CHILDERMOTE and Eldermote are words coined in connexion with the system by which a stamp placed in an appropriate album records each attendance of its possessor at Public Worship. Childermote (the first syllable is short) stands for the children’s meeting, Eldermote for that of their seniors. At the end of Divine Service the stamp for the day is served out, fastened by the recipient in his album, and may be subsequently postmarked in situ with the date and name of the local church in the afternoon.
The thing is, on the face of it, a plagiarism upon the familiar hobby of the philatelist. I venture to claim that it is a sound adaptation. To collect is a passion and a pastime; more, it is the expression of an instinct. Everyone, unless he is too busy or cynical, collects something or other. The value, utility, or even the beauty of things collected, does not count for much. The collector’s interest and pride of possession centre in the watching his collection grow, in the effort its formation costs, above all in the associations of experience and imagination which belong to each specimen. The whole forms part of the man’s life, and has therefore no small part in shaping his character. The unhappy millionaire miser cares for money the more he acquires it, and the same may be said in regard to his speciality of the bibliophile, the virtuoso, and the natural history collector. It is a case of action and reaction: the appetite grows with that which it feeds upon.
That is the principle which underlies the church stamp system. Children, at any rate, can no more help collecting than a broody hen the sitting on a china egg. Coins, crests, postage stamps, even bits of broken glass, anything good, indifferent, or pernicious in its educational effect, will serve their turn. They will barter the very sweets out of their mouths to add to their treasures.
Now, many of us have learnt most of that which we know about geography or natural history from our schoolboy collections. Very few may keep the thing up, those who do become experts. But, at the least, the old interest survives. A man of sixty who once went in for stamps or eggs can always spend a happy half-hour at the British Museum or South Kensington. Why should not this instinct be used in the service of religion? was a question which was answered by the Church stamp system. It aims at using the collecting instinct to stimulate and steady church-going, and in the end to leave the full-grown man either with the lingering affection of the former collector for his old passion, or to pass him on as an ‘expert,’ i.e. an habitual worshipper.
Stamp collecting was chosen for many reasons. It was already established as a serious occupation, and one common to every was possible to produce something on a large scale at a very cheap rate
age and class. It duce something on a very cheap rate which would be worth preserving and easily handled. As a matter of fact, the elaborate albums produced by the Society of the Faith from their Press at Leighton Buzzard are sold at a penny, while the 102 stamps in a full year’s collection cost only fourpence. Again, not only could the colour scheme of the Church Calendar be employed attractively and in a way which would certainly interest and instruct, but ‘the stately progress of the Gospel in the Church’s year’ could be made the medium of a large amount of evangelical teaching. Above all, an album would record not only Church attendances by its stamps, but also heathenish derelictions of duty by its empty spaces; while at the end of the year its pages would be either a thing of shame or something to be prized—a Kttj/io « atl well worth keeping.
The initial experiment was made during the autumn of 1905, in the parish of St. Stephen’s, Regent’s Park, at the little chapel-of-ease of St. Andrew, in Henry Street. The children were provided with what was very like a washing book, and the first stamp was issued for the Patronal Festival of the Church. During the year 1905 6, the most that could be done was to issue a
different stamp for each month. The lack of variety in the designs was, of course, a drawback, but there could be no mistake in the effect of the system. The idea ‘caught on’ from the first, slacksters and ‘treat-hunters’ conveniently lost their albums, but when, after a little, mere acquisitiveness changed into pride in what the stamps meant, the children came to care about them because they represented ‘duty done.’ The experience of the clergy at St. Augustine’s, Stepney, St. Mark’s, Regent’s Park, and a dozen other churches where the stamps were in use, was the same. It was, therefore, decided to put down sufficient ‘ stationery’ to work the system, which had been registered under the patent laws, in its entirety. An album was prepared with a space for every Sunday and Holy Day of Prayer-book obligation in the calendar for the year 1906 -7. The texts ‘Be thou faithful unto death’ (Rev. ii. 10) and ‘Missed because thy seat will be empty’ (1 Sam. xx. 18) were taken as the telling mottoes of the Childermote, and a stamp was got ready for every space in the album. The designs for these, which were admirably executed by Mr. F. Harding, of Lewisham, were chosen from the Eucharistic Gospels, and were printed in the common seasonal colours, i.e. gold for the Great Festivals, yellow for the white days, green for Trinitytide, violet for Lent and Advent, black for Good Friday, blue for feasts of the B.V.M., and red for Whitsun and the Martyrs. Thirty thousand albums were issued in 1906-7. In the current year 100,000 albums have already been sent out to over 1000 centres. These have comprised not only parishes in the United Kingdom, the Colonies, and America, but also mission stations in Africa and Asia. A stay-at-home would not easily imagine how thoroughly coloured men and women, as well as children, enter into the spirit of the thing.
The demand continues to increase with every week. The ‘get up’ of the album itself has been improved, and an automatic mark register added at its end. Mr. T. Noyes Lewis has completed a series of very spirited and expressive stamp designs. A new album and a fresh series of stamps are necessarily contemplated for each year. A full album is rewarded by a gilt medal for Sundays, the price of which is kept down to 4s., and a bar for Holy Days. The motive is less economy than the desire that albums, stamps, and medals should be a symbol and not a marketable commodity. A different medal will be issued for each of the seven years of a child’s life. The medals form a chain when fastened together, a photo of one such chain being placed at the head of this article. Anyone who has been present at an elementary school prize-giving will understand the strength of such an incentive to perseverance.
Unquestionably the strength of the system lies in its elasticity. No revolution is required in the methods which already obtain in any parish, and but little additional routine is involved in its introduction. It will be intelligible to the children and efficacious in a Sunday school of the 1880 type, but at the same time it has its greatest force where the organisation is highly developed. Many of the churches at which it has been most successful are those where the work of the Society of the Catechism is in full swing.
It may, indeed, be worth while to notice in passing the analysis paper, printed also in seasonable colours, issued in connexion with the Childermote albums. The designs illustrating the Law, Prophets, Psalms, Writings, and New Testament should give an additional inducement to the scholar to form a Corpus Theologicum of his own composition. A similar encouragement to the happily growing custom of painting the Sunday text is now in preparation.
While, however, the Society of the Faith has not attempted to lay down hard and fast rules, and has preferred to offer the stamps to the clergy as an instrument to b.e used in their own way, there are two conditions on which much of the profit of the system depends. In the first place, the stamp ought to be given at the chief service of the day, and in the second, it should be a record of public worship and not a bribe or a reward.
The objective of the system, it must be remembered, is less to secure the mere attendance of the child than to make him an intelligent and habitual churchgoer. Doubtless, if the stamp may be obtained for presence at Sunday afternoon school or catechism, a larger number of strange children will be drawn into the parochial net, and the percentage of attendances look better. But I venture to urge that to accept the lower standard, when the demand should be for the higher, is to abandon the object aimed at. In the immediate future the strength of organised Christianity, let alone that of the Church of England, would seem under God to depend largely upon our success or failure in training up the next generation as morning churchgoers. If it be the case, then, that morning worship as a religious act is a thing vastly superior in kind to that of the afternoon, the stamp should be given for the morning—and the morning only. It is senseless to emphasise the second best. The service, therefore, even if only a fraction of the children come to it, which the parish priest lays down as the child’s obligation, is the ‘duty done’ .which should be recorded by the stamp. Opinions and local limitations may cause the highest act of worship open to a child to be different in neighbouring parishes, but whether it be the Lord’s Supper, Mattins, or the ordinary Sunday School morning service, there is no doubt that unless the stamp is used for it, half the point of the system will begone. On the other hand if it is made firmly and persistently, children will respond to a demand which has reason at the back of it. A distinctly ragged urchin of a town Childermote told his parish priest the other day ‘I didn’t spoil my album. I didn’t go on the canal. I got the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.’ A straw is significant, and the word ‘spoil’ is the essence of the story. A year’s album is worthless for its stamps, however pretty they may be. It is valuable only because it is a concrete record of a year’s religion. Can you doubt that, as time goes on, the collectors of to day, whether they lapse or persevere, will point with triumph or regret to the stamps and spaces which record victory or defeat in bygone struggles, when the world and the flesh wore the form of be3 or a lark in the park and the fields?
And, further, we have bribes enough for our children without wasting the opportunity which these stamps provide. A workman is, of course, worthy of his hire, and no child-lover can grudge the incentive of books and buns and the summer splash in the sea. I would stuff a boy with sweets for doing a good analysis, if it would not stop him from ever doing another. The mischief of it all does not lie in the prizes and the treat, but in what they are given for. To reward a child for work well done seems to me to be both common sense and a moral obligation, but to give him a burnt-out match for worshipping God nothing short of rank immorality. It is here that the stamp system differs from the ingenious ticket exchange and star card methods. They are the transitory means of securing something tangible and delectable. The stamps, on the other hand, lead to nothing but a good conscience and a full album with at the most a fourpenny medal thrown in at the end of the year. So far as they are a reward, they are a reward in kind. Who would care to keep his seven years’ albums and medal chain when he had definitely discarded his religion?
I have myself found it best to give marks for Sunday school and catechising only, to make these marks dependent on actual work done, and to fine children at treat times who are short of the amount prescribed. If a boy will not work, he must pay or go without what others get. Nothing, however, is to be had for worship. This method will doubtless not commend itself to some people. It is at any rate vital, and should be possible to separate the idea of worship from school rewards and to connect the stamp with the former only. A child can realise that a naughty boy’s worship is not less dear to God than that of a saintly archbishop. God misses His ‘little human praise.’ That God keeps his ‘great book of record’ and they keep theirs, is a metaphor which represents a reality to children, for it is of a piece with the things which influence their imagination.
It is for this reason that the Holy Days are included in sequence with the Sundays in the Childermote album. At the outset we had some hesitation in the matter. The result has completely justified the bolder policy. Sixty thousand stamps are now sent out for every Saint’s day.
Except on Sundays and in holidays it is, of course, difficult to get children to church in the morning. In common with many of my brother clergy, however, I have found that about 60 per cent, will come to a six o’clock evening service. Personally, for training purposes, I elect to follow the rubric and have a solemn Evensong with the fullest ritual accessories. The effect upon the church tone of the breaking down of ‘week-end only’ religion is immeasurable. If the stamp system had done nothing else, the hundreds of Saints’ Day congregations which it has called into existence, in themselves a standing reproach to the prevalent laxity, would have justified the experiment.
In the early part of 1906-7 a Childermote album and stamps were shown to an experienced dignitary. His comment was that they were pretty and ingenious, but he thought the children would soon tire of them. The reverse has been the case. A new craze, of course, brings a reaction. If the system be adopted merely from the lamb-stealer’s ‘madness for numbers,’ the cupidity which prompted its introduction will happily not be gratified. The stamps are not a spiritual power-saving apparatus, but simply an instrument for the worker’s use. But when the motive is to raise the children’s conception of Church-life, the inner kernel will soon dread a blank more than they desire the possession of a picture, and half the battle will be won. There is, however, a very real danger of a slump in the holiday season of the first year. By August the novelty will have worn off, irregulars will have many blank spaces, ‘oncers’ will have postmarks only, and, in spite of the renewal of their wrappers at Whitsuntide, many albums will be broken and hopelessly dirty. The crisis will test the parish priest’s motive. If he aims chiefly at a mechanical attendance, he will not notice the minority who have nearly all their stamps, but will lose heart at the feckless outsiders whose lapses will tempt them to pronounce the grapes sour, and will vote the thing a failure. If he knew it, he is probably near success. The general enthusiasm will more than revive at Advent, when it will be redoubled in those who have been steady, and the others can make a fresh start. A friend of mine, who I suspect used the stamps more to encourage analysis-doing than to instil habits of worship, told me last summer that he had been disappointed at the falling off of his newcomers. A few days later I met the mother of one of his better-class children in Scotland, to whom I was unknown. She detailed the stamp system to me, telling me that her boy had become mad on church-going since he had had his album. If, as some of us think, even the best of our children’s congregations are lamentably far from any conception of church-going as a great muster parade at which the youngest soldier of the Church dare not willingly be absent, the system can obviously only take hold at first on the comparatively few. The majority, without doubt, will catch the contagion in good time. It is very necessary, however, to take care that a child who is unavoidably sick or absent should receive a ‘Reasonably Let’ stamp. The depressing effect of blanks should be confined to those who deserve them. A ‘Reparation’ stamp (i.e. one to be obtained at a subsequent service) has been found to have a good effect. At a particular parish there are always to be found some dozen children at the midday celebration. They came first in ‘ Reparation,’ liked the service, and now persist in attending it.
At many churches where it is impossible to deal with the better-class children as an organised body, it has been found satisfactory to supply the parents with the quarter’s stamps in advance. In this case a pledge must be exacted from fond mothers that Tommy’s Saturday party’s indigestion or arbitrary indisposition shall not be counted a Reasonable Hindrance. An album should not tell lies. Children see the force of this. A choir boy once invaded my room to tell me in tears that he had stolen St. Paul. It was a few minutes before I realised why he was conscience-stricken. Our secretary’s carelessness had given him the chance to fill a space, which cold fact required to be a blank. He had availed himself of the chance.
In this article I have dealt with the Childermote only. Under slightly different conditions the system is being used with the greatest advantage among adults. The members of guilds, Bible classes, men’s meetings, and in some cases whole village congregations have taken the thing up seriously and keenly. The point for them, as for children, lies less in the attractiveness of the stamps than in the possibility of keeping a check upon the performance of religious duty.
It would be possible to quote the letters of a large number of clergy in witness to the effect of the system upon their children. A priest in Johannesburg, for example, writes, that his Sunday attendance had increased from six to ninety, while on a weekday he often finds fifty present and a church full of adults. A pretty story, told me by an Oxford incumbent, will be a better termination to this article. The father of one of his children, in Advent 1906, took a fancy for the albums and obtained one for himself. Both parent and child kept their collections unbroken until after Easter last year. Then the man fell into consumption and the family moved into the country. They asked to have the stamps sent on to them, and Sunday by Sunday, after the family evening prayer, father and son fixed their stamp in the place for the day. The boy’s collection had every space filled at medal time last Advent, the father’s was broken by his death. Neither album is likely to be thrown away.
—The Treasury (London: G. J. Palmer, 1908), pp. 168-174.