It is certain that Sunday schools were held at a very early date. Of the beginning no record can be found and not until in the 1850’s does an incomplete report appear. Handed down from fathers and mothers to succeeding generations, the methods of conducting and time of holding the school are given here. The session was at the noon hour between the first and second preaching services. A superintendent and teachers, with the pastor, who was very often the superintendent, served as the regular staff of workers. Infant classes were unknown. Much of the teaching to the younger scholars was oral and fixed in the minds by weekly questions and answers. The Bible was the textbook, and the scholars were given a portion of Scripture, usually in the New Testament, sometimes in the Psalms, to memorize during the week and expected to repeat in class on Sunday, the number of verses allotted them, ranging from three to seven or more, according to the age and ability of the pupil. Scholars were encouraged to memorize whole chapters or as much of the Bible as they could. Sometimes rivalry between classes was exhibited by one or more members repeating a part or whole book of the New Testament Every Sabbath the school was subject to a catechistic drill on the lesson of the day and previous lessons. In the 1840’s the American Sunday School Union issued question books on the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles “with the approval and endorsement of a committee consisting of members of several denominations, with a design to secure the widest diffusion of Scriptural knowledge.rdquo; These were adopted to some extent to provide more uniformity in Bible instruction.
The meter hymns and spiritual songs of the church were the music first used in the schools. Later, William Bradbury and others wrote music and words adapted to the joyous, happy temperament of children, and the Sunday School Union issued books containing twenty or more songs specially adapted to Sabbath Schools at the price of one cent each. The children enthusiastically received them, and the ownership of a book made possible the brighter music. The conservative members of the church were slow to adopt the newer style of music as it seemed too worldly. Prejudice was overcome when the power of music to win and hold children in the Sunday school became apparent.
The vital relation of the Sabbath school to the church was being recognized and thought worthy of record. In the Association minutes at their Twenty-third Anniversary held in the meeting-house of the Baptist church in Wheatland on October 2 and 3, 1850, the Prudential committee recommended the following resolution, which was adopted.
“Resolved. That the churches of this Association be requested to notice particularly in their annual letters the condition of their Sabbath schools and Bible classes, the number of scholars in them, their average attendance through the year, the number of pupils baptized and the number of volumes in the Sabbath school library.rdquo;
Sabbath schools were held at out stations on Sunday afternoons during the spring, summer and fall months. One at the Bethel (our building near the corner of Harris and Penfield Road from 1847-1929,) met for more than twenty-five consecutive years. Others were held in schoolhouses in several parts of town and at times three schools, even four, were under the supervision of the church with preaching by the pastor once or twice a month where the schools were held.
Interest in picnics for the schools was growing, and it became a matter for consideration by the church in business meeting. The following is recorded October 2, 1852: “On motion in accordance with former suggestions, voted to have a Sabbath School celebration of the schools attached to the church in the following order: To meet at our meeting house in the village at 10 a.m. After an address, a ride to such a place as shall be agreed upon by a committee of arrangements appointed” Again, under the date of August 28, 1858: “A committee appointed to fix upon the time and place of holding the Sabbath school celebration, recommend the 8th day of September as the time for the same, and that the school go to Mount Hope and from there to the County Fair grounds; and voted that we invite the other schools of Penfield to join us.rdquo; It was a notable picnic and one long remembered. Four horse teams and decorated wagons, preceded by a brass band hired for the occasion, led a long procession driving to Rochester. A number of schools from other towns picnicked on the Fair grounds the same day. After dinner speeches by men interested in Sabbath School work, and chorus singing by the children marked the occasion.
In the 1860’s, interest in Sabbath School work arose higher and at the annual association meetings of 1866 each church sent one delegate to represent the Sabbath school interests. Reports were presented, addresses on the subject were given and of the many resolutions unanimously adopted, we copy the following:
“Resolved. That the duty of more thorough, systematic and concentrated effort in the Sabbath schoolwork is imperative and cannot be disregarded.
“Resolved. That each church in the association be earnestly requested to take immediate measures to gather into their schools every child within reach.rdquo;
Following this the Sabbath school of this church reached and maintained for more than a decade the highest enrollment in its history to date. A complete list of names of superintendents of the several schools cannot be obtained. The first found recorded is Arunah Mosely, appointed superintendent of the Sabbath school May 6, 1843. E. P Ward followed. Deacon Harvey Fuller was elected April 1, 1848 and continued to serve until April 1851 when he requested to be discharged from the duty of superintending the Sabbath school. May 18th his request was granted and Barzillia Millard was appointed. No further records appear until in 1857, when Royal B. Wright was appointed superintendent of the school at the church. He was followed by Artemas S. Fuller in 1858. R. B. Wright again took the office in 1859.
A S. Fuller was superintendent of the Bethel Sabbath School sixteen years in succession and at one period this school out-numbered and out-ranked any other school in the county east of the river and outside of the city.
In 1861 Orestes Case united with the church and was soon chosen Sabbath school superintendent. He continued to hold the office until a few months before his death, which occurred in April 1871, a period of about nine years. Beside the increase in attendance during this period, large additions were made to the library until it numbered more than four hundred volumes, and the school was in a very prosperous condition. He was greatly beloved in the work and the school keenly felt the loss.
Jacob F. Hardick followed in office and was superintendent three or four years. Giles Fuller was then elected and served an equal length of time. After this Eugene Covey was superintendent for three years. John H. Chadsey was elected and held the office four years. George K. Higbie was the next to be elected in 1883 and gave five years of enthusiastic and faithful work to the school.
George F. Harris Jr. was superintendent for two years. George K. Higbie was again elected and served about one year before moving to reside in Brighton. George F. Harris was chosen again and served one year.
In 1893 W. G. Eldredge was elected to fill the office. Helen Willson served one year. Orin Lloyd was next chosen and continued in office four years. Charles N. Leonard was the next choice and was twice re-elected. Eugene Covey became superintendent again for two years. In January 1904 Orin Lloyd was elected for another time.
No mention is made of the great company of teachers and scholars who have been connected with the Sabbath school in the years that are past, nor is the measure of their influence and labors known, but in the great hereafter when the books are opened it shall be revealed and every name will be found recorded there.
From the nursery of the church comes largely the strength and forces that build up this great body in our own land, and will continue so long as earnest, diligent and prayerful effort is maintained to follow the wise man’s counsel “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.rdquo;