ARTICLES: Mostly Ignored Voices
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What We Taught: Christian Education
in The American Episcopal Church, 1920-1980
Joanna B. Gillespie
From Anglican and Episcopal History,
Vol. LVI, No. 1 (March 1987)
An overview of what Episcopalians thought and therefore taught about Christian education in the modern era requires a dual lens: an institutional one and a cultural one. The church’s institutional stance toward transmitting the faith from generation to generation can ultimately be interpreted in any complete way only when it is possible to focus simultaneously on the cultural assumptions of the surrounding secular world and the interaction between them and religious institutions. This essay is a preliminary step toward such a reading, analyzing the Episcopal church and its culture, through education, in the twentieth century. It will survey the territory using, insofar as is possible, the dual lens. For example, at least one of the major things we “taught” (by example, or institutionally) was that Christian education was primarily the province of women and children. As a result of the general cultural devaluing of the “work” of women and children, religious education — once viewed as a primary tool for outreach — was dislodged from the central location it had occupied in the nineteenth century. Then, developing Sunday schools, building Episcopal church schools, and headmastering (or —mistressing) could still be viewed as an heroic activity.
Only once in the Episcopal church’s twentieth century did it direct the symbols and substance of power and authority in our culture — men, organization, and money — toward Christian education. That was during the 1950s — 1960s in the creation of what today would be called a “state of the art” curriculum (the only curriculum ever produced under national church mandate), The Seabury Series.
Some present-day Episcopalians may wonder, in passing, what became of it. No, Virginia, it was not an Edsel (Jack Snow, “The Seabury Series Was No Edsel,” in The Episcopalian
1973). It was at the time the most professional, skillfully designed Christian education curriculum possible, the product of the most creative minds in the Episcopal Church. The quest for an understanding of the organizational imperatives of that historic movement, of the cultural context in which it took shape, and of a possible interpretation about why there is so little visible residue provided the central organizing theme for this essay.
Such a focus, however, immediately reveals the Episcopal church’s historical continuum of ambivalence toward authority in regard to religious education, a continuum on which The Seabury Series
was merely the mid-twentieth-century manifestation. In this century alone, the Seabury education movement had a predecessor: “the Rev. John Suter was the Rev. David Hunter of the 1930s in the Child Study movement of the 1930s.” 1
And a successor, or next point on the continuum, may even now be germinating in a new Joint Christian Education Task Force commissioned by the 68th General Convention (1985) “to study the history and present state of Christian Education and recommend actions” that will improve the church’s “educational ministry” in the late twentieth century. Once again a national collection of experts will be convened to speak, presumably with a united voice, for the constituency of Christians identified as Episcopalians about religious education.2
Developing a profound understanding of “what we taught” requires both a wider and a broader context than reading curriculum published under Episcopal labels, the illustrative content of this paper. Eventually the church’s educational actions in this century must be analyzed within the prevailing climate of ideas and opinions out of which they emerged, since institutions and the people in them are in culture (and as Professor John Booty says, in history) as fish in water.3
Future study will finally make it possible to locate curriculum readings such as those in this paper within the web of complex interconnected cultural events in which we were both recipients and participants; future scholars will discern what shaped our thoughts, ideas, and reactions to Christian education (and everything else). “We must know a lot about the cultural context, the setting of the stage, before we can even begin to decode the message.”4
This essay will initiate such anthropological examination by looking at Episcopal Christian education through one set of cultural symbols on our historical horizon: the books on the topic of Christian education presently in Episcopal seminary libraries. What was available to shape the ideas and ideals of ordained institutional leaders through six decades of the present century constitutes a powerful paradigm of what we as an institution viewed as essential and important. What was not visible on the library shelves is perhaps even more revealing. A first finding is that currently in most of our seminaries, only books about
the topic of Christian education — its philosophy, its theology — have been preserved. Curriculum materials themselves, jettisoned from most seminary libraries over the years, have apparently not been considered legitimate intellectual resources for theologians, and are therefore usually not part of a library’s holdings in Christian education.
Actual teaching materials, when they have been preserved, are likely to be catalogued in special collections apart from a library, such as in the newly established Center for Teaching Ministries at Virginia Seminary, or in a given diocesan office.5
One seminary professor of Christian education explained the reasoning behind such a stance toward curricula: “We leave the actual curriculum materials and practical training [of priests] for the Diocese to finish. I have the Diocesan Director of Christian Education come in to talk about her experiences with various curricula. Our concern as a seminary is with the theology
of Christian Education. Once students understand that, they can make their own decisions about practical matters.”6
In this clear culturally shaped statement, abstraction occupies a higher place than concrete experience; the status of ideas is viewed as moving from the concrete to the universal or theoretical. Seminary students inevitably grasp the implication that theorizing about Christian education is more important (and built into the reward structure of grades) than actually doing it. This ranking of activities also carries gender implications: men theorize, women teach — at least in the past.
Other factors emerge from this survey of Episcopal seminary holdings in Christian education and give rise to the following caveats about any generalizations that follow. 1) “No attempt to get consensus.”
This phrase from an introductory note to The Episcopal Church and Education
(1966), a volume edited by Kendig Cully, an educational leader in that decade, might well be embroidered in Gothic script on a banner as the motto for the Episcopal Church. “[In this book, Cully wrote] the best minds of the Episcopal Church talk about various complex organizations and opportunities…[with] no attempt to get consensus, each contributor free to express his own views and organize his materials as he sees fit.”7
Most Episcopal parishes believe themselves (and are) authorized to express their own views of what is and isn’t important in this area, without reference to any centralized authority or body of doctrines and curriculum, or even to another Episcopal parish, near or far. Thus one of the things we taught, from our beginnings, is that educational unanimity or coherence is not a major institutional value. Episcopalians kneeling in church at their private devotions will be swathed in corporate words but deal with them in their own hearts as they choose — individually. Further, Christian education is perceived as belonging to that private realm of values and self-expression that relates more to family and home than to public corporate life. Choice about it is thus zealously protected as an idiosyncratic parochial “right.”
Though the Episcopal church is uniform through its liturgy, its polity is congregational; Episcopalians have never been as centralized as the Methodists, for example, in authority and decision making. Episcopalian institutional structure emerged during the post-Revolutionary War era when any hierarchical authority, especially if it smacked of being English, was unpopular, even “un-American.” Bishops were especially suspect. From its beginning as the first daughter of the Church of England, the Episcopal church’s individual parishes assumed the right — or the necessity, considering the weakness of Episcopal authority in the new nation — of shaping themselves. What they retained in common was the English church’s liturgy and prayer book. From the time organized Christian education programs began, in the very early 1800s, the decision to use any program of instruction outside the regular worship services and/or Sabbath school teaching materials themselves was a matter of choice (and self expression) by the individual parish and rector.8
Even after the founding of an official (but voluntary) General Protestant Episcopal Sunday School Union in 1826, use of materials published under that label was optional and spotty, as was reporting to a national office.
Lack of genuine corporatism in the Episcopal church is thus a confounding factor in any study of attitudes and materials relating to Christian education, though it is initially invisible because episcopal and ritual surface-uniformity masks the reality.9
A simple illustration from nineteenth-century Vermont, for example, shows two village parishes within six miles of each other — Christ Church, Bethel, and St. Paul’s, Royalston, — committed to totally different sets of Sunday school library books, ergo different educational goals and methods: one published by the General Protestant Episcopal Sunday School Union, the other by the (Episcopal) Society for the Promotion of Evangelical Knowledge established in the 1850s. Nor did parochial independence lessen as the nineteenth century waned. “A reliable book published in 1909 avers that two hundred different textbooks and lesson systems were then in use by Episcopal Sunday schools. In one diocese [alone] there were forty.”10
Although this historian neglected to identify his authoritative source, the numbers are symbolic and suggestive, if today we cannot treat them literally. Independent choice, parish by parish, as if there were no corporate national identity, has been characteristic of the Episcopal church’s approach to Christian education; a lack of uniformity about what was to be taught is itself a major organizational similarity.
Any picture of “what we taught” therefore remains a mosaic rather than a portrait. The reader must keep in mind that the illustrative glimpses of Sunday school materials in this essay are fragments of insight into the overall Episcopal education picture; it is a story of exceptions rather than rules, governed by “no attempt to get consensus” except in the one major effort of The Seabury Series.
Even in that case, as will be argued later, consensus was not the primary motivation; rather, massive modernization of the whole enterprise of Christian education — an emphasis on the personal psychological relevance of theological insights, presented experientially — now appears to have been a primary agenda for its adherents. In sheer volume of purchased curricula over the years, the Morehouse Barlow Company (beginning as the Young Churchman
Company in 1884), not an official church publishing company but catering primarily to an Episcopal market, has outsold all other religious education materials for Episcopal churches.11
A second caveat is that of the wider societal culture as our backdrop.
The task of the cultural historian according to Warren Susman, is “to discover the forms in which people have experienced the world, the patterns of life, the symbols by which they cope with the world. For no individual comes to an experience like some kind of Lockean tabula rasa,
he comes conditioned to receive experience in certain ways…” Human beings understand and shape a response to any idea, including the Gospel, through whatever mediums are available in a given era — “media.” And concomitantly, “in the course of confronting experience with existing assumptions or symbols, new forms are created or older patterns altered.”12
Late twentieth-century Americans cannot possibly look at the Bible or a prayer book, the actual physical books themselves, through the same eyes as a nineteenth-century frontier family. From the late eighteenth-century rise of the exciting new instructional movement gradually known as ‘Sabbath schools’ in England, the primary education tool was the Bible. Literacy in the Scriptures was literally a necessity for individual salvation, fueling the enthusiasm with which that new local domestic “mission” work was seized by armies of lay men and women…especially women. And from its inception, education for salvation required stories as explanatory curriculum, connecting “teaching points” with the culture of the listeners, i.e. Jesus’s use of the parables. Stories from a given period provide a cultural window into what we taught, offering suggestive clues about what was important, prescriptively and imaginatively, in any given era. The fact that story materials from earlier periods are largely unavailable in seminary libraries has to limit the student’s ability to perceive the connective tissue or interaction among the strands of the wider culture shaping that era, the religious issue involved, and its readers.
In the early twentieth-century mainline Protestant churches, stories promoting character education and an uncomplicated presentation of authority still prevailed. Nineteenth-century America had been a culture of production, so Sunday school materials emphasized Protestant-ethic virtues — as employers expected workers to exhibit them and secular fiction romanticized them. The character education story, often presented as heroic Christian biography, had just one plot: achievement through hard work and upright character. In the nineteenth-century economic world, diligence, frugality, and plowing every penny of profit back into the business were laudatory, self-sacrificing characteristics of those who succeeded. In the nineteenth-century Protestant Christian mind set, diligence in worship, Bible study, and prayer were expected to produce an equivalent spiritual success. Convergence between the values and ideals taught in and outside the church, despite the exercise of individual Episcopal parish selectivity toward materials and approach, was relatively straightforward — or so it appears from today’s vantage point.
The twentieth-century American ethos, however, was and is expressed in a culture of consumption.13
The virtues emphasized focus on self, rather than productivity in the material or literal sense. The once-vaunted “frontier” to be conquered and managed is now located inside one’s own head: finding one’s self,
not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, is what we teach. The dominance of self-fulfillment as the goal and personal self-satisfaction as the ideal today make character-education stories from Sunday school history sound quaint. To re-state this caveat, all curricula used in twentieth-century Episcopal parishes was (and is) under assault from the larger cultural emphasis on self.
The emotional impact of such a cultural context, our “stage setting,” interacted with, shaped, and altered both the experience of institutional authority for Episcopalians and whatever content was to be taught. This leads to the third caveat.
Episcopalians, by virtue of their education and economic location in American society, are especially close to,
in fact often embody, the culture’s deepest, highest longings and values.
In many communities across the land, even those with little obvious wealth and sophistication, people who worship in the Episcopal church are likely to be central in (or perceived as such) leadership, community standing, education, esthetic sensibilities, economic management and commerce. During the twentieth century, as the ethos of individualism has continued to become ever more embedded in our national culture, from grass-roots sloganeering to corporate boardrooms, Episcopalians have been among those in the culture who most exemplify and benefit from it. The American myth of individualism as individual choice is perhaps the major underlying, if largely unconscious, signifier in many (if not most) decisions about churchly matters, including religious education.
During the 1950s and 60s, an increasing psychologized cultural mindset pervaded both education and religion. Unconsciously at least, Episcopalians (and other mainline denominations) absorbed a version of religion that functioned as a form of social psychology or therapy, a way of “helping one cope” with life.14
Religious and educational discourse gradually, inevitably focused more on talking about how one felt
about God and religion, how one responded emotionally to the topic, than about
God or any religious abstractions such as ‘atonement’ or ‘grace,’ evolving into a psychological, more than theological or spiritual, language that both reflected and shaped the content.15
The mirror held up to white American middle-class culture in Habits of the Heart
(1985) summarizes the effects of this cultural evolution, in which Episcopal education and that of other mainline denominations participated, with two images: “Between them, the manager
and the therapist
largely define the outlines of twentieth-century American culture. The social basis of that culture is the world of bureaucratic consumer capitalism…which proffers a normative order of life, with character ideals, images of the good life, and methods of attaining it. Yet it is an understanding of life generally hostile to older ideas of moral order. Its center is the autonomous individual, presumed able to choose the roles he will play and the commitments he will make, not on the basis of higher truths but according to the criterion of life effectiveness as the individual judges it (italics added).” 16
A decade-by-decade look at ‘what we taught’ in twentieth-century Episcopal parishes, each operating solo within the stage setting of a broadly psychologizing American culture, will give us glimpses of the way in which the ideal of individualism — expressed as choices based on life effectiveness judged by individuals without reference to what the church might prescribe — came to dominate the educational mindset of Christian education leaders and seemed to be the relevant stance to take in The Seabury Series.
It also will remind us of the excellent intentions, historically appropriate and culturally valid, that contributed to today’s pattern of parochial isolationism in the 1980s. Episcopal thinking in the twentieth century has evolved, logically and inevitably, into a pattern of “home-grown” Christian education, indigenous only to the parish that designs or chooses it.17
The cultural attitudes shaping twentieth-century Episcopalians took education for granted, as a form of Episcopal birthright. But too-explicit or —didactic religious education was implicitly viewed by Episcopalians as bad taste, potentially inhibiting; children should grow up to be comfortable in an Episcopal church service where the liturgy itself would somehow do the real educating — unlike for example, the Presbyterians who seemed unabashed by didacticism. Enlightened contemporary Episcopalians wouldn’t inquire too closely into the religious beliefs held by one’s child, or friend, or parent; that would have been an invasion of personal privacy. Children, it was hoped, would do the proper thing and grow up Episcopalian, decent, respectable, and of course Christian, in that order.18
Further, Episcopalians shared the general cultural image of schooling as negative or boring, because of schooling’s association with drills, tests, and regimentation, instead of images of personal freedom and self expression. Episcopalians seem to have thought that Sunday school education should be as pleasant and winning as possible within a schooling paradigm.19
Upper middle-class white Christian Americans in general unconsciously dismissed Christian education as a matter of relative unimportance, unworthy of our best thinking and talent in the way that cancer research or automobile design are worthy of it. The one exception for Episcopalians was the glorious burst of curriculum building in The Seabury Series,
in the middle of a century indifferent to education except in response to societal crisis, or as a means to another end.
In the decade after the World War, many Episcopalians were using a curriculum series titled Christian Nurture
(Morehouse), Lester Bradner, associate editor (1867-1929).20 “The unfolding of personal character controlled by Christian habits and ideals”,
the series’ motive, required five interwoven elements known as “the Nurture Principles:” — information, memory work, devotional life, church loyalty, and Christian service. Biblical and prayer book literacy were to form a secure base on which to nurture a child’s developing trustfulness toward God and a desire to obey holy laws. By the fourth-grade level, memorization requirements undergirded this foundation; the epistle for Easter, Psalm 100, the books of the Old Testament, and the collects for 18th Trinity and for purity were the minimum required for students in that level — while the catechism, memorized, formed the substance of the fifth- and sixth-grade curriculum.
A reminiscence by a Sunday school pupil from Christ Church, Cambridge, Mass., recalled her rector in the 1920s as “acting like a stern schoolmaster” as he ran the Sunday morning instruction session, nevertheless instilling a sound, and enjoyable, knowledge of the prayer book, hymnal and catechism “by drilling us every Sunday from the pulpit, orchestrating the answers as from a cheering section.” 21
Similar recollections of Sunday school in the 1920s, recorded in the oral histories of other Episcopal churchwomen, suggest that Catharine Plumley’s remembrance was not unique nor irrelevant to our cultural picture.
The junior high level was perceived by Brander as “the heart” of the Christian Nurture
series, where “the Life [of the Savior, preserved through the ages by persecution, sacraments, preaching, and architecture could] reach…[down into] the pupil’s own dioceses and town and parish church.” 22
A strong note of ordering
and unanimity pervaded the instructions to teachers in the lesson plans. Questions had a logic, a reason for being formulated, and calmly authoritative answers. Sunday scholars were calmly fitted into the existing forms, world-view, and self-identity. Quoting again from Catharine Plumley’s Sunday school collection, “Sizeable classes for boys and for girls, kindergarten through high school, met in the old parish house on long benches, back to back with the next class, or…in church in rows with the teacher standing in front. In the early grades, weekly Christian Nurture Series
folders acquainted us with a Bible story or some exciting historical or missionary person under such titles as ‘Over the Snow at Forty Below’ — I can’t remember whether that was the great missionary doctor Sir Wilfred Grenfell or Bishop Rowe dogsledding in Alaska. Later such marvelous women as Miss Mary Batchelder, Mrs. Evarts [the rector’s wife], and Mrs. Edward S. Drown [wife of a seminary professor at ETS] taught serious courses on the Bible, Church history, and Missions.”23
But the emerging cultural ideal of the modern age urged self-fulfillment in the opposite direction, not through character-building but through idealizing one’s own unique personality. Harry Emerson Fosdick, the “Protestant prince of the pulpit,” pronounced the new culturally framed characterization of Jesus as “the champion of personality.”24
New, more vivid adjectives appeared in the burgeoning newspaper and magazine publications; personality could be described with interesting idiosyncrasies, whereas character could be dealt with journalistically only as strong or weak. The new direction was a refreshing release from the old apron strings of “character,” allowing citizens in the new century to shake off “emphasis on sacrifice (or the Arminian version of it, sublimation of self through godly works and rationalizations.”) If sacrifice was to be part of one’s future at all, in the 1920s, it should be for the higher self, not for some higher law. The titles of two books by the same writer, Orison Swett Marden, published in 1899 and 1921, respectively, are illustrative: At the end of the nineteenth century he published Character, the Greatest Thing in the World;
in the 1920s, Masterful Personality.25
In keeping with acceptable ideas of modernity, Professor Adelaide Teague Case emerged as the Episcopal church’s first nationally significant female Christian educator. Her landmark book, Liberal Christianity and Religious Education
(1924), blew a fresh breeze through the leftover pedanticism and heavy-handed authoritarianism she viewed as characterizing much Episcopal (and other denominations’) religious instruction. Both a symbol for and mentor to the first generation of female church leaders at the national level, she encouraged administrative skills and shaped the educational vision of the national board of the Women’s Auxiliary. 26
She signified the entry into Episcopal thinking of a newly articulated concern for the child and the world-view of environmentalism, the insights of progressive education and John Dewey. To her, religious education was in the business of helping the child unfold his own character through a unity of religious and moral forces, not drilling rote information as in the cheerleading sessions recalled above.
Case was also The Modern Woman in that she epitomized the new professionalism to women churchworkers, some being trained at St. Faith’s Deaconess Training School in New York City near where she taught at Teacher’s College, Columbia, and others in graduate schools of education. 27
(The word “professional” itself was eschewed in church-sponsored women’s higher education as too secular and, we today would see it, too ‘male’ in implication. 28
) If Case’s leadership was little known at the individual parish level, her achievement and inspiration to the first generation of directors of religious education was enormous. It swept away any lingering Victorian romanticism about the task of religious education implied in the title The Dawn of Religion in the Mind of the Child
(Edith E. Mumford. London: Longmans, 1916). One of those first-generation professionals, Avis Harvey, presently the curator of the Sherrill Resource Center at 815 Second Ave., responding to my question about what books had influenced her early work as a religious educator, replied, “It wasn’t a book, it was a woman!” 29
Objections to the task of teaching Sunday school were code, in that decade, for the phenomenon of multiple cultural impingements on — and evidence of cultural devaluation of — what had once been viewed as a worthy, even exciting, field for lay Christians. Teaching in church schools had, up to this time, been the only intellectually challenging role open to women in the institutional church. Case summarized the arenas open to the modern Episcopal woman. They still included education but also other areas of challenge: “Every Churchwoman can do these four things: She can through her own self-discipline help to purify the life of the Church. She can understand and take part in the Church’s worldwide task. She can actively support Christian education. And she can dedicate herself to the establishment of a world at peace.” 30
Idealized mothers in Victorian Sunday school stories had found the voluntary ‘career’ of Christian educator a welcome, vital outlet for their educated minds, 31
but in the modern world where women could be professionals or drive automobiles, along with many other things, Sunday school teaching was losing its glamor. People in the modern world had become “too busy” to teach Sunday school. If Betty Crocker, first appearing in the media in 1924, symbolized the revolution in housekeeping technology, Adelaide Case symbolized the changes in the modern Episcopal woman’s possibilities.
Like many things in the 1930s, religious education was afraid of being unmodern, in bondage to its past; its exciting new watchwords, favored by the professionals, were “functionalism,” “experience,” and “instrumentalism.” 32
Consumers found that the word “modern” itself (by which they envisioned something streamlined) described a popular new style in decorative motif and architecture; The Museum of Modern Art was founded in New York in 1934.
Fear caused by the uncontrollable anxieties of the Great Depression was addressed in the modern technological way (on the radio) by the new president in that same year. Christian educators such as William Clayton Bower reflected the cultural interest in personality. Perhaps “personality” seemed more manageable than character, considering the helplessness Americans were feeling in the secular world; or perhaps “personality” was merely a continuation of the 1920s media message about self as the new Holy Grail. 33
Women’s volunteerism was big business (even if no one took it seriously as “work”) and many Episcopalian women who had once found the social and community expression of their religious life through church activities began to take their church-trained talents and expertise into civic institutions — “women’s work” that would have been considered professional, if it had been paid for in cash. At the end of the decade, Hitler had invaded Poland and the film “Mrs. Miniver” touched moviegoers with the gallantry of Britain under terrible bombardment.
How much of this social turbulence caused by the Great Depression was discussed in Episcopal Sunday schools or in the adult education of that era — women’s missionary meetings or the Women’s Auxiliary — is hard to gauge because most such materials have not been preserved, although one title on Christian education shelves promoted Teaching Without Textbooks (Danielson, Frances Weld and Perkins, J.E., ed). Advanced, up-to-date views about religious education were summarized in Frances Rose Edwards’s Children & the Church, a Study of Information and Attitudes in the Protestant Episcopal Church
(National Council, Dept. of Religious Education, Church Missions House, N.Y. 1936). It demonstrated the church’s assimilation of education’s new scientific tools, through recommending tests in religious education, (Tests of Religious Thinking,
Elementary Form E, from the Association Press, or Whitley Biblical Knowledge Tests,
from Teacher’s College, Columbia, for example); measurements (Experimentation and Measurement in Religious Educatio
by Goodwin B. Watson, Association Press, 1927, for example); and objectives and methods (e.g. John W. Suter’s Open Doors in Religious Education,
Macmillan, 1931) — testimony to the professionalism of the new professional women religious-educators.
Books such as Mary C. White’s The New Testament and You
(Cloister Series, begun in the late 1930s, Morehouse Gorham) were praised by young Christian education professor Randolph Crump Miller because they “mak[e] use of the best scholarship [on the Bible] without losing touch with the experiences of the learners” (p. 109) — because they incorporated experience with didactic content and were [he implied] a step toward modernity. In his Guide for Church School Teachers,
he articulated in fully modern 1930s language the cardinal principles for each individual parochial choice. “Lesson materials must be carefully selected to meet a number of different standards and needs,” that is, fitted to the age and capacities of the various groups; they must have adequacy of method, be “life-centered,” teacher-friendly (not his phrase) and
theologically satisfactory to each local parish. “A course which satisfies Anglo-Catholics may not please Evangelicals.” 34
The new professional directors of religious education were writing materials for use in parishes that incorporated a variety of perceptive ways of connecting life and instruction, out of their own experience.35
For older Sunday schoolers, hero stories still abounded. Social problems such as the derogatory use of ethnic stereotypes (like Wop or Dutchy) were gently challenged in Tales From Many Lands
(Morehouse-Gorham, 1938), with stories about Sietta, “The God-Book Child” from Liberia, or Kiku, a Japanese silk worker. The message was that information about real people from other lands and cultures — people who were discovering Jesus through his emissaries whom the children knew and could identify with, in Cuba, Brazil, and Alaska — would obviate such crude and unChristian language. For all the merit in the moral issues, the tone was one of veiled didacticism.
A Sunday school story revealing incipient racial consciousness in Episcopalians featured some creative and sweet-tempered Southern black children, devising a makeshift playground in a vacant lot because they couldn’t play with the children behind the fence. The sign separating the two groups of children read “Private, for Children of Garden Apartments Only” — perhaps as close as the Christian author of the story could bring herself to come to the harsh inequalities experienced by white and black Episcopalians. The children behind the fence weren’t specified as white, and the narrator’s color was only implied through Negro dialect. The hero of the story turned out to be a young clergyman (presumably white since he used no dialect), the Reverend Mr. Gordon, who was stunned when he realized: “Of course those children ought to have a decent place to play…[with] swings, and…seesaws, and a slide.” “…I’ll send that snapshot [of their meager play yard] to the Bishop…and ask him for some money. He’s probably going to tell me that I can’t expect a playground when my people can’t even buy enough Prayer Books.” (p. 61). But the bishop responded, the poor children’s ingenuity was rewarded, and Father Gordon’s humanitarian insight was offered as a new kind of quiet heroism.36
The celebration of missionary work as a glamorous and heroic activity would last into the early 1950s, presenting children in that period with a romanticized view of religious work in exotic settings. 37
In an era when public school texts were still totally white Anglo-American ethnocentric, Sunday school materials had begun carrying the banner, however pallid by later standards, for broader racial understanding — along with memorization of the catechism and the collects. 38
In a society plunging into and recovering from World War II, technological and educational ferment bubbled. Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care
book and Seventeen Magazine,
new forms of media directed to specific markets, began to alter the backdrop. Continuing cultivation of the self gave birth to the Self-Help movement, although in this early manifestation it emphasized adjustment
to one’s role, to fitting into the American way of life rather than an emphasis on self-actualization
as it would in the 1960s version. American ex-military men were flooding into higher education as never before, thanks to the G.I. Bill, and then into the ‘lonely crowd’ of white-collar jobs. The Deweyan environmentalists who had been largely influential in Christian education up to that point were giving way to the developmentalists or maturationalists — emphasizing human nature and natural human growth. 39
At the same time, for the first time in this century, powerful male Episcopal voices in the church leadership were issuing a call for a national education product. 40
Episcopalians had been shocked to discover, in a survey of World War II chaplains, that G.I.s raised in the Episcopal church carried into war even less awareness of their religious identity (and seemed to care about it less) than other mainline Protestant Christians. Shaped by the larger culture’s view that looked to schooling as a way of responding to problems, the Episcopal church focused its alarm on Christian education. 41
This gave a mighty impetus and intensity of focus to the Department of Christian Education at the national headquarters in New York City. The Reverend John Heuss was appointed director, the department was expanded, and a new emphasis on developing the skills of group communication gained influence.
The Episcopal church’s seriousness about revitalizing Christian education was visible in the department’s request to the College of Preachers, at the Washington National Cathedral, that it suspend emphasis on preaching for three years and focus instead on teaching. As a step in that direction, the Warden, Canon Theodore Wedel, was persuaded to enroll in a summer training program in the laboratory for group theory and skills at Bethel, Maine. He and his wife, educator and lay leader Cynthia Wedel, “became completely converted” to the insights, and new interpretations of the Gospel, unfolded to them through the group life laboratory process. “It was a life-changing experience,” Cynthia Wedel recalled in her oral history that demonstrated ways churches themselves could become more effective communities — “Listening to each other with real understanding, nurturing each other and developing their own potential. Christian education shouldn’t just be pouring information into people, but enabling
Under the imprimatur of such major national Episcopal figures, Group Life Laboratories were promoted as major preparation for the new educational program; during the same period another ‘real life’ training program became a requirement for ordination: clinical training in hospitals, prisons, or mental hospitals. It is possible to wonder whether the incorporation of practical training for male seminarians had been influenced by the emphasis on practical experience already proved successful and useful in the women’s training schools (St. Margaret’s House, Wyndham House). In any case, group-life labs seemed to be the vanguard learning experience for clergy.
A new “relationship theology” continued amalgamating psychology into religion and extending the deconstructionist work on institutional authority. “Easy moralizing” was increasingly attacked as retrograde and simple-minded. Reuel Howe, the author of Relationship Theology, was accused of being too soft on sin, but the rejoinder was “how do you define sin?,” forcing a challenger away from traditional moral ground into new territory. In some prestigious pulpits, religious leaders became uncomfortable prescribing for others; the language in some Sunday school classes shied away from equations of religion with morality. 43
And in the home, in child-rearing itself, Spock pronounced the parental goal to be a child’s self
-reliance. Conscientious, highly educated Episcopalian parents were suddenly more fearful of making a child too dependent (controlling her too tightly) than of letting her out into the world at too vulnerable a stage.
The same impulse that romanticized Mickey Mouse produced acres of ineffectively anthropomorphic Sunday school nature stories. For example, a story titled “God’s Autumn Time” in the St. James Curriculum,
featured a talking leaf, who told Sandra, aged six, “Here I am, all dressed in green and gold, and you want to be dressed like me; but I have just been fussing because I am not dressed like you (in blue).” The leaf assured Sandra that “Mother Tree” told her “God dresses us leaves in the fall in colors, just to make the world beautiful for Him to look at…and by-and-by, when my dress is all changed to gold, God will send a big breeze which will blow me off the tree; and then I can dance for a moment or two just as though I were a happy child.” Her older brother Peter re-established reality in bluff terms. “How silly to talk with a leaf! Well, she’ll grow up after a while, like me.” The vignette closed with Peter’s compliment to autumn’s author: “Talk about picture-painters! God is the best one there is.” 44
The prevailing Episcopal self-image was encapsulated in an essay titled “Decently and In Order” in The Challenge of the Church,
a course for high school young people. 45
The answer to the question “Why are we Episcopalians?” seemed to be located in the profound response Episcopalians gave to St. Paul’s stricture about doing things “decently and in order,” according to this writer. “Deviation from the norm is simply bad form,” it explained confidently. Converts to the Episcopal church often cited “its feeling for worship,…the sentiment exuding from the Prayer Book” as the magnet that had drawn them into that church. “In this strange, double-faced, ambiguous, comprehensive, Catholic, Protestant, Episcopal Church, how can things be done decently and in order?
The answer is, ‘Just because its spirit is truly comprehensive.’…it is a Church which holds together in the midst of strife.” Today’s reader may wonder whether the writer actually answered his own question. Differences in ritual, matters of personal preference such as crossing one’s self or genuflecting, were dismissed as individual idiosyncrasies in the unified structure of public worship.
…”Episcopalians believe in the good life, and they stress the ethics of Jesus…[but] sometimes the difference between Episcopalians and other denominations lies in their attitudes toward cards, smoking, and other pleasures.” Acknowledging “a religious etiquette” that was often “slavish to traditions, even to Paul’s misguided tradition about women in the Church,” Episcopalians’ chief drawback, according to this benign view, was finally not personal but institutional: “They tend to forget that proper ceremonial is not a guarantee of salvation, and they forget that pure hearts can find God in many other ways.” Ceremonial and denominational pride was the only besetting sin of Episcopalians, the writer implied, and they could be redeemed through the liturgy — at its most profound spiritual level — because it was positively ennobling and far above such pettiness. The very form of the collects, “each expressing a single thought and written specifically for corporate worship,” had “a peculiar sound which is typical of the ethos of the Church.” This profound experience of public worship, combined with the “democratic government, leadership of elected bishops and freedom of belief”
of the Episcopal church’s polity, guaranteed the unique and irreplaceable self-identity of the 1940s Episcopalian — who, it was fondly implied, would never ultimately be content with any other form of worship. The italicized phrase (by me) was the unconscious indicator of Episcopalians’ increasingly privatized religious self-identity. The message encoded in this essay seemed to suggest that Episcopalians could kneel together, keep a surface order, and think what they liked — although the inclusion of the essay in the Sunday school lesson was clearly intended to make Episcopalians question themselves and their choices.
In the non-Episcopal world poverty didn’t disappear, and racial hostility exacerbated. There were some stories available in 1946 for Episcopal high-school juniors that raised hard questions about the social meaning of the Christian faith. The course “Thy Kingdom Come” included a story about Mother Jones, the labor organization heroine, and asked if a minister should discuss economic problems in his sermons, and advocate economic reforms? Why has the church at times been an ally of oppression? (p. 13) Will this world be a better place if he church does not
“meddle” in social and economic problems? (p. 14) A remarkably enlightened story about Japanese Americans wondered if racial prejudice had had any function in the national policy that “interned” them during World War II. A white girl refused the ministrations of a colored nurse to her dying brother, raising the question of stereotypes. “How do Negroes themselves feel about segregation? In light of the facts in this chapter, would you favor abolishing Jim Crow laws entirely? Separate but equal facilities — are they ever as good?” (p. 42)46
Readers of such stories today are forced to wonder why this line of ethical-social Sunday school material was given second place in the new curriculum, in deference to emphasis on intra-family psychological concerns.
A workbook on the Ten Commandments for junior Sunday schoolers dealt with the fifth commandment — Honor thy father and mother — precisely on the premise of respect for all in authority, and comfort in a world securely in place: God equals love, home, parents, civil authority, and spiritual pastors. “My church is my larger home. Here in the church the members of all God’s family meet and help each other. I will do my duty toward the church. I will help extend the knowledge of God’s love to all his Children, both in this country and throughout the world, that all mankind may be one great family…” The line for memorization was: “I know God’s Helpers are Holy, Therefore I will Honor them.” 47
Any confusion about the inequalities in the world could be countered with reassurance about the secure place Episcopalians held in God’s scheme of things.
A confirmation course by the Reverend Maurice Clarke, editor of the Cloister Series, provided an opening into the Episcopal classroom for new anthropological insight, inching toward a more relativistic stance vis-à-vis Christianity and non-Christian religions. In a chapter on how people worshiped God in olden times, a section titled “Queer Gods People Have Worshiped” asked for a “sympathetic appreciation of the forms of worship practiced by primitive people.” Contemporary missionaries were no longer so sure that “they
[the primitive religious beliefs] were all wrong and that an entirely new method of living must be imposed upon the people practicing them”
(emphasis added). Rather, students should recognize that in these other religions “there is both seeking after God and revelation of God” and the proper attitude toward such ‘strange’ worship should be that of “reverent appreciation, not scornful ridicule” (p. 8-9), a breath-taking change of assumptions and perspective for white upper-middle-class Christians. 48
Contributions from the professional women educators also continued to illuminate and shape existing curricula, e.g. Frances Young, working in California, wrote a course called “The World to Christ We Bring” for the fourth-grade Cloister Series. Climbers of the Steep Ascent
(Morehouse Gorham, 1943) by Mary Jenness, another DRE in California, broadened the canon of church heroes young Episcopalians should know: Augustine of Hippo, Calvin, Loyola, Cranmer, Wilberforce, Father Junipero Serra of California, Bishop White of the then-new Episcopal Church in the USA in the 1800s, and several twentieth-century missionary bishops. In popular culture, stories of an unlikely martyr (Lloyd C. Douglas’s The Robe
) were religiously appealing to adults, and an unlikely leader (Bambi
) to children.
A word emerged into new usefulness in the scholarly world, one that became increasingly important in educational and religious vocabularies: “value.” It was a concept eagerly taken up (even “over-used”) by individuals who wanted a way to talk about religious meaning “when they think they’ve consciously thrown all other external influences, traditions, and standards away.” Its new popularity was another sign of the assault on traditional and institutional sources of authority. However neutral the new term was intended to sound, “values” kept turning out to be more a code for personal needs and wants than a word for talking about ideas of racial or economic justice; values often sounded only the “empty language of the improvisational self.” 49
Not surprisingly, as Episcopalians struggled to keep their central footing among the swirling currents of modernism, neo-orthodoxy and sacramentalism regained some appeal. Dora Chaplin, a religious educator teaching at General Seminary, reinvigorated the stance that children could benefit from and participate in the sacraments, and should attend church with their parents. [The family-church partnership was also emphasized in the Presbyterian curriculum.] The symbolism of a family sitting in a pew together, like stair-steps, tapped a deep emotional response in Episcopal psyches and remained the idealized, nostalgic image through succeeding decades. “Although [in church school classes] we may be teaching pious or so-called religious subjects [topics and words], we are not necessarily helping the child to grow nearer to his God. Religion cannot be communicated through the printed page,” she wrote in 1948.50
Her vision of the “sacramental life” was nearly mystical and profoundly moving: “the individual child accept[ing] the offering of God’s own self through…the simple acts of washing and feeding, made holy in baptism and eucharist.” … “The church school teachers’ work cannot be separated from the purpose of the whole church which is the people of God,” she pronounced, placing Christian education on a peer level with priestly functions in that pre-women’s ordination age.51
As a first step in preparing the whole-people-of-God called Episcopalians, a new Church’s Teaching Series for adults was produced by some of the most creative intellects in the church, on topics such as doctrine, polity, scriptures, history, and tradition; they were published by the newly established arm of the national department of Christian education, Seabury Press. But even as this national curriculum plan was initiated, the Episcopal church itself (as expressed through the questioning voices of individual priests within it, not through any corporate change in policy) sounded less clear about its institutional role. Parental and priestly authority were both being “dethroned” in favor of other societal institutions, as well as within the family sanctuary itself.52
Episcopal families were finding it harder to instruct their carefully nurtured individualist children about obligations to group and community. Story after story in the Sunday school books conveyed the implicit message, “it’s up to you, young student…” “it’s your choice” to decide what’s right and what’s wrong, for Christ or against him — although the negative choice was often synonymous with “against the church.” Free choice was becoming the unstated but powerful cultural ideal about all decisions, including those of children, except for the very youngest, and even Junior was no longer forced to eat spinach if he spit it out.53
Episcopalian women, white and black, had about two choices in the 1940s, it seemed, unless poverty or divorce forced mothers to work every day for pay.54
They could marry, or they could be teachers and nurses. The adventurous few who followed a religious call into professional church work and became DREs were admired as professionals, in a culture that respected professions, and as highly educated women occupying a position uniquely close to the clerical centers of power in the institutional church.55
Today it appears that the Episcopal church of the 1940s was, all unaware, heading toward a collision with cultural movements on three internal fronts — education, women, and race.
The Women’s Auxiliary, the major organization of Episcopalian women, and its philanthropic ‘foundation’ funded entirely through women’s own financial expression of thanksgiving, the United Thank Offering, were building up to a kind of declaration of independence within the institutional structure. In most women’s minds, they were still merely demonstrating devotion, administrative competence and financial skills to the church.56
The thought that God would call women to challenge gender stereotypes of ordination had not yet crystallized. Meanwhile the churchwomen were preparing themselves, educating themselves (though few of them would then have referred to it as “continuing education”) to a wider world view through Mission Study Programs. A flood of printed program materials distributed from the national education secretary (“no one used the word director, in those days — we were all secretaries”) in the New York office tied Episcopal women together through the Women’s Auxiliary and subconsciously prepared them for expanded roles in the world and the church, even though such was not a declared goal.57
The World War II generation hurried to catch up: for the women, through producing children and mastering casserole cookery (the introduction of international cuisine into America’s middle-class kitchens); for the men, in terms of cars, careers, and what the media had convinced them was the Good Life. Colleges and universities graduated the largest classes in their history, thanks to the GI Bill that democratized access to higher education as never before. In 1954 the Supreme Court struck down the separate-but-equal doctrine of segregated education which had never been equal.
At the national level of the Episcopal church, The Seabury Series
had begun to bloom. In spite of concerns that what the curriculum designers were doing “wasn’t religion, but psychology,” significant clerical and educational voices were helping skeptics identify the application of group dynamics to Christian education with the action of the Holy Spirit. 58
New questions about the religious-education task of parishes were cast in a sophisticated evangelical tone. “What religion are the people in this parish actually living by, in their day-to-day relationships? Is it the religion of the church and the Gospel, or is it a secular version of Christian principles?” 59
If Christian education before World War II was perceived, stereotypically, as relying on rote memorization and traditional content — if that was the kind of Christian education that had not seemed valuable to the Episcopalians who fought that war — experts could now argue it was because the earlier Christian education content had been too disconnected from today’s lives and experience, focused backward on remote times and situations. Relevance and modern (psychological) insights would make the difference. 60
A huge expenditure of Episcopal talent, time, and money, based on the most enlightened educational theory available, was shaping the new curriculum whose thrust was to be experiential learning, relevance and insight. In 1952 David Hunter replaced John Heuss as head of the department of Christian education, and by 1955 curricula for grades one, four and seven (complete graded materials by 1957). The budget of this one national department of the church bureaucracy, to use a thoroughly American measure of commitment and “value,” was nearly $450,000 by the end of the 1950s.61
The major new excitement was about lay, i.e. adult
education. Thirty weekend conferences for laity — Parish Life Conferences — were held in 1953, and Adult Leadership Training became the base-line component of the entire program for Christian education in parishes as well as for leadership at the national level.62
(The “laity” here included large numbers of men, for the first time in this century. The education work and training previously done by churchwomen through their national network was perceived as something separate from, not related to or equated with, this new adult-education emphasis). Since Sunday school children experienced religion through the adults in their lives, adults’
education and experience in the religious life should be central in the new curricular approach. Excellent new audio-visual materials were also developed and produced.
“Family worship” was essential — a new organizational form crucial to the theology of the Seabury process providing (or reflecting) the cultural motto of Togetherness. Intelligent adults knew that the actuality of middle-class family life was rarely as “together” as the family looked, sitting in the pew. Thus family dynamics seemed to be the field for religious reflection and discerning of the action of the Holy Spirit, rather than societal structures and institutions. The old deeply held American belief was alive and well in the new curriculum of the mid-twentieth century: If individuals straightened out their own hearts, family, community and everything else would automatically straighten out. A fascinating question to be explored in the future is why Episcopal curriculum designers went against the prevailing grain of educational thought by focusing on adults rather than children.
In this vignette for an adult study program, the child was important primarily as material for the adult’s self-examination: “Dorothy, 4 yrs old, treasures an old rag doll…from her grandmother on her father’s side. A beautiful new expensive doll arrives from her grandmother on her mother’s side, whom she has never seen. The child shows little interest in the new doll and continues to play with the old one. Her mother is deeply hurt and expresses her resentment by throwing the old doll away. Dorothy refuses to be consoled.”63
For the lay man and woman, and not a few clergy, difficulty with such experiential anecdotes resided in the directions given to leaders about how to handle them: “The particular way
…a situation like this is resolved is not the focal point of religious concern…religion is concerned with the meaning
of the mother’s ill-tempered act as it affects the child’s growth and capacity to become a person…How does an understanding of the Christian Gospel come to us as we grow in experience? From the standpoint of…the Christian faith…what does experience teach?”64
Learning was to emerge from reflecting on experience.
The refusal of leaders using this new approach to conclude with a didactic, morally explicit point — the mother was wrong and should ask the child’s forgiveness — was maddening to some Episcopalians in the 1950s, intellectually and religiously challenging to others.
Episcopalians’ culturally engendered response to anything new and up-to-date initially predisposed them to welcome the new curriculum. A male diocesan director of religious education in the diocese of New Jersey wrote a detailed memorandum in June 1955 urging his fellow clergy, “Don’t be afraid to use the books [the new Seabury Series
]. They are new and different, but…can readily be understood by the average educated adult. If they are recognized as different, in their method and aims, teachers will try to grasp these and cooperate with the editors.” After all, he reminded his correspondents, these new courses had been carefully tested and were “the result of three or more full years of experimental use in typical parishes, under very carefully directed pilot conditions”— thus clearly fulfilling accepted cultural expectations about the scientific validation of any product, from breakfast cereals to vacuum cleaners. Of course any parish attempting them for the first time should try to give the new courses every prescribed condition that would let them succeed: they should have a “Family Service, a parents’ weekly class, plans for teacher training meetings, a central core of concerned persons with real spiritual zeal for souls” (preferably alumni from the Parish Life Conference weekends designed to create such groups) plus “fifty clear minutes for class work and a classroom observer to assist the teacher.” 65
As an afterthought, he hoped users could give each class a separate room in which to meet; standards of the best secular schools should be incorporated into the Sunday school, a comparison that spurred a parish-house and education-building boom.
There was an alternative, of course, to such an adventurous possibility. Out of all other available Sunday school teaching material, Father Hoag gave his “blanket recommendation” to the new series designed by the Morehouse-Gorham Publishing Company as competition for The Seabury Series,
their Fellowship Series.
“They are completely ‘Churchly,’ [read “safe”]…their roots go back through several revisions to the well-proven Christian Nurture Series.”
He suggested that parishes choosing the Fellowship
materials might view them as “interim” courses, that “may well serve until the parish is able to start on The Seabury Series,”
because they too [the new Fellowship Series
] would “prepare teachers for later use of the newest ways.” Any parish wanting progressive Sunday School materials in the 1950s had a riches of choice, through the standard, familiar way of teaching the updated Christian Nurture
materials tipped this diocesan DRE’s advice slightly in that direction. Any priest who wanted guarantees of a particular curriculum’s soundness could be assured by “the graded sequence of curricula in the Fellowship Series,”
a cultural measure unassailable in the 1950s. [It was also a standard aimed for and eventually reached by The Seabury Series
The arguments for and against both new curricula illustrate their reliance on and shaping by contemporary culture’s terms of approval and disapproval: scientifically tested, specific directions for application, even (implied) guarantees of success.
The newly issued Seabury Series
Teachers Manuals in 1955 were greeted with dismay: They contained no structured lesson plans. Surely teachers who hadn’t been to seminary or weren’t already professionals couldn’t be expected to manage without step-by-step directions. Meanwhile, opposition to the new materials appeared in an aggressive celebration of administrative order and the authority derived from predictability. “This Sunday School is Efficient,” a laudatory article trumpeted in 1958: “No detail is too small for consideration in this parish’s orderly plan for Christian Education.” Christ Church, Austin, Minnesota, had instituted a family service, “making it more convenient for families to worship together at one time,” records were well administered by the rector and an education committee, and parents basked in the sight of the rising generation as it streamed down the central aisle of the sanctuary following the crucifer to the classrooms, after the Second Lesson. Their choice of curriculum, after much deliberation, was the Episcopal church Fellowship Series.67
Their process of choice — openness to the study of all new materials, convenience, visible family unity, and efficient organization — was based on values praised equally in the non church world, another example of business values competing for the soul of Episcopal Sunday schools.
The Seabury Series
was clearly not every parish’s cup of tea, although no one curriculum had ever been. Although about one-third of the parishes in the Episcopal church were using Seabury
materials by 1955, the church, along with all other institutions, was shaped culturally to believe that volume of use spelled success. Indeed, market conditions validated business expectations about such an expensive corporate product. And by that standard Seabury
producers were put on the defensive. Perhaps one reason for parish dissatisfaction with the new curriculum was the demanding self-education required of the adult who would teach The Seabury Series:
He or she had to engage in active reflection on his or her own real life in the light of the Gospel, rather than relying on a semiautomatic process (as the authors stereotyped their competition) of prepared questions, doctrines, attitudes, and practices. But on the other hand, open-ended situations for discussion, intended by the Seabury
designers to allow room for pupils’ self-
discovery, seemed frighteningly unauthoritative to adults formed by questions that always had answers.
After the General Convention of 1958 the department of Christian education responded to a message that might have been a slap on the wrist, or a friendly admonition about responding to the consumers: Develop lesson plans for this brave new curriculum. Perhaps, unwittingly and with the best intentions in the world, the Seabury
curriculum designers had expected expertise to do the age-old work of wisdom. Brilliant as the overall concept was — incorporating new levels of psychological awareness and connections with the Gospel into the experiences and struggle of daily living — the approach was unfamiliar, even dangerous. 68
“You’re not teaching them right from wrong” was a standard complaint to the rector or the DRE, those Sundays in the 1950s. Responsively, a fourth-grade revision in 1958 was titled “Right or Wrong?” But a simple matter of moral codes
would not be enough, the teacher’s manual warned. “Rather, in each situation…God is calling all of us, adults and children alike, to live faithfully…” Eventually, an enlightened conscience would be “one of the places where the Holy Spirit is known to us, guiding us on our way through life.”69
“But you don’t even make them memorize the Ten Commandments any more,” parents agonized. “How will they know what to do?”
Sources of certainty parents thought they cherished, or remembered painfully from their own childhoods, seemed to have melted away, even though in the new curriculum the entire lore of Bible and prayer book were incorporated under the category “Heritage and Resources.” Perhaps to some anxious ears the Bible and “the church’s voice” didn’t sound the way it had, because the moral tone was relative and undidactic. Perhaps, also, there was a substantiative difference in the amount and weight of authority given to “anything traditional” in the new approach. Seabury designers wrote brilliantly for those psychologically attuned and sophisticated Episcopalians who were able to welcome fresh ideas and were educated enough to take pleasure in freedom from memorization. The anxieties of other Episcopalians, however, with other needs and expectations, were not addressed in the Seabury
conception — nor were the issues of wider corporate identity and societal injustice.
Signs of an internal department of Christian education struggle appeared, over whether and how to make new curriculum more appealing (saleable) to parishes. The national office itself reorganized, in 1958, into two segments, a leadership training division — adult-focus — and a curriculum division — child focus.70
Former directors of Christian education, e.g. Professor Patricia Page, of CDSP and the Reverend David Perry, recently appointed director of education for ministry and mission at the national headquarters, today gave high marks to the educated lay leadership resulting from The Seabury Series.
Lay Christian development in the 1950s was perhaps a contributor to, and a religious basis for involvement in the social-justice issues that emerged during the racial upheaval of the 1960s and the anti-Vietnam War protests of the 1970s.71
education had served a yeasty purpose but not one previously associated with the phrase “Christian education curriculum.” During the 1950s, a decade full to the brim with incipient explosions, it was a revitalizing spur to many adults even as it was shifting the ground beneath the children. And black Episcopalians would have experienced very different realities and priorities in Christian education. Many of them felt increasing impatience with white America’s blindness. Unlike white Episcopalians they were already aware of the young black Baptist minister who was to become the prophet of twentieth-century American Protestantism. Episcopal professional women, DREs, took another step in professionalizing themselves by establishing their own Association of Professional Women’s Church Workers in the 1950s, and pushing for legislation of a canon that would license professional women workers directly to the bishop of the diocese where they were employed. They also persuaded the national church to establish an apprenticeship program to allow young women college graduates a year’s exploration of a career in parish, university or social agency “ministries.”
Episcopal publications in that decade document an eager search for connectedness: “dynamics of,” “clue to,” “idea of…” For the first time aging
was a published topic. During the ‘50s, it now appears, the Episcopal church was shoring up a center that could not hold at the same time it was moving the sandbags away from the pilings of tradition and observation: “There is no such thing as the
Christian education, apart from the situational matrix in which the church develops its pedagogy from generation to generation…the dogmatic realities such as there being one Gospel, one Lord and Savior — these are taught by the church in its various branches according to the understanding of them in each given time and place…The Christian search for an education produces in any generation whatever kind of education is required and indicated by the things most surely valued and believed in the various companies that call themselves Christian.” 72
Contextual preoccupation, the wider mood of the ‘50s, here articulated the cultural reality that had characterized Christian education from its inception: People create the kind of Christian education they want, shaped as they are by the culture itself.
Some Episcopalians in the 1950s felt called to enlighten and modernize Christian education. Others felt they were being cast adrift from any recognizable religious landmarks. What was valued educationally during that decade seemed to encompass a spectrum ranging from the most advanced and experimental educational theory to some sort of magic pill that would painlessly turn children into faithful ‘Sunday morning Christians’ like their grey-flanneled parents. 73
With the national Episcopal curriculum effort receiving less than resounding affirmation from its own denomination, the professional leadership allowed itself to be drawn away from The Seabury Series
into other professional-education activities. Ann McElligott’s analysis reports: [by 1960] “The staff was turning increasingly to research and design activities about current educational theory and methods,” in other words, into professionalism — where a lifetime of professional expertise could receive professional reward and recognition. As major energies were no longer engaged in the production of a distinctive denominational curriculum, ecumenical and secular interests expanded proportionately. 74
Even so, the national Christian education department had listened to its critics, and late revisions of various parts of the curriculum were published. For example, a student reader for junior high (confirmation) students included interpretive material on the clinches of adolescent life: “I can’t do it,” “No one cares about me,” “Nothing I do matters,” “What’s the use?” These were imaginatively linked with up-to-date writings about Episcopal heritage and personal religious experience — of prayer, of faith, of charity.75
A reader, What Is Man?,
part of the tenth-grade curriculum, drew on current topics in essays titled “Who Am I?” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “To My Son the Teen-age Driver” by Henry G. Felsen, and “Reflections on Selma,” by a student at Episcopal Theological Seminary, Jonathan Daniels, participating in a Freedom Ride with another seminary student, (now the Reverend) Judy Upham.
National Christian education staff services to parishes changed in the direction of consulting on a variety of issues related to Christian education, rather than the former focus of advocacy for the Seabury
curriculum. One member of the national department characterized the shift from “We have a program to sell you” to “How can we help you?”76
Organizationally, the once-dominant department of Christian education had become the focus of internal competition from other divisions within the national church bureaucracy. In 1963, the Reverend David Hunter resigned — an action that may have signaled a readjustment of the bureaucracy’s “radar” away from education toward social issues.77
Education as a topic dimmed, suddenly less compelling an image than engagement with the gospel on the mean streets of racial ghettos. Many Episcopalians were belatedly opening their eyes to the sin of racial injustice, perhaps as reluctantly as their forebears twenty years before had confronted economic injustice during the Great Depression.
A few months before the riots in Newark, Detroit, Watts, and Washington, D.C., a visual illustration of the church’s inability to foresee the imminent explosion of black people’s frustration illuminated the cover of the Christian education department’s excellent magazine Findings
(created to disseminate and encourage the new thrust of The Seabury Series
curriculum). The photograph featured a little white Sunday school girl holding hands with an equally well-dressed little black Sunday school girl, evoking white Episcopalians’ fond belief in ecclesiastical harmony between the races. After the riots had forced Christians everywhere to re-examine their own prejudices, money in the church’s national program was dramatically redirected. As a result, the department of Christian education was reduced to a holding operation — one might say, to a shadow of its former self.
In responding to the urban crisis, the women of the church leapt to the forefront, demonstrating the worldview their leadership had developed through their national education program. Churchwomen had carried on “their” work in that arena allotted to them within the corporate ecclesiastical structure. Now, confronted by the largest social issue of the times, the Episcopal Church Women rose magnificently to the occasion. The entire United Thank Offering, nearly $5 million raised over the three previous years, was placed at the service of Presiding Bishop Hines’ Special Program in 1967.78
Women of that leadership group remember with understandable pride that they were the first group of Episcopalians to respond, so wholeheartedly and in such massive financial terms, to Hines’s challenge.79
From an educational perspective, it was a portentous moment. Episcopal women and “women’s work” were not again to wield that kind of economic and organizational power. It was as if the tremendous stream of energy, talent, and leadership women had been offering to their church — other avenues of leadership within the institution blocked to them — had massed behind the internal churchly barrier until it simply flooded over the top. When the national organizational structure of churchwomen’s work changed, in 1967 (the name change itself a symbolic statement, from Women’s Auxiliary
to Episcopal Church Women), and as the social roles of women outside the church changed, a whole new configuration for women within the church had to evolve.
The remnant Christian education department continued to center its efforts on lay — adult — ministry in the world. One of its final products for the education of the young was a series of six position papers, in 1966, relating the most recent child development materials from Piaget and Bruner to the task of Christian education. 80
The document was a resource to be used with other resources, scholarly and theoretical. The positive, lasting legacy of the Seabury Curriculum
was trained laity; the negative, and persistent, result was a lacuna in institutional Christian nurture: focus on the child. Any vacuum in Christian education at the national level could in part be a response to the individualistic path pursued by the parishes. The logical and dynamically positive replacement ideal for Seabury Series was that each parish would ultimately develop and implement its own version of an educational program, “grow their own” curriculum — if it didn’t turn to the materials produced by other denominations. 81
But the perception of the parent in the pew or the Sunday school class room was that the national leadership voice of their church was all but silent about the children in its body.
Through what had seemed at first to be an outpouring of reform energies in the 1960s, flower children and hippies came to symbolize the decade. It is now apparent that the challenge they mounted against the values of their parents’ generation did not make the nation a kinder, more humane place but were in part the result of what we taught about individualism: Each person certainly thought he could “do his own thing.”
the phrase Robert Bellah and associates coined to describe the era and the mindset, sounds like a self-canceling phrase — an oxymoron. The contradiction between the terms describes two coexisting aspects of an individual’s life. One is the part where each individual makes all his own private decisions about how to express himself, e.g., whether to have quiche or low-calorie nouvelle cuisine
for dinner, which church to attend and which new appliance to buy. “Individualism” in personal, consumer-decision terms had never been more accessible. But a person can be totally autonomous in internal decisions, free from any thoughts of obligation to or relationship with the primary institutions of society — family, religion, and education — only at the cost of surrendering all decisions affecting the externals of one’s life to the “experts” — the second intertwined and contradictory element in today’s personality. It is bureaucrats and managers who actually manage the public dimensions of citizens’ lives: salaries, wages, taxes, zoning requirements, health certificates, regulations. Habits of the Heart
linked the “ultimate achievement” of individualism in our heads, but system-managed conformity and lack of autonomy in our daily lives, with the therapeutic mindset endorsed by the amalgamation of psychology with religion in the national culture and our individual psyches. Episcopalians’ unconscious adoption of therapy as a technique, a language, and a mindset, in Christian as well as secular education, seems to have contributed to (as well as have been shaped by) the “ultimate achievement” of bureaucratic individualism. Without so intending, Christian education in our individual parishes helped individuals disentangle themselves from emotional or spiritual dependence on tradition, institutional authority, any community of fellow believers, even the parishes themselves.
Beginning as early as the 1940s, certainly by the time Group Life laboratories were at the height of their popularity, therapy and theology began holding hands in the rector’s office. The minds on the cutting edge of Episcopal clerical leadership, as in other mainline denominations, had assimilated new insights and perspective from psychology and psychoanalysis into their professional work as religious leaders. At the time it had seemed highly appropriate, by cultural standards of what was apt: Therapy relationships and therapeutic authority were based on knowledge and scientific training, not merely on moral and religious values about which there could be personal disagreement and ruptures. Such version of religious leadership was “easier” (because culturally conditioned) to communicate, and more helpful in a society that had come to view recourse to moral values as old-fashioned.
The therapist-client relation offered an up-to-date balance between intimacy and distance, an enlightened model for clergy-lay relationships in a world that had long vanquished the Old Country Vicar-Dutiful Parishioner model. Besides, also in response to cultural expectations, the priest was no longer just a sacramental leader but also expected to be an expert in administration, counseling, planning and budget development. New theology in Honest to God
(J.R. Robinson) and Your God is Too Small
(J.B. Phillips) popularized the stance of discarding the old and exploring the new. With therapeutic understanding as the basis of interaction, a totally ‘free’ self could decide what he or she felt like doing; the ultimate language of approval on a vestry decision or about a Christian education matter was found in the jargon of the times: “That feels right to me.”
Agonized inner dialogue — questions with no answers — were the contemporary message of a story about teenage suicide in the tenth-grade What Is Man?
(1966). Why would anybody be so dumb as to go and shoot himself when he had all that Jim had? Did God really make us free, free enough to do something that hurt only us, not anyone else? The institutional question was whether a suicide should be given a church burial. If everything’s an escape, then what’s real? The only expression of faith in the story came in the tentative words of a teenage girl, ultimately relying on her own inner authority: “If I really believed in God — you know, really and truly believed in God — and lived the kind of life I should and did the things I ought to do, then maybe I could say God was real.” The narrator’s conclusion was sardonic, tremulous nonchalance: “we all end up there some day; …that’s the way it goes…you win a few, you lose a few, and some are called because of rain.” Even so, quintessential human longing made him add, “But I wish I knew His plan for me.” 83
The story meant to bring to verbalization the students’ deepest fears as a means of stimulating religious self-awareness; it stands as a cultural artifact of the 1960s, the teenage narrator utterly alone, trying for brave cynicism but wanting some kind of reassurance from a God for whom he had no words.
A particularly grim symbol of authenticity based solely on self was the 27-year-old white woman who attempted to assassinate President Ford in the mid-1970s. Squeaky Fromme was not, as Time
magazine suggested, an “amoral freak” but a product of the value shift that led to “shedding all the guilt feelings” and “letting it all hang out” — from sex and resistance to authority, to acting out feelings of violence. She’d discovered her true goal in life after becoming a flower-child: “to find something exciting, and do something that felt good…I didn’t, I wouldn’t adjust to society and the reality of things…I’ve made my own world…It may sound like an Alice-in-Wonderland world, but it makes sense.” “Thousands of her peers made love, not war, in that era, not because love was a good value and war a bad one, but because it ‘feels good’ to make love and it doesn’t feel good to be wounded or killed — unless the sadistic act, as in Squeaky’s case, also ‘felt good’ and then it too could be rationalized and valued by the actor as equally liberating.”84
Even the Welcome Wagon that greeted white middle-class newcomers to suburban American cities proffered information about the churches in the newcomer’s community in terms of self-interest; choosing the right one, and attending it, could assist the new arrival in meeting his or her own kind of people and forming the right (meaning useful or instrumental) relationships.
Americans having exalted individualism above other cultural values, what emerged in the 1960s was a society of isolated (if in their own heads suitably autonomous) individuals. In Episcopal churches the new field of situational ethics and “the new morality” were some of its expressions. In the wider society, “For the first time in American history…the traumatic implications of true pluralism began to be realized.”85
No wonder the 1970s became the “Me Decade.”86
In the Episcopal church, women, who had absorbed the institutionalized values of how one made one’s voice heard and which organizational role really counted, streamed to the seminaries. Some even began to earn the right to serve as ordained leaders in answer to what was then a lonely, but undeniable, call. In urban parishes, religious education was primarily carried on by adults pursuing their hitherto-underdeveloped religious selves. At the opposite end of the chronology, however, far fewer Episcopal parents took it for granted that they must “get their kids to Sunday school;” parental hearts were apparently no longer convinced that “anything really important” was going on in church education programs. At least they did not apply to Christian education the same vigilance they maintained toward vitamins and the dentist.
Within the context of “bureaucratic individualism,” two strains of development began to be visible in Episcopal and other mainline Protestant churches. There was a renewed interest in, and emphasis on, “story” — rather than on doctrine and theological abstractions.87
Our own church’s example was the initiation of the Episcopal Women’s History Project at the end of the 1970s, a “story-collecting” group of scholars and feminists, lay and clergy women. The organization was both an intellectual response to the women’s movement shaping the times, an attempt to re-shape the written record (the materials of education from which future generations will be instructed) and
an emotional one, a longing to connect with a mythic past within the religious institutional identity. Autobiographical narrative once again became precious (functional) as it fleshed out the cultural rules and abstractions by which previous generations of Christian women had lived.
The second line of development, leading to new educational and service programs such as hunger ministries and work for the homeless, grew out of an increasing discomfort among prosperous suburban Episcopalians who were in the predicament of unparalleled materialism — the prosperity of the righteous. Mainline Protestants including Episcopalians had found ways during the twentieth century to exercise Christian faith in a manner that was materialistic in lifestyle, individualistic in expression, and divorced from matters affecting daily life at basic levels. The Gospel proclaimed in these churches had not been particularly Good News to the poor, hardly mentioning them except as recipients of the overflow, “the excess of the well-off’s excess.”88
Thanks to the American trauma of the 1960s, however, a ‘fat-cat’ image rested uncomfortably on many conscientious, educationally awakened adult Episcopalians. At least part of the motivation for expanded adult education offerings in parishes of all sizes and locations was a genuine anxiety about the need to deal in some substantive — educational — way with issues of poverty, hunger, and global awareness.
Even parishes that previously had no particular adult education began on-going Bible study groups; adults found renewal in the Cursillo movement or in charismatic worship, in prayer groups that experienced consciousness-raising and community-building similar to that of nineteenth-century evangelical groups. For a time many parishes enjoyed an adult forum on Sunday mornings, perhaps the lowest-common-denominator of adult education programs, but something that offered at least a current-events commentary or discussion group. Even the TV-type “interview” of fellow parishioners served community-building and educational functions.
Women, formerly the chief carriers of education in both secular and religious spheres,89
were questioning their traditional function, that of transmitting culture to the next generation. Culturally the impact of the women’s ordination issue in the 1970s, from the “irregular” ordination of 1974 to the canon law change in 1977, was more “educational” to the church membership than any curriculum. Women themselves entering the formerly male clerical role struggled to find some balance between identifying with the male version of priesthood and finding ways to express their cultural shaping as females, within the institutionalized patterns of priest and parochial leader. “Women’s work” in parishes suffered a concomitant decline in status, numbers and vitality as large numbers of women clerics, following their professional brethren, turned their backs on “women’s work” and Sunday school education.
In spite of the educationally diffused fragmentation and individualism in the Episcopal church, its members found themselves at least partially sustained by ritual. “Ritual can achieve integration on the external
social-interaction level” between and among individuals participating in that ritual who otherwise share no consensus of ideals — as Episcopalians differ on issues such as nuclear disarmament, Social Security, or the new prayer book. What continued to sustain the Episcopal church is the shared symbolic system, the liturgy, that exerts a common influence on worshippers, from which or into which each individual’s belief system can be elaborated.90
John Westerhoff’s contemporary thesis about Christian education was that liturgy itself is and should be the primary form of Christian education.91
Locally, particularly, by the end of the 1970s, “homegrown Christian education” appeared the logical, sometimes only, stance. ‘Home-grown’ refers to the process of intentional active development of a religious education program in the local congregation…[that is]…the very life of that congregation…it is ‘grown at home’ as opposed to a purchased package.”92
The powerfully affirming characteristic of such indigenous programming is its emphasis on the unique contributions and creativity of the local congregation, out of its perception of its own calling to ministry in its own setting. The danger is that, since a given parish has little perception of relationship with other Episcopal parishes, an individual parish may assume it has no peers. Its own uniqueness keeps it from relating to, or needing to relate with, any other parishes. Meanwhile, traditional materials, derived from the early Christian Nurture
series by way of the Fellowship Series
in the 1960s, continued to be available and used by some parishes: “The Community of God”
(an introduction to the Judeao-Christian heritage and symbols); Readiness for Religion,
ed. Ronald Goldman; Seasons and Saints,
The Message Delivered (a study of the book of Acts) — though at publishing levels, curriculum materials for children in the Episcopal church appeared to be a dwindling market.93
The code words of this decade were “generations,” “specialized ministries” — youth, adult, educational, death, guilt, anger, aging, and campus, “developmental psychology,” “simulations,” “liberation,” “growth groups,” and “spirituality.”
Two broad patterns visible in this reading of six decades of twentieth-century Episcopal Christian education are 1) a definite shift in focus from children to adults; and 2) an apparent abdication, at least for a time, of any effort to provide a distinctive denominational education for children. The positive reading of that is a renewed awareness of interdenominational fellowship; in the past three decades ecumenism as a concept, even as a basis for Christian education curriculum, has become much less controversial or visionary. This can be read either as a lessening of denominational loyalty and identity (and exclusivity), or as a broadening acceptance of a pluralistic world and shared revelation. In any case, in the late twentieth century one of the live options for individual Episcopal parish choices is curriculum from interdenominational or other denominational sources.
A concluding symbolic statement of the general value Episcopalians attach to Christian education may be found in the requirements demanded of candidates for the priesthood, the key role determining the Christian education in any parish. To the best of my knowledge at this date, only two of our church seminaries (Nashotah House and Church Divinity School of the Pacific) require
a course in or about Christian education as part of preparation for priesthood.95
This astonishing blind spot on our church’s scale of significance was illuminated in a letter to the editor in The Living Church (January 1985): “I am writing to defend the teaching ministry of the church. A correspondent] Father Maddock [had previously] attempt[ed] to differentiate between teaching and preaching by saying ‘Teaching [merely] educates, [while, comparatively] preaching excites’…” After establishing the falseness of that syllogism, the writer, a professional educator, identified such specious reasoning among the clergy [I add, and laity] as reasons why it is “so difficult to mount effective educational ministry” in a parish. She ended her letter with the ultimate defense, a scriptural one. The Gospel doesn’t differentiate between Jesus’s teaching and preaching; it does not say “his preaching was exciting but his teaching was boring…”96
Those of us who are learning to use dual lenses, institutional and cultural, can see that both the original correspondent who derogated teaching and the writer of the letter defending it are creatures of our culture, each epitomizing a clear if contrasting value — performance and speaking vs. nurture and drawing out.
Episcopalians’ education efforts during the past three-quarters of a century interacted with, and were buffeted by, the wider cultural ambivalence about children and the primary cultural encouragement of self-pursuit for adults. Fortunately the pervasive acceptance of the view that education is a lifetime matter rather than only for children makes the continuing role of religious education for adults fruitful. In the ongoing Episcopal continuum of ambivalence toward institutional authority, however, it remains to be seen whether a revitalized Christian education including children can emerge, and if it does, whether it will generate enough vitality for the institutional church to grow. The most hopeful component of this twentieth-century Christian education mosaic is an Episcopal laity that is used to taking itself, its own needs and ideas, seriously. What can emerge from that, if we focus that seriousness on the religious education dimension of our church and our ministry, can be full of hope.
1 This characterization was supplied by Avis Harvey, now director of the Sherrill Resource Center at the Episcopal Church Center, 815 Second Avenue, N.Y.C. Officially retired from professional Christian education employment, her perspective on Christian education comes from her central role in it dating from the 1930s. The Child Study Movement was the early assimilation of psychology by the education profession, the first “developmental education.”
2 The quotes are from the resolution passed at General Convention, Sept. 1985, Anaheim, Alif. Dr. Fredrica Thomsett, assoc. dean, EDS, is convener of an array of qualified lay and clerical members to address this seemingly intractable aspect of our calling as Episcopalian Christians.
3 John E. Booty, professor of church history at Sewanee Seminary: The Church in History, Seabury Press, 1979.
4 Edmund Leach, Culture & Communication: The Logic by Which Symbols are Connected. An Introduction to the Use of Structuralist Analysis in Social Anthropology. (N.Y. Cambridge University Press, 1976), quoted in Warren Susman’s Culture As History: The Transformation of American Society in the 20th century. New York: Random House, 1984 , p. 252.
5 References to actual teaching materials in this essay were obtained in nonseminary-library locations, including the archives of the Morehouse Barlow Publishing Co. and the personal library of a clergyman long active in Christian education, my husband, the Reverend David M. Gillespie.
6 Interview, the Reverend Edward Stiess, professor of pastoral theology, Episcopal Theological School, Cambridge, Mass., June 1985.
7 Kendig Cully, ed.: The Episcopal Church and Education. N.Y.: Morehouse Barlow, 1966, intro.
8 Having a parish-based Christian education program at all was totally at the discretion of the local parish, though frequently the initiative to establish such was taken by lay parishioners, often women. A few bishops in the 1820s and 1830s perceived Sabbath school as the necessary evangelical outreach of the church and promoted it in those terms – Meade of Virginia, Hobart of New York.
9 Fredrica Harris Thompsett, “Exploring a Corporate Theology” in Ministry Development Journal #8 1985, pages 9-13.
10 Clifton H. Brewer, Later Episcopal Sunday Schools N.Y.: Morehouse Gorham, 1939, p. 140.
11 This statement was made by Ronald Barlow, president, Morehouse Barlow Publishing Co., telephone interview June 10, 1986. Interesting organizational and cultural factors remain to be analyzed about the unique relationship maintained over the years between the Morehouse Publishing Co. and the institutional church.
12 Susman, Culture as History, p. 185.
13 Susman, Culture as History: These descriptions are widely used, although I am specifically referring to Warren Susman’s understanding of them.
14 Popular preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick was a key figure in this alignment of popular religion and popular psychology, according to his biographer. See Note 26. Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People was an instant bestseller, treated as “gospel,” from 1936 on. The positive use of “therapy” today, even as a word by a disc jockey – as a recommendation for a certain type of music – illustrates the breadth or range at which this concept has been assimilated.
15 A recent Ph.D. thesis in Christian education 1986, studying adult Bible-study groups, found that the majority of respondents evidenced most ease with a personal/psychological perspective on Bible study, or with a fundamental/didactic approach – but in contrast even seminary-trained adults found a historical/critical perspective (the once-prevailing foundation to Bible study) difficult or impossible to use. [The Effect of Adults Bible Study on the Development of Cognitive Tolerance of Ambiguity, Patricia Page, New York University, 1986.]
16 Robert Bellah, Richard Madsen, William M. Sullivan, Ann Swidler, and Steven M. Tipton: Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985, p. 47.
17 David Perry, ed., Homegrown Christian Education. New York: Seabury Press, 1979, p. 1.
18 This ironic description applies to mid- and late-twentieth-century Episcopalians, not to mid-nineteenth-century ones, who, as presented in Sunday school stories of that period, are comfortable prescribing for and inculcating their religious mindset, genteelly but firmly, into their children. See Note 38 for an illustrative source.
19 “Schooling paradigm” is John Westerhoff’s label in Will Our Children Have Faith? (New York: Seabury, 1977) in which he indicts our cultural inability to think of another form than school through which to transmit values.
20 Dr. Bradner was “one of the architects of the first large-scale curriculum development projects in the Episcopal Church,” (published by the Young Churchman Co. in 1916 and by Morehouse Publishing Co., Milwaukee, Wisc., revised in 1924,) which presented material for 14 grades or programs of Christian instruction for children age 4-18, prepared for the use of parents in homes and teachers in schools. The dedication of Christian Education as Engagement by David R. Hunter, N.Y., Seabury Press, 1963.
21 Personal recollection in a sermon preached at Christ Church, Cambridge, Mass., by Catharine Plumley, Apr. 29, 1984.
22 Bradner, Teacher’s Manual, to The Christian Seasons, p. viii, p. xvi-xvii. (Morehouse, 1924).
23 Catharine Plumley, personal manuscript, p. 3.
24 Robert Moats Miller: Harry Emerson Fosdick: Preacher, Pastor, Prophet (Oxford University Press, 1985) has written that John D. Rockefeller admired Fosdick’s theology because it valued efficient religion (value underlined by me), substituting good works for rites and rituals, replacing mystery with bureaucratic rationalization…a piety of service and efficiency. Fosdick’s significance in twentieth-century religious liberalism related to the things he did: popularized radio sermons – the first electronic religion – domestic social liberalism, the Protestant version of the New Deal, and reinterpreted the sermon as personal counseling on a group scale.
25 Susman, p. 279, 280.
26 If she had been a man or a priest, it seems likely there would be one building or a school, or at least an endowed chair, named after her.
27 Obituary notice, The Living Church, Vol. CXVII #2, July 22, 1948, p. 1 — born 1887, graduate of Bryn Mawr College and Ph.D. from Columbia University. She taught at Columbia Teacher’s College from 1919-1941, then was appointed by Dean Angus Dun to faculty status at ETS. She was active in interracial and interethnic concerns as well (from the New York Times obituary).
28 Observation in telephone interview, Avis Harvey, June 10, 1986.
29 Avis Harvey, June 10, 1986.
30 I am grateful to Prof. Case’s student and friend, Frances Young, herself a distinguished career Christian educator in our church, for her personal letters and testimonials about Case.
31 Joanna B. Gillespie, “Carrie, or the Child in the Rectory: Nineteenth-century Episcopal Sunday School Prototype” in The Historical Magazine, Vol. LI #4, Dec. 1982, 359-376. The prototypical Mrs. Elliott was a model enlightened mother-teacher, created by Alice B. Haven, a writer of many GPESSU Sunday school library books.
32 Characterization by Cully, The Search for a Christian Education, (1940).
33 Cully, The Search for Religious Education, p. 165.
34 Randolph Crump Miller, A Guide for Church School Teachers (Revised Edit.), Louisville, Ky: The Cloister Series, Morehouse, p. 102-3.
35 For example, Margaret K. Bigler, director of pre-school education, diocese of Chicago, wrote materials to be used for a Sunday school “Mother’s Club” (or parent education) titled A Lantern to our Children. There were twelve leaflets covering each month of the first four years of a child’s life, plus birthday cards to be sent to the child from a church school for those first four birthdays. Some of the monthly leaflets dealt with physical development, some with establishing regular habits (“Regularity…is not only a matter of convenience. It is at the very foundation of moral training…and fundamental in teaching obedience.” p. 14). Others discussed ideals for Christian Parents or a Mother’s Creed (p. 26). “Where Did I Come From?,” Year 3, month 4, could be answered “His holy angels brought me to dwell on earth and they will take me back again to God when I die…So much lovelier than to think of a stork bringing the baby…or a doctor…in a big black bag” (p. 41). In the 4th year, month 2, Conversation at the Table was the topic: “This is not the time for fault finding, reprimanding, and checking up on all the misdemeanors of the day.” (52) In the 4th year there was also beginning instruction in the child’s prayer life, with sample prayers. Since all children like places to put their treasures, a child should “have a place made sacred by associations where he can have his treasures that tell him of God…to keep his Prayer Book, his Prayer cards, and pictures, and where he will think about God, and tell God “how much he loves Him” (p. 44).
36 “The Sure-‘Nough Playground” p. 57-62.
37 The section titled “Builders of the Kingdom” celebrated missionary-pioneer clergy: Dr. Francis C.M. Wei, president of Hua Chung College, China, the Reverend Philip Deloria, pioneer Indian priest among the Dakotas, Bishop Azariah of Dornakal, India, and the first missionary bishop to the Philippines, Charles Henry Brent. These stories were well written and lively.
38 Representative books, in addition to the ones already mentioned, on the Christian Education shelves of seminary libraries from the 1930s are:
Charters, Jess: Young Adults and the Church, 1936
Addison, James and Mildred Hewitt: The Way of Christ for Young Readers, 1934
Fickes, George H: Principles of Religious Education. Chicago: Revell, 1937
Fenner, Robert Goodrich: The Episcopal Church in Town and Country (National Council, Division of Rural Work), 1935.
The only book I noted on marriage education in this (or any) period was English: Education for Christian Marriage, by Arnold Samuels Nash (London: SCM Press, 1939).
39 Westerhoff, Who Are We? p. 9.
40 Anne McElligott, History of the Department of Christian Education of the Executive Council, Episcopal Church, 1958-1968. Master’s thesis, General Theological Seminary, 1984. The national Presbyterian church had produced a new curriculum in the 1940s, which may have contributed to the Episcopal interest in producing their own curriculum.
41 Lawrence Cremin, in The Genius of American Education, (New York: A.A. Knopf and Random House, Vintage Books, 1965, p. 11) points out that American society has from its beginning responded to anything identified as a “new social problem” by “designing a course about it.” Education, de-valued as it may have been economically, was viewed as the solution, or at least a direction in which to move, about everything from racism to automobile safety.
42 Oral History (1982), Cynthia Wedel, Tape #1, Episcopal Women’s History Project.
43 Kendig Cully, Search for a Christian Education, p. 5 Habits of the Heart, p. 21.
44 The St. James Lessons, Curriculum 1, The Lord Jesus and Children, p. 10 — St. James Episcopal Church, New York City, 1945.
45 Randolph Crump Miller, The Challenge of the Church, Cloister Series, New York: Morehouse Gorham, 1945, 1956, p. 82-86. The essay, unsigned, was reprinted from The Pacific Churchman, June 1941.
46 Harold B. Hunting, Thy Kingdom Come. A Course on the Social Meaning of the Christian Faith. Cloister Series, N.Y., Morehouse Gorham, 1946.
47 Irwin St. John Tucker, Stop/Go: The Ten Commandments for the Modern Child, N.Y.: Morehouse Gorham, 1946.
48 Maurice Clarke, Rector, Grace Church, Camden, S.C., Worship and Worshipers in the Church. A Program for Boys and Girls Near the Age of Confirmation. N.Y.: Morehouse, Cloister Series, 1940.
49 Habits of the Heart, p. 90. Joyce Appleby, “Value and Society” traces the history of the emergence and spread of the use of the concept. In Colonial British America: Essays in the New History of The Early Modern Era ed. Jack Greene and J.R. Pole. Johns Hopkins University Press 1984, 290-315.
50 Dora Chaplin, Children and Religion. New York: Chas Scribner’s Sons, 1948, p. 217. Incidentally her book is dedicated to Adelaide Teague Case, “teacher and inspiration.”
51 Dora Chaplin, 1948, quoted in Cully, The Search, p. 136.
52 Kenneth Keniston, All Our Children. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1977, p. 12-22.
53 Habits of the Heart, p. 90.
54 This situation was rare in Episcopal Sunday school stories and seemed to refer only to black children — one story described black children successfully ‘minding themselves,’ all day, under a code of behavior framed by the Lord’s Prayer. From Discover Our Church (for Primary) by Marcella Prugh, D.R.E. at St. Mark’s, Evanston. Morehouse, 1940, Cloister Series.
55 This “women’s career” in the Episcopal church had a meteoric existence. It was a genuine career opportunity for women graduating from college in the 1940s, until the 1960s, when men caught the excitement bubbling up in the “new” (to them) field of Christian education and parishes found that if they hired a man he could do double duty, Christian education and the Eucharist. From that time on, parishes increasingly hired priests to do Christian education, thus effectively excluding women. Also, from 1957 on, women were accepted as students at seminaries, with the result that women’s church training schools gradually lost their specific function and were amalgamated into the male institutions. Dr. Patricia Page’s study of the ‘rise and fall’ of this career is a primary document — forthcoming.
56 Books on Christian education in the seminary libraries published in the 1940s include:
Allen, Beatrice E., Who Are the Heroes of the Church? (Grades 3-4) National Council, Protestant Episcopal Church, 1942.
Edwards, Dean Royster, ed., Family Eucharist. St. Paul, Minnesota, (no publisher named) 1947.
Heuss, John, The Future Development of Christian Education. New York: Protestant Episcopal Church, National Council, 1948.
Patton, Robert W., The Record in Negro History. National Council, Episcopal Church, 1940.
The Church Looks Ahead to the New Curriculum. National Council, Dept. of Christian Education, 1948.
Sherrill, Lewis J., The Rise of Christian Education. New York: Seabury/Macmillan, 1944.
57 The first professional to be appointed national secretary for the Women’s Auxiliary, Avis Harvey, (she served in that capacity from the late 1940s through the 1960s) recalls the tremendous production of “curricular” and information materials sent out from the national headquarters to women’s units in every diocese. Presumably, depending on the education secretary of that diocese, these educational materials then found their way into every parish — an adult education network unequalled since that era.
58 Canon Theodore Wedel, warden of the College of Preachers, and Marion Kelleran, diocesan director of Christian education for the diocese of Washington (D.C.), were two of the nationally known leaders who became persuasive spokesmen for the project. In her oral history, Marion Kelleran talks at length about the new educational vision and practice embodied in The Seabury Series. Oral History, EWHP.
59 A Parish Workshop in Christian Education. Donald W. Crawford, Ed., Seabury Press, 1953, p. 18.
60 Education experts trained in the Deweyan era had absorbed the attitude that information would have to be “psychologized” to be made teachable (Lawrence A. Cremin, The Genius of American Education, Random House, N.Y., 1965, p. 54), an undoubted influence in the new curriculum plans.
61 Anne McElligott, History of the Department of Christian Education, p. 122.
62 Anne McElligott, History of the Department of Christian Education.
63 Crawford, Parish Workshop, p. 41.
64 Crawford, Parish Workshop, p. 42-43.
65 Memorandum, June 15, 1955, from the Reverend Victor Hoag, dept. of religious education, diocese of New Jersey, 808 West State St., Trention, N.J. In the Morehouse Barlow archives.
66 Hoag memorandum, 1955, p. 2.
67 Lucile Flitton, “This Sunday School is Efficient.” The Living Church, March 9, 1958.
68 An outline of the Series comprehensively described (in chart form) the Situation — age needs for each year of a child’s emotional, intellectual and mental development, e.g. for eighth grade, the child is “Discovering a new sense of self. Looking for security with own age and gender group. Finding that belonging costs something,” the specific materials that included a course title and the teacher’s manual titles; the Titles: Teacher’s Manual, Members One of Another, Student’s book: The Ballad of Les McCater and Other Stories of Christian Courage and David; the Purposes or goals of that particular course (e.g. “To help eighth-graders discover the meaning of faith in their attempts to reconcile their God-given individuality with the God-given membership in groups”) and the particular Heritage and Resources (religious content) that would be covered: “The prayer book and the Bible, the sacrament of baptism, order for daily morning prayer, order for Holy Communion, and selected collects; life of St. Peter, I and II Samuel, portions of the New Testament. Also a study of Jews, Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Anglicans.” From Nursery and kindergarten age through eleventh grade, the conception was equally specific, insightful and beautifully spelled out.
69 Right or Wrong? Revised Edit., Teacher’s Manual Grade Four. Greenwich, Conn.; The Seabury Press, p. 6-7. A nine-year-old wasn’t ready to understand “the powerful cycle of sin-repentance-forgiveness-newness of life…but he can see that there is something at work in your everyday life… and the joy…that comes from membership in the family of God through Christ.”
70 McElligot, History of Dept. of Christian Education.
71 The Reverend David Perry suggested a link between the Seabury adult-education self-development work of the ‘60s and social activism in the ‘70s, in my interview with him Sept. 1985.
72 Cully, Search for Christian Educ., p. 162.
73 Representative titles dating from this decade in Episcopal seminary libraries are:
Chaplin, Dora: Our Christian Heritage. Episcopal Fellowship Series, Morehouse, 1959.
Cully, Iris: The Dynamics of Christian Education. Philadelphia: Westminster, Press, 1956.
Fenn, Don Frank: The Church School Survey: Summer of Clergy Opinion about Curriculum in the Episcopal Church, 1958.
Fuller, Edmund: The Idea of Christian Education (The Kent School Conference). Yale Univ. Press, 1957.
How, Ruel: Man and the Gospel, Leaders’ Guide for Man’s Need, God’s Action. Seabury, 1958.
Miller, Randolph Crump: The Clue to Christian Education (N.Y.: Scribners, 1950) and Education for Christian Living (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1956).
National Women’s Auxiliary Publications: When You Organize Women’s Work in your Parish, 1956 and When You Lead Worship, 1951.
Weber, Rudi: Aging, Today’s Opportunity for the Church, 1958.
Wedel, Theodore: The Church’s Teaching, 1955
Weed, Paul C.: The Importance of the Religious Essence of Education. Morehouse Gorham, 1955.
74 McElligott, History Christian Ed. Dept., p. 124.
75 Exploring Faith and Life: A Journey in Faith for Junior High by Frederick and Barbara Wolf. N.Y.: The Seabury Press, 1966.
76 McElligott, History of the Educ. Dept. p. 42.
77 The Reverend David Perry, interview.
78 Frances Young, Thankfulness Unites: A History of the United Thank Offering. Oral History, Theodora Sorg. Episcopal Women’s History Project archives. Also, the oral history of Theodora Sorg, EWHP.
79 For full implications of the 1976 landmark Special Session of the General Convention, see the essay in this issue by David Holmes.
80 McElligott, History of Christian Education.
81 David Perry, ed. Homegrown Christian Education. New York: Seabury Press, 1979, p.1; and Making Sense of Things; Toward a Theology of Homegrown Christian Education, Seabury Press, 1981. At the Center for Teaching Ministries in Virginia, I was told that Roman Catholic and Methodist materials are the curricula from other denominations most often chosen, if the parish doesn’t select one of the many curricula produced by various Episcopal groups or an interdenominational series.
82 Habits of the Heart, p. 150.
83 George H. Schroeter, “The Perfect Freedom,” in What Is Man? Dept. of Christian education, tenth grade curriculum Seabury Series. 1966, The Seabury Press.
84 Clare Booth Luce, “The Significance of Squeaky Fromme,” Wall Street Journal, Sept. 24, 1975, editorial page.
85 Ahlstrom, Religious History of the American People, p. 1092.
86 Representative books published about Christian education, full of new code words such as “meaningful,” “straight talk,” “dialogue,” “communicating” and “anti-establishment,” in the 1960s — the most fruitful period in this century — on seminary library shelves include:
Bowman, Locke: Straight Talk about Teaching in Today’s Church. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1967.
Brickman, Clarence, ed. The Church’s Ministry of Reconciliation in the Field of Education (conference proceedings) Episcopal Schools Association, 1964.
Chaplin, Dora: Children & Religion (rev. ed.) N.Y.: Scribners, 1961.
Chaplin, Dora: The Privilege of Teaching. N.Y.: Morehouse Barlow, 1969 and We Want to Know: for Godparents, Young People and Parents.
Cheney, Ruth: Transition (12-14 year olds). N.Y.: Seabury Press, 1967.
Cully, Iris: Christian Worship and Church Education. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1967.
Cully, Iris: Exploring the Bible: Teacher’s Guide to Fellowship Series, Morehouse Barlow, 1960.
Cully, Iris and Kendig: Theological Word Book. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963.
Cully, Kendig: Confirmation: History, Doctrine, Practice. N.Y.: Seabury Press, 1963.
Cully, Kendig: Does the Church Know How to Teach? N.Y.: Macmillan, 1965.
Cully, Kendig: The Search for a Christian Education since 1940. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1965.
Cully, Kendig: The Teaching Church. Philadelphia: Univ. Press of Penn., 1963.
Cully, Kendig: The Episcopal Church and Education. N.Y.: Morehouse Barlow, 1966.
Cully, Kendig: The Church’s School in a Changing World (conference) — 1960.
Dawley, Powell Mills: Chapters in Church History: The Church’s Teaching Series. N.Y.: Seabury Press, 1967.
Dewar, Diana: Backward Christian Soldiers. England. 1964.
Edwards, Charlotte: Let Yourself Go: Try Creative Sunday Schools. N.Y.: Morehouse, 1969.
Goldman, Ron, ed. Analytic View of the Seabury Series, 1968.
Hoag, Frank: The Ladder of Learning: New Ways of Teaching in the Church School. N.Y.: Seabury Press, 1960.
Hines, John E.: Episcopal Colleges: The Case for Christian Religion in Education. New York: Newcomer Pub., 1968.
Howe, Reuel: The Miracle of Dialogue, 1964 (mental health).
Hunter, David: Christian Education as Engagement, 1963.
Harrell, John and Harrell, Mary: Communicating the Gospel Today (including use of joss sticks and phonodisc — most typically “60s”), 1968.
Harrell, John and Mary: Teaching is Communicating, 1965.
Newland, Mary Reed: Home Made Christians. Dayton, 1964.
Joy, Donald: Meaningful Learning in the Church, 1969; DRE, a Challenging Career, 1963.
Little, Sara: The Christian Education of Adults, 1961.
Miller, Randolph Crump: Christian Nurture and the Church, 1961.
Miller, Randolph Crump: Education for Christian Living (2nd edit.), 1963.
Miller, Randolph Crump: Education in the Small Church. Seabury Press, 1965.
McManis, Lester: Handbook on Christian Education in the Inner City. Seabury Press, 1966.
Mosley, Brooke: Christians in the Technical and Social Revolutions of our Times, 1967.
Partridge, Edmund: The Church in Perspective: Standard Lay Readers Training Guide, 1969.
Pearse, Max: The Well Church School. (n.d.)
Sandt, Eleanor E.: Variations on Sunday Church Schools. Seabury Press, 1967 and Study/Action: Ideas for the Laity, 1969.
Stinnette, Charles: Learning in Theological Perspective, 1965.
Whittemore, Lewis Bliss: The Church and Secular Education. Seabury Press, 1960. Plus the first books on Koinonia groups, group dynamics in the church, and anti-establishment books on education (Ivan Ilyich and Paul Goodman).
87 James B. Wiggins, editor: Religion As Story. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1975.
88 Bruce C. Birch and Larry L. Rasmussen, The Predicament of the Prosperous. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978, p. 55.
89 Lewis Thomas, The Youngest Science, has a beautiful statement about women’s role “in the poking and prodding of very, young, the learning what smiles and laughter are all about, the vast pleasure of explanation, are by and large the gifts of women to civilization. It is the women who remember and pass along the solid underpinnings of culture, not usually the men…” p. 236.
90 Peter Stromberg: “Consensus and Variation in the Interpretation of Religious Symbolism: A Swedish Example.” American Ethnologist, August 1981, Vol. 8 #3, 544-559.
91 His critic is Roman Catholic scholar Thomas Groome, who maintains there is no substitute for didacticism in some form, along with liturgy.
92 David Perry, ed. Homegrown Christian Education. New York: Seabury Press, 1979, p. 1; and Making Sense of Things: Toward a Theology of Homegrown Christian Education. Seabury Press, 1981.
93 Quote, Ronald Barlow, July 1986. Representative titles in our seminary libraries dated from the decade of the 1970s, are:
Cully, Iris: Change, Conflict, and Self Determination: Next Steps in Religious Education. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1972.;
Christian Child Development (adapted from Piaget). San Francisco: Harpers, 1979; New Life for your Sunday School. New York: Seabury, 1979.
Cully, Kendig: Does the Church Know How to Teach? New York: Macmillan, 1970.
Hageman, Alice: Sexist Religion and Women in the Church. 1974.
Evans, Gary T.: Equipping God’s People (Adult Education). Seabury Press, 1979.
Fenhagen, James: Mutual Ministry, 1977.
Homes, Urban T.: Confirmation, 1977.
Walsh, Clement: Preaching in a New Key, 1974.
Westerhoff, John: Value for Tomorrow’s Children. Philadelphia: Pilgrim Press, 1970; Will Our Children Have Faith? New York: Seabury, 1977; Ed. with Gwen Kennedy Neville, From Generation to Generation. Philadelphia: Pilgrim Press, 1979 ; (ed) Who Are We? 75th Anniversary of Religious Education Association. Birmingham, Alabama: Religious Education Press, 1978
94 Dr. Patricia Page, at CDSP, one of the seminaries requiring a course in Christian education, as often remarked on the irony of the relative prestige attached to seminary courses on teaching and preaching…though every seminarian will surely have the responsibility for some aspect of (if not the whole of) Christian education in his or her first job, every seminarian is likely to be much more interested in the course on preaching — something he or she may get to do one or two times during the first year.
95 Carol Ingellis, Assoc., School for Ministry, Lansing, Michigan, in letters to the editor, The Living Church, Jan. 5, 1985, Vol. 192 #1, p.5.
96E.g., Viviana Zelizer: Pricing the Priceless Child: The Changing Social Value of Children. New York: Basic Books, 1985; Marie Winn: Children Without Childhood. New York: Pantheon Books, 1981.