In our narthex is a little piece of history. It’s a copy of “Junior Living and Songs.” OPC's youth groups sang from this 1938 songbook right before the Second World War. The book is well-used, and it’s a cultural artifact.
The Presbyterian Committee of Publication
The book’s original copyright is 1927 by the Presbyterian Committee of Publication. This organization started in 1862, after the start of the Civil War.
The Presbyterian Church of the United States of America (PCUSA) split over the issue of slavery. Southern Presbyterians established a separate denomination. It was the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America (PCCSA).
The PCCSA was virtually identical to the PCUSA. But they had to build new support organizations. One such was the Presbyterian Committee of Publication, established in Richmond, Virginia. This was the publishing arm of the PCCSA.
After the war, PCCSA renamed itself the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS). It remained separate from the PCUSA. The Committee on Publication printed a variety of materials.
Sunday School periodicals, instruction materials, books, hymnals, and songbooks poured out of Richmond. “Junior Living and Songs” was one such publication.
The Assembly Training School
In 1914, the PCUS established the General Assembly’s Training School for Lay Workers (ATS). The original location was at No. 6-8, North Sixth Street in Richmond. The school trained men and women entering the field of Christian education. It included departments on the English Bible, Christian Doctrine, Missions and Church History, and Christian Sociology.
Future youth leaders could study Sunday School Pedagogy and Young People’s Work, Physical Education, and Music. For those wanting to serve in the community, there were departments of Elementary Medicine and Hygiene, and Domestic Science and Arts.
ATS became the Presbyterian School for Christian Education in 1959. PCUS reunited with PCUSA in 1983. And in 1997 the school became part of Union Presbyterian Seminary.
Elizabeth McE. Shields
Elizabeth McEwen Shields. edited “Junior Living and Songs." She was the Lecturer on Sunday School Pedagogy at ATL. Shields also served on the Presbyterian Board of Christian Education. She was the Director of Children’s Work.
Shields joined the faculty when the school was established. And remained there until her retirement in 1950.Besides her work ATL she was also a hymn-writer. Shields is credited with over 35 hymns for children.
Shields had a clear idea of what a collection of songs for youth should be. In the preface, she lists her criteria for selecting the songs:
Are the words good: have they literary value?
Have the words spiritual value?
Can Junior boys and girls mean the words?
Is the music good?
Do the words suit the music?
Will Junior boys and girls like this song?
Shields was aware that most of the PCUS churches weren’t in big cities such as Richmond. They were scattered throughout the rural South, with small congregations and limited budgets.
In the preface, she wrote that this book responded to small churches’ requests. They had asked to "give us one book that will contain enough songs for use in the various Church School sessions -- Sunday, week-day, and vacation sessions and Junior societies."
From PCCSA, through ATS, to PCUS
The copy in our narthex looks well-used. I think Professor Shields would be pleased. Next time you come to church, take a moment to leaf through its pages. And hold a piece of history in your hands.
- Ralph Graves