Mears, Henrietta 
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Time Period
10/23/1890  - 3/20/1963
Description
Henrietta Mears (1890-1963) became the preeminent Sunday school curriculum developer in the 1930s. At a time when many thought the Sunday school was a dying institution, she reignited its popularity by developing quality Sunday school teachers, maintaining complete curricula for all ages, and using cutting-edge technology. As Christian education director at a Hollywood Presbyterian church, Mears helped their Sunday school grow from 450 to more than 6,500 during her first decade of ministry.

Sensing a dearth of quality Sunday school curricula, Mears chose to author her own. Founding Gospel Light Press in 1933, she penned numerous popular Sunday school publications, including Wonderful Lessons from the Wonderful Word (1936). By 1938, Mears achieved the reputation of a nationally recognized curriculum writer and authority on developing Sunday school teachers and leaders.

Numerous Christian leaders have cited Mears’ influence on their lives, including evangelist Billy Graham and Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright.
Interactive Timeline(s)
Women and Religion
Presbyterian Religious Events and People in American History
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Women and Religion in American History
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Narrative
Henrietta Cornelia Mears was born on October 23, 1890, in Fargo, North Dakota. Her father, Ashley Mears, was a wealthy banker, and her mother, Margaret Burtis Mears, was heavily involved in their Baptist church. Upon losing their wealth in the Panic of 1893, the Mears family relocated to Minneapolis, where they joined the First Baptist Church of Minneapolis. While she contracted muscular rheumatism at age 12 which could have rendered her blind, Mears went on to graduate from the University of Minnesota in 1913. Upon graduation, she became a chemistry teacher in public school. Mears became heavily involved in her home church, teaching a Sunday school class that grew in numbers over the course of a decade due to a rigorous system of small groups.

After a yearlong sabbatical, and the encouragement of Stewart MacLennan, then pastor of First Presbyterian Church (FPC) in Hollywood, California, Mears began her work at First Presbyterian as director of Christian education in 1928. Under Mears’ leadership, the Sunday school at FPC grew from 450 to more than 6,500 during her first decade of ministry. She worked tirelessly to develop quality Sunday school teachers, maintain complete curricula for all ages, and use cutting-edge technology. While directing the program, Mears chose to teach the college class with an aim toward converting young men and women and preparing them for leadership in the worldwide church.

Significant Contributions to Christianity in the United States

Sensing a dearth of quality Sunday school curricula, Mears chose to author her own. Churches across the nation often requested her curricula, which led her to found Gospel Light Press (which later became Gospel Light Publications) in 1933. Through Gospel Light, she published The Life of Christ According to Luke, The Challenges of the Christian Life (1936), Wonderful Lessons from the Wonderful Word (1936), and What the Bible is All About (1966, rev. 2nd edition in 1998). By 1938, Mears achieved the reputation of a nationally recognized curriculum writer and authority on developing Sunday school teachers and leaders. Mears used this platform to reignite the popularity of the Sunday school, which was thought of by many as a dying evangelical institution. She cofounded the National Sunday School Association and spoke on the topic Sunday school in churches all across North America.

While noted for her impressive work in religious education, Mears also left her mark on evangelism. She purchased a resort in the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California and founded the Forest Home Christian Conference Center in 1938. While many attendees came from FPC, the conference center drew people from many different churches. This ministry recorded thousands of decisions made for Christ, including several in the film industry. Mears went on to found GLINT (Gospel Literature in National Tongues, later named Gospel Literature International) in 1961, the purpose of which was to translate Gospel Light publications into other languages. Numerous Christian leaders have cited Mears’ influence on their lives, including evangelist Billy Graham and Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright. She remained at FPC for 35 years until her death in 1963. More than 2,000 people attended her funeral, a testament to the impact she had in her ministry.
Religious Groups
Presbyterian-Reformed Family: Other ARDA Links

Photographs

Henrietta Mears portrait- Forest Home
Book/Journal Source(s)
Kurian, George Thomas, and Mark Lamport (Eds.), 2016. The Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Web Source(s)
https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781442244320/The-Encyclopedia-of-Christianity-in-the-United-States-5-Volumes
If you enjoyed reading this entry, please buy the Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States at the link above.
Web Page Contributor
Benjamin Espinoza

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