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David Hunter

By Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook


DAVID ROBERT HUNTER (1910-2001), an Episcopalian, developed the innovative curriculum of the 1950s and 1960s known as the “Seabury Series” and a program of group dynamics training called Parish Life Conferences. An ecumenist and interfaith activist, Hunter was active in a variety of social issues, including Civil Rights, the Vietnam War, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. During his long career, Hunter served as an educator and administrator for a wide variety of organizations, including the Religious Education Association, the National Council of Churches of Christ, the World Council of Churches, and the United Nations.


David Robert Hunter (1910-2001) was born on September 25, 1910 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of John and Mabelle Mae Hunter. He attended Westminster College where he received a A.B. in 1932. Raised a Presbyterian, Hunter studied at Princeton Theological Seminary 1932-1933, and Union Theological Seminary in New York City, 1933-1935, where he received the B.D. degree. Hunter also attended Boston University Graduate School for two years, 1936-1938. In 1952 he received a doctorate in education (Ed.D) from Harvard Graduate School of Education. 

After serving in the Congregational Church, Hunter was received into the Episcopal Church and was ordained to the diaconate and priesthood by Bishop Henry Knox Sherrill of the Diocese of Massachusetts in 1940. His later work in education was anchored with a depth of pastoral experience in his early ministry. From 1935-1938 he served as chaplain and director of clinical training of ministers at the State Infirmary, Tewksbury, Massachusetts, assuming a similar position at Massachusetts General Hospital, 1938-1941. Hunter also served as seminary faculty: From 1936-1942 he taught practical theology at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. From 1948-1952 he returned to the same seminary to teach Christian education.

David Hunter’s major positions in Christian Education included seven years (1945-1952) as Executive Secretary of the Department of Christian Education of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. Hunter’s diocesan education work received national attention and he was called to serve as the Director of the Education Department at the Episcopal Church Center in New York City, the denominational headquarters, from 1952-1963. A career-long ecumenist and interfaith advocate, Hunter next served as Associate General Secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ (NCCC), the second ranking leader of that organization, from 1963-1965, and Deputy General Secretary from 1965 until his retirement in 1975. David Hunter served as the president of the Religious Education Association, 1966-1969. He worked in the Program Unit for Education and Renewal of the World Council of Churches for ten years, 1971-1981. He also served as the Director of Educational Programs for the Council on Religion & International Affairs, 1975-1978. For fifteen years, 1980-1995, Hunter served as a non-governmental (NGO) representative at the United Nations.

Throughout his far-reaching career David Hunter served a number of local Episcopal congregations in the Diocese of Massachusetts as pastor: 1939-1941, Trinity, Bridgewater, Massachusetts, 1941-1945, Church of the Holy Spirit, Mattapan, Massachusetts. After his retirement, Hunter returned to parish ministry in the dioceses of Long Island and New York, as priest-in-charge: St. Ann & Holy Trinity, Brooklyn, 1981-1982, Christ Church, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, 1983-1984, St. Luke’s, Forest Hills, New York, 1985-1986, Church of the Transfiguration, Freeport, New York, 1987-1988, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Valley Stream, New York, 1988-1989, and for a second term at Christ Church, Bay Ridge Brooklyn, 1990-1991.

In 1935 David Hunter married Jewell Peterson; the marriage ended in divorce. The couple had four children; Joan, Sara, Stephen, and D. Peterson, seven grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. In 1965, he married missionary, educator, and church executive Carman St. John Wolff, the first woman in the Episcopal Church to lead a national program. In their retirement the Hunters lived in Brooklyn and Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands. Carman Hunter predeceased her husband by a year. David Robert Hunter died from heart disease on August 26, 2001 in a retirement community in Moorestown, New Jersey. His memorial Eucharist was celebrated at Trinity Episcopal Church, Moorestown, New Jersey. David Hunter’s ashes were interred at St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Virgin Gorda.    

Contributions to Christian Education

As Executive Secretary of the Department of Religious Education for the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, David Hunter brought extensive experience as a pastor, chaplain, and a new doctorate in education. Known for building an extensive multi-level and multi-generational education program at the Church of the Holy Spirit, Mattapan, he was an active member of the Church League for Industrial Democracy, and also worked with the Social Service Department of the diocese. Committed to social justice and interfaith relations, Hunter was known as the developer of the Good Neighbor Association of Dorchester, Mattapan, and Hyde Park, Massachusetts, an organization committed to combating anti-Semitism after several hate crimes in the region during World War II. In the summer of 1947, as chair of the New England Chapter of the American Christian Palestine Committee, Hunter served as an accredited correspondent at the meetings of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOM). He also served from 1958-1952 on the Massachusetts Governor’s Committee on Racial Discrimination.

Hunter became known during his years in diocesan education as someone with a vision of Christian education that belonged to the whole company of faithful people, and with a vision of teaching that led to creative insights for every area of life. Known as a priest of deep personal devotion and great moral courage, Hunter was seen as a scholar and as an activist; an educator who applied critical research skills to the problems of church and society for the good of the whole human community.

Before his appointment as director of the Department of Christian Education at the Episcopal Church Center in New York in 1952, David Hunter had not yet worked with the church on a national scale. At the same time, his work as Executive Secretary of the Department of Christian Education in the Diocese of Massachusetts was considered noteworthy. Hunter had previously been invited to join the national staff as Officer for the Adult Division and as Associate Editor for adult curriculum development; at the time he was also considering an offer from the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts to join the faculty. Although he was not yet 42 years old, Hunter brought a wide variety of experience to the position. His six years as a hospital chaplain, six years in the parish, seven years in the diocesan Christian education department, and nine years as a lecturer in practical theology, developed his administrative skills and gave him insights into the mission of the church. Moreover, his newly completed doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education provided the technical training needed in education.

David Hunter’s dissertation, “Leadership and Group Productivity,” was a critical study of the adult study course on “Successful Marriage and the Christian Family” sponsored by the national Education Department of the Episcopal Church in 1949. Hunter’s study of twenty parish groups in the Diocese of Massachusetts focused on three hypotheses: 1) Group-centered leadership provides a change in attitudes and opinions significantly greater than leader-centered leadership; 2) Group-centered leadership provides a change in behavior and performance significantly greater than leader-centered leadership; and, 3) Group-centered leadership provides  a climate wherein members are better able to differentiate between productivity potential and ego satisfaction potential than can be obtained in a leader-centered climate. Hunter’s study paved the way for his later work in group dynamics. Interestingly, he noted that few parishes in Massachusetts were ready for experiential leadership to the extent that they used the materials the way they were conceived; no parish known to the diocesan headquarters used the material without changing it sufficiently enough to make it a leader-centered program rather than a group-centered activity.    

Informed by John Dewey and progressive education, David Hunter believed in educational efforts which began where people are, and that content was a means to an end, rather than the end itself. He believed that if the church intended to throw out all of John Dewey that it would have to omit Christ as well, because Dewey always approached people at the point of their deepest need. Hunter saw the doctrine of the Incarnation as fundamental to the work of the department, as Christian education proceeds from a way of life and a belief in the eternal nature of the truth which comes to humanity through God’s revelation.

The central educational work of David Hunter’s career was the publication of the Episcopal Church’s Seabury Series. Work on the series began shortly after Hunter’s appointment in 1952. Hunter’s vision of the series included emphases on factual knowledge, Christian character, and church fellowship. He was guided by the belief that the curriculum must embody the educational process within the total life of the church. Hunter believed that traditional Sunday school models could be successful, but only with added support in the home and within the worshipping community. 

The first courses of the Seabury Series (grades one, four, and seven) debuted in 1955 to both praise and blame. By 1957 materials from nursery school through ninth grade were completed, with new parents’ courses coming out each year. The materials were considered rigorous in that they advised preconditions that would be necessary if the materials were to be used successfully in a church; a concerned group of supporters, corporate family worship services on Sunday morning, a parents’ study class, and the training of prepared teachers. The program also recommended a 50 minute class session, as well as one observer per classroom to work with the teacher. The innovative program required teachers to develop their own lesson plans, with an emphasis on “experience-centered” learning which grounded the courses within the everyday lives of young people and adults. Hunter also assured the church that this experience-centered approach would not neglect the basic content of the church’s heritage, though the dynamic pedagogy of the materials would give them a deeper meaning for the learner than the usual content-centered approach. Teacher manuals designed to accompany the Seabury Series did not include set lesson plans, but provided teachers with developmental information about the age group, suggested teaching procedures, and a wide variety of additional resource materials.

Because of the demands placed on individual teachers in the Seabury Series, under David Hunter’s leadership the Department of Christian Education developed training opportunities to support diocesan training programs for teachers and for clergy so they could give local support. He did not think it was realistic to drop a new and demanding curriculum on vestries, teachers, and clergy without adequate training. Sixteen summer clergy training institutes on the Church and Group Life, modeled after the work of the National Training Laboratories, were held to provide background in group dynamics. The training program on Group Life enrolled more than 2600 Episcopal clergy, as well as labs in England, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. Another form of teacher training, known as Parish Life Conferences, or weekend retreats for up to 40 parish leaders to get in touch with the deepest needs of the people in their congregation, and to become redemptive communities, were also instituted across the church. These programs became some of the most controversial of the Department of Education, chiefly because they relied heavily on group dynamics, which some felt was too “touchy-feelie.”

Accounts suggest that during his years in the national Department of Education, Hunter spent many years defending the training labs and the Seabury Series. Yet when an evaluation questionnaire was sent to over two thousand participants, 91.6 percent rated the labs as “valuable” or “extremely valuable.” After an initial year, nine out of ten letters to the Christian Education Department about the Seabury Series were positive, and the overall ecumenical response was good. By the time all the course material was available, one-third of Episcopal parishes based their education on the Seabury Series; many other parishes selected certain courses for use. In addition, thousands of individuals in the United States and overseas took part in the conferences and the training programs, many of which reported that the experience changed their personal lives and how they approached ministry.   

Under David Hunter’s leadership the Seabury Series changed the worship experience of congregations. One condition the department established for the successful use of the Seabury Series was a family worship service. Instead of parents sending children to Sunday school on their own, the series encouraged whole families to attend worship together before going to education classes. Hunter believed that worship and education were intimately related to each other; worship was for the whole family and learning was for all ages. 

In an effort to further support adult education, under David Hunter’s leadership, the Episcopal Church published the first six-volume Church’s Teaching Series. The committee which designed the series had the specific goal of producing accessible titles written by top scholars representing differing churchmanship traditions. The volumes covered topics such as scripture, church history, worship, the faith of the church, and the Episcopal Church and its work. The series sold over half a million copies.

Although the Seabury Series was not an official curriculum, the General Convention initiated the project and it was funded out of the church budget. In order to support the project, the Episcopal Church operated its own publishing operation for the first time, known as Seabury Press. David Hunter served as the president of Seabury Press, 1952-1957, and as a member of the board for years after his departure from his position in the education department. In addition to educational materials and books, the press developed the new periodical, Christian Education Findings, as a monthly periodical aimed at the needs of parish educators.

Before the whole Seabury Series had been released, Hunter acknowledged that a revision process was needed. The series was not the magic “cure-all” envisioned by the General Convention, but rather proved that Christian education was a demanding, labor-intensive ministry. Ambivalence about the usefulness of the Seabury Series never disappeared, even though it influenced more congregations than any other Episcopal curriculum. Stressing the importance of grounding Christian education in a person’s own experience and questions was seen as a way to enhance the possibility of real learning. Christians of all ages were given authority through the Seabury Series to speak with their own voice, and link their experience with other Christians living now and throughout history. In this way, Hunter believed, the learner would always be able to gain new insights into the Christian story. The task of implementing the Seabury Series was about much more than preparing people to use a Sunday school curriculum. Rather, it was about the reexamination by people at every level of the church of their ways they understood and shared the gospel. To its detractors, the Seabury Series failed to provide adequate support of teachers, detailed lessons plans, or was considered too demanding for small churches. For its proponents, the Seabury Series expanded and deepened the pastoral ministry and evangelistic efforts of the entire parish; it was exciting because the teachers and clergy involved were transformed by the process.         

 David Hunter fundamentally believed that education should be an activity of engagement rather than of detachment. He characterized engagement as an environment where learners interacted directly with the material, and detachment as where the learner related through the previous engagement of others. In his book, Christian Education as Engagement (1963), compiled from earlier lectures delivered at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he writes that engagement is an encounter between a person and God, and by extension, with the gospel. Engagement leads a person into the redemptive community and into God’s mission in the world. Hunter believed that the programs of the Department of Christian Education, the Seabury Series and the training models, exemplified this principle of engagement. In this way, Christian education was not limited to religious nurture alone, but applied to training for mission. Through his experience as an educator, Hunter grew weary with the reality that almost all the training available in parishes was directed at nurture for life within the church. The challenge for church educators was that the emphasis on nurture proved inadequate for addressing the challenges of life in the world. Christians were called to act beyond the confines of the church.

One of the criticisms of the Episcopal education program of the 1950s was that it focused too narrowly on personal religious experience and on parish life to the exclusion of social responsibility and mission in the world. Under David Hunter’s leadership, the education staff of the Department of Christian Education made a critical philosophical shift which shaped the agenda for the national Episcopal Church during the 1960s. As social issues began to gain more attention, Hunter and his staff became active and diversified programs by moving beyond pedagogy and theology to public issues. How are Christians prepared for their public responsibilities?  How do they become able to address questions of social justice? Christian witness through the civil rights and peace movements, urban mission, empowerment for women and people of color, and self-determination for overseas dioceses became the program priorities around which program development began to take place.

David Hunter was elected Associate General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ (NCCC) 1963-1965, just as the Civil Rights Movement escalated. Hunter himself led a delegation from the NCCC on the second voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. As Deputy General Secretary, 1965-1975, Hunter developed the NCCC’s  first Jewish-Christian Relations program, which later became an established unit of the council. While at the NCCC, Hunter was one of the founders of the National Committee on United States-China Relations. During the Vietnam War he participated in three fact-finding missions to South Vietnam during the 1960s, and one to North Vietnam just before the bombing of Hanoi in 1972.        

 David Hunter served the church and the world for more than 50 years as an educator and activist. As an educator, David Hunter’s legacy continues to inform Christian Education within the Episcopal Church and beyond. Although the Seabury Series is no longer in publication, its assumptions are now considered basic to the life for the Episcopal Church. It remains the most widely used curriculum in Episcopal Church history, and the Church’s Teaching Series has been revised and published in three separate editions over a forty-year period. Hunter’s belief that adult education was crucial to a sound children’s program is considered fundamental. His idea that Sunday liturgies should ideally be intergenerational is also an important legacy, as is his belief that worship and education for all ages are intimately related in the life of the church.

Further, David Hunter’s legacy in the field of group dynamics informed two generations of church leaders, as was the precursor of the small group movement. The idea that Christian Education was training for mission, an important message throughout Hunter’s work, continues to prevail in the field. In his eulogy, the Rt. Rev. Paul Moore, Jr., retired bishop of the Diocese of New York, summed up his contribution to Christian Education: “David showed us that Christian Education does not consist in the accumulation of facts from history or the Bible, nor in the assimilation of Christian Doctrine. Christian Education involves the will and the heart. Christian Education involves training adults, adolescents, and children to recognize and respond to the action of God in their daily lives and in the lives of others. It involves, in short, recognizing and responding to God now, because now is the day of salvation.”


Book & Dissertation

Hunter, D. (1952). “Leadership and Group Productivity.” Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Hunter, D. (1963). Christian Education as Engagement. New York: Seabury Press.

Chapters in Books

Hunter, D. (1961). The Responsibility of Church Schools in the Parish Church. In Clarence W. Brickman (Ed.) The Church’s Schools in a Changing World (pp. 47-54), Greenwich, CT: The Seabury Press.

Selected Articles:

Hunter, D. (1945, June). Dumbarton Oaks – Have We Enough Faith? The Church Militant, 14.

Hunter, D. (1946, July). More Time to Teach. The Witness, 11.

Hunter, D. (1946, September). How The Diocese Works. The Church Militant, 4, 12.

Hunter, D. (1947, September). Meet The People of Palestine. The Church Militant, 16, 13, 15-16.

Hunter, D. (1947, October). The Palestine Problem. The Church Militant, 5, 9.

Hunter, D. (1948, June). The Teachers Speak. The Church Militant, 10, 13.

Hunter, D. (1951, October). Relationship and Redemption. The Church Militant, 1-2.

Hunter, D. (1951, October). A Report on Longer Church School Sessions. The Church Militant, 6-7.

Hunter, D. (1952, June). Where Is The New Curriculum? The Church Militant, 5-6, 13-14.

Hunter, D. (1952, August 3). Testing the New Curriculum. The Living Church, 11-12, 30.

Hunter, D. (1955, June). The Basis of the New Curriculum.  The Episcopal Review, Diocese of Los Angeles, 15.

Hunter, D. (1955, August 4). Can Teachers Use the Seabury Series? The Living Church,  21, 32.

Hunter, D. (1956, March). Finding A Strategy for Diocesan Training. Christian Education Findings, 3.

Hunter, D. (1956, December). How Small Can A Church School Be? Christian Education Findings,  6.

Hunter, D. (1957, March). The Department at Mid-Triennium. Christian Education Findings, 5-7.

Hunter, D. (1957, March). Families at Worship. Religious Education, 98-102.

Hunter, D. (1957, August 11). What’s Wrong with the Seabury Series? The Living Church,.14-16.

Hunter, D. (1959, December). The Advance Adult Education Program. Christian Education Findings, 11.

Hunter, D. (1961, July-August). The Seabury Series after Six Years. Religious Education, 248-51.

Hunter, D. (1964, January). The Church’s Teaching. International Journal of Religious Education, 14-15, 34.

Hunter, D. (1966, February). Man’s Conscience and the Voice of God. Children’s Religion, n.p.

Hunter, D. (1968, November). Training Laboratories in Asia. Christian Education Findings, n.p.


Hunter, D. (1940). Christian Education Today, A Statement of Basic Philosophy. The International Council of Religious Education, 40.

Hunter, D. (1946). Curriculum Guide for the Local Church. The International Council of Religious Education, 93.

Hunter, D. (1947). The Study of Christian Education: Theological and Educational Foundations, The National Council, 36.

Hunter, D. (1952). The Philosophy and Procedures of the Department of Christian Education. Mimeographed, 15.

Hunter, D. (1953). The New Program of Christian Education. The National Council.

Lectures & Presentations:

Hunter, D. (1951). Good Friday Sermon, Grace Church, Salem, Massachusetts

Hunter, D. (1952, July). Putting Christian Education to the Test

Hunter, D. (1952, July). Presentation of Department of Christian Education to the General Convention

Hunter, D. (1952). Church and Home – Partners in Christian Nurture

Hunter, D. (1953). Principles of Curriculum Development, Division of Christian Education

Hunter, D. (1953, June). Can Any Good Thing Come Out of Us? Sermon, Ninth Sunday after Trinity

Hunter, D. (1954). “Reflections,” Atlantic Monthly Article on Progressive Education

Hunter, D. (1954). Speech on Leadership-Teacher Training, Avon Park, Florida

Hunter, D. (1955, April). Role of the Family in Christian Education

Hunter, D. (1956). Christian Education in England

Hunter, D. (1957). The National Education Program at the Protestant Episcopal Church

Hunter, D. (1958, Oct-Nov). Addresses, Christian Education Conference, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Atlanta

Hunter, D. (1959, March). Our Own Image of the Theological School Graduate We Seek, Conference of Professors of Pastoral Care and Christian Education

Hunter, D. (1959,October). The Advance Adult Education Program of the Department of Christian Education.

Hunter, D. (1960, January). Needed Communication Between Theology and the Behavioral Sciences

Hunter, D. (1960, January). Group Dynamics and the Work of the Churches

Hunter, D. (1961, May). The Sociology of the 60’s and the Responsibility of Our Churches, Conference on the Census, Washington, D.C.

Hunter, D. (1961, July). The Family and Christian Education.

Hunter, D. (1962, July). The Theology of Christian Education, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Hunter, D. (1963). Theology and Social Science, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Hunter, D. (1963, June). The Place of Prayer and Bible Reading in the Public Schools

Hunter, D. (1963, June). Engagement Training for Mission

Hunter, D. (1963, November). The Religious Texture of General Education, Episcopal School Association Convention

Hunter, D. (1964, April). Jewish-Christian Relations, American Jewish Congress, Miami Beach

Hunter, D. (1964, April). A Message to the Churches, New Hampshire Council of Churches Assembly

Hunter, D. (1964, October). Address, United Christian Missionary Society

Hunter, D. (1964, October). The Renewal of the Church, Vermont Council of Churches

Hunter, D. (1964, November). Joint Action for Mission, West Virginia Council of Churches

Hunter, D. (1964, November). The Choice Before Us, West Virginia Council of Churches

Hunter, D. (1964, November). Joint Action for Mission, Canadian Council of Churches

Hunter, D. (1965, October). Laity on Mission, United Church Women

Hunter, D. (1965, October). The Implication for Christian Education of New Developments in Theology, Church-Life and Society

Hunter, D. (1965, November). Theology of Conscience, Children’s Religion Conference

Hunter, D. (1965, November). Councils of Churches – Their Raison de’etre, Ohio State Council of Churches

Hunter, D. (1966, February). When Do the Churches Become the Church? Des Moines Area Council of Churches

Hunter, D. (1966, February). Men’s Conscience and the Voice of God, Children’s Religion Conference

Hunter, D. (1966, February). Christian Theology Addresses Technology, Directors Section, Louisville

Hunter,D. (1966, February). Image Building for Conciliar Structures, Western Council Secretaries Association, Asilomar, California

Hunter, D. (1966, March). The Gheens Lectures: The Determinism of Theology in Education; Curriculum as Tyrant or Emancipator; Training as Manipulation, Mystique or Engagement

Hunter, D. (1966, October). The Role of the Churches in War and Peace

Hunter, D. (1967, March). Religion and Public Schools

Hunter, D. (1967, March). Some Implications for Christian Education of New Developments in Theology and Society

Hunter, D. (1967, March). Growing Edge Issues, Austin, Texas

Hunter, D. (1967, March). The Poor and Us, The World Political Situation Related to Poverty

Hunter, D. (1967, May). What did Jewish Reaction to Israel in the May-June 1967 Crisis Reveal to Christians About Their Attitude Toward Jews?

Hunter, D. (1967, May). Rabbi Bokser’s Evaluation of the Ecumenical Movement – A Response

Hunter, D. (1967, November). Oklahoma Lectures: Impelling Demands Upon Christian Education Today; Demands Proceeding from the Theological Revolution; Christian education Responses to God’s Action in Society

Hunter, D. (1967, November). Some Implications for Religious Education of New Developments in Theology and Society

Hunter, D. (1967, November). Joint Mission in the World or Fragmented Mission, Pennsylvania Council of Churches

Hunter, D. (1967, November). World Hunger and the Great Judgment, Pennsylvania Council of Churches

Hunter, D. (1968, January). Are Christians With It? Marion Area Council of Churches, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Hunter, D. (1968, July). The Purpose and Function of Education in the Bureaucratic Structure of the Churches, World Council of Education.


Papers related to the life and work of David R. Hunter can be found in the Archives of the Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas, particularly in the manuscripts related to the Education Unit for the 1950s through the 1960s. (These materials are not yet indexed.) Included in these papers are bibliographies of his published works, lectures, and presentations, as well as news releases related to Hunter’s appointment to the National Council of Churches in 1963. The digital periodicals on the archives’ website,, particularly The Living Church, contain information about Hunter’s work. Biographical information on Hunter can be found in annual Episcopal Clerical Directories from 1940; the last entry appeared in the year of his death, 2001. The Archives of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts also contain information on Hunter’s work in parishes and for the diocese as found in the diocesan periodical The Church Militant. The following published obituaries are available:

(2001, August 28). Educator and ecumenist Hunter dies at 90. Episcopal News Service.

(2001, August 31). David Hunter, priest who was pioneer in interfaith relations, dead at 90.

(2001, August 31). David Hunter, 90, Pioneer in Interfaith Ties, Dies. The New York Times.

(2001, September 30). Obituaries – David R. Hunter. The Living Church.

Family papers and a photograph for this article were contributed by Sara Hunter Hudson.  

Excerpts from Publications

Hunter, D. (1945). Dumbarton Oaks – Have We Enough Faith? The Church Militant, 14.

Unless each of the four great powers, and eventually France, enters into the new world organization with complete faith in the integrity of the other powers, the blueprint known as Dumbarton Oaks and its proposed organization will both be in vain. The present degree of political tension and misunderstanding coupled with the existing distribution of power make such faith[O1] , as man has never before demonstrated in a comparable situation, absolutely indispensible. (pg. 14)

Man is indeed frail except when he gives himself to God. Then his strength becomes as the strength of ten. Man’s faith in man then becomes his faith in God, and an effective world organization beyond man’s power to achieve becomes a reality. (pg. 14)

Hunter, D. (1946). How the Diocese Works. The Church Militant, 4, 12.

For myself the weekly opportunity of visiting a Church School, preaching at the late service and meeting with teachers and parents for several hours is the high point of my work, but it is only a fraction of the work of the Department. Sunday is the day when the need  of our educational system impresses itself upon me and the day when I carry to the parish whatever the recommendations the Department has to offer, yet the major part of the work takes places during the week. It is then that the needs must be studied and solutions found. For the accomplishment of these tasks scores of clergy and laity are marshaled. (pg. 4)

Hunter, D. (1947). Meet the People of Palestine. The Church Militant, 6, 13, 15-16.

“…I asked  if any of them had been in the camps in Europe during the war. They said “Yes” almost with one voice and pounced on a boy by the name of Solomon who had been at Bergen Belson. Solomon immediately stiffened, left the group and went over to sit by himself, whereupon the whole group subverted and did not try to recall him. It was evident that I had asked the wrong question. Sitting by himself, watching another group of children play, Solomon was completely changed. He was no longer a part of the group of laughing, rollicking children. Later he returned, perhaps a half hour later. And was more his former self. The face of this ten year old boy, however, was a curious study of maturity, tragedy, and violence. It did not have the natural sweetness of the others.  His eyes had seen things never intended for human sight nor for human hands to perform. (pg. 6)

Hunter, D. (1947). The Palestine Problem. The Church Militant, 5, 9.

I came home from Palestine last summer feeling that, short of a solution by conquest, partition would be the most tragic of all solutions that could be imposed upon that fitful country.  Absolute partition would create in Palestine a situation comparable to that which has existed in the Balkans at their worst. The erection of absolute barriers between the two countries would not only intensify and aggravate the human problem that separates Jew and Arab but it would seal the economic doom of both. (pg. 5)

Hunter, D. (1948). The Teachers Speak. The Church Militant, 10, 13.

While the genius of the program pertains to its provision for parents, the key person in the operation of the plan is still the individual teacher. It is to be expected that any plan which requires more preparation and work on the part of the teacher will make enemies, but in the final analysis it must appeal to the teachers and be a source of help to them if it is to prove itself. An indication of how this occurs was revealed recently in one of the forty-one parishes when a group of teachers was protesting at length the amount of time required for the preparation of the lesson, but they followed this protest by volunteering the admission that never before had they learned as much themselves about the nature of our faith. (pg. 10)

Hunter, D. (1951). Relationship and Redemption. The Church Militant, 1-2.

If we have some information which we wish to get across, it will be imparted successfully only  if it is related to experiences in the life of the hearer which have been meaningful – experiences with other people or with God. The language of words, therefore, only produces results when used in alliance with the language of relationship. (pp. 1-2).

Relationship, therefore at its deepest level is redemption, of restoring relationship between God and His people amidst the total family of the created. This is the gospel of the New Testament and of all the ages. It is the gospel of today. (pg. 2)

Hunter, D. (1951). A Report on Longer Church School Sessions. The Church Militant, 6-7.

There are many ways of using two hours of time on Sunday mornings, not all of which have to be excessively costly, space-demanding, or upsetting to a teaching staff. Too many people think of the long Sunday morning program as the exclusive privilege of wealthy parishes, a privilege that very few wealthy parishes exercise. (pg. 6)

Hunter, D. (1952) “Leadership and Group Productivity.” Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.

The Church had not been entirely blind to the emphasis upon interaction through discussion, and had recommended ways of stimulating discussion in materials prepared both for youth and adults. It came as the result of some form of indoctrination. The book or the lecture had to precede any attempt at discussion. It seemed logical to suppose that people had to have something to discuss before a discussion could take place, and presumably the only way they could come upon something to discuss worth the time  which would be given to such activity would be by bringing in some basis of authority either in the form of a speaker or printed material. This procedure was not only supported and strengthened by the predominant teaching methods in secular education, but it was also buttressed by the authoritarian nature of the Church’s ethos. Churchmen who believed their Church to be the guardian of revealed truth were ready to adopt an educational philosophy which called for little more than revealing the truth for men to accept or reject. (pg. 2)

Hunter, D. (1952). Where Is The New Curriculum? The Church Militant, 5-6, 13-14.

This new curriculum, we are told, is in part a recognition of the fact that people are learning and are being changed for the better or for worse wherever and whenever they are forced to make decisions, and that only within the Christian fellowship can man by the grace of God come to grips with the real problems of life and arrive at necessary decisions. Curriculum materials are some of the resources used within the fellowship, but when used apart from the group fellowship, these same materials lose their most vital meaning. In this sense, to the degree that Episcopalians are reckoning with this fact and doing something about it, the new curriculum has already started to unfold. (pg. 5)

Another objective of the course was one which probably should be a basic goal of any course the Church ever offers, that of binding together the people who take the course until they become a cohesive group with an essentially common intention. The Church’s doctrine of the Holy Spirit can have little meaning in a parish where such group life does not exist. (pg. 6)

Hunter, D. (1952) Testing the New Curriculum. The Living Church, 11-12, 30.

Ordinarily in the past our educational programs have consisted of telling people the answers often before they asked the questions and certainly without permitting them to have much participation in uncovering the answers. The new procedure calls for stimulating the questions, enabling the group to organize itself in a Christian fashion in pursuit of Christian goals and then to make available all existing resources as the group is ready to use and confront these resources. (pg. 11)

Hunter, D. (1956). Finding A Strategy for Diocesan Training. Christian Education Findings, 3.

The primary task of any Diocesan Department and the most time consuming portion of its work pertains to leadership training. The average parish and mission needs help in developing better leadership for church school teaching and all other parish activity. (pg. 3)

Hunter, D. (1957) The Department at Mid-Triennium. Christian Education Findings, 5-7.

The uniqueness of the 1955 courses was their solid recognition of the fact that children and adults grow in the faith through encountering it in the life of the Church. Hence these courses have as their principal objective the use of the rich resources of the parish in relation to the present-day religious needs of those who comprise the class. The Bible and the history of our faith, when known in relation to our own life and experience, are not only known but are retained and remembered beyond anything which rote learning can produce. (pg. 4)

Hunter, D. (1957) Families at Worship. Religious Education, 98-102.

The reinstitution of family worship in the church on Sunday has its primary justification in the very nature of the family itself, and the nature of the family in a Christian civilization rests on the nature of the church and the nature of man as an individual. This is a fairly comprehensive statement but no less a canvas will suffice, however sketchily outlined, if the necessary role of the family in Christian education with worship at its center, can be seen as a Christian imperative  for no mere prudential reasons but by the very nature of the Church and God’s revelation of Himself in the Holy Spirit. (pg. 98)

The family, by the power of its blood ties, by the very fact of recurring proximity, is the principal area of our life where the Body is broken, and similarly, where the Church can become the Church. It is one thing to say in our day that the family is being tragically disrupted and torn apart, but this is but a mere description of surface events unless one recognizes that what is really taking place is the further breaking of the Body of Christ by a renunciation of the only relationship under heaven which can make men one. (pp. 98-99)

The pragmatic argument against having a service simply for children and their parents rather than for the parish as a whole is to be seen in the forces which are forever tending to water down such a service to make it simple so children can understand it and, in general, to emasculate it. To give way to these forces is to arrive at precisely the same end as befell the old Sunday School service conducted for children and teacher. Aside from the fact that a special service for parents and children  has the advantage of providing an additional activity in which the whole family can participate, it cuts the family off from the main stream of the liturgical life of the Church as a regular on-going part of their life. (pg. 101)

Hunter, D. (1957). What’s Wrong with the Seabury Series? The Living Church, 14-16.

The [Seabury] Series had made abundantly and painfully clear that it is not enough to give people information which they will use years hence (if they use it at all). Rather it has insisted that Christian education is a NOW activity and that people learn best when they see the faith as related to their present living. The controversy which exists over the Series, both pro and con, is testimony in part to the fact that the series has made abundantly clear where it stands on this issue. (pg 14)

Hunter, D. (1961). The Seabury Series after Six Years. Religious Education, 248-51.

The Seabury Series is built on the basic assumption that the fundamental purpose of a Sunday church school program is to communicate the Gospel to those who are enrolled. There must be an encounter with the Good News in a form which will enable the Good News to be received and responded to. (pg. 249)

There can be little denying the fact that if one’s goal is to help people to respond to God’s actions in their lives one of the most fertile areas of operation is the whole area of interpersonal relations. A child’s experience with his parents, his brothers and sisters and his peers provide not only the most ample source of data by also the data which are closest to the hearts of children, as well as adults. (pg. 251)

God not only acts within our lives in relation to our interpersonal encounters; he also acts within and through the social complex of our times. His demands and his love are to be found in the midst of the vast social problems of every era. (pg. 251)

(1961). The Responsibility of Church Schools in the Parish Church. In Clarence W. Brickman (Ed.) The Church’s Schools in a Changing World. (pp. 47-54). Greenwich, CT: The Seabury Press. 

We can find the basic and inescapable and necessary purpose and objective of a church school only by being very clear that we understand the necessary function and purpose of the Church in the world in our day. Now the church school has special functions, but all of these functions are derived from the basic purpose of nurturing and training people for their ministry as Christians in an essentially unchristian world. (pp. 47-48)

What is this Good News? It is the Good News that the triune God has acted, is acting now, and will continue to act in people’s lives. And he waits and he works for our response. This is the Good News; this is the Gospel. (pg. 48)

Our greatest mistake in the work of the Church in the field of education is our failure to hold together in single focus this activity of God: his past action, his present action now, and the glorious hope and promise of his present action. (pg. 49)

Hunter, D. (1963). Christian Education as Engagement. New York: The Seabury Press.

The key word in the approach to Christian education which this book sets forth is engagement – meeting, knowing (not knowing about), responding to or ignoring, loving, hating. As we use the term, it refers to the experience we are having or ought to be having as Christians: namely our changing and unchanging encounter with God, our response to His action; or if we are not conscious of encounter with God, it refers simply to God’s confrontation of us. (pg. 7)

Despite developments of the last two decades, it is still necessary to state explicitly that the term Christian education does not refer only to the one hour program with children on Sunday morning. Rather it refers to the inclusive program designed to provide nurture and training for every baptized person in the Church and having implications for the surrounding community The extension of Christian nurture and training beyond the Sunday school reflects the growing theological awareness of both the community’s and the individual’s need for help. (p. 8-9)

Laboratory training in the work of the Church has proven effective in sensitizing people to what has often been called the language of relationship, a means of communication essential for any educational program that takes engagement seriously. For engagement is relationship, the ongoing experience of God knowing man and man knowing God and not knowing God, or man knowing man and not knowing man. No design for engagement training for nurture has been as successful as this basic one for which we are indebted to social science. (p. 61)

Almost all of the training now offered by parishes is directed at nurture for life within the Church gathered. We exhort people to carry out the ministry of reconciliation in the world. We even encourage, and sometimes entreat them to do so. But we do not train them. We act as though we believed that engaging in mission is a natural consequent of being the recipient of nurture. (p. 73)

For the common man, the place to begin ecumenical activity is in the area of life and work, not faith and order. The Church should maintain constant activity in faith and order are, particularly through its leaders, but the place for parishes to undertake ecumenical activity is at the level of the Church’s mission in the world. (p. 88)

Every seminarian has, as a rule, three central needs that have to be satisfactorily met by his total seminary experience if he is to be prepared to provide leadership as an ordained minister in the Church. These needs are:

1.     The need to know and to understand our Christian heritage,

2.     The need to be nurtured and to grow as a person in the Christian faith.

3.     The need to be trained for the carrying out of a parochial ministry. (p. 117)

Hunter, D. (1964). The Church’s Teaching. International Journal of Religious Education, 14-15, 34.

The gospel is communicated by the activity of the eternal God, through his past action, his present action, and his future action. What did this mean in terms of a theory of learning? For the builders of this particular program it meant that the learning they sought, the apprehension of the gospel, would be most likely to occur through maintaining an adequate balance of past, present, and future. In short, they believed that the gospel is encountered and is most likely to be responded to  through a balanced exposure to the meaning  of God’s historic action and his action now in people’s lives, with due consideration to the eschatological nature of God’s action in history. (pg. 14)

The Episcopalian curriculum builders, therefore, adopted religious issues as their organizing principle. They defined a religious issue as the situation which comes into being as a result of God’s action and of man’s response or lack of response. Such broad issues as freedom and authority, right and wrong, and decision-making became the operating areas of the courses. (pg. 15)

A generation of teachers had to be taught to deal with religious issues as contrasted with dealing with traditional content. The curriculum builders believed that if a considerable body of traditional content were supplied in the early editions teachers would resort to organizing the course by that method. As a training device, and in an effort to correct a previous imbalance, therefore, the initial courses employed a counter balance. (pg. 15)



Hunter, Carman St. John . (1987) Christian Education in the Episcopal Church 1940s to 1970s. New York: The Task Force on Christian Education in Congregations, Episcopal Church Center.

This pamphlet is an overview of the history of Christian Education in the Episcopal Church, and details David Hunter’s role in the field in the chapters on the 1950s and the 1960s.


Braun, Dorothy Lillian. (1960) “A Historical Study of the Origin and Development of the Seabury Series of the Protestant Episcopal Church.”  Unpublished doctoral dissertation. New York University, Ph.D.

This dissertation traces the development of the Seabury Series and David Hunter’s role in its development and promotion. The author pays particular attention to how Hunter’s theology and philosophy shaped the series.

Williamson, William Bedford. (1966) “A Review of the Historical and Philosophical Foundations of the Seabury Series for Christian Education in the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Temple University, Ed.D.

Chapter IV of this dissertation, in particular, traces David Hunter’s role in the development of the Seabury Series, as well as the response to the materials from the broader church. The chapter also discusses the development of the National Training Laboratories.

McElligott, Ann Elizabeth Proctor. (1995) “The Business of Teaching Christians: National Education Leadership in the Episcopal Church, 1945-1976. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. New York University, Ph.D.

This dissertation is significant in that it discusses the impact of the Seabury Series on the church in such diverse areas as the church school, adult education programs, fund-raising, church building projects, worship, and Episcopal publishing efforts. McElligott details Hunter’s influence in refocusing the Episcopal Church’s educational efforts away from nurture alone, outward to mission and the role of the church in the world. This theological and theological transition connected the work of education with public issues.


(1955). Religion: School on Sunday. Time Magazine, May 16.

An exposé of the Seabury Series, written during David Hunter’s directorship of the national education office, explains the more innovative aspects of the pedagogy. The author notes that instead of giving children biblical and theological knowledge, the new series aims to make them functioning Christians in the here and now. 

Author Information

Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook

Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook, Ed.D, Ph.D, is the vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty and professor of practical theology and religious education at Claremont School of Theology. She also serves as professor of Anglican studies at Bloy House, the Episcopal Theological School at Claremont.