A talk given by Dr. Charles who was the guest speaker at Zion (Shaffer's) on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of its Sunday School

October 13, AD 2009

We are here this morning to commemorate and celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Sunday School in this place.

Even from the first day of its existence, that Sunday school had a history, and we should know something about it. One way to trace its beginnings is from the arrival of our German and Swiss forbears into 18th century Pennsylvania. This was a place where a high degree of religious freedom prevailed, higher than almost anywhere else in the world. Long before anyone thought about a first amendment to the United States constitution, there already was what amounted to a first amendment in operation in Pennsylvania.

This was a blessing, of course, but it meant that while the government would not curtail one’s right to worship as one pleased, or not to worship at all, in this new country it would not lift a finger to help establish and maintain religious institutions.

In 1761 a German Reformed pastor wrote to his supporters in Europe that “it is almost impossible to convey any idea with how much difficulty...[our] congregations are maintained. Everything, so to speak, has been started anew, and without hard labor not one congregation can be built up.”

Most of our forbears were basically religious people, but they certainly did not want a church to dominate their lives, the way churches often did in Europe. They very much did want preaching and the sacraments of baptism and communion in their new homes, but they wanted a church in which they had a voice. In free Pennsylvania that was about the only one possible.

When our forebears bought or applied to the authorities for land, they often stated that they wanted it for three specific purposes: church, school, and burying ground.

What about the school?

Martin Luther and the other reformers were realistic enough to believe that a person needed a certain amount of basic education, including some reading, writing, and arithmetic, simply in order to get along in life, entirely apart from being able to read the Bible and perform their basic religious duties. This explains why almost every early Lutheran and Reformed congregation in colonial Pennsylvania had a school, what we can call a parochial school.

There is tantalizingly little evidence for the existence of these schools, but the evidence for them is convincing. In the case of neighboring St. Jacob’s or Stone church, we know that the surveyor of the first church land in 1768 named his survey the Teacher’s Resort, which suggests that the school might actually preceded the church. The parish register identifies a schoolmaster in 1772. If you go to the Stone church today, you can still see the schoolhouse, the second schoolhouse, which was built in 1786. It is today the sexton’s residence.

In 1769, while visiting the Lutheran congregation in Tulpehocken, Berks county, Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, then the most prominent Lutheran pastor and leader in Pennsylvania, wrote in his journal that “after all, Preaching is for the most part like a local shower which dampens no more than the surface and quickly passes.” The steady, soaking, and more beneficial spiritual rain, he believes, comes from the instruction either in the parochial schools or in what is called the kinderlehre which he sometimes made part of the regular worship service. There are more than 150 references to Kionderlehre in the index of his journals.

Where these parochial schools functioned as intended, and often they did not, hundred and perhaps thousands of students, we must say mostly males, learned just enough to assist them in lifelong productive Christian lives in a new United States of America. These schools are long since gone.

One of the results of the American revolution in Pennsylvania was the conviction, written into two state constitutions, in 1776 and 1790, that there should be a system of free public education in the state. This was easier to advocate than it was to accomplish. When the first free public school law was passed in 1834, the decision on whether or not to have such schools and the inevitable taxes to support them, was left to the voters in each of the about 1000 districts into which the state was divided. Obviously these schools would be under the control of laymen and English would be the language used.

Many German districts in the state voted against the school in 1834. For example, in York county only 7 of the 29 districts voted in favor. Every year the voters could change their mind, one way or the other. The last district in York county, Manheim township, fell in line only in 1869-70.

Something else of importance was happening about this time, beginning even before public schools were becoming a reality. Many laymen in the Philadelphia area, and elsewhere later, organized Sunday schools. In 1824 they adopted the name the American Sunday School Union. One of their early annual reports stated that their purpose was to achieve “the Christian education of the world in its childhood--the universal and simultaneous training of the bodies, minds and hearts of children everywhere to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of course to the most efficient service of mankind, savage and civilized, heathen and Christian.” They advocated developing Sunday school libraries, encouraged Christian literature for children, advocated uniform lesson plans, and the training of teachers. Branches of the union were soon organized in many states.

Because they deliberately stressed what they considered to be basic Christian, or Biblical, beliefs and avoided the distinctive tenets of the various denominations, many ministers and church bodies opposed them.

One church body which did not oppose the efforts of the American Sunday School Union was the East Pennsylvania Synod of the Lutheran church, which was organized in 1825. Congregations in York and Adams counties were members, just as they are members of its successor today. Almost immediately its leaders began explaining to their members how vital Sunday schools were to both the welfare of their congregations and specifically to the spiritual welfare of all their members. In 1829 this synod resolved that the “American Sunday School Union has our confidence as long as it adheres to the original purpose of its association.’ Again, almost immediately they urged every congregation to establish and support a Sunday school. Obviously these schools would be under the direction of the synod--I did not say control--and for some years it was assumed that they would be German schools.

In the late 1850’s the three pastors serving parishes near this place--Peter Scheurer, Andrew Berg, and Constantine Deininger--reported serving 14 congregations in which they said were 16 Sunday schools. A few of the other synodical congregations reported having Sunday school libraries.

We have been looking backward, to review parochial schools, public schools, Sunday Union Sunday schools, and Sunday schools which were and are integral parts of established Lutheran and Reformed congregations.

To what do now need to look in the other direction?

On May 8, 1847, at a time when Codorus Township had not yet accepted public schools, Jesse Shaffer and his wife Catherine conveyed a tract of land in the township to Samuel Bossard, James Ruby (1783-1859), and Peter Zech (1799-1874). They were identified as “Trustees of all congregations, in common, for the Establishment and support of schools in said township and neighborhood.”.

What in the world does this language mean? What congregations are “all congregations”? Who named them trustees? All three of these men lived nearby. None was a young man. In the absence of other information we wonder what school they established? Did it have a Sunday school?

In 1850 or 1850 and 1851--the exact date eludes us--the voters of Codorus township finally decided to accept public school and school taxes. Not until August 1855, however, four or five years later, did Bossard, Ruby, and Zech transfer their real estate, presumably with a schoolhouse, to the school directors of the Codorus township school district. Two of those directors were soon to become founding members of the Shaffers union church: Adam Miller and William Markle.

Nine public schools in Codorus began operating in the fall of 1855. One of them was presumably across the road. There was no pastor to provide a passing shower, but there was a steady rain, five days a week and four months a year. But it was evidently too secular a rain to satisfy some people. Thus, on April 24, 1859 a Sunday school was organized.

There were several other places in York county were persons, most of them members of existing congregations, organized a Sunday school which was closer to their homes. Only a small step was needed to organize a new church, in part at least to shelter the Sunday school.

On October 19,. 1861, the school trustees sold to a Lutheran and a Reformed trustee 41 perches, part of what they had purchased from the tree trustees six years earlier. The next day they dedicated the first Shaffer’s church.

A new union of church and school had taken place. Since Magalena Roser had been buried there fourteen years earlier, the site was now described as church, school, and burying ground.