Children’s Day at the New Paltz Methodist Church, 1882

June 2023
Anna Louise Bates, Church Historian

Children’s Day is a celebration first observed on the second Sunday of June in 1857 by Reverend Charles Leonard, pastor of the Universalist Church of the Redeemer in Chelsea, Massachusetts. The Methodist Church adopted the holiday by general consent in 1865, “… for the double purpose of interesting the children and of setting apart a day upon which the church collections shall be applied to the support of Methodist Schools.

“ New Paltz Methodists celebrated Children’s Day to the fullest in 1882. The New Paltz Times reported that, on the second Sunday of June that year, the church”…was very prettily decorated with flowers and evergreens, where here and there throughout the church bird cages, with canary birds, were suspended, which added greatly to the attractiveness of the exercises.”  The afternoon was filled with activities in which children “bore a prominent part”, and the pastor, Reverend J.A. Keogan, delivered a special sermon to the children.  “The church was filled to its utmost capacity,” the Times reported. The reasons for this lavish celebration owe partly to the church’s pastor, a devoted Methodist who was already a Sunday School superintendent at age 15 and focused on the establishment and growth of Sunday Schools in all of the eleven churches he pastored before the New Paltz charge. More than that, Keogan was a recent arrival in New Paltz, replacing a pastor (John T. Hargrave) who withdrew from the New York Conference only two months prior. Keogan seemed determined to revive the church’s flagging enthusiasm, and what better way to do that than celebrate the church’s children? The New York Conference Journal for 1882 does not mention the number of Sunday School pupils in that year, but notes that 3 children were baptized. 

Since that time, dates vary from place to place, but in the United States, many churches observe and celebrate Children’s Day. On the second weekend in October, the United Methodist Church recognizes Children’s Sabbath, a time to reflect on God’s gift of children, and ways congregations and individuals can renew their commitment to care for, protect and advocate for all children. Perhaps the New Paltz congregation will plan a celebration for that date in a future year.

Sources:  New Paltz Times, June 14, 1882; New York Conference Journal 1903 (memoir for Rev. John Keogan), New York Conference Journal 1882, and