New Zealand Methodist Church OnLine History
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The Sunday School in NZ Methodism

About the Author
Introductory remarks
The origins of the New Zealand Methodist Sunday School
English settlers and the Sunday School
The influence of the Sunday School
Into the twentieth century
Sunday School Unions and Conventions
Training and teaching methods
Lesson material
Changing emphasis
People who served New Zealand Methodist Sunday Schools

In 1799, when revolution was abroad in France and reactionaries in Britain were concerned about radical voices, the Church of Scotland General Assembly issued a 'Pastoral Admonition' which "described Sabbath school organizers as 'persons notoriously disaffected to the Constitution'".' In contrast, Methodists were identified with the radical and revolutionary dimensions of Sunday school education. While for Methodists the Sunday school was primarily concerned with Christian instruction, it also provided in its early years elementary education to people who, because of their social class and economic circumstances, were deprived of schooling.

Sunday schools have been a significant and powerful force in the life of Methodism. Perhaps because they were considered 'child's stuff they have not received the attention from historians they deserve. How far Sunday schools took over the role of religious education from the home and thereby undermined the spirituality of the hearth is a question worthy of reflection. How far did the Church come to rely on the Sunday school to provide its future membership? How far is the decline of Methodism a reflection of the decline of the Sunday school? These are questions that need to be asked.

In an age when there were few social institutions for children, and a lack of mobility and discretionary spending meant that leisure time kept you close to home, sending the children off to Sunday school was both a social and cultural phenomenon. What impact attendance at Sunday school had on people is difficult to determine. For some it provided their only insight into Christianity - 'a Sunday school faith'. For others it became the foundation on which their later growth in Christian knowledge was based.

The Sunday school was a place for teachers and taught, but it also provided the grand public occasions - the Sunday School anniversary, the Sunday School picnic. The Church put considerable energy into nurturing and developing the Sunday school. The professionalisation of education, the impact of electronic media - particularly television, the rapid social and economic changes since the 1960s - sport on Sunday, greater mobility and leisure choices - these are some of the forces which have helped undermine the Sunday school.

Frank Hanson, in his study of the Sunday school among New Zealand Methodists, has captured the vitality, energy and commitment associated with Sunday schools in their heyday. His work is an important reminder of the way in which they were central to Methodist identity. He has honoured the deep involvement of women and men to the Sunday schools in the past. He foreshadows significant questions about the importance of the Sunday school for Methodists which he is taking up in his ongoing research. The golden age of the Sunday school movement cannot be recaptured. The continuing challenge to the Church is in finding ways in which it can communicate its faith with children so that they can grow up into a maturity of faith that sustains them throughout their lives.

Dr Allan Davidson