Christian education pattern questioned by ex-teacher

Published June 11, 2015

(This story was first published in the November 1959 issue of the Canadian Churchman.)

Sunday Schools have become obsolete but those in authority are doing nothing about it. Parents, teachers of Sunday School and clergy carry on in the same old way. We ignore the fact that a generation of non church-goers is growing up.

In sounding a warning, we should exclude that branch of the Catholic Church which is called Roman. The Roman Catholic Church has always demanded that her children be well taught in Church matters. She insists her children go to church on Sunday and has gone to such great lengths as supporting Separate Schools that her children might be drilled in church knowledge every day.

But that great branch of the Catholic Church known as Protestant stands much in need of warning. Our forefathers thought it a church worth dying for. We are doing our best to stamp it out of existence.

It was in the latter part of the eighteenth century that Robert Raikes took compassion on the poor little waifs of London and gathered them together on Sunday in an effort to give them a little teaching in the three Rs and in Bible stories. His work grew and blossomed into the Victorian Sunday School where children were rooted and grounded in church teaching.

For Victorian parents the Sunday School was a godsend, giving them an afternoon of rest while the children were taken off their hands and were taught to be good churchmen.

With the coming of the car Sunday became the day for the family to go places – church first, and then – off for the day.

The time for Sunday School was shuttled back and forth and finally fixed at the time of church service. The result:-none of these children ever enters the church except perhaps for a special Rally Day.

And what of the large army of teachers recruited to look after the children. They might go to Church Sunday evening except that Evensong has been cancelled in many churches, or it is so poorly attended – not too inspiring for active young people.


At a recent meeting of the Synod of the Diocese of Ontario one of the clergy came out with a bold criticism of Sunday Schools. He told the Synod, “Boys and girls over the age of ten should attend church service rather than Sunday School.”

He said he knew of Sunday School teachers who never went to church. Children were growing up and being confirmed without ever going inside the church. Children were learning Bible stories but not learning how to worship. This man is a voice crying in the Wilderness, but it is hoped that his Synod and other Synods will hear his cry, and do something about his warning before it is too late.

A fine young couple lately moved to Toronto. The wife, Allison, had been a member of the United Church before her marriage, but was quite willing to go to the Anglican Church with her husband Don, and agreed that their two children – five and two – should be brought up in the Anglican faith.

They found the nearest Anglican church and on Sunday went off to their first service. Allison took the children into the Parish Hall intending to leave them in the Nursery School. She was greeted by an earnest plea that she would stay and help in the Nursery School. She felt she couldn’t leave her children to add to the teacher’s burden unless she were willing to assist. She was torn between the call to help and a desire to be with Don in church and learning to take part in the Anglican service. She stayed in the Nursery School and has gone on staying each Sunday while her husband sits alone in church or – doesn’t go.

The clergyman who voiced a protest to the Ontario Synod urged that children should go to church. But he makes one serious error when he says, “Boys and girls over the age of ten should attend services rather than Sunday School.” Sending ten-year-old children to church is sending them just ten years too late. How often have we heard that the Roman Catholic Church says, – “Give me a child until he is seven years of age and I will never lose him.” In these days of Child Study we know well that the first seven years are the formative years. What he is learning during these years moulds the child’s character for the reset of his days. Sitting in a Sunday School Hall crowded with undisciplined children, under the bewildered care of an untrained teacher, he is NOT learning to be a Churchman.

The town of Orangeville, Ontario, like most small towns, has no separate school. Religious instruction is given to the children of the schools each Wednesday when the clergy visit the schools and gather their own flock together for such teaching as they see fit.


The kindergarten teacher said:-“Five year old children are at the most receptive age. The minds of my children are open and eager to receive every type of teaching. At no other point in their school life will they be so ready to take instruction. Why is it then that the only clergyman who thinks the children of the kindergarten are worth bothering with is the Roman Catholic priest?

“Every Wednesday he sends an older girl to my room to gather up the children that belong to his church. They go off importantly and come back carrying little picture papers that contain religious instruction. The other children look at them enviously. But no other clergyman bothers with the children of the kindergarten. I think Protestant clergymen are afraid of little children.”

A visitor was shown a Nursery School in one of Toronto’s wealthiest churches. The rooms were lavishly furnished with the last word in equipment for these pampered children of the rich who probably owned most of these toys in their own nurseries at home. The rooms were used for one hour on Sunday. Some of Toronto’s Day Nurseries, held in discarded church buildings, would give a great deal to have some of this wealth expanded on the needs of their not-so-privileged little children.

The visitor picked up a Sunday School paper from the table. The picture on the front page was of a milkman, delivering his milk and was entitled “Our Friendly Milkman.” The visitor asked in surprise “Is this your Sunday School paper?”

The supervisor said, “Yes, we don’t believe in using Bible Stories for such young children. Bible stories are beyond them and much too frightening, don’t you think?”

The visitor, with visions of children today brought up on a diet of Disney productions did NOT think so. Children love Bible Stories. In most of our Public School kindergartens a Bible Story is told to the children every day. The Bible should be a prescribed course in reading for every grade in school. Shakespeare is taught in High School. So should the Bible be taught. No better grounding in English can be given to children of any faith.


Edith was a Roman Catholic when she married George who was a Presbyterian. Edith agreed to give up her Church and the two little girls were to be brought up in the Presbyterian Church. They rarely went to Church and the children were sent to Sunday Schools perhaps once in six weeks – usually when they had something new to wear and seized the opportunity of showing it.

The marriage broke up and Edith’s first thought was that now she could go back to her own Church and she would send the girls to Separate School in September. She announced her intention to the priest and at once the two little girls were asked to call every day after four at the Separate School where a kind sister gave them instruction so that when they entered the school in September they would understand the Church teaching that would then be part of the school curriculum.

They carried their Catechisms proudly home and their mother did not neglect to teach it to them. Is there any reason why our Anglican children could not be taught their Catechisms at home? This would lead them up to confirmation and the Rector could extend his classes and in a few months could give his children far more instruction in Church teaching than they learned in years of Sunday School attendance.

For the history of the Church and the Prayer Book a study period could be incorporated into the week. Many adults today are seeking adult education and would gladly take a course of study – in fact, prefer it to social gatherings. Let’s get away from turning our Churches into just another service club. Make it a mint where sterling Christians are strengthened and established in faith.


And going back to Sunday Schools; if attending Sunday School and Church is impossible and if we must choose between the two then by all means bring the children to Church. Children who can sit for two hours watching a movie show or T.V., won’t be harmed by sitting quietly one hour in Church. And never mind a children’s sermon which only bores the adults. It matters not at all that the children don’t understand all that is being said.

They are absorbing the beauty of the service; the English that is spoken; the music; the Bible stories that are read; the teaching of Jesus. It is becoming a part of their being. They soak it up as the flowers soak up the rain and their lives become impregnated with the Faith of their Fathers.

The 9.30 a.m. Family Service held in many churches is an excellent idea but let it not be Communion every Sunday. Rather, please alternate Communion with Morning Prayer so that the children may learn the beauty of both services. But the main thing is, it is bringing the children to Church and they are not marched out in the middle of the service to be entertained in the Parish Hall. This always smacks of telling the children?”This is much too dull for you.” And so we fall again into the error of making our children think everything in life must be made easy and pleasant for them.

We must make a choice – Either we are bringing up our children as Christian Churchmen, or we are letting them go the “way of all flesh,” albeit in a religious atmosphere, while we sit quietly by.


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