Skip to main content

Rachel Henderlite

By Estelle Rountree McCarthy


Rachel Henderlite was in the forefront of the Christian education movement of her day. She was first and foremost a teacher. She excelled in many fields: Biblical theology, ethics, social justice, and ecumenism. Her Christian education theory and practice was set forth in speeches, publications and curriculum design. She was the first woman to be ordained to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament in the former Presbyterian Church, U.S. (Now Presbyterian Church U.S.A.).


Meeting with her several years before her death, this author was reminded again that she was a Presence - and powerful - even though she was soft spoken and devoid of rhetorical techniques. In this interview, Rachel Henderlite stated forcefully that she could not imagine anyone being interested in a lengthy treatise about her life and work - "perhaps a pamphlet,"she suggested (McCarthy and Hess). To persons who knew her personally or through her teaching and writing, such a comment was typical of her, but fortunately unheeded.

Early Life

Henderlite was born on December 31, 1905 in Henderson, North Carolina - "a child of the manse." She spent her childhood through young adulthood in Gastonia, North Carolina, where her father was pastor of First Presbyterian Church. She grew up in a closely knit family composed of her father, James Henry Henderlite; her mother, Nelle Crow Henderlite; her sister, Virginia, older by two years; and a brother, Jim, younger by four years. Her dedication in one of her books, A Call To Faith reads "To my family - father, mother, sister, brother - who, by living together as a Christian family and arguing heatedly about theology around the dinner table, have given me my faith." Sister Virginia was her life-long best friend. A mark of their closeness was that Henderlite named all her dogs, of which there were several, Ginger!

Virginia attested to their intimacy, with the caveat that they could "never agree even on how to make up a bed!" Virginia herself was a Christian educator in North Carolina, and loved telling the story in later years about her younger sister coming home for Christmas vacation from Austin Seminary where she taught, pumping her (Virginia) for information about the latest techniques such as "micro-teaching" and "discovery learning." Virginia was the extrovert; soft-spoken Rachel more introverted. Rachel once remarked that there was no one who loved a meeting more than Virginia!

Henderlite's father was her first and most important mentor. She was continually grateful for his part in shaping her faith. She often accompanied him on pastoral visits in his little Chevrolet. At times she was allowed to write his Wednesday night "prayer meeting" sermons. No doubt the family's dinner conversations centered on her father's involvement in an early interracial commission that worked to improve the schools black children attended and his advocacy for the reunion of the Southern and Northern streams of the Presbyterian Church. It is worth noting that Gastonia was a cotton mill town and that many of its owners and higher echelon staff were members of First Presbyterian Church. Perhaps that situation was not lost on Henderlite as she grew up; there is no indication that her Father took on justice issues surrounding the mills. Liston Pope, Yale professor, in his book, Millhands and Preachers , though not mentioning his name, effectively showed that James Henderlite, like the other "uptown" pastors, distanced himself from these issues (See "Reflections of a P.K.," Frazier, hereafter known as (P.K.).

Higher Education and Early Teaching Posts

In the mid-1920s Henderlite followed her sister and enrolled in Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia. After two years she transferred to Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, to be educated in a less confined and restricted atmosphere than was Mary Baldwin's during those years. At Scott she began to encounter "folks who had the gift of flinging open windows and doors to questions" that had never come up before. She recalls how "startling new ideas would sweep in …shattering the protective covering of my unquestioning childhood."(P.K.). Her years before graduation were interrupted by a serious case of tuberculosis, which sent her back home. She did graduate with a major in English (Phi Beta Kappa) and returned to North Carolina to teach for two years and work with her father. During these years her vocational goal, to teach Bible was crystallized:

She took a Master's degree at Biblical Seminary (now New York Theological Seminary) where she became immersed in the Scriptures, learned to let the Bible speak on its own terms, and gained a method for Bible Study. (PK).

Her faith continued to be broadened by the people she encountered and the material she studied at Biblical Seminary. Before racial integration made such contact commonplace, Henderlite was greatly impressed by a bright, black female student in her class,"smarter and better equipped than I was" who gave "a magnificent report." That, she recalls, was a major milestone in her growing concern for interracial dialogue and social justice. She was also challenged by hearing such preachers as George Buttrick and the controversial Harry Emerson Fosdick. Upon her graduation in 1936 she was even more committed to teaching. She taught in various settings: camps and conferences, Sunday school classes, women's circles. She had teaching posts in higher education at two Presbyterian colleges: Mississippi Synodical College in Holly Springs where she was also Dean, and Montreat College in North Carolina.

Her first two published works were written for use in teaching Bible in high school. Exploring the Old Testament and Exploring the New Testament were written to serve as aids to her students, many of whom signed up because "Bible" traditionally had been an easy course!


Henderlite was growing increasingly uncomfortable with what she perceived to be her lack of a deep and broad theological education. "I was hankering to be changed - hungering for something that had been left out of my experience," she explained.(PK, 80) After her father's death in 1942, she entered the doctoral program at Yale Divinity School, seeking in particular to "see what the Bible meant to the world."

At the age of 37, she entered the Divinity School. At Yale she was steered in the direction of Christian ethics, which was a major turning point in her life. It set the path for much of her later work as teacher, curriculum director, author, church leader and ecumenist. She was "blessed day!" put under the tutelage of H. Richard Niebuhr and his colleagues Robert Calhoun and Liston Pope (PK, 80). She felt at sea in her first months at Yale. Former schooling had been beneficial in supporting and lending strength to what she already knew and believed. Yale was a radical new departure intellectually; soon she blossomed in its academic rigor and relentless pursuit of truth. Of this time with her professors, she reflects:

I had never known anything like their lectures. Manifesting ranges of thought and mastery of detail I had never dreamed of, they both destroyed me and recreated me ….Then things began to fall into place and what I had taken with me to New Haven was restored and supported and enlarged. (PK,70)


Having completed all but her dissertation, Henderlite accepted an offer in 1944 to teach at the General Assembly's School for Lay Workers (known as ATS, later renamed the Presbyterian School of Christian Education, and at the present time, Union Seminary - PSCE), a school of the Presbyterian Church, U.S. (Now Presbyterian Church USA) located in Richmond, Virginia. One Yale Professor was disappointed at her choice, having tried to steer her in the direction of a university-level position. In 1953 she completed her dissertation: The Theology of Christian Nurture, which was a study of the theology which underlaid Horace Bushnell's doctrine of Christian Nurture. Her supervisor was H. Richard Niebuhr. Because a book about Bushnell by another author had been published recently, it was decided that there would be little market for her own book, though it was deemed to be publishable. A loss for Christian Education.

At some point after World War II, while teaching at ATS, she spent a year as visiting teacher at Kinjo College, Japan, at the invitation of the denomination's Board of World Mission. Undoubtedly Japan's social and economic conditions so soon after WWII quickened her sense of compassion and justice. She came to enjoy and appreciate the lifestyle and graciousness of the Japanese people and their culture.

ATS, where she taught for sixteen years was primarily a graduate school, offering the MA and MRE degrees. At that time there were also a few baccalaureate students. The majority of students were women training for various non-ordained ministries in the church, most notably in Christian education and mission work. As Professor of Applied Christianity and Christian Nurture she began teaching courses in Christian Ethics, in addition to Christian education and Bible. The ethics courses were her most important contribution to the school's curriculum, in her view. She had to negotiate with the administration to teach these courses, which were not seen as necessary for students' vocations as other areas of study. Perhaps it was also felt that these courses might disturb some of the constituency of the denomination. Though she was a superb teacher in all her other courses (Bible, teaching, counseling), her heart was clearly in the field of ethics and social issues. Her competency was recognized by other institutions. During some faculty sabbaticals at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, across the street, she was invited to teach ethics there , almost unheard of for a woman at that time. Many Union students availed themselves of the opportunity to study with her by registering for her classes at ATS.

During her years at ATS she became well-known across the PCUS and was in demand as both teacher and conference leader. It was during the early fifties that she wrote her most important book, A Call to Faith . This deceptively simple book of theology was widely studied by adult groups and church professionals throughout the church for many years.

Henderlite became a charter member of the first predominantly PCUS-sponsored African-American church in the city, All Souls Presbyterian Church. She claimed its organizing pastor, Irving "Mike" Elligan as not only friend but mentor. She became active in human relations groups, precursor of civil rights organizations. She took part in the famous March on Washington and in the Selma to Montgomery march.

The Covenant Life Curriculum

In Henderlite's view, perhaps her most significant contribution to the church began during her tenure at ATS. After serving on a committee to form a new Christian education curriculum for the denomination, Henderlite was invited by the Board of Christian Education, located in Richmond, to become its Director of Curriculum Development. A footnote to this incident is that the then president of ATS, Dr. Charles E. S. Kraemer, would not let her go to the Board unless it agreed to pay her the same wages it would have provided to a male filling the position! Her leadership in the development in what became "The Covenant Life Curriculum," (CLC), was everywhere evident - in its foundation papers, its scope, its design and its final shape. In this writer's judgment, it was one of the great curriculums of the neo-orthodox era, and the first, I believe, to deal seriously with social ethics from a Christian perspective.

Henderlite recalled that "it called for everything I knew and had to give." All of her previous study and life-long experiences seemed to have prepared her for this responsibility: her rootedness in the Reformed Tradition; her love for her denomination, particularly its congregational life; her willingness to take risks; the careful reflection on and clarity of her own theological positions; her openness to other points of view; her capacity to endure in times of trial; her knowledge of the Bible and its overarching themes; her excellence as a teacher and as an educator of teachers; her concern for ethical action which flows from Biblical faith, her credibility with theologians and educators; and her respect for the laity.

Henderlite not only undertook the exhausting task of reading, writing and editing; she also had to work at persuading the participating denominations (there were five) to buy into a new and potentially controversial approach to curriculum. One of the unique features of this new curriculum was its emphasis on the Christian life, in addition to its emphasis on Bible, and church history. This third emphasis played a significant part in continuing to move the denomination from its tendency to "spiritualize the gospel." It helped equip many in the South to take leadership in the civil rights struggle which lay ahead.

In 1965, while Henderlite was still at the Board of Christian Education, a committee headed by Dr. E.T. Thompson, from the Hanover Presbytery which had jurisdiction over the churches of central Virginia came to her suggesting that she seek ordination to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament. The PCUS at its 1964 General Assembly finally had opened ordination to this office to women, and at the same time to the offices of Elder and Deacon. It was widely recognized that it would be altogether fitting for Rachel Henderlite to be the first woman to be ordained to the Office of Word and Sacrament. The service of ordination took place at her congregation, All Souls Church, on December 12, 1965. The racially integrated congregation within the sanctuary that day overflowed with worshipers who were proud of her and proud of the denomination. There was little, if any, negative response to her ordination.

The Austin Years

In 1966, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Texas asked her to join its faculty as Professor of Christian Education. Since by this time the CLC was on a firm footing, she felt free to accept the invitation, but not before she took a year's trip around the world!

In addition to teaching Christian Education courses at Austin she enjoyed team teaching with other faculty members, particularly in courses centered on the church and community, which stressed the interplay of life and theology. She continued to live out her concern for equal rights of ethnic minorities. She worshiped regularly at a Mexican-American Church, and she traveled to the Rio Grande Valley to join the United Farm Workers who were rallying to improve their working conditions and their acceptance as American citizens. She joined in their march in Austin to request recognition by the state legislature.

The embodiment of her life and beliefs was further evidenced in her courses on and involvement in the ecumenical movement of the sixties. In 1966 she was appointed to the first PCUS Standing Committee on the Consultation of Churches Uniting (COCU), and was later appointed as one of the denomination's official delegates. In COCU, she broke another barrier by being elected its first female president. Involvement in COCU helped her express her longtime concern for church unity. She had always been an advocate for the reunion of Presbyterian and Reformed bodies. She had felt for some time that joint curriculum production by a wide group of denominations was preferable to the proliferation of efforts, with its often parochial vision.

She retired from Austin in 1971 and was made Professor Emeritus, a singular honor for one who had taught there for only a few years. She lived quietly in Austin with B.J. Schaufele, friend and "daughter." Henderlite became ever more fragile, with multiple health problems. She died on November 6, 1991 in Austin at the age of 85.

Contributions to Christian Education

Henderlite's contributions need to be understood within the context of the Reformed faith, and with its reactions in the 1950s and 1960s to what was felt to be an over-emphasis upon God's immanence.

Her life and work were of one piece. That is the major reason that her teaching, publications, social action and ecumenical endeavors had power. Simply put, Rachel Henderlite lived all l parts of her life in response to the conviction that "the death of Jesus on the cross was the central, all-revealing act of God for man's (she would use inclusive language in years to come) salvation, revealing in stark, tragic, blessed clarity the heart of God. It is here that the love of God finds powerful and victorious expression; here that He gives Himself without reservation to meet man's need. In the cross, God is spending Himself to win man into fellowship with God" ( Call to Faith , 90-91). She uses a Pauline figure as she points "to the great paradox of the Christian faith and the final meaning of the Cross - that life comes only through death." ( Call to Faith , 94-95). These convictions were part of her heritage and alive in her own experience.

Henderlite's contributions to Christian education arose out of her conviction that Christian education should be rooted in the doctrine of justification by faith. Thus she underlined many of the insights of neo-orthodoxy, with the Bible and the life of the church as both witness to and instrument of salvation (she rarely used this word, presumably because it seemed to "cover up" rather than "uncover" the gospel.) She also availed herself of insights coming out of pastoral counseling, which stressed relationships. The entity she most often addressed was "the church."She firmly believed that the "task of Christian education is the task of the church - to lead persons into the presence of God in such a way that they may respond to him with their whole hearts" ( Forgiveness and Hope , 41-42). Or again, "The church's program of education is simply the church's effort to make known to every person that he - like all mankind - is included in the purposes of God and called into his family" ( Forgiveness and Hope , 45). She pointed out the Reformed assertion that justification by faith presumes an overarching belief that humankind was created in the image of God; she coupled that assertion with a strong doctrine of sin. Her particular gift in reclaiming these articles of faith was to state them in language that was understandable to laypersons. Thus many reviewers of her publications characterized them as written for laypersons, with the unspoken assumption that they were too "simple" for those with a theological education. Coupled with her gift for clarity was her courage in linking faith to the social issues of the day.

In the 1960s, as she increasingly despaired of the effectiveness of the current program of Christian education in the contemporary church, she spoke prophetically of a new direction which the church must take in education. Passionately she declared that it must take on the role of a teacher of social ethics, not as an "add-on," but as its major purpose. [See "We Can't Go Home Again" (1967) and Toward a New Direction for Christian Education (1968).] With these articles of faith as a basis, she lived out her convictions in several major ways.


The vocation of teaching provided the occasion and impetus which underlay Henderlite's work as author and writer. For those who were privileged to learn from her in an academic setting, a retreat setting or Sunday school setting, she recreated their assumptions, their love of learning, their ability to think critically, their own approach to teaching. Teaching was a primary way she thought of herself, rarely using the more elite word, "professor." "Miss H" (not "Dr. H".), as her students called her fondly and respectfully, made her mark on almost every student she had under her tutelage. Her theology of teaching was based on her understanding of teaching and learning as a response to God, who is father (undoubtedly she would say "parent" today) and judge, who calls others to forgiveness, hope and justice. It emphasized relationships. To be sure she was well aware of the contributions which the insights and practices of general education and social sciences could make to the church, and she used them appropriately.

Her understanding of teaching is captured in the following words:

Teaching can never be defined as simply telling the learner the profound truth the teacher has learned. Nor is teaching simply pointing the learner to where truth may be found. Teaching requires the teacher and pupil to join hands and go out in search of truth together, the pupil set free to search by the teacher's respect for him (sic) and confidence in him. Teacher identifies himself the learner, and is himself ready to learn…This means that the teacher can teach now with humility and boldness….The bitter rivalry that characterizes those who do not know the secret of God's grace is now removed. The fear of losing face is gone, for each one wears his own face no longer, but all wear the face of Christ. A band of self-acknowledged sinners can listen together to the Word of God and search fearlessly for its meaning for their lives, supporting one another in the search, reaching out to include any other sinner who may wish to come up ( Forgiveness and Hope , 60-61).

In the classroom and elsewhere, Miss H. combined a relentless and reverent search for truth with an unwavering respect for each student in all her or his uniqueness. In a 1989 interview with the author she reflected on the way in which she taught:

I think what I try to do when I teach is to line up the central issue, the "fors" and the "againsts" of some truth - and then let the class see what that issue is and then try to help them see all the things that were involved in making a decision about it, but to try very hard not steer them in one direction or another, so that what they come out with will be theirs forever, until they find reason for changing it.

Closely linked with her concern for truth was Miss H's concern for conceptual clarity. She was critical of language which "covered up" rather than "uncovered." She was unimpressed by scholarly jargon which sought to impress rather than to illumine. She constantly pushed her students for precision, often reminding them in her own precise prose that "if you can't say a thing three ways you probably don't know what you're talking about!"

One of her singular gifts as a teacher lay in her ability to evaluate a student's progress. She had an uncanny gift of being able to discern the quality of the work being presented and to weigh that quality along with the student's ability and the amount of effort expended. Thus she pushed those of both modest and above average abilities to work to the limits of their own particular abilities, experiencing a sense of accomplishment and self-worth that was specific to them.

In non-classroom settings, whether at a gathering in her home or at an appointment in her office, her presence as a teacher was evident but non-intrusive. Her method in these situations, as in the classroom, honored both content and context. An example: a former student from the Deep South recalls talking to her in the mid-1950s about her discomfort in a year-long field work assignment at a predominantly black congregation. Actually, the student had come to get Henderlite's blessing on a change of location. As the student remembers it, Henderlite listened attentively as the student expressed one weak justification after another until her own words convicted her of attempts to avoid some hard moral issues. The teacher had said nothing of any substance for the entire time; she simply served as a catalyst to let the student teach herself!

"Miss H's" power as a teacher both inside and outside the classroom emanated from her own integrated life. She was true to one of her most cherished convictions: "Christian people are tired of their own words when they are not expressions of real life" ( A Call to Faith , 11).She taught equality; she worked for equality. She taught reverence for the truth; she pursued truth fearlessly. She taught respect for everyone; she was present to each person, no matter what his/her station in life. She was what she taught and she taught by who she was. The words of the citation she received when awarded the Union Medal by Union Theological Seminary in New York capture this very well:

In you the grace of good teaching is naturally akin to the grace of Christian discipleship. Your students may have come to study 'under' you, but they stayed to study with you, for that was the only way in which you permitted them to stay. In your company it has always seemed possible to combine a single human life both faith and intelligence, knowledge and goodness, local loyalty and world mission, self-confidence and humility. In you a passion for integrity has borne fruit in the spiritual gifts of gentleness and caring. You have taught teachers to 'speak the truth in love,' for that is how you spoke it. (Quoted in Jansen, 24).

The Whole Church Teaches

Stimulated by her understanding of one of Bushnell's central insights that a child should grow up as a Christian and never know him/her to be other than Christian. (PK, 81. Note that at least by 1975 she was using inclusive language), Henderlite was a pioneer in Presbyterian circles and elsewhere in her emphasis on the congregation as primary teacher, with more systematic study providing enrichment and reflection (Bushnell's emphasis was on the family as primary teacher.) She felt deeply that in the church it was the congregation which was the central educator for life in faith, taking pre-eminence over education programs, such as Sunday school. She writes "In my judgment, the only way in which (a person's) faith…can be elicited is through inclusion in a community of faith where the whole life of the community is shaped and governed by the community's commitment to its Lord." (Westerhoff, 204). Educators Ellis Nelson and John Westerhoff built on this theory of education in later years. Henderlite was also clear that Christian education, taking into account the education of and by the whole church community "is to be designed precisely as an instrument by which the Holy Spirit may call the church to mission ….Education that is not for mission is not proper education for the church" ( Holy Spirit in Christian Education , 16).

The Covenant Life Curriculum

A stunning contribution to the church was made by her in her role as Director of Curriculum for the PCUS, issuing in the Covenant Life Curriculum (CLC) in the 1960s. Henderlite was visionary, creator, cheerleader, advocate and administrator for the entire project. Though many persons were significantly involved in its creation, in a deep sense it was "hers." CLC was solidly based in the neo-orthodoxy of the day, with its feet firmly planted in Biblical truth. The Bible was seen as "both witness and instrument." CLC was one of the great curriculum designs of the ‘50s and ‘60s, preceded by the UPCUSA's Faith and Life and the Episcopal Church's Seabury Series . What set all three of these curriculums apart from later ones was the creative dreaming and careful planning and design which began years before the curriculum was actually being designed and written. The CLC's foundation papers are classics. Henderlite was the final writer for Foundation Paper V, on the teaching-learning process. Perhaps for the last time in Presbyterian curriculum building, seminary faculty were significantly involved in its inception and in the writing of many of its resources. The late Balmer Kelly, Professor of Biblical Theology at Union Seminary in Richmond, and William B. Kennedy, then Professor of Christian Education at Union, Richmond, were major contributors to its creation. Kelly often said that his participation in its creation changed the way he taught. Many of his former students have agreed.

At Henderlite's insistence, there was a three-fold core for the systematic study portion of CLC : Bible, Church History and the Christian Life. Perhaps its ground-breaking aspect was an introduction to the Christian life, which not only included life's personal dimensions but concern for and involvement in society. The three adult core courses each of which were year-long, were: The Mighty Acts of God , by A.B. Rhoades (Louisville Seminary), Through the Ages by E. T. Thompson (Union in Richmond) and The Christian Life by Waldo Beach (Duke). To write the pioneering adult study on the Christian Life, the planners invited. Beach, a Methodist, who taught at Duke University. Within the PCUS constituency there was probably no one who possessed the knowledge (and courage?)and other abilities who could have written it, except Henderlite herself, and she had her hands full For perhaps the first time adults were studying about racism and about social economics. Such study created both praise and much scorn and opposition. But in the ‘60s Presbyterian adults still dutifully studied what "headquarters" prepared, even though many of these adults might vehemently disagree with its assumptions and content.

In an "appreciation for Rachel Henderlite" written shortly after her death, William Bean Kennedy wrote:

Rachel Henderlite led the development of the Covenant Life Curriculum (launched in 1963) which grounded education more holistically in the socialization processes by which young and old absorb religious meaning from the total life of the church in the world….she contributed with her grace and brilliance to the maturing of a generation of Christians. ( Presbyterian Outlook , December 2-9, 1991).


As Carol Lakey Hess has so helpfully summarized:

Henderlite's writings have been woven around several consistent and inter-related themes. Three themes in particular continue to be central concerns in Christian education today. The first of these is an emphasis on the congregation as the locus of the educational ministry. The second is a twofold claim that not only should Christian education be theological education, but the Christian life should also be a theologically directed life. The third relevant theme, which flows out of the first two, is an insistence that the church be a socially sensitive transformer of culture (Hess and McCarthy, 13. See also Richard Neibuhr's classic, Christ and Culture ).

C. Ellis Nelson commented briefly on her most far-reaching books, upon the celebration of her life, written shortly after her death.( Presbyterian Outlook , December 2-9, 1991):

Her book, A Call to Faith is a systematic treatment of all major theological topics. Forgiveness and Hope is a careful analysis of the doctrine of justification by faith as a basis for practical theology. The Holy Spirit in Christian Education is a profound explanation of how church education must be blessed by the Spirit in order for people to develop faith in God. All of Henderlite's books were based on her comprehensive knowledge of the Bible, and they are written for lay people…..Through these writings she will continue to provide spiritual guidance for generations to come.

Works Cited

  • Henderlite, R. (1945). Exploring the Old Testament . Richmond: John Knox.
  • Henderlite, R. (1954). The theology of Christian nurture . Doctoral Dissertation, Yale Divinity School. A copy is available at The Library, Union-PSCE. Cannot be checked out.
  • Henderlite, R. (1955). A call to faith . Richmond: John Knox.
  • Henderlite, R. (1961). Forgiveness and hope . Richmond, Virginia: John Knox.
  • Henderlite, R. (1964). The Holy Spirit in Christian education . Philadelphia: Westminster.
  • Henderlite, R. (1972). Asking the right questions. In J. Westerhoff (Ed.), A colloquy on Christian education (pp. 197-206). Philadelphia: United Church Press.
  • Henderlite, R. (1975). Reflections of a P. K. In C. A. Frazier (Ed.). What faith has meant to me (pp. 76-84). Philadelphia: Westminster Press.
  • Hess, C. L., & McCarthy, E. R. (1988). Rachel Henderlite: A life lived in response. American Presbyterians , 69 (2). Permission has been granted to adapt this essay for use in this publication. Much of the strength of this essay is due to the careful and informed work of Carol Lakey Hess.
  • Pope, L. (1942). Millhands and preachers . A study of Gastonia. New Haven: Yale University.
  • In addition to the published works cited, the material in this essay is drawn from the following sources:
  • Extensive interviews conducted by Robert H. Bullock, Jr., in February and March, 1980. Bullock is a former student of Rachel Henderlite's at Austin Theological Seminary. Until the Fall of 2003, he served as editor of The Presbyterian Outlook , a newsweekly. Transcripts of these interviews are available from The Library, Union-PSCE, Richmond, VA.
  • Covenant Life Curriculum materials. In the archives of The Library, Union-PSCE, Richmond, VA.
  • Audio-cassette interviews conducted by Estelle Rountree McCarthy in January, 1989, which remain in her possession.
  • Personal recollections of Estelle Rountree McCarthy.



  • Henderlite, R. (1945). Exploring the Old Testament . Richmond: John Knox.
  • Henderlite, R. (1946). Exploring the New Testament . Richmond: John Knox.
  • Henderlite, R. (circa 1950). Minister of reconciliation. The story of Mary Fletcher Smythe, missionary to Japan . Nashville: Board of World Missions, Presbyterian Church in the U.S.
  • Henderlite, R. (1954). The theology of Christian nurture . Doctoral Dissertation, Yale Divinity School. A copy is available at The Library, Union-PSCE. Cannot be checked out.
  • Henderlite, R. (1955). A call to faith . Richmond: John Knox. Also a separate Study Guide.
  • Henderlite, R. (1955). Meditations on Ephesians .
  • Henderlite, R. (1957). Paul, Christian and world traveler . Student's Book and Teacher's Guide. Richmond: John Knox.
  • Henderlite, R. (1960). The Church, the body of Christ: A guide to bible study . Issued by the Board of Christian Education, Presbyterian Church, U.S.
  • Henderlite, R. (1961). Forgiveness and hope . Richmond, Virginia: John Knox.
  • Henderlite, R. (1964). The Holy Spirit in Christian education . Philadelphia: Westminster.
  • Henderlite, R. (1972). Asking the right questions. In J. Westerhoff (Ed.), A colloquy on Christian education (pp. 197-206). Philadelphia: United Church Press.
  • Henderlite, R. (1975). Reflections of a P. K. In C. A. Frazier (Ed.), What faith has meant to me (pp. 76-84). Philadelphia: Westminster Press.


  • Henderlite, R. (1957). The Christian way in race relations. Theology Today , 14 (2).
  • Henderlite, R. (1967). Elements of unpredictability which create difficulties in a precise definition of Christian education. Religious Education , 62 (5), 405-410.
  • Henderlite, R. (1967). We can't go home again. Inaugural Address. Austin Seminary Review [Faculty edition] , 82 (7), 7-32.
  • Henderlite, R. (1968). Christian education and Christian social ethics: Toward a new direction for Christian education today. Austin Theological Seminary Bulletin [Faculty edition] , 83 (7), 29-41.
  • Henderlite, R. (1970). Mission in the church of Christ uniting. Austin Seminary Bulletin [Faculty edition] , 85 (4), 57-70.
  • Henderlite, R. (1984). Musings on Christian education (Upon receiving the Union Medal). In Rachel Henderlite: A Pioneer Ministry. Austin Seminary Bulletin [Faculty edition] , 99 (l0).

Unpubllished papers by Rachel Henderlite

  • Henderlite, R. (1956). Paper on the nature of authority: The authority of the Bible in faith and life . Presented before the Society of St. James, a group of scholars in Richmond, VA, of which she was a member.
  • Henderlite, R. (1973). To a listening Church and a listening world . Commencement address at Union Theological Seminary (Now Union-PSCE), Richmond, VA.

Cassette Tapes (Sound Recordings) by Rachel Henderlite

  • Note: These are available from the Reigner Recording Library, Union-Psce, 3401 Brook Rd., Richmond, VA 23227. When playing cassettes use a machine which can slow the tape down. Some of these recordings have Henderlite speaking faster than she actually spoke.
  • Henderlite, R. (1964). The Holy Spirit in Christian education (Cassette Recording).
  • Henderlite, R. (1973). To a listening Church and a listening world (Cassette Recording).
  • Henderlite, R. (1977). Toward a common priesthood (Cassette Recording).
  • Henderlite, R. (1979, October 21). The astonishing Gospel and the un-astonished Church (Cassette Recording). Sermon on the Protestant Hour (radio).
  • Henderlite, R. (1990). The gift of God's grace (Cassette Recording).

Articles, Reviews, About Henderlite

  • Presbyterian Outlook (1991, December 2-9). An independent newsweekly.
  • Fallaw, W. (1962). A review of forgiveness and hope. Journal of Bible and Religion , XXX (2), 167-168.
  • Hess, C. L., & McCarthy, E. R. (1988). Rachel Henderlite: A life lived in response. American Presbyterians , 69 (2).
  • Hess, C. L., & McCarthy, E. R. (1997). Rachel Henderlite: A life lived in response. In B. A. Keely (Ed.), Faith of our foremothers, women changing religious education (pp. 59-73). Louisville: Westminster/John Knox.
  • Jansen, J. (1984). Rachel Henderlite - Christian educator. Austin Seminary Bulletin [Faculty Edition] , 99 (8).
  • Nelson, C. E. (1965). [Review of the book The Holy Spirit in Christian education ]. The Union Seminary Quarterly Review , 206-207.

Reviews by Henderlite

  • Henderlite, R. (1957). [Review of the book Amos, Hosea, and Micah by Norman H. Swaith]. Interpretation , V (55), 492.
  • Henderlite, R. (1960). [Review of the book The renewal of hope by H. Clark Kee]. Religious Education Journal , 230-231.

Excerpts from Publications

Henderlite, R. (1955). A call to faith . Richmond: John Knox.

"The world is tired of words… The world is yearning for reality. It wants a faith to live by, and not a set of slogans … The church, too, is tired of words. Christian people are tired of their own words when they are not expressions of real life…..Christian people begin to ask: 'Is there nothing more to the Christian faith than this multiplicity of words?'" (p. 11)

Henderlite, R. (1964). The Holy Spirit in Christian education . Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

When the church takes seriously its convictions about the Holy Spirit of God and his way of working in the life of the church, it will have to reexamine its educational program….For the Spirit will use the Scripture, with which it has brought the church into existence, and illumine it for the continual revitalization of the church and for calling men to Christ…When Christian education takes into account the church's belief in the Holy Spirit…. the Christian educator has an ally who guarantees the outcome. The church has only to know its true nature as the servant people of God and the temple of his Spirit. Then is it able to know what it must do and what it cannot." (pp. 113-114)

Henderlite, R. (196l). Forgiveness and hope . Richmond: John Knox.

We are theologians. Whether we have an articulate theology or an adequate theology or not, we all have some theology. The value of a creed to us is twofold: It gives us the words which the church has found adequate over the years to express the profound experience once it has known it; and it may serve to arouse anticipation of the experience that others have known and to lead toward it, drawing the individual into the faith of the church in anticipation that the faith may become his own. The danger of a creed is that it may serve as substitute for faith rather than an affirmation of faith or a movement toward it. (pp. 64-65)

Henderlite, R (1968). Christian education and Christian social ethics: Toward a new direction for Christian education today. Austin Theological Seminary Bulletin [Faculty Edition] , 83 (7), p. 29.

The conviction that presses upon me with increasing intensity in recent months is that Christian education should move deliberately and immediately toward the teaching of Christian social ethics as its primary task. (p. 29).

  • Henderlite, R. (1955). A call to faith. Richmond . John Knox.
  • Henderlite, R. (1961). Forgiveness and hope . Richmond, Virginia: John Knox
  • Henderlite, R. (1964). The Holy Spirit in Christian education . Philadelphia: Westminster
  • Henderlite, R. (1967). We can't go home again. Inaugural Address. Austin Seminary Review: [Faculty edition] , 82 (7), 7-32.
  • Henderlite, R. (1968). Christian education and Christian social ethics: Toward a new direction for Christian education today. Austin Theological Seminary Bulletin [Faculty edition] , 83 (7), 29-41.
  • Henderlite, R. (1975). Reflections of a P. K. In C. A. Frazier (Ed.), What faith has meant to me (pp. 76-84). Philadelphia: Westminster Press.

Author Information

Estelle Rountree McCarthy

Estelle Rountree McCarthy (M.A., Presbyterian School of Christian Education) is Professor of Christian Education Emerita at the Presbyterian School of Christian Education (Now Union - PSCE) in Richmond, Virginia. She is a former student and friend of her mentor, Rachel Henderlite.