Christian education for the Now Generation

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Banish anxiety from your mind, and put away pain from your body; for youth and the dawn of life are vanity. –Ecclesiastes 11:10

Ah but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now. –Dylan

American Presbyterians prepared for the youth movement of the late 1960s a decade in advance. Responding to the radical changes in American families and society at large following the Second World War – the growth of suburbs, the dominance of the automobile, the power of teen culture – the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Board of Christian Education created a task force known as the Committee on the Christian Home to undertake a broad environmental scan of the American family, to compare the Christian education materials of the 1940s to the family of the 1950s, and to recommend revisions. The Committee made a preliminary report to the 171st General Assembly in 1959, and its findings were published in 1961 as Families in the Church: A Protestant Survey. From 1964 on, Families’ co-author Roy Fairchild followed this work with several editions of Christians in Families for the PCUS Covenant Life Curriculum.

Where prior studies of Christian education dealt with assigning Sunday school classes to professional church educators, as did Wesner Fallaw’s “prophetic” Church Education for Tomorrow (1960), or were dedicated to grouping and grading pupils, Fairchild centered Christian education and evangelization on the family unit. His 1964 Christians in Families: An inquiry into the nature and mission of the Christian home offers a frank rendition of the breakdown of Puritanical sexual mores, and treats sexuality – channeled toward the nuclear family – as a gift. Much of Fairchild’s witness to youth echoes his work of the prior decade: youth attend too many sock hops and wear nylons too early. He accurately identifies a craving among youth to take on political responsibilities – given “a frightening future of automation, rockets with thirty million horsepower thrust, shifting populations, and Kinsey reports” (224) – but locates that desire’s expression in civic clubs, volunteerism and “workreation,” essentially offering to teenagers a bowdlerized adult world.

More than adopting the design habits of the day, Christian education in the late 1960s fundamentally altered the terms of its appeal to youth. Educators and administrators strove for empathy. Whereas, from the 1940s until the early 1960s, the language of curricula attempted to pull adolescents into the behavioral modes of adults – promoting summer conferences on college campuses; explaining the PCUSA’s “youth budget plan” – the literature of the upper end of the 1960s attempted to address teenagers as peers.

By far the hippest proponent of youth-centered Christian education was Dennis C. Benson, director of Youth Ministry of the Council of Churches of the Pittsburgh Area. In his The Now Generation (1969), Benson identifies the barriers between adults and youth as a communication failure. Just as Christ spoke in the “accent and cadence of the common tongue,” so Benson writes a primer on the culture of the now – always italicized – generation for its parents, mainly by doing exegesis on Dylan and the Beatles.

He addresses teachers directly in the fully-multimedia Let it Run (1971), which included two colored vinyl flexi-discs, and was to be read like an LP: read to the middle, flip, and read again. Benson aims for “orgiastic creative teaching” involving multiple sound reels, overlapping slide projections and call-and-response “rapping,” culminating in the run-on: “slidesfilmmusicsoundsshadowscreentouchingeachothergivingbagswithsensualthingsinsidedirtywordsonoverheadprojectorkeepingthelightsoutnudityexploredcommercialsgraffitifrombathroomwalls” (25).

Trailing a waft of media theory and cybernetics, Benson’s Electric Liturgy (1972) follows him as he quits his job from mental overload – “The emotion circuitry of the electric age breaks apart when forced through channels which are too rigid” (88) – and prepares a youth liturgy for his church. Along the way, he re-evaluates his relationship to worship as performance and as community. By 1973’s Electric Love, the “free-lance media consultant” has found in the now generation’s electronic telecommunications a counterpart to the all-enveloping community of believers: “The patterns tend to merge into each other. It may seem hard to find the linear structures for re-grooving the nature of our lives in the wired environment […] We are wired to it and part of its energy.” (117)

Real work on the pavement was also published. In 1968, in an attempt to bring congregations’ resources to bear on the problems of unemployment, teen pregnancy, and alcoholism, the Rochester Area Council of Churches pooled its efforts into Project RISK, which undertook youth outreach in storefronts and coffeehouses, where adult RISK workers made themselves available for conversation. The road was rocky: most teen lounges reported fights and drinking. RISK’s 1969 report, published by the Geneva Press as A Design for Ecumenical Youth Ministry, made clear that the work of plain listening was difficult, and that the ultimate reward – bringing youth into the fold – was hazily glimpsed. It also reads as a rebuke to the age’s jive-talking media gurus: “[Youths’] exodus from the church will not be stemmed by an intellectual debate or by any book that presents our theology in ‘hip’ terms […] Ours is not to convert, ours is to communicate. A decision is the person’s, and if you will, the Spirit’s to make.” (27)

On the Third Day

The Beauty of God's EarthLike many citizens of the world, American Presbyterians have changed their approach to environmental conservation through the years. In the nineteenth century the nation’s largest Presbyterian denomination encouraged a localized, private form of ecological witness, often through church publications. Today, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) regularly issues panel recommendations and press releases advocating a coordinated, planet-wide defense of what God created on the third day.

"Scripture Natural History," p. 206. West Press Collection 173.

From “Scripture Natural History,” p. 206.

Early books such as the Presbyterian Board of Publication’s Evenings’ Entertainments (1844) encouraged young people to marvel at their surroundings, using engravings to illustrate flora and fauna. Scripture Natural History (1854) taxonomized resources mentioned in the Bible into the Animal Kingdom, Vegetable Kingdom, and Inorganic Kingdom, linking the “land where the Saviour lived” to readers’ America. God Revealing His Truth Out of Doors (1924), another PCUSA publication, instructed teachers of Daily Vacation Bible School to use passages from the Good Book as starting points for exploring the topics of forests, oceans, flowers, and birds. Love of the natural world has always been a popular sermon topic, as shown in The Beauty of God’s Earth, preached in 1949 by the Reverend John Allan MacLean in Richmond, Virginia. In it, Rev. MacLean cites Biblical teachings that involve elements of nature, such as Jesus using vines and branches as a parable for the interconnectedness of God’s people.

John Goodwin for Religious News Service, Celebration for the Environment, 1970. Religious News Service PC 40245.

John Goodwin for Religious News Service, Earth Day 1970.

The Church’s environmental activism began to take root in the late 1960s, when “environmentalism” as a movement gained national attention. The first Earth Day, documented in the Presbyterian Historical Society’s Religious News Service collection, was celebrated in New York City in 1970, the same year the United Presbyterian Council on Church and Society undertook a two-year study on threats facing human survival on an increasingly crowded planet. That process culminated in the 1971 United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. General Assembly adopting the council’s report, Christian Responsibility for Environmental Renewal, which affirmed “the priority of human values such as: physical health and cultural heritage, rights of life over property rights, …restraint in consumption, equitable distribution of resources, and modes of corporate decision accountable to the public and to existing communities.”

Unlike many secular organizations that restricted their energies to preserving natural resources, American Presbyterians incorporated issues of economic justice and peace into their environmental work. In 1951, the general assemblies of the three largest Presbyterian denominations began issuing statements regarding the environment and its relationship to economic and political integrity—statements often informed by the experiences of foreign missionaries who had seen natural resources be exploited by industrial interests and aggressive political rulers to the detriment of native populations.

In 1984, the PC(USA) played a founding role in the establishment of the Eco-Justice Working Group (EJWG), confirming its increased commitment to environmental stewardship. An ecumenical effort of the National Council of the Churches of Christ, the EJWG defines “eco-justice” as “the arena where issues of distributive justice and issues of ecological sustainability intersect and affect one another.” Working with denominational and ecumenical staff, as well as secular organizations, the group’s purpose is to “reflect and elucidate the theological bases” of eco-justice concerns. The PC(USA) still participates in the EJWG.

From Presbyterian Panel questionnaire findings, 1991.

Presbyterian Panel questionnaire, 1991.

In response to an overture at the 1987 General Assembly, the PC(USA) Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy formed its own Eco-Justice Task Force. Charged with reviewing existing church policies and program activities related to the environment, and developing and implementing a unified policy for all levels of the church, it released for wide distribution a 1989 resource paper called Keeping and Healing the Creation. Two years later, a Presbyterian Panel questionnaire showed that the Church’s more proactive approach to the environment reflected the changing wishes of its congregants, many of who viewed environmental issues such as the depletion of the ozone layer, waste disposal, and population growth as significant problems that were “appropriate social concerns for the [C]hurch.”

As the PC(USA) prepares to discuss environmental issues at this summer’s 2014 General Assembly, including a possible overture urging divestment from fossil fuel producers, the Church’s outspoken defense of planet earth seems likely to continue.

–Adapted from exhibit text prepared by Reference Archivist Charlene Peacock

General Assembly 221 Resources

With only two months until the 221st PC(USA) General Assembly in Detroit, here is an incomplete list of online resources for those interested in all things GA. Please submit comments or any other useful resource links that may have been omitted.


General Assembly


GA221 Specifics

  • Moderator election 2014 from GA Help.
    “One-stop destination for all the info on the moderator and vice-moderator candidates for GA221.” 
  •  PC-Biz: Read through the overtures for GA221 and browse other church business


Further Resources from the PC(USA)

The following publications are the product of assemblies past, and the stepping stones for future insights:


PHS Goes Digital

binary_code_02On April 1st, we updated our 60-year old microfilming program and officially went digital. Microfilm used to be the only way to permanently preserve records, but technological advances have made digital preservation a good alternative and far superior in its usability, cost, and space saving benefits. Furthermore, microfilm can still be used in conjunction with a digital preservation program by writing digital files to film.

While microfilm only requires storage space with little intervention other than climate control, managing digital files is an ongoing process. The Library of Congress defines digital preservation as “the active management of digital content over time to ensure ongoing access.” Digital preservation requires many ongoing actions, such as routine migration (or transfer) of files, replication of files in many places, and the addition of metadata (or descriptive information).

The Society’s digital preservation program began in 2012 when we hired Digital Archivist Elise Warshavsky. After Elise helped us establish the technological infrastructure that would allow us to preserve digital objects, we purchased a CopiBook HD planetary scanner in January to replace our aging Kodak Recordak microfilming camera.

Reformatting Technician Stephanie Becker uses the CopiBook HD planetary scanner.

So, why are images produced by a planetary scanner so superior to microfilmed images? Here’s a side-by-side comparison of unedited images produced by the CopiBook scanner (left) and one produced by the Kodak microfilm camera (right):

comparisonThe CopiBook allows us to scan in 24-bit color at resolutions up to 600 by 600 pixels. Conversely, preservation-quality microfilm is always captured in grayscale. While microfilm produces good text resolution, it is unable to capture a broad range of gray tones, which is required to reproduce photographs and detailed illustrations. But scanners are excellent at capturing both images and text, making high-quality digital surrogates the closest thing to handling original materials. Having great surrogates available means fragile originals can be protected from damage and agents of deterioration.

Our new planetary scanner allows us to offer a broader range of digitization services. Patrons can now request reproduction of scrapbooks and photo albums, which we previously were unable to microfilm.

You can find all of our digitization rates on our website. PC(USA) congregations and mid councils still receive a discount to digitize their records, and PHS still offers Heritage Preservation Grants that help small, financially needy congregations preserve their records in digital form.

Fine Print

Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, WordPress, Yelp, YouTube, and Google have become essential tools for communicating with larger audiences. If you’re like many people you’ve accepted terms of use for dozens of such online services–some of which may cause you problems down the line, especially if you’ve created an account on behalf of your organization.

Social media platforms are notorious for lengthy terms of service (ToS); besides Tumblr’s latest revision, I’ve yet to find a ToS that is inviting or exciting to read. Still, when pushing your organization’s content onto the internet, it’s important to get a handle on what rights you have or don’t when using certain platforms.

The terms of use for each of the major social media platforms–including Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr–include a license provision stating that, as a condition of using the site, the user agrees to give a no-cost license to the site’s proprietors regarding any uploaded content, even if the content is later removed by the user. One should be particularly cautious when using one of these platforms, as there is a potential for loss of control over uploaded content.

One thing you should consider before posting: When you make something publicly available on the Internet, it becomes practically impossible to take down all copies of it.
–Tumblr Terms of Service

Instagram, Facebook, and Google have all recently been involved in lawsuits relating to privacy. If you manage the social media for your organization or have a general interest in your rights as a user, it is recommended that your familiarize yourself with the various ToS documents. You should also do at least one Google search for each network and see what people are saying about changes within the past 6 months; there are usually tips and tactics in online forums that can assist your social media marketing. Terms of Service are fluid documents that change regularly, so be on the look-out for alterations that affect you and your organization.

Some social media website terms of service:

Facebook Terms of Service
(Here’s an extra treat for learning how to use Facebook’s Brand Assets)

Twitter Terms of Service

Youtube Terms of Service

Pinterest Terms of Service

Linkedin Terms of Service

Instagram Terms of Service

Flickr/Yahoo Terms of Service

Foursquare Terms of Service

Google+ Terms of Service

Naismith’s Great Game

“Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.” Joel 2:28, NRSV

James Naismith. From Wikicommons.

James Naismith. via Wikicommons.

Though the Reverend Dr. James Naismith, inventor of Basket Ball, passed away long before anyone referred to the NCAA Division I Basketball Tournaments as “March Madness,” it seems likely he would have enjoyed our nationwide party of college hoops. Dr. Naismith was not just “a medical doctor, Presbyterian Minister…and owner of a vocabulary without cuss words,” as his friend, the legendary football coach Amos Alonzo Stagg, once wrote.1 He dreamed new things. And what is madness, in March or any month, if not a dream-like vision of the world?

His youth in Almonte, Ontario, Canada, had elements of nightmare. His parents died of typhoid fever when he was nine years old, and his brother succumbed to an abdominal infection when James was a student at Montreal’s McGill University. The memory of those losses, and the religious education he received while studying for the ministry at Montreal’s Presbyterian Theological Seminary, shaped his resilient character, as did his outdoor exploits as a lumberjack, rugby player, and football lineman. The Old and New Testament virtues of determination and compassion coexisted in him to an unusual degree. Mr. Stagg—himself a Presbyterian proponent of the “muscular Christianity” movement that encouraged young people to develop in tandem their physical and spiritual selves—said Naismith the lineman could do “the meanest things…in the most gentlemanly manner.”

Naismith's 13 Rules of Basket Ball. via Just in the middle

Naismith’s 13 Rules of Basket Ball. via Just in the middle

Many credit Naismith with inventing the football helmet while teaching at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts (now Springfield College). The safety of Basket Ball players was certainly on his mind in 1891 when he set down the 13 rules of his game, invented to promote indoor exercise among students during New England’s coldest months. Rule Number 5 states, “No shouldering, holding, pushing, tripping, or striking in any way the person of an opponent shall be allowed.” Even the method of scoring, arching a soccer ball into a peach basket fixed high on the wall, protected teammates and opponents from errant shots. No dribbling was allowed in those early games, nor flagrant fouls. In the YMCA Training School’s gym, any player who touched another with the “intent to injure” was immediately ejected.

In Springfield, Naismith coached his future wife, Maude E. Sherman. The two moved to Denver, Colorado, in 1895 so Naismith could complete his physician studies at Gross Medical College. Their last home was Lawrence, Kansas, where Naismith became the director of the gymnasium at the University of Kansas in 1898 and soon started the school’s storied men’s basketball program. Though the only Jayhawk coach to retire with a losing record (he often spent more time refereeing games than coaching his teams), the chapel services Naismith led before hundreds of students, and the guest sermons he delivered at the First Presbyterian Church in Lawrence, were hugely successful. When some church members objected to a Sunday School game he invented where students combined Bible and baseball stories, Naismith took his newest creation on the road as a visiting minister, preaching the gospel of sportsmanship at other churches in the Midwest. 2

Although Naismith was a ruling elder at the Lawrence congregation, he never served as a pastor. Instead, he contented himself with using basketball as his personal ministry to Presbyterians and peoples of all faiths. Wherever life took him and his greatest invention, he never forgot the importance of spiritual guidance. As Josh Swade writes in The Holy Grail of Hoops: One Fan’s Quest to Buy the Original Rules of Basketball, “[Naismith] claimed that the only reason he was offered a position at the University of Kansas was because he knew how to pray.”

Not coach or win… but pray. Let’s hope the men’s and women’s teams in this year’s tournaments are as brave in loss and as humble in victory as the visionary reverend doctor.

1. Swade, Josh. The Holy Grail of Hoops: One Fan’s Quest to Buy the Original Rules of Basketball. New York, NY. : Sports Publishing, 1990.

2. Rains, Rob. James Naismith: The Man Who Invented Basketball. Philadelphia, PA : Temple University Press, 2009.

Maggie Kuhn & Women’s History Month

“Leave safety behind. Put your body on the line. Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind–even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants.” –Maggie Kuhn

Maggie having fun in 1953.

Maggie having fun in 1953.

In 1981, Congress established National Women’s History Week to be commemorated the second week of March. In 1987, Congress expanded the week to a month. Every year since, Congress has passed a resolution for Women’s History Month, and the President has issued a proclamation. The theme for 2014 is “Celebrating Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment.”

Maggie Kuhn, whose papers we recently processed, exemplified these noble virtues. She was certainly a character, certainly courageous, and unquestionably committed to social and political causes. Kuhn is most famous for her pithy quotes and for founding, at age 65, the Gray Panthers, an organization that advocated for senior citizens’ rights. What is less well-known is that she didn’t take up the mantle of activism in her golden years. She was a lifelong activist who had spent decades fighting for human rights, social and economic justice, global peace, integration, urban renewal, and an improved understanding of mental health issues by the time the Gray Panthers came into being in 1970.

Presbyterian Life, June 21, 1958.

Presbyterian Life, June 21, 1958.

Kuhn worked for the YWCA in Cleveland from 1927 to 1930 and for the Germantown YWCA in Philadelphia in the 1930s. In the 1940s, she worked at the United Service Organizations (USO) Division of the National Board of the YWCA in New York where she developed interfaith and interracial programs. After World War II, she served as program coordinator for the General Alliance of Unitarian and Other Liberal Christian Women in Boston.

With this background, Kuhn came highly recommended to the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. in 1948.  One reference described her as “a young woman of real vision and Christian purpose…she works unceasingly for the brotherhood of man.  I regard her as one of the finest Christians I have known, and she would be most effective in any field of social education and action from the Christian point of view.”

Maggie's portrait in 1953.

Maggie’s portrait in 1953.

Working through the Presbyterian Board of Christian Education’s Department of Social Education and Action, Kuhn edited Social Progress, oversaw community relations and social welfare programs, and consulted with women’s groups. She served on the staff of the BCE’s Office of Church and Society and then the Board of National Mission’s Division of Church and Race. In January 1961, Kuhn participated in the first White House Conference on Aging as a consultant and member, gaining valuable insights that would serve her well in the Gray Panthers.

In 1970, Kuhn turned 65 and had to leave her job with the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. because of the mandatory retirement policy then in place.  Reflecting on that time in 1977 for Parade magazine, Kuhn said even though she knew mandatory retirement was coming, it shocked her. “I suddenly felt wounded and angry at having been sent out to pasture to get lost.  Then I figured there must be thousands of old people just like me, and so I decided the time was ripe for us to fight back.”

Throughout her life, Kuhn was affiliated with many service and advocacy groups, including the Memorial Society of Greater Philadelphia; Hospice, Inc.; the National Institute for the Seriously Ill and Dying; the National Senior Citizens Law Center in Washington, D.C.; the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy; the Bread and Roses Community Fund; and the National Policy Center on Employment and Retirement in Los Angeles.

Even in her later years, Kuhn had an abundance of energy.  In addition to her commitment to social causes, she authored several books and articles that followed her arc of activism: You Can’t Be Human Alone, Get Out There and Do Something About Injustice, and Maggie Kuhn on Aging. She published her autobiography, No Stone Unturned: The Life and Times of Maggie Kuhn, in 1991. Kuhn died in 1995, but her vision of what society could be—and should be—continues to serve as inspiration for old and young alike.

To learn more about Maggie Kuhn and her papers: