Schools and Sunday Schools
Penfold’s obituary in the Church Times later read:
“Gradually, with much prayer, and with the infinite pains which he lavished on whatever he set his hand to, … [he] built up, in that north-west district of London, a congregation that was no less remarkable for its internal harmony, than for the reverent tone and self- restrained ritual which were just a reflex of the mind and character of its parish priest. Guilds of communicants and churchworkers, instinct with reality, loyal to the best tenets of the Anglican Communion, gathered about St. Michael’s. Admirable school buildings were built and opened. Everything evidenced quiet, healthy, Catholic life.”1
Penfold had set up Sunday Schools in 1877 and St Michael’s had a longstanding interest in the church schools, though it only formally acquired them when they were transferred from St Mark’s in the parish re-organisation. In 1894, it endorsed a candidate for the School Board elections to ensure support for religious teaching in schools. 2 In 1904, the leaders of the church urged voters in the L.C.C. Elections to vote ‘only for those candidates, whether Moderate or Progressive, who will administer the new Education Act fairly and without partiality.’ 3 Despite this, this funding for the church schools was continually precarious. The following year, the vicar borrowed £100 to keep it running because the L. C. C. did not pay what was owed. 4
The Sunday Schools had been an early innovation, predating the Mission Buildings – the first assistant priest A.G. Hunter wrote about his early years in the parish in 1935:
One of our first works was to start a Sunday School and for this purpose we hired from the County Council the Hawley Crescent Board School rooms. We went round the parish and told the people of this, and in order to be ready for the children we secured twenty one teachers from our little congregation. On the first Sunday morning we had seven children—three teachers for each child! In the afternoon we had about twenty. The number soon increased however, even to a hundred, and for many years now there has been a children’s Eucharist filling half the now large church.5
Hunter also included in his biography an anecdote about one of the Sunday School pupils:
I once heard of a little girl living with her sick mother in one room in Camden Town. The little girl went to Sunday school and she had been told by her teacher that if there was any special thing she wanted, she should go to Jesus Christ and ask His help. Her mother being very ill, she felt she should like to ask the help of Jesus Christ for her poor mother. But suddenly she thought, although the teacher told me to go to Jesus Christ, she didn’t tell me where Jesus Christ lived. She had often seen people drop letters into the letter box in the Street and so it bethought
her to write a letter to Jesus Christ, and she did, in these words.
“Please Jesus Christ, will you come and help my poor mother who is very ill. She lives at 162, High Street, Camden Town.”
She screwed up the little bit of paper on which this was written and addressed it to Jesus Christ, and put it in the post box. When the postman came to collect the letters and saw this dirty little screw of paper and read the address, he thought, it is not my business to throw anything away from the post box and he took it to the post master.
When the post master read the simple letter he said to himself, I should not be surprised if this is a true request, I will go and see. He put on his cap with a beautiful band of gold lace round it: he put on his coat with its beautiful brass buttons and sallied forth to the address given. Having rung the bell he very soon heard the steps of the little girl coming down the stairs, and when she saw him she at once said: “Oh, I know who you are, you are Jesus Christ, come to help my poor mother!”
“No, my little child,” he said, “I am not Jesus Christ, but Jesus Christ has sent me to see if I can help your mother.”
He went up and found the poor mother lying in bed with very few clothes on it. There was no fire in the grate and no food in the cupboard. The post master, a good Christian man, knelt down and asked Jesus Christ to help. He assured the mother that she should have some food and some fuel and some clothing, and then he went to the clergyman of the parish, who came to see her regularly, and to minister to her, and later the Bishop came and confirmed her, and frequently, up to the time of her death, which happened before very long, he administered to her the Holy Communion. All this the result of the very simple, beautiful prayer: “Please Jesus Christ, will you come and help my poor mother?”
The Sunday Schools also seem to have acted as a seedbed for priestly vocations. J. R. Hodges became one of its Sunday School teachers, trained at Oxford and then entered the Priesthood – initially as a curate of St Mark’s Notting Hill. 6