Absent From Sunday School

Sitting around in the chapel one recent Wednesday afternoon while members of the public came to sign the late Queen’s book of condolence, I had opportunity to rifle through our archives. I came across some old Sunday School registers from 1895-1911. Interestingly, the school’s attendance rolls seemed to be around 30 each year, perhaps testament to the district’s stable rates of fertility. I enjoyed reading the old-fashioned sounding Christian names, some of which are now back in fashion:

Hilda, Alice, Eunice, Ada; Annie, Lilly; Harry, Frank, Bertie, Fred.

The surnames bespeak good solid local folk, too:

Parkinson, Bulcock, Jackson, Hartley, Porter, Ogden, Stott, some of which continue to be found in the village and chapel.

By each name is a row of boxes with dates, and the Sunday School scholars received a mark for each attendance, there being a total of two for each Sunday. In the second half of 1896, Isabella Parkinson came to every class; poor Eunice Ogden of Newfield Edge managed only three, while Sarah Watson and Emma Stott, listed as teachers, attended none at all. In contrast, Jane Broughton, who was both teacher and Superintendent, managed all but five meetings.

The hand writing changes every so often, and the systems of recording alter, some noting the total attendance, others only the cumulative totals of each child. The farms or homes of the children are logged, including May Heaton, who in 1904 lived at the ‘lead mines’. Furthermore, one can see that the teachers appear to be the older children or teenagers who were recruited into assisting with the younger ones. In 1905, the Porter boys of Field House are made teachers, who in previous years were the ones taught. Where the lessons took place before our upper room was constructed in 1908, is not clear. Presumably, they used the chapel inbetween services; the business of taking them out before or during a service is unlikely to have occurred to our Victorian forbears.

Looking beyond the lovely old names and cursive charm, it is clear that there were weeks when few attended, and others when the rooms must have felt rather full. Even the older members with their teaching responsibilities were not always able or inclined to attend. Perhaps on those quieter Sunday afternoons, the superintendent became dispirited, wondering why he or she had invested so much time in the planning and execution of their material when many were staying away. Yet what we do for Lord Jesus’ people, we really do for Lord Jesus Himself. When I preach, may it be for His glory, even though few hearers attend. When we serve in the local church, the numbers of beneficiaries are irrelevant if it is done for the Lord’s honour, so be encouraged. And those Victorian Sunday School teachers- they are now in glory seeing the Lord whom they served and about whose deeds and gospel they taught.


Does the place you’re called to labour

Seem so small and little known?

It is great if God is in it,

And He’ll not forsake His own.


Little is much when God is in it!

Labour not for wealth or fame;

There’s a crown, and you can win it,

If you go in Jesus’ name.

-Kittie Suffield