In 1844, the Congregationalist minister Enoch Pond in Bangor, Maine, reminded his fellow clergy that they had been commissioned not only to feed the sheep of their flocks but also to nurture the lambs. Under no circumstances, he cautioned, would a good minister neglect the children, for both Christian parents and their pastors felt “the deepest anxiety” that the children of American parishes would not “receive that wise government, that faithful discipline, that Christian instruction and restraint, which, by the blessing of God, shall result in their speedy conversion, and bring them early and truly into the fold of Christ.” He called for pastors to pray for the children, to convene meetings of praying parents, to pay attention to children during pastoral visits, to impart special instruction to children from the pulpit, to visit their schools, to institute Sunday schools, to teach children the Bible, and to offer catechetical instruction. The devoted pastor would acquaint himself with children, “enter into their feelings, and interest himself in their affairs; and thus engage their affections, and win their confidence.“
Christian clergy in America had long heeded such admonitions. Seventeenth-century Puritan ministers made serious, if sporadic, efforts to teach the catechism, often invited groups of children into their homes for instruction, contended over the implications of the baptismal covenant, and urged parents to teach their offspring religious truths and Christian practices. Eighteenth-century Anglican clergy made similar efforts to instruct children, and their revivalist counter-parts in New England and the Middle Colonies encouraged the conversion of children at younger than customary ages. Jonathan Edwards devoted careful attention to his four-year-old convert Phebe Bartlet, who followed in the path of her converted eleven-year-old brother by announcing, after anguished prayers and cries for mercy, that “the kingdom of God had come” to her.