One Sunday afternoon some two hundred years ago in the city of Bristol, the calm of the day and the concentration of a business man were shattered by the arrival outside his house of a group of ragged urchins kicking a home made football. Robert Raikes closed his book with a sigh of vexation and crossed to the window of his sitting room.
He watched with growing annoyance the crowd of ill-clad children and their noisy activities, for well he knew that their games invariably ended with a brawl. Putting on his coat and picking up his hat and walking cane, he ventured into the street to confront the mob.
A sullen silence fell over the youngsters as their leader was approached by the top-hatted gentleman. “Had they nothing better to do to occupy their time on a Sunday afternoon but to make a nuisance of themselves?” Robert Raikes was soon furnished with an answer. NO.
They had nowhere to go and little better to do to occupy their time. (Children were sent to work at an early age in those times, and had precious little, or more often than not, no education at all. Their places of work and conditions were overcrowded, damp and dark, and the hours very long.)
Mr Raikes – rather than condemn these children for something which was obviously not their fault, asked instead what they would prefer to do with their time on a Sunday. And their reply was – “Go to school”.
So out of a Sunday afternoon confrontation between a respectable middle-class citizen of Bristol and a ragged group of street urchins was born the Sunday School movement. Very soon Robert Raikes organised the renting of a room, and willing teachers were found. These youngsters desperately wanted to learn to read and what else should they read on a Sunday - but the Bible.
Just 100 years later, in a Sunday School at Charnwood Road Baptist Chapel, in a little village called Shepshed in Leicestershire, those scholars who had achieved full attendance throughout the previous year, were presented with a memorial Medal to commemorate Robert Raikes and 100 years of his Sunday School movement – amongst those who received these Memorial Medals was a young girl by the name of Elizabeth Ann Dexter, later in life to become Mrs Marvin.
Yet another 100 years have passed and still the Sunday School Movement goes on, and we can trace back through history the effect of this movement on the lives of countless thousands of people. Robert Raikes was not a committed Christian – he and his family were only ‘nominal Christians’ but through his actions many thousands of people have been brought into contact with the Love of Christ Jesus. What does this teach us? Perhaps we should read again the Book of Acts, Chapter 9, and consider not just the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, but the attitude of Ananias to the vision (Verse 15) – “Go on thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me to bear my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.” Robert Raikes was indeed a chosen vessel of the Almighty.
By the way – the medal presented in 1880, was in 1980 in the possession of Mr and Mrs H Marvin, who I am sure would have been pleased to show it to you.
IF A CHILD
If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn,
If a child lives with ridicule, he learns to be shy,
If a child lives with shame, he learns to feel guilty,
If a child lives with tolerance, he learns to be patient,
If a child lives with encouragement, he learns confidence,
If a child lives with praise, he learns to appreciate,
If a child lives with fairness, he learns justice,
If a child lives with security, he learns to have faith,
If a child lives with approval, he learns to like himself,
If a child lives with acceptance and friendship he learns to find love in the world.
(From a Bi-centenary oration in honour of Robert Raikes of Gloucester (1736-1811) founder of the Sunday School Movement in 1780)