It’s rather fun to come across rewards that people received from their church participation. Not only do they open up tantalising links to people and their various activities but they tell us of a Church which had a different focus and even ethos then it has today. Coming from a generation that received awards and prizes we took great effort and pride in the various programmes that resulted in some recognition. I do recall being rather peeved one year when I didn’t receive the coveted award for 100% attendance at Sunday School but then I did get my certificate with its small shield attached for that year; a certificate I still hold. The national and local churches went to some effort and expense to ensure that all members of their Sunday Schools received some recognition, from small stick-on pictures to place in a specially produced book, to certificates, book awards, banners and pendants and medals.
We recently received a silver medal given to Mary Clachan from St. John’s Wellington, by the General Assembly Sunday School Committee for holding 1st equal place in the Senior 1 Division Sunday School exam. The Rev. James Gibb received the award on her behalf at a special Sabbath Schools Demonstration in the Garrison Hall at the 1906 Dunedin General Assembly. The evening consisted of a service and address and a musical programme given by the children. The Garrison Band played many tunes. There was a great attendance and ‘loud clapping’ as the Dunedin children received their rewards.
The examinations were quite stringent and covered scripture, catechism and an essay. The year Mary sat she wrote an essay on ‘The Apostle Paul’. A pupil who achieved between 80-100% secured 1st class; 60-80% 2nd class and 40-60% third class. A gold medal was awarded to the person who gained the highest percentage mark from throughout the Church.
The Sunday School of 1906 catered for Infants to 18 years and over. Mary fell into division Senior I that included young people 15-18 years. She was one of 2 566 who undertook the examination.
The numbers of entries into the exam were never high in relation to the total number of Sunday School students. By the late 1920s comment about how efficient the process was for the ‘modern’ youth came to the fore and it appears that after 1935 no further medals were awarded. The exam was replaced by a series of tests but these didn’t prove to be popular with either teacher or student.
Local congregations continued presenting their awards for lessor things then national examinations and awards became a thing of the past but we are are left with a glimpse of what was expected by some for Sunday School children.
We thank Mrs Iris Graham who forwarded the medal to the Archives Research Centre.