Sunday School Literature

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1959 Article

Mennonite Church

Benjamin Eby's A-B-C Buch
Conrad Grebel University College Library

In the time before Mennonite Sunday-school literature was available, American Mennonite Sunday schools used the literature in both German and English of the American Sunday School Union (founded in 1817, 1824), the American Tract Society (founded in 1875), and of denominational and interdenominational publishing houses. The David C. Cook publishing house has supplied much literature to Mennonite Sunday schools in various branches. Since in early years the Sunday school served in some Mennonite (MC) and Amish Mennonite congregations as a place to teach the children the German language, John F. Funk published Benjamin Eby's A- B- C Buchstabier und Lesebuch (first published in 1836 in Berlin, Ont., for use in the community day schools) in repeated editions (1869, 1871, 1882, 1896, 1909) for use in Sunday schools.

Funk began the publication of materials for Sunday-school work in May 1873 as a 4-page supplement to the Herald of truth called the Herald series of Sunday school lessons, but due to opposition ceased publication at the end of the season. In 1880 the Lancaster Mennonite Conference authorized the preparation of Sunday-school Question books, modeled after the American Sunday School Union books. A committee composed of ministers Amos Herr and Jacob N. Brubacher of the Lancaster Conference and Funk, assisted by the Lancaster bishops Isaac Eby and Benjamin Herr, produced the manuscript for the primary and intermediate booklets in 1880, and publication proceeded at once by Funk at Elkhart, followed by the Infant lesson book and in early 1881 by the fourth in the series, the adult or Bible class question book. German editions of all four appeared in 1881-82. J. H. Oberholtzer published at Milford Square, Pa., in 1859, Das Unparteiische Biblische Fragenbuch. Zum Gebrauch in Sonntagschulen und Familien für Kinder-Unterricht.

The publication of Sunday-school quarterlies (quarterly lesson help booklets giving the text of the International Series of Sunday-school lessons with editorial helps and commentary by Mennonite writers) was begun by Funk in 1890, with J. S. Coffman as editor, with a German edition also beginning the same year. It was an adult quarterly. Funk never published a primary or a teachers' quarterly. When Funk sold out his periodicals to the Mennonite Publishing House in 1908, the quarterly ceased publication, and was replaced by a new title with the same function.

Funk also published Sunday-school "papers," as they were called, weekly 4-page periodicals largely distributed to the children in the Sunday schools without charge, paid for out of the Sunday-school treasury, as were the quarterlies. In 1878 he took over the Words of cheer started by H. A. Mumaw in 1876 as a children's Sunday-school paper. In 1881 he took over the analogous German paper Der Christliche Jugendfreund, designed for a slightly older age group, started by S. D. Guengerich of Johnson County, Iowa, in 1878. In 1887 he started a small 4-page weekly tract paper designed largely for Sunday schools, called Welcome tidings (1887-97), also a German edition, Angenehme Stunden (1887-93). Neither of these prospered, and both were absorbed into other publications.

Beginning in 1906 the Sunday-school material of Mennonites (MC) consisted of picture rolls and cards and a primary lesson quarterly published by the Gospel Witness Publishing Company at Scottdale, which in 1908 was merged into the Mennonite Publishing House. In 1907 the Advanced quarterly and an Advanced teachers' quarterly were added. These, based on the international uniform lesson outlines, were published continuously until 1924. The editor of all three for the first years was D. H. Bender. In 1925-36 the uniform lesson materials were increased from three quarterlies to five by the addition of the Junior-Intermediate quarterly and the Junior teachers' quarterly. The Primary quarterly was revised and improved and the picture rolls and cards continued.

In 1937-50 the lesson materials were increased to seven quarterlies, and new picture rolls and cards adopted. The Primary quarterly was again revised and Primary worksheets, the Primary teachers' quarterly, and the Junior pupil's quarterly were started. The Junior-Intermediate quarterly was changed to the Intermediate pupil's quarterly, and the Junior-Intermediate teachers' quarterly was added.

Words of Cheer, Dec. 1879
Conrad Grebel University College Library

In 1951 the Sunday-school materials were designated as "the Herald Uniform Sunday School Series," and at 1958 comprised the following: Herald teacher, helps for teachers of adults, youths, and intermediates, published monthly; Herald Bible studies; Herald youth Bible studies; Herald intermediate Bible studies; Herald junior Bible studies and Junior teacher; Herald primary Bible studies with worksheets and Primary teacher.

The Herald Graded Sunday School Series was in preparation in 1958. In this series Kindergarten I began use in 1951; Nursery was introduced in 1957, and Kindergarten II in 1958. Group graded courses from primary through intermediate were being developed in co-operation with the General Conference Mennonites.

Weekly Sunday-school papers used to supplement the lesson materials were Words of cheer since 1876, Beams of light since 1906, and Youth's Christian companion since 1920. -- Harold S. Bender, Clayton F. Yake

General Conference Mennonite Church

The General Conference Mennonite Church started its Sunday-school quarterlies in 1887 with the German Sonntagschul-Lektionen für Jung und Alt which has been in continuous publication to 1958, S. F. Sprunger editor to 1920, followed by C. H. A. van der Smissen. The English Sunday school Bible lesson quarterly, N. C. Hirschy editor, appeared for only 6 years, 1900-06. In 1937 four new English quarterlies were established, the Mennonite adult quarterly, the Mennonite young people's quarterly, the Mennonite junior quarterly, and the Mennonite junior teacher, which were replaced by a new series in the fall of 1958, entitled Adult Bible study guide, Youth Bible study guide, Junior Bible study guide, and Junior Bible study guide teacher's manual. At the same time the old German quarterly was renamed Bibel Studien für Erwachsene. All these used the International Uniform Lessons, and all were published by the Board of Education and Publication, Newton, Kansas. The Board also published its own imprint edition of the Scottdale Herald teacher. It began publishing jointly with the Herald Press (MC) at Scottdale a new graded series of Sunday-school lessons for various ages of children. It has its own imprint editions of the Herald Press, Nursery, home and church series, Bible lessons for kindergarten children. Year II, and Herald intermediate Bible studies. Two General Conference Mennonite Sunday-school papers were published in 1958, the German Kinderbote (since 1886), first edited by David Goerz, and the English Junior messenger (since 1939). These were both 4-page papers. The Kinderbote was at first a monthly, but became now bimonthly. The Messenger was weekly.

Mennonite Brethren

The only other Mennonite group publishing its own Sunday-school quarterlies in 1958 was the Mennonite Brethren, which has had the German Lektionsheft since 1904 and the English Adult quarterly since 1958. Graded Sunday school lessons were briefly issued in English (1940-47, senior, intermediate, and primary in one quarterly), and in 1939 for the German, as Ganze Bibel Gradiierte Lektionen. The Teachers manual for Sunday school lessons was published 1949-57 (separate quarterlies for primary and junior departments). All these were published by the Mennonite Brethren Publishing House at Hillsboro, Kan., and served both the United States and Canada. On the lower level the United States churches have been using the Scripture Press (Wheaton, Ill.) materials, and the Canadian churches have either translated these into German or produced some of their own.

Other Groups

In 1958 the smaller Mennonite groups used either the Herald Press materials--e.g., Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, and Evangelical Mennonite (Kleine Gemeinde), the former using the General Conference Mennonite German quarterly since Scottdale dropped the German number -- or material from such publishers as the Union Gospel Press (Cleveland, Ohio), Gospel Light Press (California), and the Scripture Press. The Mennonite Brethren in Christ (now Missionary Church) have been publishing their own rather complete Bethel Series since 1910.

An important development in Mennonite Sunday-school literature is the project for joint publication by the Herald Press (MC) and the General Conference Mennonite Board of Education and Publication of a comprehensive graded lesson series. The Canadian Mennonite Brethren Conference also planned to use this series. -- Harold S. Bender and Willard Claassen

1990 Update

The major event in Mennonite Christian education curriculum since 1958 was the development of the Foundation Series for children, youth, and adults as a cooperative project of five peace churches. Brethren in Christ, the General Conference Mennonite Church (GCM), and the Mennonite Church (MC) were publishing partners for all three units. The Church of the Brethren was a publishing partner for youth and adult and a cooperative user for children's material. The Mennonite Brethren Church was a cooperative user for the youth and adult series. (See Sunday School Literature (1958) for earlier history.)

The Foundation Series replaced the series introduced in 1960 by the Mennonite Church (MC) as the Herald Graded Sunday School Series and by the General Conference Mennonite Church as the Living Faith Graded Sunday School Series. While using the same basic materials for these two curricula, each publisher revised the material to fit its needs. The Foundation Series advanced the level of cooperation by producing the same edition for all users. The children's curriculum, for which Paul M. Lederach was executive director, was introduced in 1977, and a revision was completed in 1986. Helmut Harder served as director for the adult and youth curriculum.

Use of the Foundation Series for children was extended to German-speaking churches by the Conference of Mennonites in South America, who translated the material for congregations in Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Beginning in 1980, the Hispanic Anabaptist-Mennonite Churches of the Western Hemisphere, with help from the Council of International Ministries, developed a Spanish-language curriculum for adults, based in part on the Foundation Series for Adults (Currículo Anabautista de Educación Basilica Congregaciónal). Hector Valencia and Marta Quiroga de Alvarez served as editorial directors. In 1985, work was begun to develop a four-year curriculum for children using the basic concepts of the Foundation Series for children. Leticia Stucky served as its coordinator. Executive director for both projects was Arnaldo Casas.

The Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church introduced a new Jubilee: God's Good News curriculum in the 1990s, to incorporate newer pedagogical techniques. The Brethren in Church Church and the Church of the Brethren were publishing partners in the project. The Mennonite Brethren Church was a supporting denomination.

Since 1960, the Mennonite Church (MC) and the General Conference Mennonite Church have published Builder, a Christian education monthly with helps for teachers of the Adult Bible study guide which has served both groups since 1974. In the area of story papers, the General Conference Junior messenger was combined with the Mennonite Church's Words of cheer in 1971 to become On the line. In 1967 Der Kinderbote for German-speaking children was transferred to Brazil, where it was published until the end of 1981, when it was discontinued. With, a monthly magazine for youth, was developed in 1968 by the General Conference Mennonite Church and Mennonite Publishing House (MC) to succeed the latter's Youth's Christian companion. In the same year, Mennonite Publishing House introduced Purpose, a weekly story paper for adults.

Since 1964, the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite (Holdeman) has published its own Sunday school series. Through Gospel Publishers, Moundridge, Kansas, they provide lessons for five age groups, preschool to adult, using their own outlines to cover the Bible in four years. Some of these lessons are translated into Spanish for mission congregations in South America. The Holdeman church had earlier used materials from Rod and Staff Publishers, Crockett, Kentucky (founded in 1958), whose outlines cover the Bible in seven years with lessons for five age groups as well as story papers. Christian Light Publications, Harrisonburg, Virginia, founded in 1969, also publishes a full range of lessons based on the Uniform Lesson (International Sunday School Lessons) outlines. -- Maynard Shelly


Bender, Harold S. Mennonite Sunday School Centennial. Scottdale, 1940.

Bender, Harold S. Two Centuries of American Mennonite Literature: a Bibliography of Mennonitica Americana 1727-1928. Goshen, Ind. : Mennonite Historical Society, 1929.

The Foundation Series Handbook, ed. by Virginia A. Hostetler and Laurence Martin, published by Brethren Press, Evangel Press, Faith and Life Press, and Mennonite Publishing House, 1986.

Umble, John S. "Early Mennonite Sunday School Lesson Helps." Mennonite Quarterly Review 12 (1938): 98-113.

Author(s) Harold S. Bender
Clayton F. Yake
Willard Claassen
Maynard Shelly
Date Published 1990

Cite This Article

MLA style

Bender, Harold S., Clayton F. Yake, Willard Claassen and Maynard Shelly. "Sunday School Literature." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1990. Web. 27 May 2022.

APA style

Bender, Harold S., Clayton F. Yake, Willard Claassen and Maynard Shelly. (1990). Sunday School Literature. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 27 May 2022, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 661-662; vol. 5, p. 865. All rights reserved.

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