Early-twentieth century Presbyterian machinations for Assembly Sabbath School Agent/Director
Sometimes you get enough information in official documents to tell an intriguing and moving story. In my research around church and parachurch ministry, I came across in this intriguing story in the early 1910s in the Presbyterian Church of Victoria.
- 1890 the unordained William Wishart is appointed as the first Sabbath School Agent by the Assembly. His position is renewed year after year, for twenty-five years, with his salary remaining £150pa.
- 1910 William Goyen, newly inducted minister of the Albert Park and Middle Park churches, joins the Welfare of Youth Committee.
- 1911 Goyen becomes the Convenor of the Sabbath School Branch of the Committee.
- 1912, Goyen moves that the Assembly employ a Director of Sabbath Schools to work alongisde the Sabbath School Agent, Wishart, due to “the augmented population of our State, the increase and development of young people’s societies, and the growing complexity of Sabbath School work”.
- 1913 the interim report declares there may not be enough money for both positions
- 1914 Goyen is appointed Director of Sabbath Schools by the Assembly, at a salary of £400pa and Wishart’s position is made redundant.
- 1919 Wishart resignes as a member of the Welfare of Youth Committee.
Wishart’s final report to the State Assembly as Sabbath School Agent is moving reading, even if Goyen and others rightly identified him as being unsuitable for the future growth and complexity of the work in a rapidly-changing world:
Judging by remarks passed since last Assembly, it seems neces sary that this report should be somewhat in the nature of a brief historical statement, with more of a personal tone than usual.
When the Church accepted the Allan Bequest, it was found that the donor’s will contemplated the employment of an Agent experienced in S.S. work, and preferably one who had been a State teacher. About a quarter of a century ago the late Prof. MacDonald, the Convener of the S.S. Committee at that time, learning that I had been for many years Secretary of the S.S. Union, and that I was also a trained certificated State school teacher, and had wide knowledge of all departments of S.S. work, asked if I would accept an appointment if the Assembly sanctioned it. My chief duties were detailed as being— ( I ) the administering of the Allan scheme, (2) visiting Sunday schools to explain its working, and (3) generally advising teachers concern ing S.S. matters. The time to be devoted to this office was not to exceed more than 40 Sundays in any year, with correspondence to be attended to during the week.
Thus the appointment came to me entirely unsought, and it was repeatedly renewed because the Committee was thoroughly satisfied with my performance of the work entrusted to me, proven by their yearly eulogistic references thereanent in their Assembly reports. Nor will any charge me with egotism if I say that then- approval was fairly earned, for i ever placed the Church’s work first—sometimes at a cost which meant sacrifice of money and health.
During the whole term of my engagement, extending upwards of 25 years, practically every Sabbath has been devoted to visita tion of schools, conducting of special services in the interests of the young, and generally helping forward the work amongst teachers and scholars. In that period nearly every railway line and coach route have been traversed, and schools from the Murray to the Southern Ocean, and from Orbost in the East to the Penola Presbytery in the West, have been visited and the workers therein stimulated. Of course, some charges have not yet been inspected, but that has been clue to the fact that no desire has been expressed for a visit. At each of these places parents have had their great responsibilities impressed upon them in plain language, teachers have been advised and heartened, young men and young women have been lovingly urged to give of their strength to Him Who is “stronger than the strong,” and the lambs of the flock have been told anew of the tenderness and love of the Good Shepherd.
This work has often been strenuous, especially in the country, where long distances have been travelled between preaching stations, and as many as five services conducted on the one Sab bath. But it is a satisfaction to know that there is not a single place to which the people would not lovingly welcome me back.
And the results? They cannot all be tabulated, but it is a joy to me to know that there are ministers and home missionaries in our Church who have confessed that their first definite religious impressions were made at my services. Several superintendents and many teachers gladly attest the same pleasing fact, while from youths and maidens I have letters, which are more precious than gold, telling of young lives dedicated to the service of the Master. To God be the glory!
It ought also to be stated that the office work has greatly increased. The various publications of the Committee are stored and distributed from my office, and while the total revenue derived from them does not exceed £150 per annum, the clerical labour involved in connection with these numerous small accounts is no small item. This matter is merely mentioned so that Assembly members may know that, apart from pulpit and platform duties, value in solid labour has been given for the salary paid.
When one’s duties carry a person to every part of the State, where new friends are made, it cannot be wondered that requests for help of all kinds are extraordinarily numerous. A single day’s mail frequently causes the thought to arise that “General Agent’’ would perhaps be a more fitting title for the occupant of this office. Had I been performing the duties for the sake of the emolument alone, then it would have paid me handsomely to have refused re-appointment a decade ago.
To me the work, though most arduous as described, has yet been so much after my own heart that I count it a privilege and an honour to have shared in it for so long a time, and the fore going facts have only been reluctantly committed to cold type at the instance of certain Assembly members, who confess ignorance of what has been done. Leaving the personal element, I now briefly emphasise some of the most clamant needs of this department of Church work under the heading—
1. The fact to be ever kept prominently in mind that the child of to-day is the Church of to-morrow. If our Church is to progress that idea must be constantly dinned into the minds of ministers, teachers, and people.
2. The appropriation of funds by Boards of Management to be devoted to the teaching ministry of the Church and the training of the rising generation. This may mean the reconstruction of the architecture of the Church. It certainty means placing better relative values on school requirements.
3. Solitary worshippers of both sexes to be invited to adopt a boy or girl whose parents do not attend Church just for Sunday mornings.
4. The establishment of a Cradle Roll in every school.
5. An installation or ordination service of some kind for new teachers, who are being admitted to the staff.
6. Ministers to realise that they can serve their cause in no better way than by searching for and carefully training young teachers.
7. A Declaration Day, when those scholars who have deter mined during the year to follow Christ should say so gladly, and others be invited to join them.
8. Consecrated effort to replace many of the haphazard methods of roll-keeping, so that accurate statistics may be regu larly obtained.
9. Vigilant eyes kept on what the young people read, and good healthful literature suggested to them. No book to be placed in circulation until it has been read and approved.
10. The Church as a whole to pray that the S.S. shall he the nursery of myriad spirits, who devote to the Lord the freshness of their youth and the fulness of their lives.