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THE SUNDAY SCHOOL UNION, ITS CLAIMS ON SUNDAY
SCHOOL TEACHERS. A paper read at the annual meeting of the North West District of the West London
Auxiliary. ALTHOUGH the Sunday School Union has now been established upwards of 55 years, and the records of its operations have been disseminated far and wide, both orally and in print, yet strange to say, the question even yet is frequently heard from the mouths of Sunday School Teachers, “ What benefit shall I derive from connection with the Union, what good will it do me?" Perhaps a more appropriate question from a teacher might be “ What good can I do by joining the Union? What benefit will my adhesion to it confer on others ?”
In the short period of time allowed for the reading of this paper, we will endeavour to answer both questions, and show that the principle every right-hearted teacher so fully recognizes, and so continually experiences in his sabbath work, viz. : that in watering others he himself is watered, applies also to our present subject, and that whilst the Sunday School Union points to what it has done and is doing, as a claim upon every teacher to join its ranks, it can also point to corresponding benefits to be derived by all who respond to the call.
The original idea of the formation of the Union sprang from the fact that there were very many schools in different parts of London, gathering even then, thousands of children together each Lord's day, for religious instruction, all having the same object in view, but each pursuing his own way towards its accomplishment; some availing themselves of the best obtainable aids in their work, and pursuing the best plans of instruction as far as they were known-others groping in the dark, without the most remote approach to any plan or system at all.
Under these circumstances, a few zealous men met together and said " Let us form an association amongst ourselves, and interchange our ideas, and talk over our plans of instruction, counselling one another, encouraging one another, assisting one another; making known our respective operations to one another, and thus getting the very best plans into universal use.” The idea grew, and was speedily developed into the formation of the Sunday School Union, having these four objects in view as declared by its constitution. 1st. To stimulate and encourage Sunday school teachers at home and abroad to greater exertions in the promotion of religious instruction. 2nd. By mutual communication to improve the methods of instruction. 3rd. To ascertain those situations where schools are most wanted, and promote their establishment. 4th. To supply books and stationery, suited for Sunday schools, at reduced prices.
Entirely unsectarian in its principles, the Union has from the first, held out the right hand of fellowship to members of every Evangelical denomination, and right heartily for many years have Wesleyans,
Independents, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Baptists, worked with perfect harmony in carrying out the four objects above enumerated.
Let us briefly see how far they have succeeded in their efforts, and thus made good their claim upon the co-operation of teachers in general; perhaps the simplest method of testing this will be to take up each point separately. 1st. They set about “to stimulate and encourage Sunday school teachers at home and abroad to greater exertions in the promotion of religion." This resolution was formed in a day of small things. The Rev. Geo. Burder at the first public meeting, stated that the secretary informed him, there were in London and its vicinity, about 21,000 Sunday scholars, but he could hardly credit the assertion. At the present time that number may be multiplied by seven, without being called in question. Without assuming to the Sunday School Union the entire credit of this vast increase, it may justly claim to have had no inconsiderable share in its accomplishment. Efforts formerly isolated have become consolidated, individual schools, by being brought into connexion with one another, have been enabled to work more effectually upon the masses of the uninstructed young. From the Union as a centre, have sprung the four London Auxiliaries, these again branching out into sub-divisions under various names, known amongst ourselves in the West Auxiliary, as districts ; our meeting to-night being an evidence that the Northwest District is still at work, and still intending to carry on its aggressive efforts upon the kingdom of Satan, holding on in its endearours to promote the knowledge of the Redeemer.
The organization thus created became a powerful means for good, in drawing teachers together, and bringing into play that co-operation, which is in fact a leading principle with teachers. Why are schools formed at all? Why do not teachers go from house to house, carrying instruction from one to another-gathering a little knot here, or a class there ; either in their own homes, or wherever they can borrow a room? Partly of course because of the convenience of being where a room is ready provided and fitted up for the purpose, but also in some measure, because by uniting together they can act more effectually. Who does not know both in theory and by experience, the effect of numbers
upon individuals ? Who has not experienced the fact that he can work double as well company
with others as he could alone ? Why do teachers meet together at prayer meetings instead of confining their prayers to their own closets ? Certainly an earnest prayer to our Heavenly Father cannot be rendered more acceptable by the fact of others being present It is this principle of mutual assistance again brought out. Each individual mind is powerfully acted upon for good by feeling that its aspirations are identical with those of many fellow-laborers around.
Thus the Union has merely taken hold of a principle already
acknowledged by the teachers, and carried it out further. If we unite in individual schools, why should not the schools in their turn unite and aid one another? thus stimulating one another to renewed exertions in the cause so dear to all. Without some such organization as that of the Union this would be nearly impossible. Schools might happen to be known to their neighbours, or they might not. Some school might be carried on in a bye street away from the main thoroughfares, entirely unknown to the teachers of other more publicly situated schools; all would be left to accident. But now, on the contrary, our ramifications cover all the ground of the metropolis ; on payment of a small subscription, every school conducted on evangelical principles may become associated with the body, and participate in its advantages. Visitors appointed by the District Committees continually visit the various schools, and become well-acquainted with the whole of the ground which they cover; no new school, whether proposed to be connected, or unconnected with the Union, can be opened without the cognizance of these visitors, who report monthly to their committees, whilst these in their turn report to the auxiliary committees, whence again the information travels to the central committee. Thus by this simple organization, and subdivision, the whole statistics of London Sunday schools are correctly and easily procured. The advantages of union are or may be promptly laid before the founders and teachers of new schools, and when the system is efficiently worked, as we may hope and presume it generally is, an immediate opportunity is afforded them of connecting themselves with the Union.
Thus far we have spoken of London, but the country also is embraced, through the London Union. Numerous Local Unions have been formed in various parts, which take into connection the schools in the neighbouring villages and districts : and although England is very far from being properly parcelled out, or to the extent that we may hope it will be in the course of time, yet a glance at the Annual Report will shew that no small work has been accomplished in this direction, and the number of Local Unions reported in all parts, North, South, East, and West, evince the fact that the system is in operation to a very considerable extent. Then the idea has been wafted to distant lands. Copying our example, a Union has been formed in America, which in the magnitude of its operations has far out-stripped its English progenitor, being in fact a sort of Home Missionary Society, Publishing Society, and Sunday School Union, all in one, although known by the latter name. Canada and Australia have taken up and carried out the plan; and yet more recently, France has witnessed the formation of a Paris Sunday School Union.
So much for the foundation for usefulness laid by the Sunday School Union. Now has the superstructure been such as it might have been?
Have the great facilities for getting hold of all the workers in the Sunday school hive been taken advantage of? Have teachers been stimulated and encouraged to greater exertions, as contemplated under the first head of the Constitution?
We have seen that they may be got at, but how have these opportunities been used ?
An answer to this question might be given by many a now flourishing school in town and country, which in times past has been “ Syrian ready to perish ;" and which by timely counsel and encouragement has been raised from feebleness to strength : roused from apathy to exertion. In the country, more especially, many examples of this might be found; a good stirring-up has shaken off the sluggishness which was weighing down the schools, and by a systematic visitation a healthy animation has been substituted for ghastly feebleness. To keep up the spirit of Local Unions themselves, deputations from the London Committee are continually visiting all parts of England, inspecting the schools; meeting the teachers; conferring with them on important Sunday school topics; and endeavouring to infuse fresh vigour where it is lacking. The great interest which these visitations almost uniformly excite, and the high terms of pleasure with which they are always alluded to by our friends in the country, bear testimony to their value in promoting the Sunday school work. Then to revert to distant lands: the foreign correspondence continually laid before the central committee, and the interesting facts mentioned from time to time in the Annual Reports, evince how much the operations of the Union have been and are felt for good, not merely in those of our own Colonies already mentioned, but also in the West India Islands, as well as in the South Seas, Franco, Sweden, Denmark, India, Ceylon, Africa, New Zealand, and other parts.
Then within the last two or three years the great simultaneous canvass of London shewed that the Union was by no means disposed to be idle. The merit of originating the scheme cannot be claimed by the Union, but the merit of introducing it into the metropolis, is undoubtedly theirs, and without such an organization the thing would have been impossible. This effort, although like many other great works, not fully answering the expectations of its most sanguine supporters, did undoubtedly, do a great work for Sabbath schools. No less than 13 or 14,000 children were certainly known to have been added to schools, whilst reliable data exist for justifying the belief, that the total gain in all, was not less than 20,000 children; the larger proportion of whom are believed to have remained. The movement was followed up by similar canvasses in many large cities and towns, and will doubtless, be supplemented by many another yet, both in town and country.
The second point aimed at, we saw to be," by mutual communication to improve the methods of instruction."
In this part of their work, the Union has been making continual progress. To obviate the inconveniences arising from every teacher selecting his own lessons, in a few cases certainly with system and judgment, but alas, in too many cases, merely at random, and with no attempt even at any plan, a list of Scripture Lessons has, for many years, been carefully prepared, in which, series of subjects are carried out, and a systematic course followed through. Prior to this, the first, second, and third class books, had been introduced with great advantage; vast numbers of these have been sold and are still selling, although they will, no doubt, now gradually give way before the Scripture lessons. Great pains have been taken to render these lessons available in every class, in all schools. The Scripture elementary lessons, which are selections from the Scripture lessons of the day, printed in good clear type, and sold, both in single leaves, and monthly and quarterly parts, are intended for use in the junior or elementary classes, whilst the large type texts, are provided from the same lesson for the still younger ones; and the little infants are not lost sight of but can be taught the same lesson by means of that inestimable boon conferred by the Union on infant classes, the Box of Moveable Letters, which no infant class should be without. To assist teachers in preparing for their classes, Notes on the Lessons are published, some parts of which can be made use of with advantage in every class, from the highest to the lowest. These notes find augmenting favour with the teachers throughout the country, as their augmenting circulation evinces; the plan has been adopted by other bodies of Christians, who pefer working in their own way, and whom, we would heartily bid God speed in their work, although they do not unite with ourselves. Convinced that certain parts of biblical instruction in Sunday schools can be best conveyed, when aided with good accessories, the Union has provided excellent Maps, on a large scale, which ought to be better known than they are, and which, I would recommend to the notice of every teacher, for use in his or her class. Palestine, in the time of our Saviour, the travels of Paul; Jerusalem and its environs, the land of Canaan, and the journeyings of the Israelites, in the Wilderness—they are not very costly, and would be found very useful--a Biblical Atlas also is published, which teachers would find of great service.
With a view to eliciting from the great body of teachers throughout the land, the best possible ideas and hints on teaching, and so benefiting the body at large, the Union, at different times, offered prizes for the best essays on Sunday schools, on senior classes, and on infant classes. The result was, the selection of three essays, by Mrs. Davids, Mr. Cooper, and Mr. Reed, which are published, and will well repay