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Liberal Catholicism and Religious Education: The Ministry of Adelaide Teague Case

By Brandt L. Montgomery

The dedication of Solomon’s temple in 1 Kings chapter 8 was a day of great rejoicing for Israel. The temple was built as an edifice for the worship of God and to serve as the nation’s assembly hall. Solomon, surrounded by all the nation’s elders, tribal heads, and family chiefs, prayed a blessing over Israel. He prayed for the people to conform themselves to God’s will and for the Gentiles to come to a saving awareness of God. Solomon’s prayer conveyed a balance between the work of God in the human heart and humanity’s choice to dedicate itself to keeping God’s ways. What Solomon’s prayer reminds us of is that our best motive and facilitating agent for living a righteous life comes from nothing else and no one else but God.

The religious education work of Adelaide Teague Case, whom the church provisionally commemorates on June 19, echoes Solomon’s prayer for God’s people. To study Case is to see someone guided by religious principles, her work like the building and dedication of Solomon’s temple. But, unlike that temporal building, Case’s work, by God’s grace, is built from the living stones of God’s Word, and can continue with us learning from her example.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1887, Case was primarily raised in New York City. She was a gifted student, having received her bachelor of arts degree from Bryn Mawr College in 1908 and master of arts and doctor of philosophy degrees from Columbia University in 1919 and 1924 respectively. Case enjoyed a distinguished academic career, having taught from 1919 until 1941 in the Religious Education Department of Columbia University’s Teachers College, then as professor of Christian education at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, from 1941 until her death in 1948. It was this latter position that made Case a trailblazer, as it made her the first full-time female faculty member with the rank of professor at an Episcopal seminary. Case was deemed to be the foremost authority in the field of religious education in her time.[1]

Case’s commitment to the study, teaching, and practice of religious education emanated from her deep Christian faith. Raised an Episcopalian, she lived out her faith within the liberal Anglo-Catholic tradition. As an Anglo-Catholic, through the Church’s liturgy and sacraments, the living Christ became the governing force of all her life and academic ministry. As a liberal Anglo-Catholic, Case sought to “preserve the best of the past in … light of the best of the present so as to build for the best future.”[2]

For the Anglo-Catholicism of Case’s generation, significant importance was put on the doctrine of the Incarnation. Not only was God’s Word taught, but it also became visible in the Person of Jesus. The Word of God becoming flesh made the Christian faith joyful to live out, not just to intellectually learn.[3] Hence, Case believed that religious education’s purpose was to encourage and form students to be active citizens of the world. In As Modern Writers See Jesus (1927), she wrote

The … task of religious education is to make Jesus of Nazareth available for the students of our generation; to make it possible for children and young people in the modern world to share, as moderns, in the experience of Jesus, and to relate that shared experience to the problems of modern life.[4]

Case’s liberal Anglo-Catholicism formed her belief that the methodology of religious education should be student-centered and not teacher-focused.  I refer to this methodology as evangelistic in nature. Furthermore, her advocacy for religious education to go beyond Sunday schools to private homes, playgrounds, grocery stores, and other places recognizes how God is everywhere, religious inquiry can come any time, and how we all have a role to play in a child’s Christian upbringing.[5]

Case was a Christian who was socially liberal, yet thoroughly orthodox in her theology. She believed Jesus to be the same yesterday, today, and forever. She conveyed this belief by employing modern methods to reveal to others the truth of God made known in Jesus. Modern research and methods can and should lead us to the living Christ who never changes. What made Case an effective teacher was how, like Solomon’s prayer over the people, the main facilitating agent for her academic work and Christian life was nothing and no one else but God. Not only was Adelaide Teague Case an effective teacher, but she was also a Christian evangelist to the academy.

As a priest-educator, I find Case’s story fascinating. To borrow from William Augustus Muhlenberg, himself the most respected Church school educator of the 19th century, Case’s methodology can spur a renewal “of [the special] mission [of] Christian education.”[6] That special mission is to show how the gospel of Jesus Christ is more than just an idea, but that it is true and stands fast forever. Like the building of Solomon’s temple, Case’s academic work from the early to mid-20th century built her students up as living stones of God’s greater glory. Every religious educator would do well to research her methodology for their own teaching.

How can Adelaide Teague Case’s work be helpful for us in this time? It can be helpful by reminding us of exactly whose people we are and that we ought to renew ourselves to listen to God’s Word. As Solomon prayed and Case did in her own life, we should incline our hearts to God, walk in all his ways, and keep his commandments. May Adelaide Teague Case pray for all of us, that we will never forget that our best motive and facilitating agent for living a righteous life comes from nothing and no one else but God.

[1] “June 19: Adelaide Teague Case, Teacher, 1948” in A Great Cloud of Witnesses: A Calendar of Commemorations (Church Publishing, New York, 2016); “Case, Adelaide Teague” in An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church: A User-Friendly Reference for Episcopalians.

[2] “Adelaide Teague Case” in A Great Cloud of Witnesses; Frank Gavin, ed., Liberal Catholicism and the Modern World (Morehouse, 1933), p. vi.

[3] E. Clowes Chorley, Men and Movements in the American Episcopal Church (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1946), p. 315; The Interpreter’s Bible (Volume XI: Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Pastoral Epistles, Philemon, Hebrews) (Abingdon Press, 1955), p. 421.

[4] Adelaide Teague Case, As Modern Writers See Jesus: A Descriptive Bibliography of Books About Jesus (The Pilgrim Press, 1927), p. i.

[5] For more information, see Case’s Liberal Christianity and Religious Education (Macmillan Company, 1924), “The Faith and Education,” in Liberal Catholicism and the Modern World, pp. 151-159, and “Christian Education,” in The Church Through Half a Century: Essays in Honor of William Adams Brown (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1936), pp. 229-247.  

[6] William Augustus Muhlenberg, “Farewell to Kerfoot” in Hall Harrison, Life of the Right Reverend John Barrett Kerfoot, D.D., LL.D., First Bishop of Pittsburgh (Volume I: 1816-1864) (James Pott & Co., 1886), p. 33.


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