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Grant Sneed Shockley

By Charles R. Foster


Grant Sneed Shockley (1919-1996) was born on September 3, 1919 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Andrew Caleb Shockley and Mattile Blanche Sneed Shockley. His father was a pharmacist. His mother taught in local schools prior to their marriage. The family attended the Haven Methodist Church in Philadelphia where his father served as a trustee and Sunday school superintendent and his mother taught in the Sunday school. An older brother died in childhood and he had no other siblings.


Grant grew up in Philadelphia where he attended the local elementary school, Fitzsimons Junior High and Northeast High Schools. When he graduated from high school he received the Gottschalk English Award. Northeast High also recognized him posthumously with an outstanding individual achievement award and his picture was placed in the school's "Wall of Fame." As a child he was introduced to classical and church music both of which he enjoyed throughout his life. Gifted with a fine tenor voice he participated in his high school, college, and seminary choruses.

After high school Grant attended Lincoln University from which he graduated in 1942. He continued his education at Drew Theological Seminary. Reflecting back on their friendship from those seminary years, United Methodist Bishop James A. Thomas recalled that Grant was always "very serious." He knew "he was at Drew for a deeper purpose." and always planned "to do a doctorate" (Smith and Foster, 2003, p. 16). Upon graduating from Drew in 1945, therefore, he continued his studies at Teachers College-Columbia University where he received the Master of Arts degree in 1946 and his Doctor of Education degree in 1952. A clue to the deeper purpose Bishop Thomas alluded to may be seen in the title of his dissertation: "Improvement of the Status and In-service Education of Negro Methodist Accepted Supply Pastors" - the improvement of the education and the enhancement of the professional leadership of black congregations.

He married Doris Taylor on September 7, 1946. They had one daughter, Muriel Elizabeth Shockley.

Grant was ordained a deacon (1943) and an elder (1944) in the Delaware Annual Conference of the all-black Central Jurisdiction of The Methodist Church by Bishop Alexander P. Shaw. During his college years he served congregations in New Rochelle, N.Y. and Spring Lake, N.J. During seminary he was a member of the pastoral staff at St. Mark's Methodist Church in New York, City. From 1951 to 1953 he gave pastoral leadership to the Whatcoat Memorial Methodist Church in Dover, Delaware. The bishop next appointed him to be the pastor of the Janes Methodist Church in Brooklyn which had been re-opened as a predominantly black congregation after having closed its doors due to white flight from the neighborhood. He served this new congregation from 1953 to 1959.

Grant began his teaching career as an instructor in Bible, Religion and Philosophy at Clark College in Atlanta in 1946. After his retirement he returned to Clark where he carried a full teaching load up to the time of his death. From 1949-1951 he taught religious education at Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta. After serving in pastoral appointments for several years he returned to the academic world as professor of religious education at Garrett Theological Seminary (1959-1966). In 1966 he joined the Interboard Committee on Christian Education of the World Division of the Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church as its executive secretary. For the next four years he traveled extensively in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and North America as an educational consultant to congregational and denominational leaders. This experience introduced him to the religious education conversations in new and developing nations between 1966 and 1970. In 1970 he accepted an appointment to the Candler School of Theology of Emory University in Atlanta as professor of Christian education. In 1975 he accepted the invitation of the Interdenominational Theological Center, also in Atlanta, to be its president. He moved from Atlanta in 1979 to Little Rock, Arkansas where he took up the presidency of Philander Smith College. In 1983 he was appointed professor of Christian education at The Divinity School of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina where he remained until his retirement in 1989.

During his career Grant also taught as a lecturer or visiting professor in many other institutions: New York University (1957-59), Northwestern University (1960-63), Emory University's College of Liberal Arts (1970-75), Centro Evangelico Unido, Mexico, D.F., (1966), Union Theological Seminary in New York (1967), Drew Theological School (1968), Perkins School of Theology (1970), Iliff School of Theology (1971), University of Zimbabwe (1985), and again at Candler School of Theology from 1989-91.

The network of Grant's relationships was wide. He served on the boards of several denominational agencies including the Division of Education, the Board of Discipleship, and the University Senate of the United Methodist Church, the Board of Trustees of Methodist College in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and the Board of Visitors of The Divinity School at Duke University. He belonged to the Association of Professors and Researchers in Religious Education, the Society for the Study of Black Religion, and the NAACP. He was also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, and Kappa Boulé, Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity. He is listed in Who's Who in The Methodist Church , Who's Who in Black America , and Who's Who in the Midwest .

Grant's life and work were influenced significantly by the historic relationships of African and European Americans in the United States. He grew up in and was ordained to ministry in a predominantly white denomination with racially segregated congregations, annual conferences, and jurisdictions. He moved back and forth throughout his career from predominantly black to predominantly white institutions. He continually broke the color barrier in many of the latter. He became the first black tenured professor at Garrett Theological Seminary, the first black member on the Evanston, Illinois, Board of Education, and the first black member of the Candler School of Theology faculty. For much of his life he would be the only black member present in either church or academic meetings. A frequent lecturer in both church and academic settings, he consistently found himself in the situation of speaking to a predominantly white audience out of the Black church experience or to a predominantly black audience with little consciousness of its own religious and cultural heritage. He consistently felt his experience validated W.E.B. Dubois' insight that "the ever-present reality of knowing and feeling and living as a non-white in a white-oriented and white controlled society" had the character of "two-ness" - the sense of being both "An American," and "a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder." (Dubois 1989 [1903], p. 3)

Although he was not alone in the quest for a more adequate Black voice in Christian religious education, he was undoubtedly its most visible spokesman in both church and academy during his professional years. In the church he actively encouraged the training of pastors and laity for leadership roles in Christian education. They include, among many others, Ethel Johnson, who joined the staff of the Janes Church during Grant's pastorate and later taught at The Methodist Theological School, and Bishop Felton May of The United Methodist Church. Both began their ministries in Christian education and youth ministry under Grant's influence. He mentored many students - both black and white - who valued his influence in their careers. James Cone would be among the most prominent example. Several black colleagues shared his struggle to articulate a Black perspective on Christian education including Paul Nichols at the School of Theology at Virginia Union University, James Tyms at The Howard University School of Divinity, Olivia Pearl Stokes with the National Council of Churches, Yvonne Delk, with the United Church of Christ, Willard Williams, a denominational staff member in The United Methodist Church, Jonathan Jackson at the Interdenominational Theological Center, Mary Love with the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Riggins Earl who later became a member of the theological faculty at the Interdenominational Theological Center, and Joe Nash, the founder and director of the Black Church Resource Center at the National Council of Churches. But it was for the most part, a lonely professional journey for all of them.

During the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States Grant traveled around the world, often as a consultant on Christian education to churches in newly established nations, for the Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church. The interplay of the Civil Rights Movement and the developing national consciousness of former colonies, especially in Kenya, India, and Malaysia, increasingly focused Grant's efforts toward articulating the contribution of the American black religious experience to Christian religious education theory and practice. This would prove to be a challenge. Little attention had been given in the scholarly world to the cultural heritage and educational resources of African Americans. His first essays on the subject reveal the struggles of his research. Most information to be found in existing scholarship occurred in footnotes or in very brief notices about the role of black leaders or congregations on some issue in a larger discussion of white sponsored educational institutions. He consequently became a consummate collector of information on the Black experience in America clipping articles and developing bibliographic files. His writing also reflects his engagement with the new work in Black theology - especially the work of James Cone and Gayraud Willmore and the writings of Paulo Freire on education.

Until the 1970's most of his writing had been for the church - brief articles for Sunday school teachers and pastors. Publishers had little interest in scholarly writings on Christian education from a black perspective. From the mid-1970's, Grant increasingly felt responsible for bringing into the general discussions of religious education theory and practice insights from the Black religious experience. James Michael Lee, editor and publisher of The Religious Education Press, more than anyone, made this dream a reality by inviting Grant on several occasions to contribute to different volumes he would be publishing. The result is that from 1974 until his death his writing provides a window into his growing awareness of the influence of the Black religious experience on the church's education and his growing conviction that important insights drawn from the Black religious experience were contributions to the larger discussions on the shape and practices of religious education. At the time of his death he was projecting the book that would have brought this quest to a culmination. He had taught two classes at the Candler School of Theology that established the trajectory of his thinking for this work, but other projects deflected his attention for a time and he died before getting back to the task. His vision of enriching the thinking about religious education out of the Black experience, however, now lives on in students and colleagues he influenced.

In the "Preface" to the collection of essays by Black scholars entitled In Search of Wisdom: Faith Formation in the Black Church (2002), Anne E. Streaty Wimberly and Evelyn L. Parker pay tribute to that influence. They noted that Shockley had not only "exposed the group and all of religious education to important scenes in the historical Christian education journey of black Christians," he had also provided them with "incisive critiques of the state of Christian education in the black church, and the imperative need for a liberation agenda." As the writers of this volume reflected on his life and work, they became increasingly aware of "the nagging call for wisdom in the black community" that eventually became the impetus and inspiration to their collective and collaborative work.

Works Cited

  • Dubois, W. E. B. (1989, 1903). The souls of Black folks . Bantam Books.
  • Smith, F., Foster, C.R. & Shockley, G. S. (2003). Christian education in the Black religious experience: Conversations on a journey through double consciousness . Abingdon Press.
  • Streaty Wimberly A. E.,Evelyn, L., & Parker, E. L. (2002). In Search of wisdom: Faith formation in the Black church . Abingdon Press.

Contributions to Christian Education

Grant Shockley made three distinctive contributions to the field of religious education. In the first, he, more than anyone, introduced the field to the here-to-fore hidden resources of the Black religious experience for developing contemporary religious education theory and practice. In the second, he both modeled and facilitated a dialogue between white and black in the academy and church. And third he mentored persons who would, in turn, make important contributions to the future of Christian religious theory and practice.

He was a trailblazer for the inclusion of the Black religious experience in the sources for Christian religious education theory and practice not only for the Black Church which heretofore had tended to emulate the religious education of white churches, but for all Christian religious education. He pioneered the quest for the historical roots of the Black religious education experience. He drew on the social sciences for a deeper understanding of the resources in that experience for a model of Christian religious education for social justice that would be useful in Black Churches and relevant to the larger Christian community.

Six "characteristics" distinguished this model. They included biblical integrity, radical contextuality, systematic engagement ("that is, identifying, analyzing, correcting, or eliminating restraining destructive structures and/or systems that support and sustain oppression, racism, and sexism"), educational change, programmatic integration, and laity empowerment (1989, Black Pastoral Leadership , pp. 201-06). He located the quest for this model for Christian education in the emerging categories of Black theology. He was not alone in these efforts. Other Black religious educators shared his quest, but his efforts were the most systematic and, through his writings, are the most accessible. In effect he modeled the quest for religious education theory and practice originating in the Black religious experience for those to follow him.

In a second role Grant repeatedly crossed boundaries between white and black, academy and church, and the Civil Rights Movement in the United States and the movement toward national independence in the African and Asian colonies of Europe. He grew up in a Black congregation in a racially segregated denomination. He attended a predominantly white seminary. He was ordained into that racially segregated denomination. He was the first Black person appointed to seminary faculties and to church agencies. He was often the only Black person in church, community, and academic meetings. In his role as professor of Christian education he taught in the church and drew on the experience of churches to frame both his teaching and scholarly writing. He spent much of his time interpreting the Black church experience to predominantly white audiences while interpreting the Christian religious education practices of white churches to predominantly Black audiences. He saw the Civil Rights Movement through the liberation theological movements of South America and Africa. And he recognized the larger implications of the Civil Rights Movement from inside the quest for freedom in developing nations. This was not an easy role. He experienced the biting edge of racism at almost every turn. He experienced the paternalism of white colleagues and administrators. He was challenged for not being radical enough by some of his Black colleagues. At the same time, many in the church and academy - both Black and white looked to him to mediate difficult policy and scholarly issues around matters of race. As his friend and colleague Bishop James Thomas once observed, no matter what he encountered in this role he was always gracious and he was always prepared for whatever might come.

In a third role he mentored a host of seminary students, pastors, and other church leaders into church and community leadership. Some of this happened through the traditional classroom or in workshops. More often it seemed to happen at the edges of those formal educational settings. Ethel Johnson, who served Janes Methodist Church with him during the 1950's as the congregation's Director of Christian Education, describes an incident in which she experienced his mentoring. Although she did not feel a particular need to be "consecrated" as a "certified Christian educator" in the denomination, Grant believed that the public act of consecration made a witness to the church about the importance of Christian education. In her case it also dramatized for a predominantly white church the presence and significance of the educational leadership of its Black constituency. His vision preceded her awareness of these larger issues. So she made the decision to be consecrated.

Many of his former students have a common memory of his mentoring. They recall informal conversations with Grant about some issue or problem related to the life of the church, Christian education, or race relations. Typically the conversation would begin with a student's question or concern. As the discussion continued, Grant would typically affirm its importance and ask "why don't you explore or take up that question or issue?" Inevitably many did. Still others, especially among a new generation of Black religious education scholars, have found in Grant's quest for a model of Christian education out of the Black religious experience an impetus as well as resources for their own scholarly journeys. This influence is most explicitly seen in the essays in Wimberly and Parker's In Search of Wisdom: Faith Formation in the Black Church (2002) and in Fred Smith's essay "To Create the Beloved Community: A Prophetic Christian Education for the Twenty-first Century" (Smith and Foster, 2003). In a very real sense their work and that of other younger scholars and educators is being built on foundations he laid.

Works Cited

  • Foster, C. R., & and Smith, F. (2003). Black religious experience: Conversations on double consciousness and the work of Grant Shockley . Nashville: Abingdon Press.
  • Streaty Wimberly, A. E., & Parker, E. L., (Eds.). In search of wisdom: Faith formation in the Black church . Nashville: Abingdon Press.



  • Shockley, G. S. (1991). Heritage and hope: The African American presence in United methodism . Nashville: Abingdon Press.
  • Shockley, G. S., & Foster, C. R. (1989). Working with Black youth, opportunities for Christian ministry . Nashville: Abingdon Press.
  • Shockley, G. S., Foster, C. R., & Johnson, E. R. (1985). Christian education journey of Black Americans: Past, present, and future . Nashville: Discipleship Resources.
  • Shockley, G. S. (1983). Education: Faith meets life (Book six). Nashville: Graded Press.
  • Shockley, G. S., Brewer, E. D. C., & Townsend, M. (1976). Black pastors and churches in United Methodism . Atlanta: Center for Research in Social Change, Emory University.
  • Shockley, G. S. (1971). The new generation in Africa . New York: Friendship Press.

Chapters in Books

  • Shockley, G. S. (1995). Black Theology and Religious Education. In R. C. Miller (Ed.), Theologies of Religious Education . Birmingham: Religious Education Press.
  • Shockley, G. S. (1989). Black pastoral leadership in religious education: Social justice correlates. In R. L. Browning (Ed.), The pastor as religious educato . Birmingham: Religious Education Press.
  • Shockley, G. S. (1988). From emancipation to transformation to consummation: A Black perspective. In M. Mayr (Ed.), Does the church really want religious education ? Birmingham: Religious Education Press.
  • Shockley, G. S. (1988). Religious pluralism and religious education: A Black protestant perspective. In N. H. Thompson (Ed.), Religious pluralism and religious education . Birmingham: Religious Education Press.
  • Shockley, G. S. (1987). Christian education and the Black religious experience. In C. R. Foster (Ed.), Ethnicity in the education of the church . Nashville: Scarritt Press.
  • Shockley, G. S. (1987). Commentary on plantclosures project. In A. F. Evans, R. A. Evans, & W. B. Kennedy (Eds.), Pedagogues for the non-poor . New York: Orbis Books.
  • Shockley, G. S. (1981). Methodists/United Methodists. In W. A. Low (Ed.). Encyclopedia of Black America . New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Shockley, G. S. (1976). Liberation, theology, Black theology and religious education. In Marvin J. Taylor (Ed.), Foundations for Christian education in an era of change . Nashville: Abingdon Press.
  • Shockley, G. S. (1975). Transcendence and mystery in the third world. In E. D. Brewer (Ed.), Transcendence and mystery . New York: IDOC/North America.
  • Shockley, G. S. (1967). Black leaders in early American Methodism. In A. Godbold(Ed.), Historical papers . Lake Junaluska, NC: Association of Methodist Historical Societies.
  • Shockley, G. S. (1966). Worship in Christian education. In M. J. Taylor (Ed.), AnIntroduction to Christian education . Nashville: Abingdon Press.
  • Shockley, G. S. (1964). The A. M. E. and the A. M. E. Zion church. In E. S. Bucke (Ed.), A history of American Methodism . Nashville: Abingdon Press.


  • Shockley, G. S. (1986). Wesleyan methodism in America: A Black Perspective. Radix .
  • Shockley, G. S. (1985). Black people in the Methodist church: Whither goest Thou? Methodist History , 24 (1), 54-55.
  • Shockley, G. S. (1979, Spring). National church bodies and interdenominational theological education. Theological Education .
  • Shockley, G. S. (1978, Winter). Ethnic pluralism and future forms of ministry in the military. Military Chaplains Review .
  • Shockley, G. S. (1977, February 2). Living out the Gospel in seminary life. The Christian Century , 9.
  • Shockley, G. S. (1976). Order, change and the future: Naming theological education. The Journal of the Interdenominational Theological Center , IV (Fall), 1.
  • Shockley, G. S. (1975). Black liberation, Christian education and Black church indicators. The Duke Divinity School Review , 40 (Spring) 2.
  • Shockley, G. S. (1975). Christian education and the Black church: A contextual approach. Journal of the Interdenominational Theological Center , 2 (2), 75-88.
  • Shockley, G. S. (1975). The story of American Methodism. Religion in Life , 44 (3), 381-82.
  • Shockley, G. S. (1974, July). Methodist, society and Black evangelism in America: Retrospect and prospect. A .M. E. Zion Quarterly Review .
  • Shockley, G. S. (1972). Religious education the Black experience. Black Church , 2 (1), 91-111.
  • Shockley, G. S. (1972). Black awareness: A theology of hope. Religion in Life , 41 (2), 282-283
  • Shockley, G. S. (1972). Liberation and reconciliation: A Black theology. Religion in Life , 41 (2), 282-83.
  • Shockley, G. S. (1972). The search for common ground. Religion in Life , 41 (2), 282-83.
  • Shockley, G. S. (1972, November 3). The use of focus. Church School , V, 16-24.
  • Shockley, G. S. (1969, April, 4). Christian education in urban East Asia. Response , I, 14-17.
  • Shockley, G. S. (1969). The church, revolution and world community. Church School ,II (December), 16-17.
  • Shockley, G. S. (1969). Ultimatum and hope. Christian Centur y, 86 (Fall), 217-19.
  • Shockley, G. S. (1968). Christian education in Sierra Leone. Methodist Women , XXVIII (March, 7), 14-16.
  • Shockley, G. S. (1965-66). Letter box. Church School , (September through February).
  • Shockley, G. S. (1965, February, 9). Christian education. Together , IX, 14-18.
  • Shockley, G. S. (1962, December 3). Christian public opinion. Church School , XVI, 12-13.
  • Shockley, G. S. (1962). Foundations for a philosophy of Christian education. Religion in Life , 31 (4), 638-39.
  • Spaulding, H. F. (1954). Abstracts of doctoral dissertations in religious education, 1952-53. Religious Educatio n, 49 (3), 179-203.

Excerpts from Publications

Shockley, G. S. (1985). Christian education journey of Black Americans: Past, present, future . Discipleship Resources.

This essay reflects a metamorphosis in my own thinking over the past thirty-five years of involvement in various aspects of the church's educational ministry … Emerging from that struggle in recent years, several assumptions have increasingly informed my understanding of Christian education in the black church.

  • Throughout the history of Christian education, the black experience has changed Christian education in the American church, and Christian education has also shaped the black experience. This interplay has significantly influenced all our lives.
  • I am assuming that my black readers conceive of themselves as black. Our blackness is unchangeable. It is with us and we are with it for all our future. The recognition of this fact is crucial if we are to recognize and acknowledge the basic "over-againstness" of black and white in our society. Each is here to stay. We cannot run from each other. We cannot make believe the other does not exist. We cannot gloss over or redefine each other. We have to deal with each other in the context of what this means for the church, its missions and its ministries.
  • We must be committed to Christian education from the standpoint of the black experience. But I am making an important distinction. There is no such thing as black Christian education. Our view of Christian education has been shaped by our experience and that experience has been black. Our commitment to Christian education embodies both a theory and a practice grounded in that experience. This commitment cannot be a general one. It has to be a commitment to a program that actively enacts the incarnation in the midst of the distinctive realities of the world which marks black and white relationships in this country. (p. 1ff)

The most accessible source for Shockley's scholarly writing is in the 2003 Abingdon Press publication Christian Education in the Black Religious Experience: Conversations on a Journey Through Double Consciousness . In this volume Fred Smith and Charles R. Foster have thematically organized extended excerpts from his writings to illustrate his evolving understanding of the sources of religious education in the Black religious experience and its influence on the development of his "intentional-engagement model" for Christian education theory and practice.

Most of Shockley's Christian religious education writings occurred in essays - many at the invitation of James Michael Lee. Shockley seized the opportunity in each of these essays to work out some additional theme or dimension to his "intentional engagement" model of Christian education. Some of his most important essays include "The Pastor as Religious Education" (1989) in which he spelled out basic elements in the model; "From Emancipation to Transformation to Consummation: A Black Perspective" (1988) which develops the liberative impetus and transformation emphasis in the model; "Religious Pluralism and Religious Education: A Black Protestant Perspective" (1988) which explores the distinctive place and contribution of the traditions of religious education in the Black church to religious education more generally; and "Black Theology and Religious Education" (1995) which most explicitly develops the theological shape of his model.

Author Information

Charles R. Foster

Charles R. Foster served the Corning Methodist Church as Minister of Education, The Riverside Church in New York as Minister of Single Adults, The Methodist Theological School in Ohio and Scarritt Graduate School as Professor of Christian Education, the Candler School of Theology, Emory University as Professor Religion and Education, and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as Senior Scholar. Upon retiring from Candler he was named Professor of Religion and Education emeritus.