Thursday, 15 December 2011

Raikes' Ragged Schools

Last week, after attending a day of lectures at King’s College I had an hour or so before the train back to Somerset left Waterloo, so I wandered along the Embankment and came across this statue of the founder of the Sunday School movement, Robert Raikes.  I’ve never seen it before and initially walked straight passed it, but then I doubled backed and lingered a while in front of it.  I think it’s great that such a person had been honoured in London this way.

Raikes was an Anglican born in Gloucester in 1736.  He inherited his father’s printing business and newspaper, The Gloucester Journal.  His practical concern was for the children from the poorest backgrounds who received no education; and he did something about it!  He started Sunday Schools, but not really as we know them today.  They were held on Sundays because the children (initially just boys) worked every other day of the week.  The first began in 1780 in the home of a Mrs Meredith; the children learnt to read, progressing on to a study of the Catechism and their textbook was The Bible.  The schools were advertised in Raikes’ newspaper.  By 1831 25% of children in England (1,250,000) attended Sunday Schools and historians usually point to them as the forerunners of the English State School system

Here’s how Raikes himself described a typical school:
The children were to come after ten in the morning, and stay till twelve; they were then to go home and return at one; and after reading a lesson, they were to be conducted to Church. After Church, they were to be employed in repeating the catechism till after five, and then dismissed, with an injunction to go home without making a noise.  Perhaps I should read this quote at the next Junior Church Teachers’ Meeting!

Well - standing in front of his statue on the banks of The Thames last week I just marveled at the positive contribution this Christian man has made to the life of our nation – there are times, you see, when I’m very proud to be a member of The Church, and last Wednesday, on the way to the train, was one of them!

I write about this because at South Street we are so fortunate in having a viable, vibrant and Christ-centered Sunday School; even if today we call it Junior Church and they don’t have to go home without making any noise!  About 25 children are on the books – and prayerfully in our hearts.  This weekend they will have a Christmas Party on Saturday and then on Sunday morning perform their Nativity Play and at the Carol Service in the evening Solid Rock will lead the intercessions.  We are so grateful to everyone who makes this happen: teachers, parents, helpers, and encouragers.  It’s hard to know how this coming Sunday in the Christian calendar would feel without the participation of children; yet we know in many churches today that is the sad reality.

So thank you South Street Junior Church for being a continuing expression of Robert Raikes’ Ragged Schools!

Last Saturday we had the Open Morning and a number of folk came in and looked over the church – perhaps the biggest impact was made by Hymneo singing a dozen carols from the church steps.  This Sunday it’s the Nativity Play in the morning and Carols by Candlelight in the evening – a lot to look forward to as our Advent journey continues.

With best wishes,

Ian

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