Robert Raikes was born in 1735 in Gloucester, England, where his father published the Gloucester Journal. When the elder Raikes died in 1757, Robert, 22, inherited the newspaper, and immediately used it to crusade for moral reform. English prisons, for example, were inhumane places of misery where prisoners, crowded into tiny compartments with no ventilation or sanitary facilities, died of “gaol fever.” Raikes visited them, raised money for them, and taught them to read. His penetrating newspaper columns repeatedly called attention to their plight.

One Saturday afternoon in 1780, Robert discovered another cause to champion. He entered a slummy suburb of Gloucester to interview a prospective gardener. Swarms of children surrounded him, and Raikes recoiled in horror at their fighting, profanity, stench, gambling, and filth. He returned home shaken and almost immediately conceived a plan for Sunday schools. Such schools had already been tried, but without widespread backing. Raikes hired four Christian women to open schools on Sunday. Why Sunday? Children worked in the factories the other six days of the week, but on Sunday they ran wild.

The portly Raikes, primly dressed and carrying an elegant snuffbox and tasseled cane, ambled through the ghettos day after day recruiting pupils. The children began calling him “Bobby Wild Goose.” But in his Sunday schools, they were taught to read, then they learned the Bible, the Catechism, and other subjects.

Three years later, after the schools were clearly working, Raikes used his newspaper to promote them. On November 3, 1783 the Gloucester Journal published an article on the success of Sunday schools. To Raikes’ surprise, London papers picked up the story and inquiries poured in from across England. The movement spread rapidly. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The form of Sunday school changed, yet millions of all ages find their way each week to Sunday school to learn of Christ.

Some people brought their children to Jesus, so that he could place his hands on them and pray for them. His disciples told the people to stop bothering him. But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and don’t try to stop them! People who are like these children belong to God’s kingdom.” (Matthew 19:13,14)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Nov. 3.

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