Monday, April 1, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we head to the mailbag to answer a question about children’s sermons.

It is the 1st of April 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


A happy Monday to you all, and a blessed Eastertide, which gives us 50 days of feasting until Pentecost if you follow the church calendar.

Today, we have an international question from across the Atlantic, Eric in Northampton, England. He notes it is the birthplace of Erroll Flynn, who played an early film version of Robin Hood- I am delighted that I have become associated with Robin Hood for so many of you who send me notes and messages about any random bit of Robin Hood miscellany. Northampton is also the home to the National Lift Tower, a 400-foot building going straight up in the air, made for testing elevators. Brilliant.

Eric asked if I could address “the history of the children’s sermon,” which he wonders if is a “distinctly American tradition.”

Ok, Eric… a few notes to begin. First, I love that this show has such a wide base of listeners from all different church denominations- and the last thing I’m ever going to do on this show is say there is one “real” or “historic” mode of worship. There are big differences between Quakers and Catholics, or a Reformed Christian who believes only what is expressly commanded in Scripture is allowed, and those who believe if it's not expressly forbidden in Scripture, it can be done. I have been in 4 denominations in my life, 3 of the 4 had children's sermons.

This also veers into a topic that gets really heated amongst historians such that I bet there have been fistfights over it: the history of childhood- for reals, that stuff gets heated. But I think it’s fair to say that the modern notion of childhood comes from the Enlightenment and into the Industrial Revolution. Prior to this, while there was likely affection towards children, they were seen as young adults, and if they made it to around 7, they started working.

This leads us into the history of Sunday school, which comes from England. Heading back to the 1700s, when children were expected to work, it was the church that offered “Sunday Schools,” which happened outside of church and were largely to teach kids to read who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity—and the Bible seemed a good book to learn—so they had both a secular and spiritual purpose.  

The notion of teaching children specifically and in worship is not American but certainly Protestant, where the cognitive aspect and the didactic (that is, teaching) element were emphasized. So were their Early Modern children’s sermons? Not that I know of—the instruction of children was to be done in the home and then later in catechism and/or formal Bible study.

Child-specific teaching and preaching would be assumed into Sunday Schools or “Children’s Church,” which, in the form we have today, can be traced back to the 1800s.

Regarding children’s sermons, I  have a source from 1880, from Scotland, of a Presbyterian pastor calling for 10 of the 90 minutes of worship to be addressed directly to the children.  

We don’t have a record of what every church has ever done. Since the Protestant Reformation and the massive splintering that has come from it I find it really hard to say, “It must not have happened until…” because I’m sure someone has tried something like it, whether or not they become prevalent is another thing- so I’d say by the late 19th century it was prevalent enough to make historical records. Of course, famously, Jesus told the little children to scram… wait, no… and it should be noted that the care and recognition of the dignity of children has always been a part of Christianity. In a world that has seen “nonwage earners” less than or prize only those who “contribute,” Christians have opened hospitals, schools, and orphanages to protect the little ones Jesus himself called.

Thanks for the question, Eric. I live in Northampton, and I suppose Luton Town would be your closest Premier League team. I don’t follow that league, but hopefully, you guys are winning and not having too many 0-0 ties.


The last word for today is from the daily lectionary for today, an appropriate reading about Resurrection bodies the day after Easter from 1st Corinthians:

35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.

42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 1st of April 2024, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by who has a congregation of children living in his house- he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who's got questions about that “spiritual body” talk- I’m  Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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