If you walk into a gospel doctrine Sunday School class in the Monument Park 2nd Ward in Salt lake City, you are likely to see three ward members who have either recently turned 100 years of age or who soon will. Ann Maughn turned 100 this month, Richard Bird is 99 years old, and Bessie Hanson will reach the century mark in less than 18 months.
The dates of birth of these members coincide with the beginning of adult Sunday School classes in the Church. Richard Ballantyne is honored for instituting Sunday School classes for children beginning in 1849, but Sunday School classes for adults did not begin until more than 50 years later.
In 1904, the Weber Stake in northern Utah began holding classes for parents. Two years later, in 1906, Church leaders at the general level instructed Sunday School leaders throughout the Church to hold classes for parents. Some of the lessons taught in those classes pertained to "the environment of the home, to the effect of the family's actions upon another,… to the power of love as a disciplinary factor in the home — these and many kindred topics will aid the parents both as individuals and as heads of families."
The aim of parents' classes was to "establish unity between home and the Sunday School, in order to benefit the parents, the children and the School." Later, courses that focused on the standard works were taught in adult Sunday School classes.
Church members like Ann Maughn, Richard Bird, and Bessie Hanson have had their lives enriched as they have attended Sunday School classes. All three of them have been heavily involved in the Sunday School organization, including in recent years. Brother Bird, an attorney who still practices law, served just a few years ago as a counselor in the ward Sunday School presidency. Before that, he had served as a stake Sunday School superintendent (as it was then called) and as a bishop in the Forest Dale Ward in Salt Lake City.
"From that time forward, Sunday School has been very important to me," Brother Bird observed. "It's been a big part of every ward I've been in, and it's done a lot of good."
When Sister Maughn and her husband, Alton (now deceased), designed the home they built 65 years ago, their lot included a few remaining almond trees said to have been planted by Brigham Young. A new almond tree has sprung up out of the stump of the original tree which had died down. Sister Maughn recalls living in Portland, Ore., as a teenager. She was called to serve as the Sunday School secretary when she was 16 years old (her father was serving as bishop of the ward at the time). Sister Maughn rarely misses her Church meetings. She sits on the front row of her Sunday School class and is known for making thoughtful comments in class. Her vision is now poor, so instead of reading the scriptures, she listens to Book of Mormon cassette tapes every morning. She can't remember a time when she didn't have a testimony of the gospel.
Bessie Hanson served a number of years ago in the Sunday School organization of the nearby Yale Ward. She believes that Sunday School classes "are an important part of the gospel. That's where we learn." She has traveled widely over the years, visiting many exotic places. She reported that her travel plans have been motivated in part by the events and locations she has read about in the scriptures. That was particularly the case with her trip to the Holy Land. While there, she attended a sacrament meeting in Shepherds' Field as the sun set and the lights of Bethlehem shined across the valley. Sister Hanson has also been to Mars Hill in Greece, where the Apostle Paul preached to the Athenians, and she has walked the streets of Ephesus.
Although the Sunday School curriculum has broadened over the years, Sunday School classes have achieved the objectives outlined when adult classes first began being taught — to improve the environment in the home, establish greater unity in the family and benefit the parents and children. Millions of Latter-day Saints have gained a deeper understanding of the scriptures with the help of conscientious Sunday School teachers. Sunday School classes continue to encourage members to "lay hold upon the word of God" (Helaman 3:29) and make the study of the word of God a regular part of their lives.
In conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the beginning of adult Sunday School classes in the Church, members of the Kearns Utah West Stake on Sept. 19 gathered for a celebration. The stake held a training meeting for ward Sunday School presidencies and teachers. Afterward, they enjoyed eating a big birthday cake, which was labeled "Happy 100th Anniversary Adult Sunday School."