“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom belongs to such as these.”Matt 19:14 Slatersville Congregational Church, UCC has a long history of Christian education. Our Sunday school is one of the earliest and continuously active Sunday schools in the nation. We owe this legacy to the Slaters, brothers Samuel and John who brought the Robert Raikes Sunday school system from England to America. In 1780 Raikes saw the near slavery life the young mill workers had, working six days a week to support themselves with no way of being educated. Raikes started a school curriculum that met on Sunday’s that consisted of reading, writing and arithmetic as well as religious education. The Sunday school system soon spread throughout England. In 1789 Samuel Slater immigrated to America bringing with him his knowledge of textiles and Sunday school. As a nation we are ever indebted to Samuel Slater’s start of the Industrial Revolution in America. As a religious community we are indebted to his carrying and employing Raikes Sunday school system in his new country of America. Samuel Slater is credited with starting the first Sunday school in America in 1799. The story is that one Sunday in the fall of 1799, in Pawtucket, Samuel Slater met some of the boys employed in his factory. They were proposing to raid an apple orchard some distance away but Nathaniel Dexter, one of the boys, felt it was not right to steal apples. Samuel invited them to his house where he gave them all the apples they wanted and organized them into a Sunday school. Honoring this history our Sunday school starts each fall with Apple Sunday which includes a reenactment of the meeting between the boys and Samuel Slater and the distribution of apples to the congregation. In 1803 John Slater immigrated to America and joined with his brother Samuel. Together they established the first planned mill village in America in Slatersville, Rhode Island. The first cotton spinning occurred July 4, 1807. Nathaniel Dexter, the boy in the story about stealing apples, had begun his career in Pawtucket but then moved to Slatersville in 1808 and became instrumental in forming the Sunday school there. The first meetings were held in private homes and the town Meeting House. In 1816 Slatersville Congregational Church was established and the Sunday school changed from a secular culture to a moral and religious culture. Our church building was erected in 1838 by the S & J Slater Company and the Sunday school had a new home. In 1862 we were one of the largest country Sunday schools in New England with 350 enrolled and an average attendance of 265. Sunday school has always been of prime importance to our church. The revised church covenant of 1835 stressed the importance of our children. It began with, “With ourselves, we also present our offspring to the Lord, purposing by his help, to do our duty in the method of a religious education, by catechizing, teaching and exhorting them….” Our commitment to youth remains and as our pastor Rev. Eileen Morris often says,” If we don’t have children actively involved in the life of our church, we are one generation away from closing our doors.” We are fortunate that our Sunday school is alive and growing. It has been because of the dedication of so many throughout the years that our Sunday school continues. Bob Gabrielson, Church Historian Slatersville Congregational Church, UCC
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