I was due to attend Spring Harvest this Easter but, for obvious reasons, it was cancelled. Fortunately, all the talks, services and so forth were uploaded to YouTube, so I did not miss out. During one of the sessions, I learnt about a woman called Henrietta Mears and thought you would like to know a bit about her too.
Henrietta Cornelia Mears was born on 23rd October 1890 in North Dakota, the seventh child of a banker and a Baptist laywoman. When she started Kindergarten, Henrietta protested saying it was “to amuse little children, and I'm amused enough. I want to be educated." Following this, at the age of seven, Henrietta declared she was ready to become a Christian and joined the First Baptist Church of Minneapolis, near where the family had moved in 1893/4.
Sadly, Henrietta was a sickly child and by the age of 12 had developed muscular rheumatism. Her condition began to improve, which she believed to be the result of healing prayers, however, her eyesight worsened. She was advised to give up on her education by doctors who believed that if she continued to study, she would be blind by the age of 30. Yet, Henrietta was steadfast in her aim to attend the University of Minnesota and put her foot down, saying, "Then blind I shall be—but I want something in my head to think about." Fortunately, she was still able to see when she graduated in 1913 and began to teach chemistry at the Central High School in Minneapolis.
Henrietta continued to attend the First Baptist Church where she was encouraged to turn Sunday Schools into educational opportunities. After working there for ten years, Henrietta took a sabbatical year to think about where to enter Christian work full-time. Whilst there, she visited the First Presbyterian Church Hollywood and met the pastor, Stuart MacLennan, who offered her the position of Director of Christian Education.
The new role meant Henrietta had to permanently move to California, where she was put in charge of training Sunday School teachers. She implemented an age-appropriate curriculum that covered everyone from birth to adulthood. She believed Sunday Schools were the best way to teach others about the Bible.
Within two years, attendance at the Sunday school had risen from 450 to more than 4200 young people per week. Her training program attracted 6500 people and she delivered many of the lessons herself.
Henrietta Mears has been heralded one of the most influential Christian leaders of the 20th century. She founded Gospel Light, a publishing company to print her training materials and set up Forest Home, a Christian conference centre. She also pioneered Gospel Literature International, which inspired the ministries of hundreds of people, including the evangelist Billy Graham (1918-2018).
Although Henrietta Mears did not invent the concept of Sunday school, she completely changer its purpose and how it was run. Sunday schools today still follow her guidelines and her book, What the Bible is All About, has sold over 3 million copies. Sadly, we have no children in our church at the moment, but when we do in the future, we can look to Henrietta Mears as a model for our Sunday School.
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon