Our formation as religious educators

This discussion was prompted by the following questions: “How was I formed as a religious educator? What was the passion which moved me into this field for a lifetime of work? What were the major intellectual influences on me in my direction? How, if at all, has my passion shifted?”

17 thoughts on “Our formation as religious educators”

  1. From Bob O’Gorman Loyola Chicago:

    I probably owe my passion for religious education to my sister – she is nine years my senior and a religious of the Sisters of St. Joseph. In the early ‘60s she was studying at Catholic University and I can remember her telling me about the Adam and Eve story. I was in my early 20s and had just begun a career as a high school teacher and by circumstance of the sickness of one of the brothers I was called into teaching religion class for the remaining six weeks of the school year. She talked to me about this story not from the sensationalism of “it isn’t true” – demythologization, but from the perspective of how powerful this mythological language was expressing the human understanding of relationship with God. This gave me a great passion for talking to these young freshmen high school students about the deeper meaning of the Bible. And that has been the passion of religious education for me – the power of religious expression.

    Autobiographically, my first journey into formal studies in religious education was a 14 month period from June 1965 to August 1966: Loyola University Chicago MRE in the newly founded Institute of Pastoral Studies and a year at Lumen Vitae – international Institute for Catechetics Brussels Belgium. In Brussels there were 110 students representing 90 different nationalities. What’s important is that this education began six months before the ending of the Catholic Church’s monumental second Vatican Council a redirecting of the power of religious expression. I can remember when I protested that I was unprepared to teach religion in the high school, the priest chairman of the department said – you’re not alone, this is a whole new religion that’s coming out of Vatican II.

    The major focus I picked up in my first venture into graduate education was a concern for updating religion teachers. This passion led me into my first higher ed position – forming an MA program in religious education at the Divinity School of St. Louis University. The major strain that captured my attention in forming this program was to draw on all that was good in education studies. Major texts for me were Tyler’s Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction, Bloom’s taxonomies of educational objectives (my first published article in 1971 was on the adaptation of Bloom’s taxonomies to religious education), basic philosophies of education and curriculum, histories of education – particularly Lawrence Cremin. In my philosophical foundations I found myself highly influenced by the philosophy of the social sciences.

    In 1975 I finished my doctoral dissertation at the University of Notre Dame out of a unique Religious Education program that was located in the division of social sciences. I focused on a Weberian ideal type analysis of the mission and ministry of Catholic education in the United States in the nineteen century. During this decade from 1965 to 1975 I was constantly nurtured and intensely engaged in conversations at APPRE and the REA, particularly when APPRE met jointly with the SSSR. This association broadened not only my intellectual but my ecumenical focus.
    In 1975 I began teaching in a Catholic seminary in Denver Colorado and enhanced my focus on religious education to a focus on ministerial education. The major contribution that I gained from seminary education was an intense involvement in field education – learning in the doing. In 1976 at the APPRE meeting I made a presentation on contextual education and its relationship to religious education. A major text for me in this period was Whitehead and Whitehead, Method in Ministry.

    Perhaps the apex of my career in religious education was becoming an original faculty member along with four others at the reconstituted Scarritt Graduate School in Religious Education in Nashville from 1981 to 1987. Here I benefited not only as a colleague with other dedicated religious educators but also by interaction with Vanderbilt divinity school in its heyday with such educational leaders as Ed Farley and his concentration on theology and ministry. His Theologia: The Fragmentation and Unity of Theological Education was a key text for me.

    These first 25 years prepared me for the second 25 years which were spent at the Institute of Pastoral Studies Loyola University Chicago. My major concentration there was on developing ministerial education in terms of its relationship of the components of ministry and theology – their praxis relationship and a concentration on contextual education. Perhaps one of the most formative texts for me in this period was Donald Schön, The Reflective Practitioner along with Don Browning’s A Fundamental Practical Theology.

    The power of religious expression drove my 50 years in religious education. Clearly this was a sacramental task bringing all human science can to form a symbol which hurls over to the transcendent.

  2. O'Gorman, Robert

    Gabriel Moran:

    I came to religious education from teaching religion in a Catholic high school. As a member of the teaching order of Christian Brothers, one taught a daily religion class. I was given the opportunity to go to any university of my choice to study for a doctorate in religious education. I chose to go to the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. and never regretted that choice. Gerard Sloyan was a chief inspiration of my life, a person who combined precise scholarship, deep piety and a gentle demeanor. The program revolved around the study of the Bible, the practice of liturgy and catechetical implications for the changes in church and society that began in the early 1960s.

    I stumbled upon a thesis topic of exploring the Protestant-Catholic discussion of the relation between scripture and tradition. The more I pursued the issue the more I became convinced that there was a big problem unresolved since the Reformation. My doctoral dissertation was published as two books. The first was the theological implications of questioning the category of revelation; the second book, which in Britain had the title
    “God Still Speaks,” was the educational implications of that questioning.

    The topic of revelation became a central and fruitful subject of inquiry for me. But what was not immediately clear to me was that it carried me outside the boundaries of Christian theology. From 1970 onward I considered myself not in theology but in a separate field of religious education. My insistence that theology might be a part of religious education but not vice versa did not go over well in the Catholic Church.
    In 1967 I met and began to work with Maria Harris; our partnership continued until her death in 2005. She was a continuing link I did have with the church and she was the chief support for everything I did. She taught me how to teach better and to be a better human being.

    I found a home at New York University in 1979 which had one of the few doctoral programs of religious education in a secular school of education. I spent 35 years teaching at NYU up to this present year. Dealing with the religious, ethnic and racial diversity of the student body gave me a great education. I became convinced that religious education is a worldwide need but it remains an inchoate field everywhere. Religious education is more clearly defined in most English speaking countries than in the United States but it is spoken of as a school subject. My criticism of this way that the English and Welsh talk about religious education was not well received by them.

    Throughout the years my writing spread into topics that to others might seem far removed from religious education but for me they were related. In recent years much of my involvement at NYU has been in international education. Religion is not much featured in such programs but I consider the absence of religion a crucial issue. UN surveys of religious education in the world reveal, I think, that no country has a perfect or even generally adequate approach to religious education.

    I have argued that a lifelong religious education must include two distinct and contrasting parts: teaching an understanding of religion and teaching how to practice one’s religious life. The two parts require different institutional settings, each with its own educational aim. The synthesis of the two parts has to be done by the learner.– Gabriel Moran

  3. O'Gorman, Robert

    Barney Kathan:


    I felt a call to the Christian ministry by the end of my Senior year in high school, and I was influenced at Wesleyan University by John Darr and Bill Spurrier, who were chaplains, led services, taught courses, and provided leadership in the Christian Association and the pre-ministerial club. Since I was intending to go on to seminary, they urged me not to major in religion, so I chose History. I was first introduced to the field of religious education by Paul Vieth at Yale Divinity School, but a course in Church History and a year overseas in the Netherlands at the University of Leiden on a Fulbright Scholarship caused me to think of a career in researching and teaching church history. This changed when I returned to YDS, took courses with Randy Miller and was turned on by his textbook, Education for Christian living. In several graduate seminars I met Sara Little and Will Kennedy, and our friendship and association continued for decades.

    Randy Miller was brought to YDS because of his book, The Clue to Christian Education, which set forth the theological basis for the field. YDS had a strong tradition in the field going back to Charles Foster Kent and E. Hershey Sneath, who then brought Luther Weigle to Yale as the first Horace Bushnell Professor of Christian Nurture. Religious Education was seen as an inter-disciplinary field, including: biblical and theological foundations, philosophical inquiry, the psychological understanding of human growth and development, and the best pedagogical tools to help learning take place. The more liberal psychological-social theories developed by George Albert Coe and others had been challenged by Reinhold Niebuhr, and especially by Shelton Smith, and Randy Miller helped to re-formulate the field. He preached the sermon at my service of Ordination.

    I saw myself as a Religious Educator, and I was helped and influenced by a number of wonderful mentors, organizations, studies and publications. In Illinois Robert Hotelling recruited me to chair the state youth committee of the Congregational Christian Churches and to give a series of talks at the large youth conference at Elmhurst College on “The Cost and Joy of Discipleship.” Gerry Fahrenholz and Ray Giffin in Minnesota recruited me to give leadership training courses and introduce the new curriculum of the United Church of Christ. This continued in Massachusetts, where I was associated with Horace Seldon and met John Westerhoff.
    I attended my first Religious Education Association convention in Chicago in 1956, and have been a member ever since, receiving the journal, Religious Education, and serving as secretary-treasurer of the Boston chapter. I also attended the annual mid-winter meetings of the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches, where I worked with Gerry Knoff, Blaine Fister, and many others.

    Further graduate study was done at the University of Connecticut in the field of Child Development and Family Relations, where I was introduced to the developmental psychologist Jean Piaget. I was also in the graduate program at New York University, where I took courses with Norma Thompson, Gabriel Moran and others. Randy Miller came down to NYU one summer to teach a course on process theology and religious education, and I read extensively on the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead and its implications for religious education.

    1970 represented a major turning point in my life, since I was called as general secretary of the Religious Education Association and worked closely with my professor, mentor and friend Randy Miller. Through the R.E.A.’s research committee we gave Lilly Fellowships to Bob O’Gorman, Allen Moore, Church Melchert, James Michael Lee and others. Major projects at the R.E.A. included the formation of the National Council on Religion and Public Education, the editing of the festschrift, Pioneers of Religious Education in the 20th Century, and the Faith Development in the Adult Life Cycle Project. When Randy retired as editor of the journal in 1978, I recruited John Westerhoff as the new editor.

    Since leaving the R.E.A. post, I have worked for 25 years as archivist of the R.E.A., the Association of Professors and Researchers in Religious Education, and the NCRPE, and the archives became a part of the special collections at Yale Divinity School library. I have also written three entries for the Christian Educators of the 20th Century project on Edna May Baxter, Luther Weigle and Hugh Hartshorne. As Yale Divinity School approaches its 200th anniversary in 2022, I am planning a book on Yale and Religious Education, and have already written chapters on Horace Bushnell and on “Laying the foundations of Religious Education at Yale.”

  4. O'Gorman, Robert

    Margaret Ann Crain My Personal Statement (REA Senior Think Tank)

    I grew up in a family that went to church, but didn’t make a fuss about it. My parents primarily sought a place with an excellent music program and literate preaching. They also were in full flight from the high-pressure evangelism they had known as children. They were the progressives of their day. I went to Sunday School until I declared in 8th grade that it was stupid and refused to go anymore. The church responded by creating a special job for me, assisting the Sunday School superintendent. Bill was a nice young man and treated me as a colleague as we distributed the pamphlets and collected the offering from each class. My skepticism was not questioned or ridiculed. At the same time, that congregation allowed me to sing with the adult choir where I reveled in the challenge to read the music of the classical choral repertoire and perform each week in the midst of voice majors from the university and volunteers from the congregation who were fine musicians. This music inspired and touched my soul.

    In graduate school I stopped going to church. It just didn’t fit well in the schedule of working on theatrical productions, writing papers, and socializing with other students. But when my family moved to Fayetteville AR and my primary role became mother and faculty wife, I was open again to going to church. My daughter, a toddler, loved the nursery and I loved the “adult time” of worship. Soon I began searching out opportunities for adult education at the church. I was always wary, however, of pressure to profess faith or of any place where my skepticism and doubt might be made public. We soon moved to Columbia MO and joined the church. And, again, I sought out every opportunity to study and read and explore theology and faith, always questioning.

    So, imagine my surprise when I was offered a position on the church staff, temporarily and part time, as Director of Youth and Adult Ministries. My first response was, “But I’m not sure I believe in God!” The pastor replied, “Well, this is a good place to ask that question.” So I began to claim my identity as a religious educator with permission to make the congregation a place to ask even the most fundamental questions about faith. I started groups that read Paul Tillich, Dietrich Bonheoffer, and Hans Kung. I encouraged confirmation classes to ask questions rather than accept answers. I sought to liberate people from ideas about God and Jesus that were oppressive and challenge everyone to reflect theologically on all aspects of life. That is my passion. It has enlivened my research, teaching, and ministry for nearly 40 years. As a reflective practitioner, I sought to articulate theories that could help others lead liberating religious education. I went back to school and eventually attained an EdD in religious education. Shortly after that, I co-authored Educating Christians which was an opportunity to express those commitments about the practice of religious eduation.

    My first scholarship was in theater and communication. Theories from those fields are still part of my value system. Other primary intellectual sources are feminist theology (although I now recognize its limits due to its lack of recognition of white privilege) and naturalistic qualitative research. I have also deeply appreciated Parker Palmer, James Fowler, Thomas Groome, Mary Elizabeth Moore, Maria Harris, Charles Foster, and Jack Seymour among others.

    In 1998 I became a professor in my denomination’s seminary. My energy shifted to preparing new leaders who might carry my passion for liberating people from a faith that oppresses. These leaders are now sprinkled throughout my denomination and witnessing to the liberating Word of God. The ethnographic research projects I have published stem from that passion to hear people into speech and make spaces where they can escape old oppressive ideas and embrace a God who liberates and includes all. I have particularly exhorted my students to teach the Bible because I am appalled at how poorly our sacred book is understood in the Protestant churches. As an extension of my commitment to learn by listening to the people of God, I have sought to help others in the church listen deeply and hear what God is doing in our midst. Perhaps if we can discern what God is doing, we might join in the misseo Dei!

  5. O'Gorman, Robert

    Thomas Groome: Intellectual Autobiography of Religious Educator

    As a very young theology student in an old Irish seminary, I was reading the then recently published documents of the Second Vatican Council (circa 1966). I hit upon the statement in Gaudium et Spes that the greatest error of our age is “the gap that Christians maintain between the lives they live and the faith they confess” (GS 43). With hindsight, it became a foundational text for me, urging a commitment to religious education that might reduce the gap – to enable myself and others to integrate life and faith into lived faith. I summarize it now – though I’ve said it more elaborately – as a pedagogy that brings life to Faith to life. How did I get here?

    My Irish seminary was no intellectual powerhouse but it had a strong tradition of forming good pastors; it gave me a deep commitment to pastoral praxis for the life of the world. Then, Union Theological Seminary (NY) and Bev Harrison, my advisor there, introduced me to feminist theology – a great grace. I also was enriched by the work of James Cone (a new faculty person there then) and by that of Gustavo Gutierrez, who became a life-long friend. Building on seeds sown by my father, on old Irish socialist, Union infused my theology to be one of liberation.

    At Columbia Teacher’s College (in a joint doctorate with Union), Dwayne Huebner was a wonderful mentor; his modeling of a humanizing education has lasted me a lifetime. Dwayne introduced me to the work of Paulo Freire and Jürgen Habermas – the “in” philosopher to read at the time. The three chief resources for my dissertation were Gutierrez for its theology, Habermas for its philosophy, and Freire for its pedagogy. Though I’d never recommend anyone to read it, yet my dissertation had the kernel proposal of a “shared Christian (or Jewish or . .. ) praxis approach” to religious education.

    Its original insight was (hopefully) developed across the years by my teaching, research, and writing. It was honed most intensely by my efforts to implement such an approach in religion curricula. I’m the principal author of two K to 8th grade series for Catholic schools and parishes (God with Us, 1984, and Coming to Faith, 1992, both published by William H Sadlier), and a theology curriculum for Catholic high schools, the Credo Series (from Veritas, now being completed).

    Equally vital to developing my theory and praxis as a religious educator has been my teaching of students in the filed, and especially the some 70 graduates of the PhD in Theology and Education at Boston College. As for all of us, I’ve learned at least a much from my students as I have taught them.

    For those who might be interested in a more detailed autobiography of me as a religious educator, I was invited to write one some years ago by the Journal of Adult Theological Education. It was published in its Vol 8. No 1, 2011. You can find it at

  6. Jack Seymour – How I was formed as a Religious Educator.

    The passion that moved me into religious education – The words “church,” “education” and “public” are at the heart of Christian religious education. These words came together for me into a vocation in the midst of seminary and graduate school, yet were born much earlier.

    First, an evangelical Methodist “church” was a formative in my childhood. To use the concepts of our field: being raised in an active church family was profoundly socializing. My parents’ friends and mine were drawn from that church, as were some of my school teachers. We were at church throughout the week for worship, prayer, study, and service. Even with a split from my home church over issues of belief in the mid-1960s, the search for meaningful faith had been embedded.

    Second, “education” was a vision put before me early. Having grown up in a working-class family, school was defined as the major way of making a difference in the world. My grandmother even started saving for my college when I was born.

    Third, commitments to the “public” were shaped by the struggle for racial justice and the anti-war movement of the 1960s. Seeing open, committed, and liberal religious leaders at protest and education events was profoundly formative. They called us to make a difference.

    The decision to attend seminary grew out of these experiences. At seminary, the critical, open study of the Bible and theology was liberating as well as was participation in actions for social justice. Finally, when a local congregation, hungry for education and service, invited me to join its staff, church, education, and public were integrated.

    Major intellectual influences – Amazingly the study of the past was the primary influence. Commanding my attention was the question: How do a people continue to build a community and live together? In college and seminary study in history and historical theology, I learned of the struggle of peoples to pass on a paideia (commitments, story, practices) into the future. I learned how “traditioning” had to be open and responsive to new cultural realities. Furthermore, teachers of history pointed to the ways that interpretation and social location affected our understandings. Thus, intellectually, church, education, and public came together. These commitments thrived as I completed a PhD in the history of education, exploring the work of Lawrence Cremin and Robert Lynn in particular as well as discovering a network of colleagues in REA and APPRE.

    Has the passion shifted? – Honestly, no. How faith affects public life is still the question. Yet, further expanding this passion has been interfaith and global work as is the continuing U.S. struggle with racism and inclusion. I am convinced to address faith in public life requires a diverse interfaith coalition for dialogue and action. This is what REA could be and for what I will continue to work. Finally, truthfully, I worry whether our work in religious education has made much of a difference. I struggle with how we empower faith communities to engage in open, critical, inclusive, and socially formative action? I see so little of it. I am embarrassed by the ways many Christians act in public. Yet, I continue to hope we can find ways to empower faith communities. I believe, that hoping and working is what faith requires of us.

  7. O'Gorman, Robert

    Charles R. Foster

    A metaphor of John Steinbeck’s captures for me the formative power of communities of faith and public life. Why, he asks, should we be surprised when formed in Christian community we have the shape of a cross? Given my history, why should anyone also be surprised I became a religious educator?

    My religious formation began early. I took the shape of a United Methodist Christian in family and congregational expectations and meanings associated with eating and conversing around the family table, at the communion rail, and during church potluck suppers, in telling and reading stories from the Bible (and other religious traditions), in the discussions of Sunday school, youth groups, church camp, and through our participation as a family in congregational worship and mission programs.

    I was similarly formed as an educator/teacher from an early age–through expectations of parents to “show” siblings “how” to perform requested tasks, by being trained to give 4-H demonstrations at county and state fairs, in the practice of leading peers in formal learning activities in school and with special judicatory training in theological reflection in youth and campus ministry groups, and during seminary by being prepared to conduct teacher training events emphasizing theological reflection in teaching practice

    A series of metaphors increasingly illuminated and shaped my religious education vocational imagination and practice. Among the most formative: at age sixteen I began a life long quest to understand the implications of Paul’s charge to the church in Rome to “Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may discern the will of God” (12:2); In college James Joyce put words to my emerging sense of the vocational urgency in Paul’s text by claiming as an artist he went “forth each day to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of the race”; In seminary I encountered G. Stanley Glen’s metaphor for the teaching ministry as “the fleshly spearhead of the gospel” pricking self-deceptions and opening up life transforming possibilities of self-consciousness in the liberative work of the people of God. It should be no surprise I found resonance in Maxine Greene’s image of the liberative teacher “as stranger” or that in Ellis Nelson’s claim that communities form faith, I would re-discover the “truth” of his insight in my own experience–a view later reinforced in graduate school by Lawrence Cremin’s exploration of the formational influence in a society’s configuration of educational agencies.

    As a neophyte Minister of Education in a local church, I began to articulate “the passion” in my vocation as “loosening the bonds of ignorance that enslaves people from experiencing the transformative power of God’s redemptive love”. With hindsight I am aware my growing understanding of this vocational focus had been influenced by the interdependence of biblical themes of justice and liberation, love and community in seminary classes taught by James Muilenburg, Samuel Terrien, W.B. Davies, and Robert MacAfee Brown while I was at the same time trying to make sense of a religious education ministry with a racially, culturally, and economically diverse group of junior high youth at Riverside Church. Field education director John Casteel and supervisor Eugene Laubach created a safe place for me to negotiate tensions between the cognitive silos and applied theological perspectives of the seminary curriculum with my emerging sense of religious education as a theological practice in my interactions with these youth.

    Colleagues have been crucial empowering partners and mentors in my vocational formation: at Methesco Bob Browning invited me to co-teach my first introductory course and he, with Everett Tilson, Bogie Dunn, and Ethel Johnson modeled for me the engaged life of the liberative teacher, at Scarritt with Jack Seymour and Bob O’Gorman I experienced the power of learning and teaching in community; At Candler/Emory with Rebecca Chopp, Luke Johnson, Luther Smith, Jim Fowler, Rod Hunter, Liz Bounds, Grant Shockley and others I participated in powerful theologically engaged ecclesial conversation. The questions, challenges, and creative work of laity in congregations, seminary and graduate students, colleagues, and the authors of many books from many fields consistently invited me to loosen the bonds of my own vocational ignorance so as to be increasingly open to the thought and practice of being a religious educator in the larger Christian world, in public life, and eventually among the religions of the world.

    There is more to say. I have not described my vocational transformation from ecclesial to academic to “retired” religious educator or named books influencing my vocational journey. But I have no more space.

  8. O'Gorman, Robert

    Greer Anne Wenh-In Ng, Emmanuel College, Victoria University in the U. of Toronto

    Preamble re identity and context: I write as a member of that part of the Christian community known as Reformed/Protestant that employs a terminology of “Christian Education” and that asserts the centrality of the [Christian] scriptures, in a Canadian denomination (The United Church of Canada) that combined several [Christian] faith traditions in its union in 1925. My personal identity includes constructed specificities of gender, race, culture (Chinese in origin but educated bilingually in a British colonial system), and of a post-migration and “visible minority” existence in North America, with increasing awareness of a culturally and religiously plural and globally connected world.

    1. The passion that moved me into this field for a lifetime of work:
    My passion stemmed from early engagement in church-based educational ministry that integrated hands-on teaching with writing CE and mission education curricular materials for my denomination and in its leadership training. This soon moved to theological education and ministerial training/educational formation for future clergy and scholars in an ecumenical consortium (the Toronto School of Theology, mid-1990s to date). Over the years, APRRE and REA provided not only the mentorship and intellectual stimulus of colleagues, but opportunity to reflect on and pursue research in nagging questions and issues. This is resulting, as the next sections indicate, in a cross-disciplinary scholarship and a feminist, resistant, postcolonial and hopefully liberative pedagogic practice that both nurture and challenge continuing growth.

    2. Major intellectual influences include the following:
    • In Education- Paulo Freire and others in critical pedagogy and popular education;
    • Feminist theory and analysis – exemplified for me in Letty M. Russell, who included ecclesiology and feminist theologies to become one of the foremost feminist liberation theologians of our time;
    • Liberation theologies, both Latin American and EATWOT (Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians);
    • Postcolonial theory- Edward Said plus many others;
    • Biblical Interpretation from the margins– R.S. Sugirtharajah plus Asian North American BI scholarship – hence the indispensable cross-fertilization between AAR and SBL for this RE’er as she focuses on developing group Bible Study leadership skills in church leaders and ministers.
    • Diaspora and Cultural studies – not only Asian but Black and Hispanic.

    3. Shifting of passion if any :
    In my case, it is not so much shifting as developing/expanding – for instance, relating to circle after circle of communities, as with Native/Aboriginal ones in developing a Master of Divinity degree in Native Ministries while with the Vancouver School of Theology (mid-1980s to mid-1990s), and gaining layer after layer of complexity, moving from education for justice to specifically anti-racist education, or from culture-specific/culturally relevant CE/RE to intercultural and interfaith education.

  9. Maureen O’Brien:

    As a child, when asked what I “wanted to be when I grew up,” I would usually answer, “a teacher.” I practiced by playing school with my siblings, and in real school, by developing a passion for learning every sort of subject. Spending my entire pre-college educational years in public schools in rural Pennsylvania, my exposure to religious education came through CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) weekly classes at my Catholic parish. There, I came at the very end of the Baltimore Catechism emphasis that guided most religious instruction for several generations of young US Catholics. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, as we began to absorb the impact of Vatican II, the Catechism’s question and answer structure was literally “in the back” of our CCD textbooks—still present, but no longer front and center. New catechetical content and methods were coming into play. In high school, I remember vividly a textbook that determinedly de-mythologized the Bible and, at the same time, encouraged us to seek a more intimate relationship with God. I think that my experiences with secondary CCD began to nurture, however inchoately, an attraction to joining a love for Catholic religion in the heady postconciliar years with the intellectual quest for understanding and communicating “the faith”—but in a more pastoral mode than the traditional schooling paradigm.

    Attending the University of Notre Dame as a theology major, I benefited from its cooperative arrangement with St. Mary’s College, where a two-semester course in religious education was offered. This included a focus on developmental theory—we studied works by Piaget and Kohlberg—as well as a field placement in a local parish catechetical program. I was probably as well prepared as any college graduate could be to move as a neophyte into a position as a parish Director of Religious Education in a small congregation in northern Georgia. However, it quickly became clear to me that I needed graduate studies in order to grow in my role. I found my place at the then-Institute of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry at Boston College, in the early 1980s.

    The combined commitments of IREPM to pastoral ministry and religious education became a launching place for my continued efforts to bridge holistic faith formation within faith communities with more self-consciously educational pursuits. Studying with Mary Boys and Thomas Groome immeasurably broadened and deepened my understanding of the varied field of religious education. Mary’s book, Educating in Faith: Maps and Visions, provided a typology of important foundations and trajectories in the discipline. Tom’s shared Christian praxis, developed in numerous publications, offered me a flexible yet definable method for engaging in the kind of holistic formational/educational/pastoral efforts that take people’s experience and their interpretations of it with utmost seriousness, while inviting them to take equally seriously the rich and varied resources of their faith traditions.

    My dissertation sought to explore the role of religious education and “the public,” postulating two major tasks: to form Christians in the particularity of their distinctive traditions while directing them toward public engagement, and drawing upon those traditions in the pluralistic public sphere. I used the 1983 pastoral letter of the US Bishops, “The Challenge of Peace,” as a case study for attempting these dual tasks. However, my emphasis shifted back to the pastoral ministry/religious education interface when I was hired at Duquesne University, where I have spent the past eighteen years. Here I work primarily with graduate students precisely at that interface—many of them hold a combination of responsibilities as lay staff at local congregations. In this setting, and as the only specialist in my discipline within a department of theology, my scholarly focus shifted to greater exploration of the field of “practical theology” and its relationship to both the training of lay ministers and to the discipline of religious education. In my REA:APPRRE presidential address several years ago, I posited that practical theology and religious education each has gifts to give the other, and that we as an association can co-exist within their intersection. I look forward to continuing growth in my understanding and practice of religious education through our think tank conversations.

  10. Lib Caldwell

    How Was I Formed As a Religious Educator?

    I went to PSCE to work on a grade degree in religious education immediately after college. Having majored in Bible at Rhodes College and taken a course in the history of the field I went with the goal of studying with Dr. Sarah Little. I can remember sitting in class watching her teach and my heart and soul were captured. It was her style of seamless movement between lecture and dialogue and the way that she invited learners into the conversation. I did not finish that degree which I later regretted but I did start working as a religious educator with a Presbyterian church in Memphis. After three years of primary focus on ministry with children and youth I worked for 11 years as an educational consultant with three Presbyterian churches in the northwest part of Alabama. It was there where I was really formed as a religious educator. I found my passion and call as I taught and supported church school teachers, as I worked with minister colleagues in training church officers. Along the way old binaries fell away as I experienced the integration in me of teacher, liturgist, pastoral care giver. The job of religious educator kept getting bigger and I loved my ministry. No week was ever the same.

    As a local church educator, I participated in denominational and ecumenical educational events. The writings of Jack Seymour, Sarah Little, Maria Harris, Charles Foster, and Thomas Groome were formative as I began to develop my own voice as I moved into a faculty position at McCormick Theological Seminary where I taught for 30 years. It became clear during the interview process that McCormick was looking for a person who had congregational experience. Dr. Robert Worley, a member of the search committee who had studied with Hulda Niebuhr, believed that what seminary students needed was someone who could integrate theory and practice. Having a chance to study with Rosemary Reuther and Rosemary Keller in my doctoral program at G-ETS and Northwestern University in their PhD program helped me claim my voice as a feminist religious educator. The mentoring of Will Kennedy and Jack Seymour in APRRE meetings invited and supported my voice as a scholar and teacher.

    As I reflect on my body of work. I think the focus on the spiritual formation of children and youth in families grew out of my early formative experiences in religious education. My passion for teaching and particularly my interest in art and creativity are a part of my DNA, nurtured by my mother and father. Maria Harris freed me to be bold in teaching a course called god, faith and art, where my job as teacher is less one of didactic instruction and more the role of being a midwife of creativity. I focused a lot of my undergrad on biblical studies. I have always loved engaging biblical text whether in teaching or preaching. I was formed at McCormick by having the chance to teach a methods course with my New Testament colleague, Sarah Tanzer , and a course on reading the bible with children with my Old T colleague Ted Hiebert. Those opportunities have provided wonderful times to consider how good biblical scholarship can be used with children and youth in ways that they don’t have to unlearn things later. This has been the last passion that has emerged in the last five years. So the church, leaders in religious education, and colleagues with whom I taught have been invaluable in my formation.

  11. I became inspired to pursue Religious Education while a seminary student. Kieran Scott was the faculty person teaching my first RE course and I became inspired through his enthusiasm for the discipline. The more I studied, the more inspired I became. I had come to the seminary after having taught a couple of classes in the public school system of NYC and believed that I had a calling to teach but was so frustrated with the school system in NYC that I felt the need to step away from it for awhile.

    Through my seminary work, though, I became reinspired. I invested tremendously in my thesis in which I focused on how to teach young adults for greater spiritual commitment. I remember the rich texts from the Orthodox tradition that I dived into and the amazing RE resources I mined for greater understanding of young adults, faith formation and spiritual discipline. I guess I got a little carried away when I turned in a 200 page MDiv. thesis.

    After working in Asia for almost a year teaching a range of topics and enjoying ecumenical dialogues with diverse clergy, I knew I had to continue my studies in RE. I applied to 2 schools and ended up at Teachers College. I was blessed to be able to study with Will Kennedy, Maria Harris – who adjuncted a couple of courses at Union while I was doing my doctoral studies and Doug Sloan. In addition, the rich discussions that I could take part in with my fellow students and now RE colleagues added to my education and love of the field.

    Imagine my joy when I was asked to teach at the seminary in RE while completing my doctorate. That was 25 years ago. And the field is as fresh and vital to me now as it was then. That experience has been multiplied many times over through the students who come through the seminary each year and who come to realize the richness of RE. Better yet are the testimonies from graduates who occasionally send me stories of their daily discoveries in teaching their students religiously. I can’t imagine it gets much better than this.

  12. Judith Johnson-Siebold

    As a young child I spent Sundays in Sunday School and worship in a dignified tall steeple Protestant church. The theological emphasis at the time was finding God in nature, and I learned to experience the Divine in the rocks and trees around me.
    At the age of ten my family and I moved and became involved in a much smaller congregation where I was asked to teach the preschool class. I had recently been exposed to a smorgasbord restaurant for the first time and so thought of my teaching in those terms: I could offer my young students a series of activities much like a smorgasbord, those activities being ones that would enhance the point I was trying to get across. Many years later I would learn that this method had a name: the learning center approach.
    When I became a teenager we moved again, and I was confirmed in the local Methodist church where there was a much greater emphasis on Jesus that I had heretofore experienced. I attended church camp and experienced a call to ordained ministry that moved my locus of passion from animals to all humankind. Returning to my local congregation, I found that universal love somewhat challenged by a visiting evangelist who informed our youth group that unless we accepted Christ as our personal savior that very night we were all going to hell. I bristled at his assumption that he knew my relationship with God whom I loved, and I refused to accept the idea that God needed me to say certain words in order to keep me out of hell.
    As I continued through high school I found in my local church’s pastor someone who refused to accept the notion that God would call a female to ordained ministry. He insisted that I would have to work in Christian education, instead. Having Christian education framed in that way made it seem as something lesser, and I rejected it.
    At Syracuse University I found a home in the Methodist Student Movement where the Protestant Chaplain, Vernon Bigler, affirmed me and my call in a way I had not experienced before. He helped me navigate access to denominational scholarships, thus enabling me to stay in school. I loved my theology courses, and wrote my senior thesis on the work of Paul Tillich whose common sense theology appealed to my down-to-earth sensibilities.
    My decision to attend Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary was an economic one: they extended more financial assistance to me and my new husband than any of the other schools to which I applied. I was one of only two women in the M.Div. Program and spent a lot of my time explaining why I was taking up space that really belonged to a man. I steadfastly avoided Christian education courses, so I would be seen as a serious ministerial student. This decision haunts me, as DJ Furnish was teaching there at that time.
    While in seminary I supplemented my income by becoming a part-time youth minister at another tall steeple church where I loved designing curriculum and involving the youth in mind-expanding activities. When I took the youth group to the Chicago performance of the musical “Hair” and then led a discussion on its theological implications, one irate mother questioned my call, education, and lineage.
    While some of the other seminary students chose to continue their studies following graduation, I was eager to begin serving as a minister. I was appointed to a church as soon as I graduated and after the probationary period, ordained. I loved preaching, teaching Bible study, and leading the Sunday School in developing an Open Classroom approach. In addition, I enjoyed writing curriculum materials for the United Methodist Publishing House

    Ten years and three children later, I developed and opened a private progressive Christian school. Again, I was enamored with establishing priorities, creating curriculum, and teaching. I was not as excited about the responsibilities of administration. When a ministerial colleague asked me to come serve at his large urban church and create a mid-week education program, I closed the school and developed the highly successful “Steps in Faith” program that continues to this day.
    In the late 1990’s while continuing to serve a church and raise my family, I began work toward a Ph.D. in education at Syracuse. I enjoyed my first taste of presenting papers at conferences and discovered APRRE and UMASCE. I loved the ideas of Mary Elizabeth Moore, Chuck Foster, Robert Browning, Dick Murray, and James Michael Lee, among many others. I was determined to wed practical theology and education and so wrote my dissertation on the cognitive levels exhibited by Sunday School teachers while they were teaching, a la Bloom.
    Throughout my ministry I have been committed to the organized church but deeply concerned about communicating with those outside its reaches. In addition, I have wanted to translate theological theories into practical illustrations. In 2014 I published my first book, “A Different Kind of Joy,” whose intent was to educate people trying to find meaning in their lives. That book was followed in 2015 by “Help for the Trolley,” a children’s book ostensibly about a trolley but also a parable about the church. In 2016 I will publish a second children’s book, “Once There Was No Easter,” a progressive Christian blending of secular Easter practices and sacred meaning.
    United Methodist clergy do not have to retire until the age of 72, so I am still serving a church and writing. It has not escaped my notice that I continue to be called back to my love of religious education, and I am eager to discover what shape that will take in the years ahead.

  13. Rev Dr Elizabeth Nolan, Indooroopilly Uniting Church, Queensland, Australia

    My story –
    I began in Christian Education before I was 6 months old when my mother took me in a basket to teach her Sunday school class and I continued there until I became the minister of a congregation where I had to stay in church to preach the sermon each Sunday in 1996. As my sermons are still teaching ones, perhaps I continue doing Christian Education each Sunday as well as during the week. When I was 9 years old, I began attending the 10 day Junior camp during school holidays and went on to be team leader, staff leader, then Camp Leader by 21.

    Colin Ray, creative and deeply spiritual lay preacher and camp leader, first encouraged me into the field of Christian Education. In my second year teaching High school, I was invited to become a regional resource person for the Methodist DCE in Queensland so I started my official career in CE in 1974. I visited and preached weekly in 20 parishes, teaching Christian Education leaders and teachers, promoting materials published by the Joint Board of Christian Education, and organizing camps for children, youth and adults during the year. Christian Education meant using the latest educational theories, technology and processes to teach the faith to all in the church and to reach out to the community around. It was to use the best contemporary Biblical scholarship and theological reflection to explore and express the faith. Our purpose was to promote effective discipleship including evangelism, justice and compassion ministries. Faith was to be lived congruently and expressed coherently. CE was for all ages with age appropriate content and processes as provided by our JBCE resources. It was ‘done’ mostly by lay people but the theory, content and leadership were provided by clergy specialists, many of whom had studied in the USA.
    After two years working under the Order of St Stephen with the church, I had to return to the Queensland Education Department to fulfil my scholarship bond, but at the end of 1976 I was transferred to its new Religious Education Curriculum Project team. We wrote Religious Education curriculum resources for grades 1-12 ‘suitable for use by all religious groups’ going into State (public) schools in Queensland and conducted teacher education programs for them in various parts of the State. This project was in response to the poor quality of the one lesson of RE per week mandated for all students. It was a multi-faith task for our team of five, but the RE teaching itself could be done as individual faith communities or ecumenical groupings.

    Thus, my focus moved from faith nurture within a worshipping community to religious education in the school setting, including the church related schools also grappling with curriculum issues. We examined approaches in UK, Singapore, and Sri Lanka and drew on theorists from both UK and USA. Prominent among them were UK based John Hull and Michael Grimmitt; and Edwin Cox but rejecting the Ninian Smart approach, preferring the philosophies of (USA) C. Ellis Nelson “Where Faith Begins”; Philip Phenix “Realms of Meaning” and “Education and the Worship of God”; Sara Little “To set one’s heart”; Marvin J Taylor (ed) “Religious Education” and “Changing Patterns of Religious Education”; Paulo Freire “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, Ronald Goldman’s “Readiness for Religion”; Iris Cully “Christian Child Development” and Maxine Greene “Teacher as Stranger”. As I began post-graduate study in the field, writers such as Randolph Crump Miller; Gabriel Moran, James Fowler, Maria Harris and Brian Hill also influenced my thinking. Professors in Queensland advised doctoral study either in UK or USA, so I chose Teachers College, Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in New York in 1983 within the renewed “Religion and Education” doctoral degree under William Bean Kennedy in collaboration with Douglas Sloan (TC) and Jewish Theological Seminary’s Joseph Lukinsky. While waiting for my first interview with Will Kennedy, I noticed the advertisement for the REA 1983 conference with Paulo Freire. Will encouraged me to attend and thus began my APPRRE and REA education where further broadening of my perspectives continues. I think I have missed 6 annual conferences over the years.

    On return to Australia in 1986, I became the Queensland State Co-ordinator, Religious Education and had a staff of five consultants to try to implement the innovations of the RECP curriculum. I also taught ‘Practical Theology’ courses part-time for the Brisbane College of Theology. To pursue ordination in the Uniting Church, I moved to Victoria with the Council for Christian Education in Schools in 1991 as Deputy Director and then to write curriculum for the Joint Board of Christian Education 1994-96. I taught part-time again for the United Faculty of Theology in Melbourne and served on ecumenical and Uniting Church committees overseeing Religious Education and Christian Education nationally. When the JBCE became insolvent in 1996, I moved in to parish ministry in Victoria, Tasmania and now home in Queensland.

    Once again, 40 years later, the Religious Education in schools issue requires changes due to very poor curricula materials and voluntary teachers’ goals and skills. Our Uniting Church withdrew from the Victorian ecumenical council responsible for the curriculum which has deteriorated in goals and content quality. The State government there has removed RE from during school hours from 2016 and I am concerned that other States will follow suit. Other curricula produced in NSW are even worse and the philosophy and teaching practices we advocated in the RECP and its excellent curriculum have been lost, in part due to the loss of academic and church leadership in Christian Education. As a congregational minister I had to add on tasks of chairing our national Christian Education committee and defend its existence, with no time to write new resources.

    Recently, my extra time has been devoted to integrating the lay and ministerial training colleges into a broader ministry of the Board for Christian Formation in Queensland. My understanding of our field as encompassing Continuing Education for Ministry (lay and ordained); lay education for personal faith as well as leadership responsibilities including practical courses for Board responsibilities of church organisations; library resources and contemporary technology; Religious Education in schools philosophy and resources; and integrating worship, education and ‘service’ at local levels. Back in 1977 I used the umbrella image of the field of Religious Education with its segments including religion in the media as well as traditional educational places. My passion is to help the church realise that for our 21st century, we need education to include information about other religious traditions as part of our education at all levels and ages, in congregations and schools and universities. We need to be ‘teaching people how to think religiously and to understand how religious people think’ as well as ‘how to make their behaviours congruent with their beliefs’ as they continually examine and renew them. I thank my colleagues in REA for this global perspective developed over the past 30 years.

  14. Ronnie Prevost

    How I was [and am Being] Formed as a Religious Educator

    Reflecting on how I have been formed as a religious educator has confirmed what the southern author Eudora Welty (1909-2001) once wrote: “Wherever you go, you meet part of your story.”

    Consistent with Horace Bushnell’s maxim, my upbringing in a devout Christian (Baptist) home, I never knew myself to be other than – by some definition – Christian. My parents and the churches in which we would be involved (my father was in the Army during most of my growing up) inculcated the importance of one’s overt profession of one’s faith. The religious education toward that step and afterward included worship, Bible study and memorization, basic doctrinal study, etc. That my parents were joined by ministers and so many other lay persons impressed on me the importance and personal nature of teaching children and others in faith.

    Natural maturation and continuing involvement in churches around the U.S. resulted in my seeing the dire need for religious education that not only dealt with orthodoxy and orthopraxy (terms I did not understand until later), but resulted in lives and churches more reflective of what I understood to be the core of Jesus’ teaching. Early experiences in parish ministry as well as undergraduate and graduate ministerial education served to confirm this vision that religious education be more prophetic in nature and not just a means of cultural reproduction. Success would require the amalgamation of well-thought theology (for all that means) with sound pedagogy.

    Through reading, research and study, I was enriched not only by “the classics”, but also by such diverse writers as Thomas Merton, Elton Trueblood, Clarence Jordan, Will Campbell, et al, I discovered I was not alone in my concern. Through reading – then meeting and, I like to think, befriending — Findley Edge I saw how religious educators can and should be part of revitalizing churches toward more authentic Christianity. James Fowler showed that the religious educator must be patient with persons as they work through stages of faith and diligent to help them do so. At the same time Maria Harris encouraged me to remain revolutionary in implementing the various types of curricula that undergird and are religious education. Tom Groome provided a model by which religious education (indeed, I think, all areas of ministry) can be more effective by leading people to reflect on how they (their stories) really are part of the story of the larger faith fellowship and how that can and should make a positive difference.

    Of course, there are so many others that, as Welty observed in the aforementioned quote, have served to form me as a religious educator because I have met them and they have become part of my story. That has been one of the many joys and blessings of being part of REA/APPRRE over the years and in its permutations. Having colleagues and friends from among many differing Christian denominations and churches as well as other faiths has enriched my life. The dialogue we have shared has been respectful and, often, loving, despite disagreements often deep and strongly held. In this you have challenged me and accepted me and have been an important part of my continuing formation as a religious educator even into retirement. For that I will always be grateful. [On an even more personal note, yet still part of my formation as a religious educator, the fellowship we have shared in REA/APPRRE has played no small part in easing my recent transition from being a “life-long” Baptist to joining a Presbyterian (PCUSA) church.]

  15. O'Gorman, Robert

    Peter Gilmour

    Early in my decade long career in secondary education when I taught both English and Religion, some of my students who I had for both subjects told me I was teaching the same thing in both classes. At first I thought their comments typical of adolescent bantering. After all, I prepared carefully for my classes, and had different material to cover in each subject. Eventually, though, I came to realize the truth of their insight.

    In addition to my English major that solidly grounded me in the literary classics through many required survey courses, I also encountered two fascinating theology teachers in my undergraduate years at Loyola University Chicago. John L. McKenzie, the great biblical scholar, author of ground breaking The Two-Edged Sword, was then in the process of writing his book on the New Testament, The Power and the Wisdom, and also the Dictionary of the Bible. Michael Gannon, had recently returned from theological studies at the Institut Catholique de Paris, and introduced his classes to the theology that undergirded the Second Vatican Council. Like John XXIII who said, “I want to throw open the windows of the Church so that we can see out and the people can see in,” these two teachers expanded my horizons greatly and significantly contributed to my subsequent career in Religious Education.

    In college I was in the midst of the sea change both in American culture and in the Catholic Church. The year I graduated from college, the aforementioned Michael Gannon was beginning a new summer program leading to a Master’s degree in Religious Education at Loyola University. I worked for him that first summer and met a group of fascinating and caring educators both in the faculty and in the student body of the program that became known as the Institute of Pastoral Studies (IPS). These were people I wanted to more fully associate with, and I returned to IPS in summers both to work as a graduate assistant and to go through the program.

    During the academic year I taught both English and Religion at St. George High School in Evanston, IL and, when that school closed, St. Patrick High School in Chicago. St. George High School was progressive, led by an educational visionary, Joseph C. Rost (who went on to write the ground breaking book, Leadership for the 21st Century). St. Patrick High School, by comparison, was stuck in the 1950s. So a group of five teachers, myself included, started an interdisciplinary studies mini school there, i.e., a school within a school. I was the religion teacher in this mini school named “I-Project”. My background both in English and in Religious Education served me well in this innovative program.

    After a decade in secondary education, I began teaching at IPS part time and writing a variety of religious education materials for St. Mary’s Press, The William C. Brown Publishing Co, and the Religious Education Office of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

    Eventually, I became a full time faculty member at IPS and continued until retirement in 2007. Many of the courses I taught centered on narrative and storytelling, autobiography and memoir. Narrative theology became the focal point for many of my scholarly and professional publications. Those high school students at St. George were right!

    Looking back on all this, at the sunset of my academic career, I am gratefully aware of the solid education I received in Catholic schools from the sisters and brothers in elementary and secondary school who first taught me how to read, write, communicate, and think. I am grateful for the education I received in college in both English and Religious Education that gave both roots and wings to my professional career. Most of all, I am forever grateful to the spectacular and generous people who first attracted me to the field of Religious Education and allowed me to accompany them on their personal and professional journeys of faith.

  16. Nelson T. Strobert
    My Formation as a Religious Educator

    My formation initially began at home with my parents. More formal religious education was nurtured at Lutheran Church of the Epiphany in Brooklyn, New York. I can remember a number of my Sunday school teachers, although not formally trained, were dedicated to the task of passing on the faith tradition to us youngsters. While in college I taught the eighth grade Sunday school class.

    My undergraduate years at Hunter College in New York were intellectually and theologically exciting. Through campus ministry, I was active in the Lutheran Club, the Ecumenical Association, and the “Extended Seminar” where we discussed issues with local and visiting theologians and other scholars on race, civil rights, Viet Nam War and gender, etc., through a theological lens. I developed a global perspective through participation in a World Council of Churches work camp in a Cistercian monastery in Brittany, France. During the evenings we discussed various theological topics. In my senior year, I made the decision to enter the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg for the M.Div. program to become a Lutheran parish pastor.

    My internship (vicarage) on St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands provided expanded work in religious education. I helped to redesign the educational ministry at Lord God of Sabaoth Lutheran Church. It was the first time that I was involved in curriculum development from kindergarten through grade 8. In addition, I taught the eighth grade catechetics’ course. During my senior year of seminary, I had numerous conversations with Dr. A. Roger Gobbel who was the professor of Christian Education. He always raised powerful educational questions for me to tackle.

    Upon graduation in 1973, I was ordained and called to be co-pastor to the four Lutheran Churches on St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. One of my responsibilities was coordinating the education programs in the four churches. When one lives on an island, one becomes acutely aware of cultural identity. I began to investigate Christian education materials from the Caribbean Council of Churches as an alternative to the U.S. mainland curriculum which had little connections with people in the Caribbean. Religious education and the religious educator must take into account context.

    I was called to Advent Lutheran Church in Cleveland, Ohio in 1975.The Christian education program left a lot to be desired. Frustrated by my experience, I felt that I needed to hone my skills in this area of ministry. Fortunately, I was able to enroll in the new Master’s Program in Religious Education at John Carroll (Jesuit) University. I was introduced to the work of John Westerhoff and Thomas Groome. My studies helped me to connect the Christian tradition of the past with the present realities. I completed the program in 1981. My advisor, Ray Noll (the director of the program) encouraged me to consider doctoral studies.

    My doctoral work at the University of Akron (1984-1989), helped to sharpen my perspectives in the field. Although a public institution my “doktor fater” Dr. Stephen Thompson was supportive of my interest in religious education having advised Michael Pennock. Although initially interested in curriculum development, my interest shifted toward historical perspectives in religious education. My dissertation combined my interest in Lutheran parochial education and curriculum history. In 1987, while writing the dissertation, I was called to the faculty at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg as Assistant Professor of Christian Education and Director of Continuing Education. I worked with A. Roger Gobbel and helped to introduce new courses into the Master’s degree in Christian Education.

    My years on the faculty (1987-2013) were exhilarating. I was especially strengthened by collaboration with my Lutheran seminary faculty colleagues. We met each year at APRRE and then at REA. Our joint projects produced four texts. My global interests were enhanced through writing and research in the field through the Conference of International Black Lutherans and the Lutheran World Federation. At present, my research interest and writing center on religious educational biography in the African American community.

  17. Kieran Scott
    How I was formed as a Religious Educator

    Speaking of the influence religious actors and institutions are currently playing in every region of the world and on nearly every issue central to U.S. foreign policy, John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State recently declared: “I often say that if I headed back to college today, I would major in comparative religions rather than political science” (American Magazine 9/14/15, 14).

    I can empathize with Kerry’s sentiments. However, comparative religions seem too anti-septic and distant for me. If I headed back to graduate school today, I would do the same thing again – major in Religious Education. It has never been a job for me. It has been work… a vocational endeavor to meet the needs of the church and the world.

    My father never wanted me to go to graduate school. He could not imagine anything more valuable or worthwhile than the practice of ordained ministry in the Roman Catholic Church. Even though he was a school principal in Ireland, he had a lingering suspicion and fear that the university could corrode one’s religious beliefs and commitments. He was correct beyond anything he had ever imagined! In the final years of his life, he wondered out-loud whether I believed in anything. I, on the other hand, was in deeper than ever before – but in a new religious and educational frame.

    I look back at my graduate studies at Teachers College, Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary as among the pivotal turning points in my life. Studying theology at Union should have come natural to me in light of my background. However, I felt like a salmon swimming upstream! Very little stuck…or endured. Later I would come to understand what was happening: my footing in theology was weakening and my passion for it dissipating. On the other hand, when I crossed the street to Teachers College to take courses in education, the light came on. I felt like a fish swimming in an endless sea. It tapped into my latent passion. In Lawrence Cremin’s magisterial works on the history of education, Maxine Greene’s existential and phenomenological approach to education, Dwayne Hubner’s (my mentor) laser-sharp critical analysis, Phil Phenix’s curriculum as Realms of Meaning and Douglas Sloan’s work on imagination and education, I found a new footing and a new intellectual home. The irony was, in this secular setting, I found it very religious! The language spoken was not sectarian (behind the wall) but a more public religious language (at the wall) (Brueggemann).

    Around that time (1977), I read an article by Gabriel Moran titled, “Two Languages of Religious Education”. It described two different ways of speaking of religious education – ecclesiastical and educational. The penny dropped. This was my conceptual breakthrough. It was a call to be bi-lingual. The field of religious education, at that moment, became for me a way of thinking through ways of being religious in a context of education. I now had an intellectual center.

    Over the years, on a number of occasions, I have been mistaken as a biological son of Gabriel Moran. Gabriel assures me this is not so!!!! However, I would graciously receive it as the greatest compliment, if I were to be seen as, or even accused of, being his intellectual heir.

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