Adrienne Carr’s appointment to the Candler faculty was not typical for the times. She was the first woman appointed to the faculty. She did not have the scholarly-focused or general church leadership resume generally expected of prospective faculty members in a theological school. She and her husband John brought instead, the experience of educationally revitalizing congregational life and mission by engaging laity in rigorous and creative approaches to biblical and theological study. They were invited as a “team” by Dean James Laney who had, as he recalled, been looking “outside the box” for someone to lead the “ambitious field education program in supervised ministry” the faculty had just embraced and to “bring fresh energy, imagination and creativity” to the school’s Christian Education program. Their impact on the life and mission of the school, individually and together was, and continues to be, significant.
Laney had known John Carr since he was a student in Yale College and a participant in the Wesley Foundation. After John entered the Yale Divinity School he became a student pastor in the congregation Laney was serving. Since they kept in touch after John’s graduation Laney became acquainted with Adrienne and her approach to Christian education after she and John had married and in the congregations they started in Cleveland, Ohio and Indianapolis, Indiana, and served in Columbus, Ohio. “It seemed obvious” to Laney in retrospect, that the “imagination and creativity” with which they had engaged their ministries in these congregations, “unconstrained by, but not indifferent to more conventional approaches” to the education of laity and clergy, “fit the bill” of Candler’s needs.
Laney’s description of their approaches to education as being “unconstrained by, but not indifferent” to approaches that were more “conventional” may be particularly apt when considering Adrienne’s contributions to the educational mission and community life of Candler. With an appointment in Christian education, she took seriously the conventional concerns of the field to equip future leaders of the church to teach children, youth, and adults and to order in congregational life the ability to transmit the traditions of faith from one generation to the next—with a distinctive emphasis, however, on equipping those future leaders to reflect critically on the meaning of those traditions in the daily practices of their faith.
Ethel Johnson, director of field education at the Methodist Theological School, a national leader among United Methodist Christian educators and Youth Theological Initiative “wise” person, described her experience of Adrienne on the staff of the church in Columbus as the “epitome of an ideal Christian educator.” She was “resourceful, creative, fun, and no nonsense. Students had a hard time keeping up with her.” Brenda Bennefield, administrative assistant in the Program of Christian Education, who probably had the best view of Adrienne’s interactions with students, recalled that Adrienne was a “Christian educator at heart.” With “a passion for students” she had an “open door policy for meeting with students,” giving freely of her “time and talents.” She “loved working with and educating laity in the church” as well and “had a passion for women in ministry in and outside of the church, encouraging and challenging them to have a voice.” Aware of what women endured, Adrienne “mentored and shared her knowledge to help them be successful in their call to ministry.”
The “no nonsense” resourceful creativity Johnson observed in Adrienne’s supervision of students at First Community Church in Columbus was evident as well in the Candler community as she engaged students in educational practices directed to their empowerment as persons in transforming the quality and character of life in their families, classrooms, congregations and public life. In this regard, she was for Rod Hunter “at her best seeking to improve relationships and the school by attending to the most basic levels of practical knowing, which, humble and overlooked though they often are among us, are nonetheless of critical value and importance in the overall life of any community, and often make a substantial difference in how communities actually function.”
The imagination and creativity Adrienne brought to her understanding of a practical way of knowing in her approach to teaching and educational leadership had been developed and refined in teacher training sessions she led in the congregations she served; in sessions of Harried Housewives, a small group educational experience Adrienne designed to help women step out of their traditional roles to exercise their voices in their homes, congregations, and communities; and in the short term and small group study resources she had developed with John called the Experiment in Practical Christianity and The Power and Light Company. The attention Adrienne and John brought to the praxis or engagement of the traditions of faith in the actions of daily life and work in the congregations they served through these small group educational processes would subsequently influence the shape of student experience at Candler, in the courses Adrienne taught and in the way students reflected on their field education experience in the small groups of Supervised Ministry.
The attention to praxis learning, or practical ways of knowing, Adrienne and John gave to the educational events in their ministries in The Experimentin Practical Christianity and Power and Light was also their most visible contribution to the movement in church renewal, energizing many congregations across the country through the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. Leaders of the movement with whom they were closely involved included George Oliver Nelson, founder of the Kirkridge Retreat Center, which became a primary gathering place for those involved in the movement. Nelson was later appointed professor of Christian vocation and director of field education at Yale Divinity School where he was serving when John Carr and two other Yale students—Robert Raines and Robert Lynn—who would play important roles in the course of John and Adrienne’s ministries were students. In his first pastoral appointment, Raines gave leadership to the revitalization efforts of a congregation in Cleveland he would eventually describe in New Life in the Church. John would soon be appointed to a congregation also in Cleveland. Robert Lynn continued his studies after graduating from Yale in a doctoral program at Union Theological Seminary where he met Adrienne. He interrupted his studies to serve the Montview Presbyterian Church in Denver as its minister of education, which subsequently called Adrienne to be its director of the congregation’s ministries with women and children. While she was serving that congregation, Lynn introduced John and Adrienne. Lynn returned to Union where he completed his doctorate, joined the faculty and continued his study of the strategic role of Protestant church education in forming American public life—a theme central to The Experiment in Practical Christianity Adrienne and John had developed to guide their efforts in establishing a new congregation in Indianapolis and one that would become central in Candler’s new program of supervised ministry. Raines was called to the First Community Church in Columbus, Ohio which eventually would also call Adrienne and John to be its teaching theologian and director of women’s and children’s ministries. The Carrs, Raines, and Lynn would continue to emphasize practice or praxis ways of knowing in the life of the church and theological education as each moved on—Adrienne and John to the Candler faculty, Raines to the Kirkridge Retreat Center as its director, and Lynn as the vice president for religion at Lilly Endowment, Inc.
Given the focus of her ministry on the practical engagement of laity with the biblical and theological traditions of the church in daily life, it should be no surprise, as Professor Emeritus of Pastoral Theology Rodney Hunter has recalled, that Adrienne in the theological school setting might be uncomfortable “with what she considered to be the excessively abstract, academic style of faculty conversation and discussion, not only in matters theological, but with respect to curriculum and especially pedagogy.” Adrienne, however, was not shy or reticent. She was instead “particularly keen to point out” to her colleagues “that what students heard in class, and what they understood and learned, was not necessarily what the academic faculty thought it was teaching.” She was at the same time, always “eager to help both students and church members put their understanding of the Gospel into forms of action that brought it down to earth, was tangible, visible, and effective.” That commitment led her to “promote forms of pedagogy that enabled students to appropriate and make practical sense out of what they were learning in the classroom.” She spoke up in committee meetings, especially those focused on developing or designing some new direction for a course or field of study. She paid attention to what students were saying as they struggled to make sense of their educational journeys through the seminary curriculum. And once in a while she would do something more direct such as leaving the desks she had arranged in a circle to facilitate the conversation that was at the center of her own pedagogical practice when she left the room. In deciding to leave the chairs as they were rather than returning them to the lecture format, she indirectly confronted the colleague who followed her in that room with questions about how the classroom environment affects student learning.
As Laney noted, she was, as “the first woman on our faculty, a strong presence and a strong personality. She could and did stand up to the men who simply were not used to having to deal professionally with someone like her, but she did it without being abrasive. She just stood her ground.” Adrienne and John would, in other words, have “a profound influence on changing Candler’s culture,” in helping to create an “ethos out of which fresh ideas emerge,” including those shaping the academic life of the school. In that regard, she helped to create a more welcoming space for the women who later joined the faculty and the women who were enrolling as students. Reflecting back on her tenure at Candler, Hunter suggested that “No doubt we could have learned more from Adrienne than we did…she was, in her own unique way, a vibrant and important witness to an incarnational dimension of truth and the importance of the humble, realistic practical dimension of teaching, learning, life, and Gospel. Adrienne taught us to attend to it as ardently and passionately as we attend to the higher truths and insights we pursue.” He concluded his comments by adding that “we can all be grateful for her witness among us to the value of practicality and the importance of keeping our feet on the ground even as we aspire to ascend the heights of wisdom!”
Former Associate Dean Mary Lou Boice recalled that the practicality of Adrienne’s impact on the school was not only in the academic program. She “was always about helping people. She didn’t have to know someone well to want to gallop to the rescue.” Stanley Thangaraj, who, at the time was the nine year old son of new faculty member Thomas Thangaraj, D.W. and Ruth Brooks Professor Emeritus of World Christianity, recalls how Adrienne and John Carr were “woven through the fabric of our family story in the United States. When we first moved here in 1988 (from India), she was one of the folks who brought us all kinds of furniture, clothes, and linen.” He then shared, that more than thirty years later, he still had “the sports blanket she gave us.”
That generosity was also visible in the hospitality Adrienne and John extended to students and faculty. Brenda Bennefield recalled how Adrienne would regularly invite both students and faculty to their mountain home so they and their spouses could get away and have time with themselves and for sharing with other couples—sometimes while riding their horses or hiking in the woods. The practicality of her generosity of spirit and “no-nonsense approach” to enhancing the quality of the experience of her colleagues was often highlighted by a keen sense of humor. Charles Howard Candler Professor Emerita of Old Testament Carol Newsom recalled, in just one example, that as a new member of the faculty she was feeling she was about “to collapse from the relentless demands of creating all new courses.” Aware of the extent to which she was struggling, Adrienne told her to “‘Remember…you’re having to create ex nihilo four times this year. God only had to do it once!’ It was funny, but it also helped me realize that the workload was extraordinary and that I shouldn’t think I was being incompetent! Ad was one of the few faculty members who paid attention to the stresses on the new faculty members and tried to help us adjust.”
Adrienne Carr, in other words, was, as the first woman on the faculty, a powerful presence, a creative force in the classroom, and with her commitment to the practicality of Christian knowing, a significant influence in shaping the character of the Candler community and the relevance of the curriculum for the challenges students would encounter in the course of their ministries. In Laney’s words, Adrienne with John were “a wonderful team,” infusing “a fresh spirit and life into all they did—indeed, into the whole school.” Individually and together, they leave a rich legacy, one enhancing almost every aspect of the life and mission of the school.