Matthew 19 v 13 – 15;- Luke 18 v 15 – 17
Since the lock down started and when I have the time to watch, I’ve noticed that I watch some programmes on television that I normally wouldn’t have been particularly interested in. For example I actually watched. ‘A midsummer Night’s Dream’ and ‘King Lear’, and I don’t normally do Shakespeare. I also watched ‘Great Expectations’ and a documentary on a Dennis Severs’ House, a private museum in Spitalfields in London that specialises in the Dickensian period.
One thing that came to mind from most of Dicken’s novels is the unfortunate plight of the orphaned children at that time when life expectation was quite young and this is a time before Social Services or even thoughts of social responsibility towards the poorer classes.
A couple of years ago I was asked to take part in a celebration service dedicated to the Children’s Society and as a result of my research for the service I came across Edward Rudolf.
Edward Rudolf was born on the 11th April 1852 in Lambeth South London, not into poverty but certainly not wealth. He had two brothers and a sister (who died at the age of two years). His father was a military man serving in both the British and Dutch Armies and his military background was reflected in his family life, he refused to send his children to school and insisted on teaching them himself at home, a situation that Edward had to redress in later life. However, Edward’s father was a bit of a linguist and was fluent in several languages including Dutch, which he passed on to Edward. The family also received a £20 a year gratuity from Edward’s uncle which supplemented the income from the military.
After his father’s death the family income ceased and Edward (now 15 years old) managed to get a job as a clerk in the Dutch consulate in London, his Dutch language lessons paid off, the salary from which enabled the family to have food on the table and also enabled Edward to study for education he missed out in younger years. His further education also took him into the Priesthood of the Church of England.
Although he never had a parish he was in the upper echelons of the Church of England and was eventually asked to be Superintendent of a newly formed Sunday School at St. Anne’s Church in Lambeth, a post he held for ten years.
It was at this time when two boys in the Sunday School who were regular attenders failed to attend without warning. Surprised that they had not contacted the school, Edward went to the boy’s home and discovered that their father had died and their mother was seriously ill, and in addition there was no food in the house. The boys had eight siblings and they had been sent out on to the streets to beg for money to buy some food. The mother had done this as an alternative to the Workhouse which would have had resulted in the family being split up.
Edward went out and found the boys, brought them home and gave them food and money but to his horror he discovered that this family was just one of hundreds of orphaned children begging on London’s streets.
He was determined to do something about it and persuaded the high ranking members of the Church of England, including the then Archbishop of Canterbury, to provide food and shelter for orphaned children on the streets. This developed into the ‘Waifs and Strays Society’.
Edward Rudolf’s vision was to give poor and homeless children, not just food and shelter, but also a secure family environment, and he started to achieve this by opening ‘Cottage Homes’ that could accommodate 10 – 15 children with a Master and Matron who could act as parents. This was the start of the ‘Children’s Society’, and the Cottage Homes model was developed not just in London but in other parts of the UK and overseas. It was developed into providing nurseries, day centres, libraries and education centres.
Edward Rudolf died in 1933, but the society that he founded still drives forward his vision of a secure family life for all children. In the 21st century Social Reform has reduced the need for the Cottage Homes but the Children’s Society is now active in the political and legislative arena driving social reform with regards to child abuse, child trafficking, poverty and education.
Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me and do not stop them because the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’ (Luke 18 v 16)