|Formation 11 November 1867|
Purpose religious instruction
General President Tad R. Callister
|Headquarters Salt Lake City, Utah, USA|
Membership 12 million; ages 12 and older
Sunday School (formerly the Deseret Sunday School Union) is an official auxiliary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). All members of the church and any interested nonmembers, age 12 and older, are encouraged to participate in Sunday School.
According to the LDS Church, the purposes of its Sunday School program are to:
- "Strengthen individuals' and families' faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ through teaching, learning, and fellowshipping, and
- "Help Church members 'teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom' (D&C 88:77) at church and at home."
Early LDS Sunday Schools
Historical records indicate that some form of Sunday School was held by Latter Day Saints in Kirtland, Ohio, and Nauvoo, Illinois, in the 1830s and 1840s. However, the meetings were ad hoc and no formal organization endured the Mormon exodus from Nauvoo.
The first formal Sunday school in the LDS Church was held on December 9, 1849, in Salt Lake City under the direction of Richard Ballantyne, a former Sunday school teacher in the Relief Presbyterian Church in Scotland. Lacking a suitable building to hold the meeting in, Ballantyne invited his students into his own home; approximately thirty Latter-day Saint children between the ages of 8 and 13 attended. The local congregation that Ballantyne belonged to—the Salt Lake City Fourteenth Ward—quickly adopted Ballantyne's Sunday school program and integrated it with regular Sunday meetings. Other LDS Church congregations followed the Fourteenth Ward's example and adopted Sunday school programs based on the Ballantyne model. At this stage, each Sunday school was completely autonomous and under the sole direction of the local bishop.
Deseret Sunday School Union
Anxious to bring a standard structure and organization to the over 200 independent Sunday schools that had been created, LDS Church president Brigham Young ordered that a union of the Sunday schools be carried out. On November 11, 1867, Young and church leaders Daniel H. Wells, George A. Smith, Wilford Woodruff, George Q. Cannon, and Brigham Young, Jr. met and organized the Parent Sunday School Union. Young appointed Cannon as the first general superintendent of the Sunday School, a position he would hold until his death in 1901. In 1872, the Sunday School organization was renamed the Deseret Sunday School Union.
The organized Sunday School addressed lesson topics and source materials, grading, prizes and rewards, use of hymns and songs composed by members of the church, recording and increasing the attendance, developing an elementary catechism, and libraries. It also sponsored the publication of administrative guidelines and materials for classroom use, resulting in increased uniformity lesson content.
Until the turn of the century, only children were taught by the Sunday School. Eventually, classes were added for the youth of the church; in 1904, an adult Sunday School class was created.
Priesthood Correlation Program changes
The 1970s saw dramatic change within the Sunday School. In 1971, as part of the church Priesthood Correlation Program, the name of the Deseret Sunday School Union was changed to simply Sunday School, and the Sunday School general "superintendent" was renamed the general Sunday School "president". Additionally, curriculum planning and writing became more centralized and coordinated; for the first time, the Sunday School stopped providing unique lesson manuals each year, and the church began a four-year curriculum rotation pattern. In 1979, Hugh W. Pinnock became the general president of the Sunday School, the first general authority of the church to hold the position since apostle David O. McKay's tenure ended in 1934. In 1980, the church instructed the Sunday School to stop passing the sacrament during Sunday School classes, a practice that Brigham Young had begun in 1877.
Sunday School periodicals
In 1866, just prior to the formal organization of the Sunday School Union, Cannon had begun publishing the Juvenile Instructor magazine. Although the magazine was owned and edited solely by Cannon, it nevertheless became the de facto official publication of the Deseret Sunday School Union in the late 1860s. On January 1, 1901, the church purchased the magazine from the Cannon family and the Juvenile Instructor officially became an organ of the church's Sunday School. In 1930, it was replaced by The Instructor, which was published until 1970. The Sunday School currently does not have an official periodical, but information that may be used in Sunday School appears in the Ensign and the New Era magazines.
Sunday School focuses on a study of the standard works of the church, which are considered scripture. The main class in Sunday School for those 18 years of age and older is called "Gospel Doctrine". In general, the Gospel Doctrine curriculum follows a four-year cycle:
However, there are also a number of "generalist" and "specialist" classes that may be taught in Sunday School. For example, Gospel Principles is a generalist class that is primarily intended for those new to, or inexperienced, in the church or for those with a calling related to missionary work. It is also common for a local congregation to offer specialist Sunday School classes in family history, temples, marriage and family relations, and teacher training.
In most church congregations, Sunday School is a 40-minute class which is held either immediately after or immediately prior to Sacrament meeting. Everyone 12 years of age and older are encouraged to attend; children under age 12 have Sunday School-style classes taught to them in Primary, with those classes administered by the Primary organization.
In 2013, the Sunday School curriculum for youth (ages 12–18) changed and is centered around monthly discussion topics.
Each local congregation is permitted to call an adult male as the local Sunday School president, who oversees the Sunday School under the direction of the bishop or branch president. The president of the Sunday School may call two counselors and a secretary to assist him. Other adults in the congregation will serve as instructors in the various Sunday School classes. Often, full-time missionaries assigned to the congregation are asked to teach the Gospel Principles class. A stake or district Sunday School presidency will oversee the Sunday School presidents in a group of five or more congregations.
The church's three-man general Sunday School presidency directs the Sunday School program throughout the church. From 1979 to 2004, members of the general Sunday School presidency had been seventies and general authorities of the church. In the church's April 2004 general conference, Thomas S. Monson of the First Presidency announced that "a recent decision [has been made] that members of the Quorums of the Seventy [will] not serve in the general presidencies of the Sunday School and Young Men." Thus, the members of the presidency are no longer general authorities of the church.
As of June 2015, the general presidency of the Sunday School is composed of Tad R. Callister, President; Devin G. Durrant, First Counselor; and Brian K. Ashton, Second Counselor.
The Sunday School General Board also assists in the leadership of the church's Sunday School programs and in the development of guidelines, policies, and materials.