Verdugo Views: Sunday schools blossom into churches
Sunday school students peer out the windows of Chevy Chase Baptist Churchs new bus, purchased in the 1950s. Milton Hall, the contractor who built the new sanctuary in the background, greets some of the children. The church is at the corner of Chevy Chase Drive and Acacia Avenue. (Courtesy of the Chevy Chase Baptist Church / May 25, 2012)
The church dates back to 1927 when members of First Baptist on Louise Street organized classes for children living around John Muir School, at the corner of Chevy Chase Drive and Acacia Avenue.
Of course, by then, Sunday schools had been around for a long time. They can be traced back to the Industrial Revolution in England when young children were working in factories six days a week. Concerned citizens gathered these children together on Sundays, their only free day, to give them reading lessons.
The practice soon spread to the United States and became very popular. By the mid-19th century, most children — no matter what their financial status — were enrolled in a Sunday school. Many learned to write by copying passages from the Bible, and many learned to read from that same book, according to an article posted at christianitytoday.com.
To boost attendance, the schools planned picnics, parades and special prizes for those with perfect attendance.
Compulsory public education was instituted in the 1870s — both here and in England — and after that Sunday schools were reserved for religious education. But attendance remained popular, according to the Christianity Today article.
Here in Glendale, transplants from the East arrived by the hundreds, bringing the Sunday school tradition with them. First Baptist on Louise Street was established in 1904, and by 1927 the members felt the need to provide Sunday school for children living near John Muir.
The classes were a success, so a small church, with several small classrooms at the back, was built across the street.
The church grew quickly. In 1931 they added an education building and put a second floor on the rear of the sanctuary. The membership grew even more in the late 1940s, when returning World War II service men felt the need for roots, according to the Glendale News-Press, Nov. 9, 1984. “There was a time when all the classrooms were filled, plus there was an overflow into private homes,” said Ron Banes, a longtime member. “At the peak I believe we had 1,100 in the Sunday school.”
In the early 1950s, the church bought a bus. “It was driven by our associate pastor, Paul R. Acker,” recalled Banes. “He was a licensed bus driver. He wore many hats, as he was also the choir director and the youth leader.''
The Sunday School superintendent, who was also a Greyhound bus driver, helped with the driving. They picked up kids and brought them to church and took them on outings such as picnics at Griffith Park and later at Verdugo Park.
“Our bus was used for many things: for senior adult trips, to take youth to camps and even as a Sunday school class room when there weren't enough rooms in our buildings,” Banes explained.
With the passing of the post-war baby boom, regular Sunday school attendance waned and now Glendale's changing demographics are a challenge to all churches, Chevy Chase included. These days, in response to their diverse community, Chevy Chase holds four language services each Sunday.