What are the origins of Christian Science Sunday School?

May 15, 2011


Portrait of Warren and Clara Choate, circa 1880. Photo by Morton. P00460.

The development of the Christian Science Sunday School began in 1880, when Mary Baker Eddy first considered having a Sunday School in conjunction with Sunday services.

Eddy and her husband were then living with George and Clara Choate. She invited their son, Warren, to become the first pupil and speak one Sunday from the platform. He was about five years old. She coached him through a recital of the following verse, which he presented during the church service in the Hawthorne Rooms in Boston:

And right is right—since God is God;
And right the day must win;
To doubt would be disloyalty,
To falter would be sin!1

Eddy’s husband, Asa Gilbert Eddy, informally organized Christian Science Sunday School in 1881. There are no records of these earliest Sunday School sessions, other than the fact that they occurred. Probably they were fairly informal, and many of the participants were adults rather than children.

At a special meeting of church members held on November 26, 1883, the topic of Sunday School was again brought up: “The question of a Sabbath School was earnestly discussed and the Society highly approved of such a department, and decided to meet at 2 o’clock preceeding [sic] the Sunday service for that purpose…Our pastor spoke beautifully upon the subject of teaching the young.”2 The plan was postponed, however, and it wasn’t until almost two years later that a Sunday School was formally organized.

On October 25, 1885, the Sunday School was opened and classes were formed with the following teachers: Calvin Frye, E. A. Bailey, H. P. Bailey, Augusta Stetson, Sarah Crosse, and Josephine Woodbury. Classes were open to both adults and children, and 70 in total were present on the first Sunday. According to W.L.G. Perry, a fourteen-year-old boy who attended the Sunday School in the late 1880s in Chickering Hall, Eddy sometimes conducted the classes as well. He recalled, “To these children the greatest of events were those quite frequent visits by Mary Baker Glover Eddy to US in our own room….”3

The early Christian Science Sunday School was patterned after those of other denominations. The Bible was central to teaching but an additional number of Protestant texts were used as well, such as Rev. Henry G. Spaulding’s The Teachings of Jesus, the Pilgrim Quarterly, published by the Congregational Church, and the International Sunday School Lessons by an international Protestant group, the American Sunday School Union.

In January 1890 the Christian Science Publishing Society began publishing Christian Science Bible Lessons. Several months later the name was changed to Christian Science Quarterly. These texts were used in Sunday School. The lessons in this periodical were based on the International Sunday School Lessons. The Christian Science Bible Lessons mainly consisted of introductory comments and expository notes, containing information from reference works, parallel references to the Bible and references to Eddy’s textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. (The modern Quarterly was developed some years later, after Eddy had ordained the Bible and Science and Health as Pastor of The Mother Church and chosen 26 Lesson-Sermon subjects.)

During the development of the Sunday School in the late 1880s and early 1890s, there were various other activities for children. And on February 26, 1888, Eddy held a christening for 29 children, during a church service in Chickering Hall. In April 1888 children took part in a special Easter Sunday service, which included a Children’s Concert.

In 1891 the “Busy Bees,” made up of Sunday School children, were formed to provide support for the construction of the Original Edifice of The Mother Church. They began raising funds towards the construction of Eddy’s room, “Mother’s Room,” in the Church. Following completion of the building, they contributed to the flower fund of The Mother Church for several years.

Eddy instituted children’s sermons in the April 1895 issue of The Christian Science Journal; the first one in The Mother Church was given on April 14, 1895. A description of that service appeared in the May 1895 issue of the Journal. The following month, it was also announced in the Journal that instead of monthly these sermons would occur once every four months. Two children’s sermons appeared in the Christian Science Quarterly: “Childhood and History of Isaac” (August 11, 1895), and “Joseph and His Brethren” (December 8, 1895).

In April 1895 the Bible and Science and Health became the Pastor for all Christian Science branch churches (the books had already become Pastor of The Mother Church the previous December). Later that year Eddy published a statement in the October 1895 Journal titled “What We Can Do for the Children,” briefly outlining a more specific concept for Sunday School and inviting all Christian Scientists to take on this work. Sunday Schools were subsequently reorganized and became exclusively for children. On October 13, 1895, The Mother Church Sunday School for children met for the first time, with an attendance of 54 students.

In January 1896, a rule was adopted that children under 12 could be admitted to Sunday School. The first By-Law on Sunday Schools, however, didn’t go into the Church Manual until 1904. In the 41st edition (1904), this By-Law appeared under Article XIX: “Teaching in Sunday School. Section 5. Members of the Mother Church in Boston, Mass., shall not teach, nor allow members of their church to teach, scholars in the Sunday Schools who are more than fifteen years of age.” Later in the year, in the 45th edition, Section 6, “Subject for Lessons,” was added: “The first lessons of the children should be the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20: 3-18), The Lord’s Prayer, and its Spiritual Interpretation by Mary Baker G. Eddy (Matt. 6: 9-14), Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5: 3-11). The next lessons consist of such questions and answers as are adapted to a juvenile class, and may be found in the Christian Science Quarterly Lessons, read in Church services. The instruction given by the children’s teachers must not deviate from the absolute Christian Science contained in their text book.” In this edition the wording of Section 5 was also revised and expanded to include this statement: “None others except the teachers and officers of the Sunday School should attend these exercises.” Early in 1905, the Bible verses referenced in Section 6 were also slightly amended.

Another new By-Law on Sunday School was added in the 55th edition (1906), under Article XVIII, Section 11, “Teaching the Children.” It stated this: “The Sabbath School Children shall be taught the Scriptures, and they shall be instructed according to their understanding or ability to grasp the simpler meanings of the divine Principle that they are taught.” In the 57th edition (1906), this By-Law was moved to join the other Sunday School By-Laws in Article XIX. Throughout, minor changes were made to the wording of individual By-Laws. The next major change came in the 69th edition (1908), when the age limit for Sunday School pupils was raised to 20. The final wording changes were made in the 69th edition, but it wasn’t until later in 1908, with the 73rd edition, that the Sunday School By-Laws assumed their current placement as Article XX, “Sunday School.” An “Order of Exercises” for the Sunday School was added in the 78th edition (1909).

See also:

Darlington, Clara M. “Sunday School Work.” Christian Science Sentinel (June 4, 1910): 786. http://sentinel.christianscience.com/shared/view/twx0d463by?s=t.

“Easter Services.” The Christian Science Journal (May 1888): 93-94. http://journal.christianscience.com/shared/view/a3opx59r18?s=t.

Eddy, Mary Baker. “What We Can Do For the Children.” The Christian Science Journal (October 1895): 268. http://journal.christianscience.com/shared/view/zpb5w2lzcw?s=t.

“Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist, Chicago, Ill.” The Christian Science Journal (June 1917): 156-57. http://journal.christianscience.com/shared/view/b34u7e4b0g?s=t.

Knott, Annie. “Sunday School Work in Christian Science.” The Christian Science Journal (December 1897): 540-43. http://journal.christianscience.com/shared/view/948nh1ydn8?s=t.

“Letters to Our Leader.” Christian Science Sentinel (May 21, 1910): 751. http://sentinel.christianscience.com/shared/view/yu5h6yjule?s=t.

“The New By-laws for the Sunday School.” Christian Science Sentinel (November 19, 1904): 184. http://sentinel.christianscience.com/shared/view/79muy8gngu?s=t.

Nichols, Alice L. “The Sunday School Class.” Christian Science Sentinel (July 3, 1909): 864-65. http://sentinel.christianscience.com/shared/view/1lheff956yi?s=t.

“The Only Church in the United States Built by Children.” The Christian Science Journal (February 1899): 810-12. http://journal.christianscience.com/shared/view/a3oqu7zu78?s=t.

Powell, Lyman. Mary Baker Eddy: A Life Size Portrait, 335, n. 17. Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1991.

Smith, Clifford P. Historical Sketches, 189-92. Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1992.

“The Sunday School.” The Christian Science Journal (February 1889): 568-69. http://journal.christianscience.com/shared/view/c2kwnhfwys?s=t.

“The Sunday Schools.” The Christian Science Journal (April 1906): 55-56. http://journal.christianscience.com/shared/view/xqeyp73v48?s=t.

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  1. Clara Elizabeth Choate, “Mrs. Eddy’s Original Sunday School of the First Church of Christ, Scientist,” July 1915, Reminiscence, 4–14. The verse is from the hymn “God’s glory is a wondrous thing,” text by Frederick W. Faber, now hymns 86–87 in the Christian Science Hymnal.
  2. Church of Christ, Scientist, Record Book, Volumes I and II, 26 November 1883, EOR13.
  3. W.L.G. Perry, n.d., Reminiscence, 1.