Clarence H. Benson
HE department Sunday School, while offering the very best plan for efficient educational work, finds it more difficult to maintain the spirit of unity and enthusiasm through the segregation of the groups. While this is compensated in part, as we have seen, by the regular conference of the teachers and officers and the monthly assemblies of class organizations, there is still need for occasional gatherings of the entire school.
There is nothing like the enthusiasm of numbers, and a marshaling of forces once in a while is essential that one and all may be impressed and encouraged with the bigness of the enterprise as well as the greatness of the responsibility.
The danger, however, lies in multiplying the number of and magnifying the attention given to these special occasions. The Sunday School is an institution in which both spiritual and educational progress are necessary.
It is engaged in serious business and this business calls for continuous and persistent effort. As Dr. P. B. Burroughs says “The Sunday School which seeks to live and grow on the poor and variable interest which may be aroused by the observance of special days and by the use of spasmodic methods, is in a most pitiable plight. The Sunday School which by special methods secures large occasional attendance, which it cannot hope permanently to maintain, by so much undermines real Bible instruction and brings itself under suspicion of faulty methods.”
To avoid this danger it is not only well to limit the number of special occasions, but to have them definitely determined in advance. Moreover, a distinction should be made between the more important occasions when it is necessary to sacrifice the study of the regular lesson, and the less important celebrations which can be appropriately recognized in the assembly program without interrupting the regular course of study. Special days in some Sunday Schools are an uncertain though prominent feature. The regular program can be, set aside merely at the will of the superintendent and perhaps for no other, reason than the: unexpected presence of a missionary or some other interesting speaker. It is doubtful whether such procedure is ever wise or justifiable. It is doubtful whether such procedure is ever wise or justifiable. It is the first business of the superintendent to protect the teaching ministry, and no ordinary circumstance should be; permitted to interrupt the regular course of study, week after week.
With this word of caution against’ undue emphasis upon “special-occasion Sunday Schools,” it is well to state that there are important days which no, Sunday School can afford ‘ to neglect. Some of these mark the festive anniversaries of the church, such as Christmas and Easter, while others grow out of the needs of the Sunday School, as Promotion Day and Children’s Day. A proper observance of these and similar days may without breaking the regular Bible ‘instruction or disturbing the usual order, stimulate interest and arouse enthusiasm.
1. Most important occasions.
Let the Sunday School adopt certain important occasions in which the entire thought and expression of the day will be toward a given end. There are five important occasions which every Sunday school should observe.
a. Promotion day
The educational year of the Sunday School begins the first Sunday in October. No other date fits our American school, habits to which all systems of graded lessons conform. For a great many years Sunday Schools have been accustomed to having a Rally Day after the summer vacation. On this, date every effort has been made by teachers and officers to have every enrolled pupil present so that all will be in a position to begin the work of the new year together. In recent years, since the graded school has come into ‘prominence and there has been a regular promotion of the pupils, upon which its success is so dependent, there has come to be a Promotion Sunday. As pupils logically should be promoted just before they take up their new work, Promotion Day and Rally Day would naturally come at the same time. This fixes Promotion Day with its public transfer of pupils, classes and teachers, on the last Sunday of September.
As Rally Day, this occasion has an important significance been in gathering together the pupils who have more or less irregular during the summer. As Promotion Day, it acquaints the pupils with their new teachers and surroundings, and gets them in readiness to take up their studies for the new year.
Since this occasion has two separate objectives it will be a day of confusion unless great care is exercised not only in the preparations but also in the execution of the program., it is hardly necessary to say that with the large number of changes which will be required (as on the opening day of school), it will be, unwise to attempt the study of a lesson. If the last Sunday of ,September is, carefully adhered to for this ,purpose, there ,will, be no, interruption of the educational work, since this is not only the last Sunday of the year, but the lesson is generally in the nature, of a ,review.
Through the various efforts put forth to secure not only a perfect attendance of the enrollment, but also a large number of prospects, Rally Day should provide the largest gathering of the year. For this reason exercises should all be of a general and active character,. The work of the pupils should not be exhibited or ex-pressed on this occasion, but reserved for Children’s Day. It would be a great mistake for the superintendent to lose the opportunity of impressing this large gathering with the importance of the work in which all are engaged. The program for the day should include
(1) Promotion exercises.
The most important feature of the day will be the promotion exercises. This largely consists of the reading of the names of pupils and the awarding of the annual certificates or department diplomas. By having this demonstration before a capacity assembly, proper publicity is given to the excellent organization of the graded school, while the individual pupil is stimulated to begin the year’s work with new enthusiasm.
In the promotional exercises it is well to begin from the top and go down. Announce first those graduating from the Senior department and entering the teacher training class. After these come forward for their diplomas, those who are in the second year of the Senior department should be awarded their ‘annual certificate, announcement being made’ of those who are on the Honor Roll. After the pupils in the Senior department have received their awards, the graduation class of the Intermediate department should be recognized, as well as the first and second year classes. The honor students in each of these classes should also receive special mention. In a similar way the Juniors should be recognized and honored. In welcoming the graduation class from the Primary department the school might present each with a suitable Bible. This provides them with the textbook for the first year Junior lessons and standardizes the school’s Bible supply, advertises the school as a Bible institution, and takes the place of the distribution of Bibles at Christmas. Following the Primary pupils the children in the Beginners department should be promoted, and finally the graduates from the Cradle Roll should be welcomed.
Before closing, each department superintendent should state in a few words the content of the course her pupils will study during the following year.
The exercise will not be complete without a report from the various teachers of the advanced classes. As these are not to be promoted, the class can simply stand when called for, to indicate their presence. The Cradle Roll superintendent should also report the number enrolled, so there can be exhibited to the large number assembled the entire constituency of the school.
(2) Installation service.
As this is the day that new classes are formed and new teachers introduced to their work, it is well .to include an installation service for the new teachers who are taking up their duties for the first time. This service should be conducted by the pastor, and include an appropriate hymn, the gathering of the new teachers be-fore the desk as their names are called, suitable Scripture selections and a pledge of faithfulness, a verse or two of exhortation, a closing prayer, and benediction. Some ‘Sunday Schools conclude the service of installation with a gathering of all the officers and teaching staff at the front as an expression of their rededication to their work. The entire service need not take more than fifteen minutes. Having the installation service at this time and before such a large assembly impresses the teacher with the dignity of her ministry and the importance of her task.
(3) Special features
This occasion gives a special opportunity ‘for the Music committee to function, as special music will make is; helpful contribution to the program. If an orchestra can be secured for the’ ‘opening and closing, numbers it will counteract the confusion that is likely to arise in a crowded auditorium. The music should be specially selected and be of a strong, vigorous character.
If time will permit, an, invited speaker, preferably from the outside, may make a short address in, which the importance and value of the Sunday School should be stressed.
The ‘time of the year makes it possible to have beautiful floral decorations in large variety. Fruits and fall flowers are always abundant, and, make fitting decorations. Some schools have made promotion, more significant by erecting a gate, or double swinging gates of some kind, on the platform. As each class comes forward the pupils stop behind- the gates, until they have received their certificates and diplomas, then pass through the gates and back to their seats. The gates may, be made, of heavy cardboard and appropriately, decorated.
Under no circumstances must the program be, permitted to drag, and every Part, especially the promotional exercises, should move with military precision and without any commotion whatever. It, should, be a day of inspiration and action rather than of ‘instruction and expression.
b. Missionary Day.
Now that consecutive and Comprehensive missionary instruction’ is provided in the graded lessons of the curriculum, Sunday School pupils have a better knowledge of, the mission, fields than when, information, was given by irregular lessons and occasional speakers., The plat form exercises of the various departments are better calculated to interest the age groups than monthly assemblies of the entire school. However, there is lacking the enthusiasm for a united project that is only possible when the assembled school can focus its thought and interest upon a central program. For this reason, at least one day should be set aside in which missionary activities will dominate the entire program. If the regular work of the school will be too seriously interrupted by this departure, some evening in the week should be substituted for the Sunday session. In any event, it is imperative that the entire Sunday School observe a Missionary Day to keep alive the enthusiasm of its pupils, just as a nation observes a notable anniversary to perpetuate the patriotism of its citizens.
Probably no program better lends itself to this purpose than the Summer Christmas Tree. As worked out by Mrs. A. F. Gaylord, the missionary superintendent, it has become the most notable annual celebration in the Bible School of the Buena Memorial Presbyterian Church, Chicago. The program in this school has had a twofold object: First, to help missionaries give their people a happy time at Christmas, and through gifts afford them an opportunity to tell the Christmas story; second, to give the entire school a new, vital interest in foreign work.
The Christmas celebration should be held sufficiently early in the fall that the Christmas gifts of the pupils may reach the foreign fields in time for distribution. The character of the program is varied from year to year. On one occasion a tree may be used as the central feature, on another a missionary ship, upon the deck of which the presents may be piled. Many of the pupils are accustomed to representing the native children of the fields to which the gifts are to be sent. They participate in the program, which may also be stimulated by appropriate music and enhanced with special electrical decorations and lighting effects. A troop of Boy Scouts can serve acceptably as ushers and for taking care of the gifts as they are brought to the platform. Some information as to just what gifts will be most appreciated should’ be secured by the missionary superintendent, so that the departments and advanced classes will be prepared to make offerings peculiarly appropriate to each respective field.
For instance, at the Buena Christmas Tree festival the task of providing for the lepers was allotted to the Senior and Young People’s departments, and they responded nobly by filling many “pig” banks with money. The Nursery and Kindergarten departments contributed large boxes of hair bows, scrapbooks, toys, books, pictures and clothing for children in Korea. The retail value of the gifts from the Primary department amounted to $60, and included beads, sewing cards, weaving mats, sewing bags, ginghams, scrapbooks and dolls. These went to Hindu children. The Junior department provided hair bows, balls, crayons, beads, handkerchiefs, dolls, marbles, cards, toys, to the value of $120, for Chinese children. The Adult department contribution was mostly in money, which with individual gifts amounted to $655. Merchandise and cash gifts of more than $1,000 in value were thus realized on this missionary occasion, and being sent to arrive in time for Christmas distribution greatly enhanced the value of the gift.
To conduct a Summer Christmas Tree successfully it is necessary to have an efficient missionary committee. This committee should be composed of representatives from every department, and thus bring the entire school to co-operate in the contribution of gifts. Each department should also carry on its program of missionary education and inspiration from month to month, which in connection with the graded instruction will properly prepare each pupil to enter into the annual festival with the true missionary spirit.
c. Decision Day.
If the program for Decision Day is taken up in connection with the chapter on Evangelism, it is unnecessary to discuss it further. It is important, however, to note that while the assembly may be limited to the adolescent and adult departments, it is necessary that the entire Sunday School session be given over to -a unified program, that the evangelistic efforts of the Sunday School may loom up as large in the eyes of the officers, teachers and pupils as the missionary enterprise. Decision Day should be designated, for some Sunday pre-ceding Easter, when the largest ingathering of church members will in all probability take place.
d. Children’s Day.
Children’s Day is an historical occasion and has been observed in practically every Sunday School for a good many years. The desire to find some day when the weather would likely be most favorable and floral decorations most possible, has fixed this anniversary in June. It should not be held too long after schools close or a part of the pupils, at least, will be scattered. If it is held too early, the interval between Rally Day and Children’s Day, the period when the Sunday School does its best work, is too greatly reduced. Generally the second Sunday in June meets all these requirements.
While the occasion is best named Children’s Day in recognition, of the attention and place that the entire church gives to the younger generation, perhaps a more appropriate designation would be Demonstration Day. Experience has taught that an adequate demonstration of the work of the pupils and a complete program for their graduation and promotion cannot be crowded Jul a single session. For this reason it is best to confine the June .festival to a demonstration of the pupils’ work, leaving the exercises of recognition and graduation to Promotion Day. If possible the regular church services should’ be set aside in recognition of the work of the Sunday School, and for informing the parents as to just what is being accomplished by the children.
The contributions of the pupils to a demonstration program need not all be platform exercises. There should be an exhibition of handwork to illustrate the expressional activities of the pupils. These can be placed upon tables centrally located. The platform work as far as possible should be a sample of the studies or out-, growth of the instruction the pupils have received during the year. Meaningless recitations or monotonous exhibitions of required memory work tend to the poverty of the school’s educational’ program.
At least six months in advance the department super-intendents should designate such work as is suitable for demonstration, purposes and fit their pupils into a pro-gram that may consist of selected essays or narratives, or a worked out exhibition of models and maps. A platform map exercise when well executed is always impressive. Directed work on Bible books and characters May be demonstrated by question and answer, one of the best pupils acting as the questioner instead of the teacher.
The worship portion of the program instead of being accepted ready made from denominational headquarters, will far more interesting if it can be worked out by the superintendent and music director. It will not only have the marks originality, but will better fit’ the participants. The day’s program will not be complete, without a, brief summary of the school’s work.
This can best be given by the superintendent or secretary, and will help to advertise the school and call attention to its high educational standards.
Too much attention cannot be given to the music and the floral decorations. The former is in charge of the music director and will constitute perhaps his most important task for the year. All the departments can assume some responsibility for the floral decorations, and thus bring into active service many of the pupils who may not participate in the platform exercises and would otherwise make no contribution to the success of the day.
e. Annual holiday.
The annual outing or picnic is as much a part of the Sunday School as Children’s Day. It is a testimony of our elders that they not only believe in the social side of the pupil’s life, but also are willing to recognize and participate in play activities. As Fergusson says: “It is a question whether a man is fit to superintend a Sun-day School who does not enjoy the annual picnic and cannot see wherein it may be made a means of grace.”
However, not all of these annual outings are calculated to promote the united and common interest of the Sunday School. Young folks who should be thinking of others go off in squads and more frequently in pairs. The burdens of the day are borne by a faithful few. The day will not be a success unless some provision is made to distribute the responsibilities and keep the company together for at least a part of the time. Good picnics do not happen. Usually some committee or some individual does a ‘lot of hard work, which explains the meccas of the day. Picnics held at distant places have been found to arouse greater interest and attract the larger numbers, and a public conveyance, generally necessary for transportation, is much more likely to keep the crowd together.
The program should be made the most important event of the day, and if scheduled immediately after dinner, will centralize the attention of the crowd before they have time to scatter.
Sometimes it is possible to hold a joint picnic with another Sunday School and have a series of athletic events in which the best representatives from each school will compete. The winners can be recognized by ribbons (blue, first prize; red, second prize; white, third prize), a certain number of points also being accorded each place and a fitting trophy being awarded to the school securing the largest number of points.
At any rate, a carefully worked out program should be pre-pared and printed well in advance so that the entire school may be familiar with the entertainment that has been planned and be on hand to enjoy if not actively participate in it.
2. Less important occasions.
Having recognized the most important occasions, which when observed during the regular Sunday School hour would require the setting side of the entire pro-gram, mention should be made of several less important occasions which can be fittingly observed in the opening and closing platform exercises without interruption of the regular course of lessons.
The problems of a program for these minor occasions disappear automatically in the department organization. Where the departments meet in separate rooms the question of how much divergence there should be from the regular program should be left to the department superintendent. The interests and habits of Beginners and Primary children are so distinct from those of older children that the superintendents of these departments may well recognize the teaching values to be secured by making appropriate use of the religious festivals of the year.
It is evident that the Hebrews used their national occasions for the purpose of imparting valuable instruction. Parents seized the moment of excited curiosity to explain the origin and the purpose of the festival occasion. The striking ceremonies in connection with the, Passover, for instance, were sure to provoke inquiry, and for this emergency the parents had been carefully instructed. “And it shall be when thy son asketh thee, in time to come, saying, what is this? that thou shalt say unto him, By strength of hand the Lord brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Exod. 13 :14). Thus it is fitting to parallel explanation with celebration, especially in the children’s division of the Sunday School.
Many of the graded lessons have been selected to fit into the festival occasions of the church year, though this custom is not adhered to in the adolescent and adult departments in order that the advanced scholars may a series of consecutive lessons without interruption. Thus, while in one department the entire session may be given over to exercises and study in keeping with the day, in others it may be sufficient to recognize the occasion by appropriate songs, responsive readings, and decorations.
This would naturally fall on the Sunday preceding Thanksgiving Day. As it is the only national holiday that is set aside year after year by the President’s proclamation, and in addition the only national holiday that is distinctively religious, it is most fitting that it should be recognized by the Sunday School in some way.
The fact that so many children do not attend services on Thanksgiving Day is a determining reason why their attention should be called to a day that is so interwoven into the life of the American people that since 1863 it has called for annual recognition by the President of the United States. The name of the day suggests its treatment.
There are many who would present strong argument to prove that a Christmas entertainment should be recognized as one of the most important occasions of the year. This would be true in the old-fashioned one room Sunday School, but in the department plan the observance by the children is so different from that by the adults, it is questionable whether a general assembly of the entire school either on Sunday or some week night ‘could be appropriately arranged for all.
Christmas is pre-eminently a home day, and it is probable ° that presents should be associated with the home rather than with the church. The giving of gifts, especially gifts of any value, to the scholars of the school at Christmas time generally works far more harm than good. There is so much danger of showing partiality or overlooking the more needy and most deserving that it is better to confine the giving and receiving of Christmas presents to the precincts of the home. It seems better to teach the importance of giving to others, as is emphasized with the Summer Christmas Tree on Missionary Day.
Christmas’ observance then, should be made entirely a matter for each department superintendent to determine. Graded courses provide Christmas lessons up through the Junior department, so that it ‘would not be difficult to arrange appropriate exercises, to ‘fit into-the lesson study. Many beautiful and, effective Christmas exercises are being prepared every year, but it is not wise to permit this special program to interrupt the teaching of the ‘Bible lesson on the birth of Christ: As Marion Lawrence say; “The world ‘needs to be brought back ‘to the simple Christmas message.” The best service you can render the scholars of the school is’ to impress the lesson of Christmas Day so deeply in’ their minds and hearts that they will never forget it.
Easter is in many respects the most joyous festival .of the year. It is the harbinger of spring, just as it is the announcer of resurrection. Pre-eminently it is a day of ‘music.’ Those who have been brought up in the ‘Moravian, Church or ‘who have ‘had the privilege of tit-tending an Easter service with the great Moravian’ congregation at Bethlehem, Pa., or Winston-Salem, N.C., know something of the’ anticipation with which young and old alike look forward to this annual event. The ‘music of the trombone choir, as well as the anthems of the great chorus, and the hearty singing of the congregation, are not soon forgotten.
Even where a special Easter lesson is not studied, all departments should make provision Tor Easter music, and in it’ the note of triumph and victory ‘should predominate.
Mother’s Day is observed by an increasingly large number of schools. As it comes on the second Sunday of May it is generally half ‘way distant between Easter Sunday and children’s Day, thus providing a special occasion for common thought.
Because of its vital relation to the home, and the endeavor the Sunday School to make the most of every opportunity to cement home contacts, the day should be fittingly observed, The mothers of the children who are in the Nursery department, as well as of the babies on the Cradle Roll, might be invited to a special program in the Nursery department. The children in the Primary and Junior departments should be urged to perform some little service for their mothers as a mark of their love and devotion, while the older pupils can wear a flower in honor memory of their mothers.
While no specific day has been designated as Father’s Day, much should be made of father and son’s night to associate both more closely with the Sunday School.
e. National Day.
Some schools would observe Washington’s Birthday, others the Fourth of July, as affording opportunity for patriotic expression. The latter occasion is generally preferable, as frequently the last Sunday of the quarter can be set aside for this purpose without interfering with the continuity of the course of lessons. Young and old alike need to have impressed upon them at least one Sunday in the year, the value of good citizenship and the responsibility of every Christian to the State. The school that fails to make true patriots fails to develop the highest type of Christian.
The rooms should be appropriately decorated with flags, and in the lower departments it may be possible to arrange for a flag drill. National songs and patriotic portions of Scripture should feature the program of every department.
The above article, “Special Days” was written by Clarence H. Benson. The article was excerpted from chapter 18 of Bensons book The Sunday School in Action.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”