Elizabeth Nolan

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.

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