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Sabbathy School Magazine.
Bethany Sabbath School, Philadelphia. A writer in a recent number of the St. Louis Evangelist gives a racy description of a visit to the Sabbath school, in Philadelphia, which Mr. John Wanamaker established some thirty years ago. Mr. Wanamaker, we are glad to learn, continues to superintend it personally, notwithstanding the cares and engrossments which must necessarily fall upon him as proprietor of the immense warehouse which, like his school, is also an object of interest to almost every one who visits the principal city of Pennsylvania. The visitor's remarks will be read with greater interest if we preface them with a sketch of the building itself in which the work of the school is carried on. The arrangement of the classes in the general hall is quite a model. Mr. Charles G. Maylard, architect, London, in an article on “Sabbath School Buildings,” some years ago, directed our readers' attention to this school, and to the fact that the Americans have long recognised the importance of providing special buildings, with numerous class-rooms, for Sabbath school purposes. He referred to the Bethany School as a notable example of the principle upon which such buildings ought to be constructed. The large number of twenty-eight class-rooms, all radiating to a common centre, is a marked feature of it. The arrangement of the seats for class work is another important matter, and it is attended to in a thorough manner, as will be seen from the accompanying diagram. It represents the position of the ordinary classes in the large hall. Mr. Maylard says correctly, “The Sunday school requires that a class shall be so seated round the teacher that every scholar shall be concentric round him, and that every class should be so disposed round the superintendent as to be also concentric round
ILM Class-rooms for 900 Adults, arranged as Superintendent's Office.
shewn on the Plan and in the Gallery Secretary's Office and Waiting.
RR Platform to seat 83.
A gallery is arranged in front, above the
Primary and Infant Class-rooms, and in Class-room for 300 Infants.
front of the Upper Class-rooms, to hold Primary Class for the same 350 visitors. The whole building accomnumber.
modates 3,000 scholars, teachers, and HI Lavatories, &c.
visitors. The basement is utilized for JKNO Entrances.
Kitchen, Tea-rooms, Young Men's Literary Lecture-room to seat 356.
Society, Parish Library, &c.
him.” Connected with the Bethany School there are two large infant school-rooms, one on each side of the general school-room. There is also a large lecture hall, with a gallery over it, at the back of the superintendent's platform. The whole of the twenty-eight rooms are capable of being thrown into the large general room by the removal of partitions and sliding sashes, when the entire number of scholars, 2,500, are at once brought under the eye of any speaker addressing them from the platform. The visitor says,
Nobody goes to Philadelphia who does not sooner or later find his way to John Wanamaker's grand depot. It is indeed a marvellous bazaar, unmatched in this country, and, in a mercantile sense, may justly be considered the greatest sight in that great city. But to this exhibition of worldly wisdom and earthly success, this same John Wanamaker has added, in another part of Philadelphia, an enterprise of Christian love, for the welfare of others, upon which he has lavished his best gifts of mind and heart, of time and means. And if the great mart of trade, thronged by wealth and fashion, stands in the crowded thoroughfares of the city as a monument to his own glory, that immense Sunday school, springing up amid vice and misery on its utmost confines, is no less striking a testimonial to his consecrated zeal and energy in the service of his Lord and Master.
Having received from one of the teachers of Bethany very minute directions as to how to go, and how to get in to the school, with an emphatic injunction to go early, for there was always a crowd of visitors, and the doors were locked at 2.30 p.m., when the devotional exercises commenced, my friend and I started from West Philadelphia at one o'clock. A misadventure proved most fortunate by throwing us under the care of a lady teacher of the school, who, like ourselves, was anxiously making her way to it. The bell rang out two as we hurried over the last block, and I soon felt how important was my friend's admonition, " to be sure to be early;" for with all the skill and energy of our conductress we were not a minute too soon in taking the excellent seats she secured for us. The immense audience room, about one-half of which was raised several feet higher than the other, was shut off from smaller rooms on both sides and in front by glass doors that were lifted when the lesson was over.
On each side were three tier of galleries. The rear part of the great room, wbich was the raised portion of it, was furnished with a pulpit, a cabinet organ, seats for a band of at least fifteen musicians, with violin, bass viols, flutes and cornets, and a very large choir. It also accommodated, behind heavy curtains, a number of men and women called the pastor's class. In the middle of the audience room, below and in front of the pulpit, was a fountain, which in summer throws a cooling spray over the green-house plants that ornament its edges. On this raw day it was empty and bare.
Although the house seemed well filled when we entered, yet the stream of people continued to flow in until, punctually when the hour arrived, the service began. It was composed of frequent singing, alternating with
responsive readings, prayers, and short exhortations, for all which a printed manual was used ; and I was much obliged by the thoughtful politeness of a little girl who stood on tip-toe, to put a copy of it into my hand. The music, under the direction of a professional leader, had nothing exclusive in it. The orchestra and choir performed with ability and taste, but the whole assembly sang with spirit and skill also. I never anywhere heard congregational singing that could compare with it. In one of the hymns the director sang the solos—sang them splendidlywhile all the chorus was rung out by all the hundreds of voices, from the infants on the floor to the men in the third gallery, whose heads seemed almost to peer out from among the rafters of the vaulted roof. At one point the creed was repeated, all standing.
The dividing out the reading and prayers among the chiefs of the synagogue was fixy and formal, and to me, unedifying, so that I was glad when the superintendent, namely, John Wanamaker, came to his more especial part. He is a handsome man, of apparently forty, though really eight or ten years older, with an earnest manner and quick motions, with an entire absence of self-consciousness, and no small amount of personal magnetism. During the short moment that he leans silently upon the desk, drawing towards him the attention of all, my interest rose so high as to be in ready sympathy with his first utterance. He spoke in an easy conversational tone, yet loud enough to reach every ear. “I want to ask a question," said he ; “it is a Bible question, and I hope you will all give me a Bible answer. It is this : 'Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?'”_"By taking heed thereto according to thy word,” was the reply that bounded back from all quarters of the house. Suddenly dropping his solemn tone, in a brisk way he fairly pelted them with rapid questions. “How many of you boys have Bibles in your hands? How many have Bibles at home? How many of you have Bibles that belong to you ; that are your very own? Can a boy have much interest in God's Word, or desire to shape his life according to it, if he does not possess & Bible of his own?” Beginning with the boys, these questions were passed along the whole school, till arrested by the infant class of girls he addressed them, “Ah! and you little girls, how many of you have Bibles ? Quite a show of eager hands were lifted in reply, and he said approvingly, « Well, well, I had rather see you have a Bible in your hand than a sixbutton kid glove on it. Not that it is wrong to have a six-button kid glove; but the little girl who is saving all her money to buy a pair of gloves when she has no Bible, is certainly not going in the right direction." Then returning to the boys, who were now giggling, though not noisily, at the fretting of a baby whose embarrassed mother in vain tried to quiet it, “Never mind the baby,” said he, “it is in the right place, and does not disturb me; but to have boys inattentive when I am speaking to them, that troubles and disturbs me.” Order was instantly restored, a few more sentences were added, and the preliminary exercises closed; the glass partitions were let down ; the heavy draperies were drawn, and the classes in the class-rooms thus provided were handed over to their teachers.
Hoping to get new ideas upon Sunday school teaching my friend and I slipped behind the curtains into the pastor's class of several hundred
grown-up men and women. The teaching was very able, but after the old methods, and the buzz of young voices outside proved so great a temptation that we crept silently away, to see how the lesson was made so interesting to them. But we were too far off to get any good from it, so once more I picked up my cloak and wandered into the infant class. As I opened the door 240 mere tots of precious little people turned their bright faces to me. My heart warmed to them on the instant. Such an array of red-riding hoods, little mother-hubbards, and tiny miss-muffits, I had never seen before. They were arrayed in regular rows of benches with backs on each side of a long aisle, with one or two young ladies, floor superintendents, moving along with a gentle hush-sh-sh, or a monitary gesture whenever a rustle threatened to grow into a disturbance. They were singing with all their might, (which, considering their numbers, was not small,) led by a small organ. They sang surprisingly well too. During the early part of the hour music seemed so entirely the chief of their diet that I began to wonder if it was to be their entire portion of food for the day, when suddenly a door creaked behind me, and Mr. Wanamaker himself entered, and moving briskly to the front of the class, bent over the child nearest him, and catching her cloak, gave her an affectionate little shake, and asked in the cheeriest tone, “Why, what have we got here under this little coat?”
“I," " Me,” “A heart," “ Conscience," were the different terms by which they tried to describe the self that throbbed under each little jacket.
“Yes, yes ! you have each of you one heart; but then you have each of you two voices; one talks to you, and no one can hear it but yourself, and one you talk with to other people.” And then, in a few skilful sentences, he taught them that that voice that talked to Johnny inside of his heart and told him how badly he had treated his mother, and wouldn't let him sleep, and gave him no rest till he went repentingly to her and kissed her ; and that same one that could not be quieted by the little girl who had been unkind to her friend until she had asked to be forgiven, was the voice of conscience. Then, grasping the golden text, he explained to them what a conscience void of offence was, and in a most graphic manner brought up the scene of the trembling governor on his lofty throne, and the prisoner, calm and assured, standing before him under guard and in chains; and fixed upon their young minds by the mighty contrast the fact of the agony and danger of the guilty, and the peace and safety of a conscience “void of offence before God and man."
I don't know how long the lesson lasted, probably ten minutes; but it held firmly the attention of the children, and thoroughly captured mine. It was a perfect lesson ; short, instructive, impressive, and interesting ; and although apparently so simple, seemed to me masterful in its ability, in sifting what was truly valuable for these very young minds, and presenting it with such striking warmth and clearness.
In a few minutes the bell rang, and all the rooms were again thrown into one for the closing service. A stranger was introduced, who made remarks bearing upon the lesson. Very good and solemn they were, but oh! how long! Still the great assembly was orderly and respectful throughout. Wanamaker followed, with the endeavour to impress upon