Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » They Had Sunday School Questions, 1919 (part 1)

They Had Sunday School Questions, 1919 (part 1)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - November 26, 2013

The General Board of the Deseret Sunday School Union (David O. McKay, superintendent) answered questions in 1919 on “How to Conduct the Sunday School.” These answers are a leeeetle bit longer than most of those we’ve featured before; they’re worth skimming through, though, to get a feel for Sunday School practices a century ago. Back then, for instance, Sunday School lasted two hours; the minutes of the previous week were read in opening exercises (how exciting that must have been!), and classes reassembled in the Sunday School room at the end of those two hours for “closing exercises.”

Question: when should the Sunday School prayer meeting be held, and what should be the order of exercises? What should be done with the prayer meeting when the Teacher-Training class is held Sunday morning?

Answer: the object of the Teachers’ prayer meeting Sunday morning is to unite the minds and hearts of the teachers, and center their interests, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, upon the teaching of the children entrusted to their care. This exercise should begin promptly at 10:10 Sunday morning, the order of business being:

Roll call first, then the reading of the minutes of the previous session, after which a song should be sung or an appropriate instrumental selection played. Then the prayer should be offered, the one offering the prayer keeping in mind the object of the meeting and making his prayer appropriate. After the prayer necessary instructions by the superintendency should be given, after which the meeting should adjourn promptly at 10:20.

In schools where the Teacher-Training class is held on Sunday morning, the closing prayer of the training class should be made the prayer of the Sunday School prayer meeting. This is by arrangements with and the approval of the other auxiliary organizations.

Question: What should be the nature of the preliminary music?

Answer: The preliminary music should begin sufficiently before the hour set for the commencement of the school to warrant its name. Its purpose is to arrest the attention of the pupils as they enter the building, and keep their minds in a worshipful and reverent attitude so that the spirit of worship and reverence is present when the hour of beginning arrives. Much of the power of music is felt through association. Consequently, music used as preliminary should be of such a character that nothing associated with it is foreign to the occasion. Compositions, sons, etc., the words or spirit of which are not in accord with worship, should not be used as preliminary music. The organist should carefully select, and studiously prepare all music intended for this part of the exercises, keeping in mind constantly the purpose for which it is played, and seek constantly the guidance of the Spirit of the Lord in this important part of the Sunday School program.

Question: What should be the teacher’s work during the preliminary music?

Answer: The purpose of preliminary music is to put the members of the Sunday school in a reverent, receptive and missionary mood. The teacher should behave as they expect their pupils to behave. If pupils are to acquire a worshipful attitude, teachers must lead the way. A nervous, irritable teacher is a menace to good order and a disturber of the peace. Teachers should attune their spirits to the gentle music and the gentler spirit that called them to this work and be quiet. Teachers should teach by example as well as by precept.

Simply quiet, however, is not the aim, but a thoughtful, peaceful study of the work that is to be done, coupled with an alert observation and kindly direction. Pupils should be made to feel at home and welcome and, when necessary, assisted to their seats.

A small boy once said, when asked by a teacher who was inquiring what his teacher did during the preliminary music, “She don’t do nothing.” The teacher should see that this boy’s grammatical error should be turned into a great truth. Teachers should not do nothing. One of the worst things that any one can do is nothing. One time a teacher observed one of his boys in a quiet class, sitting looking out of the window with a vacant look upon his face. The whole class was quiet, and this boy was quiet, but he had a vacant look and the teacher said, “What are you doing?” The boy indignantly said, “Nothing.” The teacher said, “Well, quit it.”

The purpose of preliminary music is, then, to put people into a worshipful attitude, and it is the duty of all teachers to see to it that boys and girls are welcomed to the Sunday School in such a manner that they will feel that it is good for them to come, and come again.

Question: What is the purpose of reading the abstract of the minutes?

Answer: The purpose reading the abstract of minutes is that the school membership may be kept informed concerning certain general statistics of the school, its enrollment, the percentage of loyalty shown by attendance of officers, teachers and pupils, and to be able to note its progress, or the lack of it, by a comparison with its session of one year before, and all this with a minimum of time; the hope behind it being that it will encourage a spirit of individual responsibility and that each member, jealous of the record of his school, will strive diligently to be regular in attendance, and use his influence with his fellows to increase both enrollment and attendance.

Question: What notices are appropriate?

Answer: It has been noted in times past that in some of our schools notices have been given out that have been inappropriate for the Sunday School session, and also inappropriate for the Sabbath day. Notices that are appropriate are those that pertain particularly to the Sunday School cause, meetings of importance, messages that the bishopric or superintendency may desire the pupils or members of the school to carry to their homes, and notices pertaining to missionary farewells, or funeral services. These notices should be clothed in language that will make them interesting to the listeners and to the young people particularly. They should be short and crisp, to the point, and full of interest to all. The time for giving these notices is immediately preceding the opening song of the Sunday School session.

Question: How should the songs for the day be selected?

Answer: Sunday School songs should be selected for their musical beauty, their poetic contents and their moral lessons, – and should be appropriate. If, for example, the uniform Fast Day lesson on “Thanksgiving” be treated, use songs that are related to this subject. The songs sung during a school session should have emotional contrast. The first song may be full of life and joy, the second quiet and devotional, the last, whole having less vigor than the first should, as a rule, be quite spirited. The following songs preserve a good valance and are appropriate for the subject, “Thanksgiving”:

Morning Thanksgiving.
The Lord is My Shepherd.
Thanks for the Sabbath School.

To obtain the best results, choristers and superintendents should cooperate in the selection of appropriate songs.

Question: How should the sacrament gem be recited?

Answer: Every Sunday School superintendent is asking himself this question, “How can I intensify and deepen the spirit of reverence in the Sunday School for that very important ordinance, the administering of the Sacrament?” this we shall endeavor to answer by illustrating, which we commend to you superintendents and Saints for your careful, thoughtful consideration. A good beginning is a prelude or organ solo which is in sympathy with the subject in hand, as given here tonight. Then all, with folded arms and bowed heads and closed eyes will recite a well known gem: “While of these emblems we partake,” etc., followed by the postlude, in which we hope you will feel the spirit of this ordinance. The one who has this in charge in the Sunday School is expected to appear at the proper time, in dignity and ease, before the Sunday School, without the customary admonitions to be quiet, but, by the very presence of the leader who appears in the same attitude which all have assumed, with bowed head and closed eyes, they wait the prelude. Then following the postlude will come the blessing upon the bread, while all are in that deep reverential mood.

part 2
part 3 (links will be added after posting)



  1. Interesting.

    The instruction presumes that the music will be provided by an organist [cough, the one true musical instrument, cough], but it’s not clear to me *where* they’re all assembling. What is a “Sunday School room” and did the various wards really have the funds to afford an organ for the main chapel *and* one for the Sunday School room?

    Comment by David Y. — November 26, 2013 @ 10:26 am

  2. Years after this there would start to be “junior Sunday School rooms” separate from the older children and adults; that usually had a piano rather than an organ. At this point, though, I think they’re referring to the chapel, with the same organ that would be used for other worship services.

    The impression I get from reading all the magazines and many manuals and Sunday School files is that they really did think of the Sunday School not as an auxiliary meeting of a couple of hours duration on Sunday, but as a school in exactly the same sense as a day school, only meeting on Sunday instead of during the week: They used the same terminology as day schools: they were led by “superintendents” who had “faculties” and the classes were “graded” (i.e., divided into age groups), and the classes held “recitations” and used “texts” (not manuals). So the chapel wasn’t the chapel in the Sunday School world, because schools didn’t meet in chapels. It was the “Sunday School room,” the schoolroom, the place where the school assembled as a whole before going into individual classes.

    Don’t know how clear my explanation is, but the short answer is that I’m pretty sure that in this case they were speaking of what we would today call the chapel.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 26, 2013 @ 10:46 am

  3. Wonderful answer, Ardis! Yes, makes sense. Thanks for that. And an intriguing peek into a totally foreign but not-so-distant world.

    Comment by David Y. — November 26, 2013 @ 10:50 am

  4. I miss the formality of Junior Sunday School. We had the sacrament, with the sacrament gem. There was a sacrament table with child sized trays to use. There was a built in podium and a pulpit in the front, just like in the chapel. No choir seats though, and there were chairs instead of benches in ours, but some church houses had benches like in the chapel.

    It was conducted just like sacrament meeting, not like nursery school. And there weren’t adults standing in the back of the room or preparing things and chatting back there any more than they would do in sacrament meeting.

    The kids gave the talks, but the parents didn’t help or even show up in the room. The talks were memorized, so sometimes they were very short, but not always. Mostly they were stories or poems.

    I’m trying to remember if there was singing time. I know there was in Primary Thursday afternoons. We had the best chorister in the world and she had the calling for at least 15 years. But I think in Junior Sunday School we didn’t do that before separating for classes.

    I went home for a funeral this week and saw so many of the people that were my teachers and leaders during that time, so I’ve done a lot of remembering these last few days. Wonderful memories. They haven’t changed a bit.

    Comment by Carol — November 26, 2013 @ 11:15 am

  5. Sacrament Gems! Boy, there’s something I completely forgot about! Thanks for the reminder.

    And then as a Deacon, it was good to get the Sacrament assignment in Jr. Sunday School because it was easier and so much more fun and entertaining, mainly because you could be a big shot with the little kids including younger siblings.

    Comment by Grant — November 26, 2013 @ 11:22 am

  6. Sacrament Gems

    I think you’re right, Carol, about the singing. We sang opening, closing and sacrament hymns, and we had a “practice” hymn (they had that in Senior Sunday School, too), where the music leader might tell us something about the hymn, and have us sing it a couple of times, maybe working on phrasing or on understanding hard words, but that was it, just work on a single hymn, usually for a month. It wasn’t “singing time” like we know it in Primary.

    I remember looking up to the deacons, Grant! They were so big, so old, so important!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 26, 2013 @ 12:03 pm

  7. I was the Junior Sunday School Chorister my last couple of years of high school. (It got me out of being the only person in my Sunday School class.) Ardis’ description above is accurate–although I did coordinate with the primary chorister to review and reinforce the songs she was teaching at the weekday meeting.

    Comment by LauraN — November 26, 2013 @ 8:14 pm

Leave a comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.
TrackBack URI