Annual Conference of the Deseret Sunday School Union

April 7, 1907

Address by Assistant Superintendent David O. McKay

In giving a brief summary of the convention of Sunday School stake boards, held last Thursday, I desire to state that what is given in the summary partakes of the nature of means to an end, and that end, the development of little souls, the child in the Sunday School, its growth and development, its love for the gospel of Jesus Christ; that is the end, and the suggestions mentioned in the following summary are only means.

It is suggested that the mechanical part of the Sabbath Schools be made to run with as little thought on Sunday morning as possible. It should be to the Sabbath School what our walking, our dressing, our eating, and all the habits of daily life are to us; we do not have to use our higher sense to think about walking and talking—in talking probably we should use it more than we do, but not in walking and dressing, because we have put those in charge of the reflex centers, and we can be thinking about higher things without having to make any apparent effort to take the next step along the sidewalk. So it is intended that the mechanical part of the Sunday School should be so definitely arranged and should be so thoroughly in hand that the spirituality as well as the intellectuality of superintendents and teachers might be thrown into the development of the true spiritual culture of the child, that all the time of the Sunday morning should not be devoted to looking after a little door, or the moving of a desk, or the arranging of a class, or the appointing of a teacher, or something that should be attended to outside of the Sabbath School hour. These, then, in the minds of the stake workers and the stake superintendents of the Church, representing 42 stakes, are suggestive means, or a help to get these things into thorough control. That the best results might be attained in each school, it is suggested that specific duties be assigned to each member of the superintendency according to his capacity and preferences. It will be the duty, of course, of the superintendent to have general supervision of the school, to take charge of the school, [to] preside, to take charge of the local board meetings, of local council meetings, and to see that the enrollments [are] made, and to be generally responsible for the attendance of officers, teachers, and pupils. It is recommended that one of the assistants take charge of the classwork, and that the other have charge of the other departments of the school, as the superintendent, in his judgment, may think best. It is recommended, however, by the general board, that the other assistant have charge of the secretaries, treasurers, librarians, organists, and choristers, and that the marching, although immediately under the direction of the chorister or someone specially appointed for that purpose, be supervised by this assistant. In other words, that one of the members of the superintendency try to get in close touch with the teachers, those who are preparing to give lessons to the children on Sunday morning, that the other superintendent look after the details of other departments to see that the records are properly kept, that the pupils get their proper credits, and that proper reports are made to the stake secretary, that the general secretary of the Church might have the statistics at his hand at the proper time, and that those statistics may be true and accurate when they get into his hands.

It was the unanimous sense of the superintendents present that the local superintendency, as well as the stake superintendencies, hold regular council meetings, and that those meetings be held weekly, or where this is impossible, that they should be held as frequently as their circumstances will permit.

The Lord has said, "Meet often together," and this injunction is especially applicable to the brethren who preside over the children, and who have charge of the welfare of several hundred, perhaps several thousand, little souls. Meet, superintendents, once a week; you will have work to do, if you pray for the spirit of your calling to come upon you, and you will look forward with pleasure to that meeting. When you can meet, meet there with one purpose, guided by one spirit, to further the work in your stake. If this superintendents' meeting is held on the same night that the local board meeting occurs, or that the stake workers meet you, it is recommended that you meet one hour earlier, that all may be in readiness when you meet your stake board workers.

There was a paper read on stake board fast meetings. This was left optional with stake superintendents, with this caution: that where the superintendents and stake boards hold fast meetings once a month, they do not interfere with regular meetings of the priesthood on that day. Those who hold them now meet, I believe, about 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning, that they may have the spirit of testimony upon them when they visit some of the nearby schools. All this is left optional with the stake superintendents to deal with as they see fit.

In regard to stake appointments and visits, it is suggested that the stake board appointments be made at the regular board meeting, that visits be made as frequently as possible, once a month being the time suggested by the convention. However, there are some stake boards that visit in a body, so that every department of the school will have a visit probably once in six weeks. I believe that this was permitted, although the general sentiment was that each school should have a stake board visit at least once a month. In making this suggestion, this point came up: that when stake workers are visiting local schools, they should be careful not to humiliate in any way either the local officers or the teachers in that school. It was reported that some of our stake workers—that one at least—felt that he did not want to visit any more schools because when he went there they would not let him take [charge of] the classes. That is not the purpose of the stake board worker. The local teachers are in charge of these classes, and have the responsibility. The stake board worker goes to assist that local teacher, and it [is] very unwise to criticize that local teacher before her pupils. You are thwarting the very purpose of your visit, stake board workers, when you belittle in any way the teacher before her pupils; and the same when a stake superintendent would in any way belittle the local superintendent. If you have suggestions, meet the officers and teachers after the school, and there, when you are together, in the spirit of the gospel, give such instruction as the Spirit suggest you give.

When a stake member visits the school according to appointment, he is representing, really, the presidency of that stake in that visit, for the [stake] presidency . . . [has] chosen him and assigned him to labor in that school, and when the stake board member comes there, even though she may be a young woman and you an Elder of Seventy presiding over that school, she is representing the authority in a Sunday School . . . of the stake, and as such should be received cordially and given her place on the stand during the general Sunday School session. The same with the teachers; when the stake board member comes into the class, the teacher should pay that respect and deference to him or her that should be accorded to a stake board member. Why? Because he is superior to you personally? No; if for no other reason [than] for his position and the representing of the authority which he has, if for no other reason but the lesson you give to your school, it should be done, for the respect you pay to them will be the respect you will receive from your local teachers [272] and pupils. The measure ye mete to others shall be measured to you again. This point was emphasized because it was reported that even general board members have gone to schools and been permitted to sit in the audience, not receiving an invitation to the stand. Of course their duty compelled them to go when the time came, and represent the board, the presidency, [and] those who called them to this position in that school. Local workers [and] you superintendents, study how you can receive these workers; stake workers, study how you can help to lift up [and] inspire the workers and the officers when you go to visit the school.

In the supervision of outline work, it is suggested that the superintendent who has charge of the classwork see to this one point particularly, that the teachers are able to stand before their classes without the dependence on the outline, which they have made during the week, or without the outline suggested by the general board. For instance, if in teaching the lesson, we find a teacher who has to depend upon the lesson suggested by the general board, he must hold the outline in his hand and give out the point, then look at the book, giving it out without any spirit behind it, without knowing what the spirit of the lesson is, we find a teacher in such cases who is not reaching the soul of the child—he cannot. Why? Because he himself does not feel it. He cannot give what he himself does not know or feel. Then in the supervision of this outline work let all teachers be so thoroughly prepared with the lesson that when they stand before their classes, they are full of the spirit of it; they have put under, as it were, the mechanical part of it, the outline, and they are free now to let the spirit operate upon their intelligences, upon their souls, and suggest to them there before the class things which they could not find out when they were in their study room. Supervisors of outline work, take the outlines as means to the end, not the end in themselves.

The function of the superintendency at Union meetings was another point passed upon, and it was decided, in brief, that the stake superintendents have charge at Union meetings of the local superintendents, and while the offices and specific duties of each stake superintendent were not specifically pointed out, in general it is recommended that the superintendents of the stake have charge of the local superintendents. That the stake board member who has charge or supervision of classwork in the stake take supervision of the local superintendents who have charge of the classwork in the local schools. It does not mean that they must meet them every week; they might want to make appointments throughout the various departments of Union meetings. But at all times let the stake superintendency have charge and direct the efforts of the local superintendents at Union meetings. It will avoid this haphazard visiting month after month, and promote specific work for the benefit of those brethren and sisters who travel sometimes fifty or sixty or sometimes hundreds of miles to attend the Union meetings. I tell you, when they come that distance, the stake workers ought to have something for them; they deserve it, . . . [and as a result] the Sunday School work will have the impetus and inspiration that will result in good.

I do not believe that the superintendents passed upon any other points, other than the duties of librarians. There were only a few librarians present because there has been a general committee appointed by the board to take this matter under advisement. You will probably receive, through the Juvenile or some other means, specific instructions in regard to the duties of librarians. However, the following was suggested, that it be the sense of the convention, that stake librarians are [273] to [first,] assist local librarians and to conduct the department at Union meeting; second, look after all books of the library, to see that they are properly bound, that song books are properly distributed as per instructions of the superintendents; third, to provide ways and means for improving and supplying the library, under the direction of the superintendency, but to suggest and keep it before them, to think about the duty, and to incite, in a proper way, action; fourth, to keep in touch with all the teachers, and to answer questions in regard to reference books; fifth, to encourage the boys and girls, by various methods, to read the books in the library, and in the traveling or circulating library, if you are fortunate enough to have one in the stake, and to take charge of them, and see that the books are kept among the children; [and] sixth, to take part, as far as possible, in the classwork.

In the secretary's department, it was suggested that the first part of their time in Sunday School Union be devoted to the consideration of the secretary's and treasurer's ordinary duties; second, that a special program be prepared for the rest of the session. It was decided that we commend to the stake secretaries some uniform system of keeping records, including minutes and records of appointments in the stake, and a system of keeping comparative statistics beyond making reports.

In the Chorister's department, it was suggested that the thought development be carried out. That was prompted by the suggestion, that many of our boys and girls are singing hymns which they do not understand. A song is a prayer to our Heavenly Father, or it is praise to Him. It is a means of worship, and the words that are sung have in them the inspiration that should develop the child, should appeal to the child's soul. You who were present today and heard Sister Morris sing "All is well—Come, come, ye saints, no toil nor labor fear, but with joy wend you way"—you . . . heard some significance; and as she gave the inspiration so beautifully, the meaning of it sank in to your souls. It meant something; it was a prayer, it was praise to our fathers and mothers who came here in early days, and it contained a hope of their future reward.

It is suggested that a short time, say, five minutes, be sometimes given to the chorister that he may take a song and develop that thought within it, without singing it, so that the children will get the meaning. For instance, the song, "Nay, speak no ill, a kindly word can never leave a sting behind," let the child feel what is in that song, and he will sing it. [In the song] "Give me the heart that fain would hide, would fain another faults efface," let the child feel the meaning of these words, and thus sing them, and there will be soul development in that song for him.

The convention favored, I believe, two-part singing, and the arrangement of the school so that they can sing the different parts, letting the children be at harmony as well as in the one-part singing. The musical part of the Union meetings should be carried on in the same way. In reference to the parents' department, I will say that it was thought that a small room would accommodate those who were interested in that department, and I believe that the smallest room was assigned to the parents' class; but at noon the report came: "O, we have had a glorious time. The only fault is you have given us a room that is too small; we must have a larger room." It speaks well, I think, for the interest taken in that department. They considered many points which were given out to those interested, and which I will not recapitulate here any further than this general announcement, that it is suggested that those departments that are through with the outlines should review the work, subdividing and outlining the lessons, taking them up in a different phase. Some have done this, and I bear testimony to you, that the second time going over these outlines has been more interesting than the first.

And, aside from that, if there is a condition in the town or settlement, some boy or girl about whom some mother asks a question of the class, or some father puts forth a proposition—"[While] my neighbors let their children go out so late, my children are not out, and my children feel that their parents are arbitrary"—let the class discuss it until they see there must be unity upon this matter, and let us keep our children from the streets at night. I went into a place here last night, after the priesthood meeting, and I saw young men and women in that place, and I know though I was there but a few minutes, just in passing, that there were things going on there that might lead an innocent young man to ill. I don't know whether I had better name the place or not. I went to get a Saturday night bath. Let us guard our young men; and parents in the town, watch that boys and girls are under your supervision and care, and that you are united in trying to save them from the ills and temptations that are around them. Some of these points are interesting for parents' classes, and they come right home—right home to the mother's heart and to the welfare of the family. There is plenty of work, however. There is a committee appointed to get out other outlines, and you will have plenty of material to go on with the classes.

In the classwork, in the afternoon of our convention, in all the departments, the following topics were considered: first, the selecting of the aim; second, the developing of the aim; and, third, illustration and application. Now, what does that mean? Some present intimated that it had no significance, but the majority of those present concluded that they were the best means for the aid of the teacher in preparing and presenting her lesson. In brief it is this: that at home the teachers take the lessons suggested by the general board, who have put hours and hours in choosing and outlining and giving helps and suggestions for preparation; that the lessons should be taken, that the texts suggested, whether in the Bible, Book of Mormon, or Doctrine and Covenants, [be] opened and read with the outline; the outline itself not to be studied, but it is the guide. The Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, [and] the Pearl of Great Price are the texts from which the aim, the central truth, must be chosen. It might be named in the outline, but it does not mean anything to the teacher unless he sees that truth in the lesson, neither can he see it on the following Sunday just because the general board has named it; but he can see it in the authority there, as presented by the historians who wrote the Book of Mormon, who wrote the Bible, and see the circumstance as it is in modern Church history, it may be. What truth shall I present to the children by that lesson? It will be a unifying means, unifying the lesson, so that it may sink into the souls of the children. The selecting of that truth is to be done at home. If it is suggested here in the outline, or if you can see that same truth in the lesson, study it; give it a fair test. If you cannot, then take one that you can see; but I think if you will give it a fair test, you will find that it is the truth, that there is something that should be given to the child. After you see it, get it in mind so that it can be presented; and when you are standing before the class, the outline is through with; it has served its purpose. You have talked it over with your fellow teachers; you don't need it [any] longer. You have now that within you that the Spirit of the Lord may [275] bring it out. Mark my word: if in that preparation you do not neglect the most important part of preparation, Sunday School workers, it does not matter whether you have ever looked at a book in pedagogy; that is not a qualification in Sunday School teaching. But here is a point of qualification, and no Sunday School teacher can succeed without it, and that is, prayerful preparation. If you ask [for] the Lord's help while you are preparing it, and then depend not upon the knowledge that you have through yourself, but upon the inspiration of the Spirit, you will have good Sunday School classes, you can't help it, and the children someday will rise up and call you blessed. Then, after that, you have another means of presenting that lesson, proving the same truth. It may be in President Young leaving his home in sickness, illustrating the same energy that Paul had, and you have other illustrations. And then, above all, the teacher should point out, or have the children point out, a means of introducing these truths into their lives. Feeling anything without acting does not amount to much to the children. Let the children feel reverence for great things. The child will know it is right, probably. Jesus in the example scourging those who desecrated the temple—present that lesson and make the child feel that the house of the Lord is a house of order, and yet at two o'clock that day you saw the young man putting his hat on the sacrament table! Have you taught the child that lesson? No, the teacher may have presented the lesson in a noble way, and an interesting way, but she failed to open the avenues of the question.

It was decided at the convention that the application should be a means to insure that the child might act out the truth, and thereby grow in spiritual development.

In conclusion, at the evening session, there was a general social reunion. The Lion House was crowded, and during the rendition of the short program many present had to sit on the floor. The object was to get close together, and I assure you, that in that it was successful. We had with us President Joseph F. Smith, who gave us a short speech of welcome and encouragement, and aside from that, remarks by Brother George M. Cannon, of the general board, on "The Value of Social Gatherings of the Stake Boards, Local boards and General Board." It was a general treat, and I believe the members of the boards who were present went away feeling cheerful, feeling that it is a pleasure to work in the Sunday School cause, feeling good, not only because of the pleasant treat there that night, brought about by the excellent singing by Brother Pyper and others, by the refreshments and music, but by the spirit of the entire day, which was characteristic of Sunday School work. It cannot but be purity; it cannot but be love. These elements are childlike attributes, and if we are near the children and enter into their life, we must have purity, we must have love in our souls, and these elements should characterize all our teachings. These things, though, are but means. May the superintendents and stake workers adopt them, that all our effort may be devoted to the spiritual welfare of the Sabbath School, that the love of the gospel may be taught therein. And that reminds me of one point in the Kindergarten department that was emphasized, and that is this thought: that fewer stories and myths that do not contain much of the element of the Gospel be given, and that wherever possible Gospel lessons be taught to the little children. God bless us. Amen.

McKay, David O. "The Annual Conference of the Deseret Sunday School Union [Address, April 7, 1907]." The Juvenile Instructor 42, 9 (May 1, 1907): 269–275.