study of Christianity, by using the helps afforded us. It is only with these helps, as keys to interpretation, that we may hope to study the Bible with much profit. The common practice, therefore, of ranging at large through the whole Bible without system or definite aim will generally be unfruitful, while the learning by heart all that is possible of the ipsissima verba of Scripture, the Psalter, the Epistles and Gospels, the Memoirs of our Lord, the Acts, the Epistles, is exceedingly important. It is believed that the youth in the Sunday-school will make far better progress in learning the meaning of the Scriptures, and gain far more [45/46] full and accurate knowledge of Christianity, by the use of catechisms, than by any leaflet system that has yet been devised. There are many books of catechetical teaching from which to choose. Of the older, Beavan's "Help to Catechizing" is most admirable; Sadler's "Teachers' Manual" for teachers is still better, being more full and complete; Maclear's "Class Book on the Church Catechism" is excellent. The Bishop Doane series is one of the best, covering, as it does, the fundamental principles and facts of Scripture, doctrine, polity and history, though exception has been taken to some of its doctrinal statements. Bishop Burgess' "Questions on the Gospels," the Witherspoon series, and others that might be named, are good and useful. For very young children the '' Calvary Catechism," and other like works, are interesting. The teachers should be, if possible, members of the Church and communicants--ripe, well furnished, intelligent Christians. It is desirable that they should be parents having their own children in their classes. The divorce of the Sunday-school from the family will thus be to some extent prevented. Parents are better teachers, other things being equal, because they know more of the nature and wants of children, and feel more deeply their responsibilities. Others, however, if qualified, should not be excluded. Every lesson must be carefully studied by the teacher. Practical and Scripture illustrations should be found wherewith to impress and enforce the teaching. Thus the [46/47] lessons will be made interesting. If the parents be Christians, they will see that the lessons are thoroughly learned and understood, by requiring that they be first recited at home. Lessons well learned, so as to be well recited, give life, interest, enthusiasm to the exercises. Dullness in the teacher and in the pupils produces deadness in the school.

To qualify the teachers, there should be regular meetings for the study of the lessons, and for discussion of plans for increase of interest and success. These instructions should be attended not only by the best, most faithful teachers, who need them least, but by all, especially by those who have had little experience. These should be eager to attend and to profit by study and by the suggestions of the older and more experienced.

Catechizings by the Minister should be frequent. Parents and others of the congregation should attend, for the children's sake and their own. Their interest manifested in every way will deepen the interest of the children. They will find the instruction profitable for themselves, renewing their elementary knowledge and strengthening the foundations of first principles. Sermons should often have the children in view. If prepared so that children will understand them, most adults will be more interested and profited. It must not be forgotten that all adults are children though of larger growth.

A most indispensable requisite in those who conduct [47/48] Sunday-schools, is enthusiasm. They must be wide awake, full of life; without it there will be little interest. Enthusiasm is contagious; life produces life.

The Sunday-school is part of the Church, hence the devotional element must not be neglected. This is essential to the teaching. It subserves heart culture. It is a training of the regenerate nature. The best Liturgy, in the popular sense of the word, is the Prayer Book. For responsive worship, nothing is so good as the Psalter. It furnishes the most suitable "Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs." Chanting may be made the most popular mode of singing. A whole school can easily be taught to sing chants with sufficient accuracy and with the greatest interest and enthusiasm. The Psalter, the Canticles, the Creed, Lord's Prayer, Versicles and Collects may be used with splendid effect. For variety, the Litany or the Ante-Communion, rendered chorally, may be effectively used. Additional prayers for specific objects, in which all are taught to feel an interest, should be added. Many a worthy end may be gained by the efficacy of the fervent prayers of faithful children. The use of the Prayer Book is made familiar. The chants and hymns are learned that are sung in Church. Hymns specially adapted to children are not necessary; they are apt to be puerile and sentimental. The Sunday-school should learn and use the very best, those that are worth learning, and will be always valued. The school is not dissociated from the [48/49] Church. The services must not be of a different character. To love it will be to love the Church. Children's hearts and voices will be attuned to the Church's worship, and the Sanctuary will be a delight. If on every Sunday afternoon, or at least monthly, the whole Sunday-school, after its usual lessons and exercises, could pass in procession, with their school and class banners, into the Church, and there join in a grand choral service, the Minister catechizing, as of old, after the Second Lesson, we should have doubtless the ideal plan. If the Pastor is the life of the Sunday-school, if he secures the love of every child, if he knows how to inspire zeal and enthusiasm, if he studies hard to master the art of catechizing, giving more time and labor to this work than to his sermons, he will doubtless succeed in realizing it.

The Festivals of the Church, especially Christmas and Easter, may be made delightful instrumentalities for promoting Christian teaching. Many of us have not yet learned all that might be made of a Christmas Festival for the Sunday-School, and Easter may be made quite as interesting and fruitful of enjoyment and of instruction as Christmas to teachers and scholars, in the work of the Sunday-school. These and other Church Festivals will be instinctively loved by every rightly instructed child.

It is a great mistake to suppose that children should not attend the Church as well as Sunday-school. There is no danger of fatigue, except in the case of the very [49/50] young, or those in delicate health. They are not confined in the Church any more than in the Sunday-school. The changes of posture required in the services are restful. Standing, kneeling, sitting, at the proper times; singing, responding audibly, all this keeps up interest, and necessarily prevents fatigue. There will be no weariness, if real interest is cultivated and secured.

The original design of the Sunday-school should be kept prominent; the gathering in and teaching poor and vagrant children in pure religion and good manners. Systematic and thorough visiting is necessary. Children themselves, if imbued as they should be with the missionary spirit, will be able to render large assistance. All the teachers should spend a certain time each week in visiting their scholars at their homes, and gradually extending their influence to the surrounding masses; never yielding to discouragement, never relaxing effort, till all whom they seek are Church attendants and are brought effectively within the Church's influence. This work of visiting should be so distributed and so systematized that the power of the Church shall be felt for good in every street and suburb, and in every home. Even those who do not go with us will recognize this, and say that "the Lord is with us of a truth."

The Sunday-school fails of its end if many of those under its care are not brought to Confirmation and Holy Communion, and trained for the Christian life. How few [50/51] realize their great responsibilities towards the young who may be gathered through the Sunday-school into the Flock of Christ!

There are many youth who ought to be in the Sunday-school who think themselves too old. Numbers of these are not attendants at Church; they have drifted out into the world. The smattering, superficial knowledge of Christianity they have gained, is assumed to be all there is to be known; they have tried it; they have had enough of it; it is of little account in their view; they have got beyond it and renounced it. That any should go out from the Sunday-school with such crude and shallow notions is a warning against attempting too much, and doing the work superficially. Nothing should be undertaken in the Sunday-school that can not be done thoroughly and well. But a great problem is suggested: how to prevent such youth leaving the Sunday-school prematurely in such fundamental ignorance of Christianity. Clearly there must be a higher department of study, of adults, both men and women, the youth, those of middle life; indeed, of all ages. In the School of Christ we never graduate. None should leave the Sunday-school before every effort is made to bring them to Confirmation. They who are not qualified to be teachers should remain as scholars. There should be Bible classes for all degrees of proficiency. How interesting and how profitable it would be, should the members of the congregation resolve themselves into [51/52] classes for the study of Holy Scripture, the Prayer Book, Christian doctrine, Church history and polity under competent teachers, the Rector giving his assistance and cooperation.

Such classes may meet at the same time as the Sun-da3r-school. It is desirable that they be parts of the Sunday-school, and hence there should be, when practicable, rooms contiguous, with folding doors, to be thrown into one for general exercises and services. The Church itself, however, may be best for such purposes. But it is well to have also separate meetings of the classes of this higher, as well as of the main department, in the parish building, at the Pastor's study, or in the homes of the teachers or some of the members. How much might be thus learned! How pleasant it would be socially! How closely it would tend to bind all hearts! How deep an interest it would create in one another and in the Church of our love!

In forming and building up Bible classes in connection with the Sunday-school, we must never lose sight of the class of people who are as yet practically outside the Church, and in great ignorance of the Church and the Gospel; and who especially need, for themselves and their children, the refining, elevating, regenerating influences of Christianity. I refer to such of the great working class as have not been trained from their youth in the ways of godliness, or who, having been thus trained, have fallen [52/53] back into the world; who make Sunday a work-day or a holiday, or a day of indolence or vice. Our strenuous efforts must be directed to gather in and Christianize their children. But we shall not succeed even with these, unless we go farther. It is our bounden duty to bring to bear upon all the adults of this class, the sanctifying influences of the Gospel. Experience has proved that they may be won to the Church. It would be invidious to mention examples. But there are instances in abundance, where it has been tried with great success in this country.

It has been proved by results that Christian women are peculiarly fitted for success in this good work. What they have already done almost surpasses belief to such as do not know their capabilities. I need but refer to their devoted missionary labors in the hospital, in the tent of the soldier, in the neglected parts of cities, among operatives in mills and factories; how they have displayed the beneficence of the Gospel, and proved the omnipotence of Christian love; how thousands of the rugged sons of toil have been taught of Him Who on earth had not where to lay His head; Who became poor to make the many rich. You have sources of information. Read, and ponder, and make the whole matter a subject of earnest prayer.

Women will succeed best with classes for men. Men and women should be in separate classes. I have seen in connection with one Sunday-school, classes of fifty, one [53/54] hundred, and of one hundred and fifty or more, each class gathered and presided over and instructed by one earnest Christian woman; and this work going on year after year with increasing interest and success. Under less favorable circumstances there have been like classes of a dozen, or a score, or forty or fifty, with proportionately good results. The men were migratory, moving often for better wages. But the places of those leaving would be taken by others. Correspondence would be kept up with those who had gone elsewhere. The influence for good gained over the men and their families would be lifelong.

Not the Bible class only, but the cottage lecture, conducted by the clergyman or by a devout layman, for men and women, and the Mothers' Meeting, and the Sewing-school for women and girls, conducted each by a good woman with her assistants, with indefatigable, systematic visiting, are means of wonderful efficacy in themselves, and in their indirect influence in building up the Sunday-school, and the congregation.

Of course, the objection occurs to all such efforts, that they would take much time and absorb much of the thought and energies of Christian people. But who can suppose that real Christian character is evidenced merely by Church attendance on Sundays and perfunctory gifts of money that cost no thought nor pains? Who can suppose that we can fulfill our Christian duty and meet our obligations in the Church by proxy? Is not Christian [54/55] work the business of Christians? Consider the Church's Charter, by virtue of which she exists. The Apostles distributed their work of preaching the Gospel to every creature and discipling all nations. The threefold Ministry is in the place of leadership. The great body of the faithful must stand behind and with them in earnest co-operation. The work is yours. You must do it, if you be not recreant to all Christian vows and obligations.

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