Berean Sunday School Cards

Material History of American Religion Project

The project has become interested in the material religious environment of children. Scholar Robert Orsi’s work, as he told us in an interview, has focused on finding ways that the faith was materialized in the lives of Catholic children. While for Catholics that material environment was most important in ritual and devotional life, Protestant children were most surrounded by material religion in their Sunday school classrooms. We recently came across a good example in a collection of Sunday school cards from the early part of the twentieth century.

The cards were printed by the Presbyterian and Methodist publishing houses and given to children as take-away reminders of the day’s Sunday school lesson. Each card was dated, and they were issued in a series. The front had a colorful lithograph and a "Golden Text"—the key lesson of the day. The back explicated that text with a sermonette and asked the child a few questions about the lesson and its application. The cards built on previous cards in the series; the series concluded with one or more summary cards.

These cards, we believe, may have been Protestant analogues to holy cards. (By the way, a site visitor pointed us toward a web page dedicated to Catholic holy cards.) They did not claim to be holy in themselves; in typical Protestant fashion, to the contrary, they were strictly didactic. Despite their rich lithographs, they introduced children to a logocentric faith. But—like holy cards—they must have had some importance to the child who received them. Otherwise, why would he/she have saved them? And why would her/his family have kept them for almost ninety years? Clearly the cards retained a importance—maybe a kind of holiness—that transcended their printed messages.

The cards came from a Pittsburgh Presbyterian family, and were most likely passed out at Shadyside Presbyterian Church. They now belong to Jamie Gabler, a student at Columbia Theological Seminary.

The first card

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