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Robert Browning

By Randy G. Litchfield


ROBERT BROWNING (1924-2008) is grounded as a person and as an educator in a sacramental worldview. Browning's sacramental worldview feeds into a vision of Christian education seeking to recognize and respond to God's "life of love and justice" in the world and to form a people in partnership with God. His sacramental worldview is reflected in the hallmarks of his work: utilization of systemic and interdisciplinary methods, engagement with contexts, exploration of human unfolding, enhancement of the common good, collaboration with colleagues, and interaction between ecumenical and interfaith groups. Significant topics in his work include sacraments, faith development, vocation, reconciliation, character and moral education, adolescence, communication, family, interdisciplinary studies, and public education among others. His career involved him in congregational staffs, the Methodist Theological School in Ohio, the United Methodist Church (nationally and in Ohio), academic societies, the Commission on Interprofessional Education and Practice at The Ohio State University, and the character education movement in Ohio public schools.


Robert Browning was born in Gallatin, Missouri on June 19, 1924 to Robert W. and Nelle J. (Trotter) Browning. His sister is Carolyn Muncy, a musician, educator and wife of a Baptist pastor. His brother is Don S. Browning, Professor Emeritus of Ethics and Social Sciences, University of Chicago Divinity School. Robert Browning comments during one of his retirement dinners that:

I was born into a Christian family. I grew up as Horace Bushnell advised "never knowing when I was not a Christian." I was brought up in a warm, pietistic, but very honest and realistic faith community, The First Christian Church of Trenton, Missouri. My Dad was an elder who taught the Men's Bible Class as a young man and gave the Communion prayer week after week as the elements were served. But much more important for me, my sister and brother was the influence of parents, friends and a very strong and deep thinking pastor, Brother Jim Todd. He was known as "brother" Todd because he befriended everyone in town. These souls helped me and others experience the love, trust and righteousness which Christ taught and lived. This religious education was not sticky. It was natural and joyous. The heavy categories of sin and guilt were not the motivations used. Revivals were held annually as a way of bringing persons to decisions to become Christian. Most of the time it was a decision to become what you already were-even though I and other twelve year olds went forward confessing our faith, and later were baptized by immersion in the baptistry of the church. Such a decision was a high moment but really an extension of the warm Christian community I had experienced from birth on as I participated in Word and Table every week. (Browning, 1989, pp. 1-2)

Browning's teen and college years were very positive outside the church and classroom. He played basketball, tennis and golf, and enjoyed "dancing up a storm" (Browning, 1989, p. 3). He was in a variety of music groups ranging from big band, jazz groups, marching band, orchestra, close harmony quartets, and choral groups. Browning reflects: It was Meeker's Sweet Shop and the juke Box, Red Gables, dating, dancing and going to Christian Endeavor. No discontinuity between Christian commitment and enjoying life fully as a teenager! (Browning, 1989, p. 3)

In 1945, Browning received a BA from Missouri Valley College where he studied religion and philosophy. Browning reports that he was not upset, like some peers, when exposed to historical-critical approaches or asked to use a philosophical framework to critique Christian beliefs. He attributes this to the lack of a "radical discontinuity between thinking and feeling" in the faith community that formed him while growing up. The college experience strengthened his faith as "the whole process of explanation and critique seem[ed] natural and non-threatening" to him (Browning, 1989, p. 2). Browning began considering ordained educational ministry as a response to wanting "to help youth avoid the pain I saw in my friends" caused by challenges during college to their faith (Browning, 1989, p. 2). Harvey Baker Smith, pastor of a vital college church, was also influential on Browning as Smith worked closely with students in the Navy V-12 program and provided leadership opportunities for Browning. Browning was a part of the United States Navy's V-12 Program, which was established in 1942 as part of the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps to provide accelerated officer training. Browning went through college very quickly, taking 20 hours a semester.

The nurture of family and church combined with college experiences and studies created what Browning describes as a natural call to ordained ministry:

My call was a natural call, as God called me to extend what I had already experienced. I was in the U.S. Navy program preparing to become a deck officer when a call came for volunteers to prepare to be Naval physicians, dentists and chaplains. Having identified strongly with the leadership values I saw so well performed by Jim Todd, Harvey Baker Smith and many youth leaders and college professors I said, yes, to preparation for chaplaincy, and was accepted at Union Seminary in New York. It was a natural, not a secret call. I saw God's hand in the call from the Navy! Now you know what is wrong with me! I didn't experience a conversion experience and a secret call from God. (Browning, 1989, p. 6) Browning was originally ordained to ministry in the Disciples of Christ Church in 1947, but in 1949 he transferred his ordination to the Methodist Church.

In 1948 Browning received his M.Div. degree from Union Theological Seminary. While at Union, Browning encountered the shifts in theology and religious education from liberal progressivism, which typified how he was nurtured, to neo-orthhodoxy. It is best to hear Browning's own description of his experience at Union through this extended quote:

[I ended] up in Reinhold Niebuhr's theology class one month late to learn about the reality of sin as pride, self deception, and separation from God and the human family! The distinctive Christian categories were being shared with excitement and challenge. Christian realism about human nature hit me hard, but in a convincing and thoughtful way. It brought a fresh image of the depth psychological understanding of the self which also encompassed a new understanding of sin and the impossibility of merely educating persons into personal and social goodness!

Union Seminary on the whole had been known as a strong liberal school. But when I arrived in 1945, it was being heralded as the center of neo-orthodoxy with Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, John Bennett, Pitney Van Dusen in theology, John Knox and Frederick Grant in New Testament, James Muilenberg and Samuel Terrian in Old Testament, David Roberts in pastoral care, Harry Emerson Fosdick and George Buttrick in preaching. In religious education two strong members of the religious education movement were my early mentors, Harrison Sackett Elliott and Frank Herriott. Elliott's book, Can Religious Education be Christian? symbolized the nature of the discussion.

I was introduced to the liberal theology and the progressive educational theories which had dominated religious education from the founding of the Religious Education Association in 1903 (with John Dewey as a major presenter) to 1945 when Dewey's followers, such as George Counts and John Childs were the major teachers across the street from Union at Teachers College, Columbia University.

I discovered why my own religious education had been nurture-oriented, positive in tone, with little struggle between faith and reason, with the use of the scientific method in religious thinking and educational designs, ala Dewy's "learning by doing" and George Albert Coe's social theory of religious education, preparing me to be a responsible participant in the Democracy of God, as Coe phrased the kingdom of God - a very early demur at kingdom language!

Religious education was personal, nurturing and socially responsible. The social gospel was a creative expression of the life of love and justice revealed and lived by Christ.

But, the creative tension between liberal and neo-orthodox theology at Union forced me and others to take the steps Kierkegaard took to Christian education, using the distinctive Christian categories of sin, grace, and reconciliation. There was a focus on personal salvation and depth psychological wholeness through Christ and the Church; but there was also an emphasis on realistic, politically adroit, attacks on unjust social systems such as Nazism or Communism but also on an untrammeled free enterprise system in the United States when it lost sight of whole groups of disenfranchised people. (Browning, 1989, pp. 7-8)

Browning served as an intern from 1946 to 1947 at Old Stone Church in Meadville, Pennsylvania and continued after graduating from Union as Minister of Education until 1951. While at Old Stone, Browning met Jean Beatty and they were married on December 27, 1947. Between 1950 and 1960, Robert and Jean had four children: Gregory, David, Peter and Lisa. In regards to parenting, Browning shares:

All of my precious theories got tested and refined. Many had to be discarded. But more than anything I learned the beauty of faith made concrete in loving, honest relationships and in the power of mutual ministry within the family and the wider human family. (Browning, 1989, p. 11)

In 1951 Browning returned to Union for further graduate study in religious education and took advantage of Union's connections with the strong education faculty at Columbia University. Lewis Sherrill, at Union, became a major influence on his thinking about Christian education. He continued this study until 1953. During this same time he served as Minister of Education at Community Church at the Circle, Mt. Vernon, New York.

The Brownings moved to Columbus, Ohio in 1953 and Robert served as Minister of Education at North Broadway United Methodist Church until 1959. During this time, Browning worked on his Ph.D. in Education at The Ohio State University (OSU). His dissertation was on Søren Kierkegaard and his influence on contemporary protestant Christian education. His interest in Kierkegaard is life long. In a retirement address, Browning tells of his religious education across his life in parallel with scenes from Kierkegaard's life. (Browning, 1989) Browning received his Ph.D. from OSU in 1960.

A newly created seminary in Delaware, Ohio, named The Methodist Theological School in Ohio (MTSO), invited Browning in 1959 to join the faculty in the area of Christian education. Browning being part of establishing a seminary was exciting. He also initiated a strongly respected Christian education program at MTSO with a lasting legacy. Browning and the education program received strong support from Dean Van Bogard (Bogie) Dunn, John Dickhaut, and the entire faculty. Browning reports that a week of laboratory teaching in local congregations was part of the introductory class in Christian education. Other faculty agreed to not hold exams during that week in support and cooperation with the program (Browning, 2005, p. 6). Browning lists five emphases that shaped the Christian education program at MTSO:

(1) A broad view of Christian education that included all that the church is doing and being. The goal is to prepare each member of the body of Christ for his or her unique ministry within and beyond the congregation in order to bring God's love and justice alive in all aspects of our lives. (2) A commitment to equip future pastors and Christian educators to be competent and innovative in their own teaching of the faith as well as developers of a strong educational ministry with local leaders. (3) The embracing of a contextual approach to teaching and learning. Effort was made to design many opportunities for students to have direct interaction with laity and pastors in local church settings. (4) The development of a dialogical design for learning. Christian education is deepened and more integrated by dialogue with all the other disciplines-biblical, theological, historical, ethical, pastoral, liturgical-all the dimensions of sound and relevant ministry. It is also crucial to be in dialogue with the best theories of personhood, teaching and learning, faith development, leadership, curriculum, group dynamics, communications, etc. (5) The establishment of a consultative process as a central-for credit-part of the Christian education program. Fern Giltner, and later Doris Griffith, served as counselors, helping students set learning goals, plan future courses and other experiences to meet their goals. (Browning, 2005, p. 6)

How the contextual and integrative emphases were made concrete is shown by a few examples. The introductory course in Christian education was held in a local congregation with local leaders and their issues a part of the class. With other faculty a "Professional Quarter" was offered in which Christian education, pastoral care and church administration worked together with local pastors and lay leaders to integrate these ministries.

Another example of contextual and integrative spirit is found when Browning became the executive director in 1974 of the newly formed Commission on Interprofessional Education and Practice. While many shared the dream for this program, Browning attributes Van Bogard Dunn, Dean of MTSO, as its first author. The vision involved:

Professions such as medicine, law, theology, social work, nursing, education, allied medicine, psychology and others would join together to study the problems in our society which are too complex for any one profession to address successfully and then to collaborate in serving those in need of these helping professions. Bogie proposed the formation of a Commission made up equally of academics and practitioners. The Commission would then create interprofessional credit courses on ethics, changing societal values, and clinical cooperation as well as continuing education for professionals across the state. (Browning, 1998)

The vision became a reality through conversations with Deans of the OSU colleges, the three theological schools in Columbus (Pontifical College Josephinum, Trinity Lutheran, and MTSO) and corresponding state professional association leaders. The Commission was renamed in 1992 as The Interprofessional Commission of Ohio with the intent to move the Commission out to other communities, other colleges, universities and theological schools in the state. By 1998 over seventy-five colleges and universities in the United States had programs of interprofessional collaboration and many of these were influenced by the Commission on Interprofessional Education and Practice. His term as executive director ended in 1976. For five years he was responsible for the Commission's continuing education programming and he remains on the board of the Commission.

Through the years, the Christian education program at MTSO flourished. During the 1969-70 academic year, the Masters in Religious Education degree was started. In 1972, Browning became the Professor of Christian Education in the William A. Chryst Chair of Pastoral Theology. The Early Childhood Center was established in 1973 for campus children and community families. The Center was associated with the education program, providing a context for student experience. Students taught in the center and in some cases directed the program. Between 1974 and 1976 the M.R.E. degree was changed to a Master of Arts in Christian Education degree, which was more readily accepted by doctoral programs. At about the same time, the M.Div.-M.A.C.E. program was inaugurated, which created an opportunity for students to have a concentration in Christian education and be in dialogue with another discipline. This led to adding 12-15 pastors and Christian educators to the department's team for individualized courses in youth ministry, campus ministry, camping, depth Bible study, and leadership development. This team received continuing education and orientation from Browning and Charles Foster. Between the M.Div.-M.A.C.E. dual degree, the option for a Christian education specialization within the M.Div., and the M.A.C.E. degree, as many as 45-50 students were in the MTSO Christian education program.

Collaborative and interdisciplinary teaching, leadership and writing are hallmarks of Browning's work. Education faculty colleagues of Browning at MTSO included Charles Foster (1968-79), Ethel Johnson (1971-1987), and Joanmarie Smith (1982-2002). The MTSO education program also included the leadership of Fern Giltner, Paul Henshaw and Dolores Griffith. Faculty members for this program following Browning's retirement have included Ed Trimmer, Randy Litchfield, Leah Gunning (one-year appointment), and Timothy Van Meter.

Browning regularly co-taught education classes with Foster, "The sacraments in religious education and liturgy" with Roy Reed (worship) and "Ministry with persons in their strengths" with Paul Nicely (pastoral care) (Browning, 2005, p. 7). In teaching with Foster, Browning remembers that they got people involved immediately and then engaged them in reflection leading to theorizing. They also made strong use of lab schools. Such practices put students in positions where they "could not hide"-their work became public. When this process made students unsure, they were asked why they felt threatened and reminded how Christian education is a serious undertaking. Evaluation was a key feature in every step of the process.

Browning and Foster were joined by Everett Tilson (Bible) in developing self-instruction print and audio-tape studies produced by The United Methodist Church on topics about leadership, approaches to Christian education, the Bible and faith, and communicating faith with children. This work also served as research on the effectiveness of self-directed learning. They found this approach to be effective as long as a process of evaluation was included. Browning, Foster and Tilson also formed the writing team for Foundations for Teaching and Learning in the United Methodist Church, which was intended to give direction to the educational ministries of the denomination. Prior attempts to create this document had failed. Browning estimates that "two-thirds of our work survived later editing, including one of the ten aims of Christian education which dealt with our call for interfaith dialogue and joint action" (Browning, 1990, pp. 331-332). Aims such as that made the Foundations document controversial, especially with a rising evangelical movement in the denomination. Foundations was published in 1979 by the Division of Education of the Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church without credit given to Browning, Foster, and Tilson (Browning, notes).

A particularly strong partnership was formed between Browning and Roy Reed, professor of worship and church music at MTSO. Browning co-taught with Reed for twenty years and this collaboration facilitated Browning's efforts to expand Christian education to an ecumenical and interfaith dialogue through sacramental theology. Browning views sacramental theology as part of a quiet ecumenical revolution and as able "to integrate education and liturgy and relate faith to each of the stages of faith from birth to death" (Browning, 1989, p. 14). Three of Browning's books are co-authored with Reed: Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Moral Courage; Models of Confirmation and Baptismal Affirmation; and The Sacraments in Religious Education and Liturgy.

After 30 years of marriage, Jean Beatty Browning died in 1977 from cancer. Browning experienced valuable care and support from the MTSO community during Jean's illness and following her death. Robert Browning shares, "Jean had been not only a loving and energetic mother and wife but also a strong and caring member of the seminary community, inviting students and faculty to our home" (Browning, notes). In 1978 the MTSO administration, faculty and board of trustees established the Jean Beatty Browning Chair in Christian Education in her memory. Browning later married Jackie L. Rogers on August 26, 1979. Robert Browning notes, "Jackie, a deeply committed Episcopalian (having been the first woman senior warden at St. John's Episcopal Church, continued to make her unique presence felt in the seminary and wider community." In their merged family, Robert and Jackie have seven children (Robert's four plus Pamela, Paul, and Robin), fourteen grandchildren, and six great grandchildren-all of which Robert describes as "a gorgeous life together!" (Browning, notes).

Browning engaged in postgraduate work at Oxford University (England) during 1978-79 and 1984-85 academic years. During his first visit he focused on sacramental theology, religious education, and liturgy. The "communication revolution" and religious education was the focus of his second period of work at Oxford.

At his retirement from MTSO in 1989, Browning noted that in his formal education and teaching at MTSO he was formed by neo-orthodox, liberal, biblical, process, various liberation, and world theologies. It should be noted that the first generation of MTSO faculty had a strong concern for social justice-the dean and some faculty were arrested in the south for civil rights activities. As he encountered these theologies he adopted a practical theology model of Christian education and invited students to "theologize about practice" from the perspectives of these theologies. At this time he also affirmed Thomas Groome's "shared praxis" approach as a future emphasis for the field of Christian education (Browning, 1989, p. 13).

Throughout his career as minister and professor, Browning has been actively involved in professional leadership and community service. In terms of professional leadership, Browning was the lead resource person for the 1964/65 national meeting of Christian Educators Fellowship (UMC) and an active CEF member. He presented Kierkegaard as a theological resource for Christian education and utilized several significant indirect communication experiences in the process. He served as president of the Methodist Conference on Christian Education from 1967 to 1969 and president of the Association of Professors and Researchers in Religious Education in 1989. He is a long time member of the Religious Education Association and the United Methodist Association of Scholars in Christian Education (UMASCE). Browning served as chair of the UMASCE research committee from 1992-1994, which meant planning the biennial consultation meeting in 1992 and 1994. Browning was co-chair of the religion and public education task force of the Ohio Council of Churches from 1963 to 1973. He served two four-year terms on the national curriculum committee of the United Methodist Church, which involved frequent travel to the national headquarters and work on many projects. From 1982 to 1989 he served on the Board of Ministry of the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church. In terms of community service, Browning served on boards of the Tray-Lee Center, Columbus, Ohio from 1955 to 1959 which was a settlement house in a depressed area just outside the city limits, The Ohio State University Wesleyan Foundation from 1960 to 1978, and the Southside Settlement, Columbus, Ohio from 1968 to 1974. Browning received several recognitions for his work, including the Paul Hinkhouse award from the Religious Public Relations Council for Communicating the Faith with Children in 1971 and the Outstanding Alumni Award from Missouri Valley College in 2005.

Browning's passion for service, interdisciplinary and interprofessional collaboration, and the common good continued after retirement from MTSO. Writing again with Roy Reed, Browning addresses the role of a public church and needs for reconciliation and forgiveness in society in their 2004 book, Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Moral Courage: Motives and Designs for Ministry in a Troubled World. This book made the Academy of Parish Clergy's 2005 Top Ten Books for Parish Ministry list. Browning also became active in public councils and commissions.

In 1989, Browning became senior counselor for the Council for Ethics in Economics through his friend Paul Minus. Browning was involved in designing the Council's 1992 First International Conference for Business Leaders on Building the Ethics of Business in a Global Economy. The conference focused on the worldwide consequences of the policies and practices of multinational companies and 22 nations were represented, 35 from Japan alone. He led an international team in planning the second conference held in 1995. The Council also began work on honesty in business and concentrated on twelve business sectors, one of which was administration of higher education. Focus groups in these sections identified issues being experienced and then a conference was designed to publicly engage these issues. He delivered a paper reporting the findings in 1997. Eventually, the conclusion was made that in order to reverse the lying, cheating, and stealing reported by business leaders, children and youth needed ethics education before they get to the workplace. Browning became the chairperson of the Council's moral development task force. The task force became a statewide associate of the Ohio Department of Education in the Ohio Partners in Character Education project in 1998 (Council for Ethics in Economics, 2006). Federal and state grants totaling 2.2 million dollars were obtained to support character education projects with strong evaluation components. Sixty-five school districts in Ohio eventually became involved. More districts continue to participate in the annual Governor's Summit on Character Education (Browning, notes).

In 1999 Browning became a member of the Ohio Ethics Commission, a bipartisan commission comprised of six members appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Ohio Senate. The Ohio Ethics Commission promotes ethics in public service and has jurisdiction over Ohio's public officials and employees at the state and local levels of government, except legislators, judges, and their staffs (Ohio Ethics Commission, 2006).

Addendum: Robert Browning passed away at his home in Worthington, OH., on May 11, 2008, at the age of 83, surrounded by family. 

Contributions to Christian Education

Browning has made a significant impact on the field of Christian education. Most in the field would rightly associate Browning with a sacramental grounding of Christian education. Indeed, a sacramental worldview is not only integral to his professional work but to his personal formation and identity as well. Growing up he was nurtured, blessed, and affirmed by family and community, so much so that he viewed his calling from God as a natural extension of what he already experienced. His adolescence embodied a love of life without an absolute split between the sacred and the profane. The implications of Browning's sacramental worldview are extensive. It feeds into a vision of seeking to recognize and respond to God's "life of love and justice" in the world and to become a people in partnership with God. His sacramental worldview is reflected in the hallmarks of his work: utilization of systemic and interdisciplinary methods, engagement with contexts, exploration of human unfolding, enhancement of the common good, collaboration with colleagues, and interaction between ecumenical and interfaith groups.

Browning's sacramental model of Christian education represents a contemporary and dynamic revisioning of the liberal progressive religious education model championed by George Albert Coe and Harrison Elliott in the early 20th century. Indeed, he notes that his formation growing up was consistent with this tradition, including being prepared for partnership in the "Democracy of God." Browning tempers the optimism of liberal religious education with the existential realism of Kierkegaard and neo-orthodoxy. The strong influence of H. Shelton Smith's appreciative critique of liberal religious education is also evidenced in Browning's model. Informed by Kierkegaard he is able to affirm the goodness of humans, born in the image of God, while taking seriously brokenness arising from human anxiety about how to handle our freedom. His sacramental worldview provides a helpful and robust alternative for understanding God's immanence and revelation. While liberal religious education risked making religious experience generic and neo-orthodox Christian education risked making it too specialized, Browning's sacramental approach honors the particular and universal aspects of experiencing God. The sacramental model holds together social and personal dynamics of religious experience balances, which is another continuum where liberal and neo-orthodoxy models often became polarized. With these alternatives, Browning is able to claim a strong continuity with a major goal of liberal religious education-to participate in the realization of the kingdom ("democracy") of God. The sacraments, particularly the repeatable sacrament of confirmation, contribute to forming persons for ministry in that vision.

The ways in which Browning utilizes systemic and interdisciplinary methods and engages contexts makes his work significant for understanding Christian education within the overall life of congregations. In this regard his work has affinities with that of Maria Harris, C. Ellis Nelson, John Westerhoff, and Charles Foster. It is significant that he does so without losing the distinctiveness of the educational ministry and actually valuing the productive tension between education and liturgy. Browning and Reed's approach also offers an alternative to the catechetical model associated with Westerhoff and the Duke school of thought on Christian formation. Browning and Reed's understanding of sacrament provides a more open stance to the world and other religions (Browning and Reed, 1985, pp. 124-125).

The systemic, interdisciplinary and contextual characteristics of Browning's work also reflect a notable contribution to Christian education as a mode of practical theology. Typically his publications and teaching engage a context or experience, strongly emphasize evaluation (i.e. critical reflection on experience), utilize biblical and church traditions plus "secular" disciplines, and create action responses for repair of the world. His approach has affinities with Don Browning's revised correlation method, which creates a mutual and critical dialogue between issues of faith and issues of the world, and Thomas Groome's shared praxis model, which moves from naming experience to analysis of experience to dialogue with tradition and its vision to action.

One can also see in Browning significant contributions to a United Methodist model of Christian education. This is obvious given his significant contributions to foundational documents, creation of denominational resources, and leadership in denominational organizations. It is equally true in the ways that the systemic, interdisciplinary and contextual characteristics of his work reflect the "Wesleyan quadrilateral" where scripture, tradition, reason and experience are put in dialogue with each other. Browning's sacramental model also holds together personal and social holiness, which is an important ethos of the Methodist tradition.

Browning's exploration of human unfolding makes a significant contribution to Christian education in that he draws upon developmental psychology without falling into an individualistic treatment of persons. He helps us see that stages of life are personal but not private transitions. The human person is social and arises within a web of relationships between self, God, others, and all of creation. For Browning, sacramental and educational processes support the development of personal meaning and commitment and supports embodying those meanings and commitments in public life. Browning's view that the purpose of Christian education is preparing people for the priesthood of all believers with public ministries of reconciliation, love and justice resonates well with James Fowler's treatment of vocation in faith development as partnership with God's activities in the world. Browning's approach is also significant in that his developmental view does not result in isolated age-level educational ministries. Instead, developmental insights are used to assist in bringing people together into one body and in journeying through life as a pilgrim people. There are many bases for differences within a community, and developmental stages are one of these to be negotiated in being a community. Browning also uses developmental insights to attend to the gifts for conviction and ministry at each point in life. In contrast to isolated age-level ministries that can result in sub-congregations in a faith community, Browning offers a sacramental and educational system of forming persons in community into ministers in the world.

There are several ways that Browning contributes to enhancing the common good as a leader and an educator. As a leader Browning made significant contributions as a member of the founding faculty at Methodist Theological School in Ohio (MTSO) and in developing a robust and vital education program there. The graduates of that program are shaping many faith communities and institutions. His role in the foundation document for Christian education in the United Methodist Church helped shape the vision of this denomination's educational ministries. It is not surprising in light of his sacramental view of education and of vocation as befriending and repairing the world that Browning has made important contributions in the public arena. He has helped churches in Ohio address the relationship between church and public education. Browning helped establish the Commission on Interprofessional Education and Practice at The Ohio State University that became a model for interprofessional studies programs nationally and internationally. He has been, and continues to be, a leader in the character education movement in Ohio public schools.

Browning's concern for ecumenical and interfaith dialogue is part of his contributions to the common good. He has consistently sought to bring people of differing backgrounds together to find common ground. The ways in which Browning and Reed dealt with the sacraments brought various traditions into important conversation. In a post-9/11 world, Browning and Reed's latest work on reconciliation and forgiveness, with its attention to religions and the public arena, offers hope and vision for a divided world.

Browning began his career as a minister of congregational education. Although his attention to educational processes expanded over the years, his concern for the quality and character of the education in congregations is a theme that runs through all his work. This is certainly evident in his writing. Less visible is the influence he had through the many workshops he led, the congregational leaders he trained, and the guidance he has given congregational, judicatory, and ecumenical agencies. Such activities included pastor's schools, family life conferences, membership on the curriculum committee of the UMC General Board of Education, a keynote address at the Jurisdictional Convocation on Adults Ministries in Michigan, keynote addresses at national meetings of the UMC Christian Educators Fellowship, and workshop leadership for regional educator groups.

Collaboration with colleagues has extended Browning's contributions beyond Christian education to theological education more broadly. This is particularly true in relation to his work with Reed and its utilization in the study and teaching of worship and liturgies. Their publications are as likely to be reviewed in journals for liturgics and pastoral theology as in journals for religious education. Browning and Reed's Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Moral Courage is becoming an important text in pastoral care.

As the program in Christian education at MTSO expanded, a new faculty position was also created. Charles Foster, the first person to fill that new position recalls the influence Browning had on his experience as a scholar and teacher in the field. He describes Browning as being especially gracious, generous and collaborative-gracious in the hospitality that distinguished his teaching, his leadership of committees, and his embrace of new colleagues; generous with his time and the wisdom of his experience; and collaborative in all phases of his work. He notes that "Although Bob was clearly my senior colleague, he still invited me to join him in reshaping the introductory course that we then taught together. This was only one of several courses we would teach together while I was at the seminary. We shared responsibility for directing the Christian education program. He drew Everett Tilson and me into the collaborative research project on training Christian education leaders that culminated in four different programs of self-instruction. Bob clearly mentored me into the field" (Foster, personal communication, April 8, 2006).

Several students of Browning went on to doctoral work and positions in teaching and administration. Paul Henshaw received a Ph.D. in education from the Ohio State University (OSU) and taught as an adjunct at MTSO while pastoring Epworth UMC in Columbus, Ohio. Terry Russell also received his doctorate from OSU and later taught at Scarritt in Nashville, Tennessee. A third student to receive a doctorate from OSU was Paul Van Buren who went on to serve as a staff member on the Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church. Christine M. Smith received her doctorate from the Graduate Theological Union and is now professor of preaching at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. Joseph V. Crockett received his Ed.D. from Columbia University, taught at Colgate Rochester Divinity School and currently is Director of Research at the American Bible Society. Michael Casto, Associate Professor in the College of Education at the Ohio State University, names Browning as significant in his nurture and growth in his work in inter-professional studies (Casto, 1997, p. 203). Browning also mentored many in the field of Christian education. Jack Seymour observed that Browning "is a wonderful, inviting mentor. At the regular meeting of UMASCE … Bob always welcomed the new voices and listened as we sought to express our convictions for the field. His writings in liturgy and education have been extraordinarily significant for the field. He helped us see the breadth of Christian education and helped us ground it in the life of the congregation" (Seymour, personal communication, February 24, 2006).

Works Cited

  • Browning, R. L. (2006, March 24). Conversations and materials and notes provided by Robert Browning.
  • Browning, R. L. (2005, Fall). Some reflections on the Christian education program at MTSO. The story, Vol. XLIII (2), 6-7.
  • Browning, R. L. (2000). Befriending the world: Beyond interfaith dialogue to action. Religious Education, 85 (3), 331-345.
  • Browning, R. L. (1998, February 6). Retrieved March 15, 2006, from Interprofessional Commission of Ohio website:
  • Browning, R. L. (1989, May). Being and becoming a Christian: My own religious education. Unpublished manuscript of speech for a retirement dinner, Methodist Theological School in Ohio, Delaware, Ohio.
  • Casto, M. R. (1997). Inter-professional work in the USA-Education and practice. In A. Leathard, Going inter-professional: Working together for health and welfare. New York: Rutledge, 188-205.
  • Council for Ethics in Economics. (2006). Retrieved April 3, 2006, at
  • Foster, C. (2006, April 8). Personal communication.
  • Ohio Ethics Commission. (2006). Retrieved March 16, 2006, at
  • Seymour, J. (2006, February 24). Personal communication.



  • Browning, R. L. & Reed, R. A. (2004). Forgiveness, reconciliation, and moral courage: Motives and designs for ministry in a troubled world. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans
  • Browning, R. L. & Reed, R. A. (1995). Models of confirmation and baptismal affirmation: Liturgical issues and educational designs. Birmingham: Religious Education Press.
  • Browning, R. L. (Ed.). (1989). The pastor as religious educator. Birmingham: Religious Education Press.
  • Browning, R. L. & Reed, R. A. (1985). The sacraments in religious education and liturgy: An ecumenical model. Birmingham: Religious Education Press.
  • Browning, R. L. (Ed.). (1981). Integration: Objective studies and practical theology. Report of the 16th biennial meeting. Booklet distributed by the Association Professional Education for Ministry.
  • Browning, R. L. (1968). Communicating with junior highs. Nashville: Graded Press.

Chapters in Books

  • Browning, R. L. (2004). James Smart. In H. D. Betz, D. S. Browning, B. Janowski, & E. Jungel (Eds.), Religion in geschichte und gegenwart (4th ed.). Tubingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck.
  • Browning, Robert L. (2004). H. Shelton Smith. In H. D. Betz, D. S. Browning, B. Janowski, & E. Jungel (Eds.), Religion in geschichte und gegenwart (4th ed.). Tubingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck.
  • Browning, R. L. (1999). [various short contributions throughout]. In J. Johnson-Siebold (Ed.), Personal narratives about the history of Methodist Christian education in the twentieth century. Booklet distributed by United Methodist Association of Scholars in Christian Education.
  • Browning, R. L. & Reed, R. (1998). Families and worship. In H. Anderson, D. S. Browning, I. S. Evison, & M. S. V. Leeuwen (Eds.), The Family Handbook. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 258-274.
  • Browning, R. L. (1990). Experience. In I. V. Cully & K. Brubaker (Eds.), The encyclopedia of religious education. New York: Harper and Row, 242-243.
  • Browning, R. L. (1990). Parapsychology. In I. V. Cully & K. Brubaker (Eds.), The encyclopedia of religious education. New York: Harper and Row, 470.
  • Browning, R. L. (1989). The pastor as a sacramentally grounded religious educator: A Copernican revolution in the making. In R. L. Browning (Ed.), The pastor as religious educator. Birmingham: Religious Education Press, 51-82.
  • Browning, R. L. (1988). Belonging: A sacramental approach to inclusion and depth of commitment. In C. E. Nelson (Ed.), Congregations: Their power to form and transform. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 166-192.
  • Browning, R. L. & Allen, A. S. (1983). Helping youth clarify their values: Preventing moral and spiritual confusion. In L. E. Arnold (Ed.), Preventing adolescent alienation: An interprofessional approach. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 115-127.
  • Browning, R. L. (1978). Interprofessional education and practice in Ohio: A critique. In G. B. Noyce (Ed.), Education for ministry. Toronto: Trinity College, 28-34.
  • Browning, R. L. (1976). Structure and quality of church education in the future. In M. J. Taylor (Ed.), Foundations for Christian education in an age of change. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 138-151.
  • Browning, R. L. & Peters, H. J. (1975). On the philosophical neutrality of counselors. In B. N. Ard, Jr. (Ed.), Counseling and psychotherapy: Classics on theories and issues. Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior Books, 327-335.
  • Browning, R. L. (1966). The church's youth ministry. In M. J. Taylor (Ed.), An introduction to Christian education. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 180-192.
  • Shuman, A., Browning, R. L. & Arnold, L. E. (1984). Nutrition, nurture, and changing family rituals. In L. E. Arnold (Ed.), Children, parents and change. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 95-113.


  • Browning, R. L. (2005). Shelton H. Smith. In K. E. Lawson (Ed.), Christian educators of the 20th Century [web-based database]. Retrieved from
  • Browning, R. L. (1990, Summer). Befriending the world: Beyond interfaith dialogue to action. Religious Education, 85, 331-345. [Presidential address, 1989 meeting of the Association of Professors and Researchers in Religious Education].
  • Browning, R. L. (1987). Continuing interprofessional education. Theory into practice. XXVI (2), 110-115.
  • Browning, R. L. (1980, May-June). Festivity: From a Protestant perspective. Religious Education, 75, 273-281.
  • Browning, R. L. (1968-69, December-February). Writings of faith and encouragement. Adult Leader, 44-63.
  • Browning, R. L. (1968, December). What's behind the new curriculum? Christian Advocate, 11-13.
  • Browning, R. L. (1964, January). Youth are the church. Worker with Youth, 6-7.
  • Browning, R. L. (1963, September). Religion and the public schools. [Report of the Committee on Religion and Public Education of the Ohio Council of Churches, co-chaired by Robert Browning.] Ohio Christian News, 8-13.
  • Browning, R. L. (1963, September). The teaching role of the pastor. The Church School, 5, 6, 11.
  • Browning, R. L. (1962, May). Evaluate or stagnate. The Church School, 1-2.
  • Browning, R. L. (1961, June). My job is planning. The Church School, 3-5.
  • Browning, R. L. (1959, March). The youth division superintendent. Worker with Youth, 12-14.
  • Browning, R. L. (1958, January). "The church in the house" movement. The Ohio Conference Interboard News.
  • Browning, R. L. (1956). Ethical considerations in handling information gained through the inventory service. Ohio Guidance News and Views, 7 (1), 2-4.

Book Reviews

  • Browning, R. L. (1991, Spring). [Review of the book Three faiths-one God: A Jewish, Christian, Muslim encounter]. Religious Education, 86, 314-315.
  • Browning, R. L. (1987). [Review of the book From Jung to Jesus: Myth and consciousness in the New Testament]. Religious Education, 82 (4), 656-657.
  • Browning, R. L. (1985, Winter). [Review of the book The surprising gospel: Intriguing psychological insights from the New Testament]. Religious Education, 80, 164-165.
  • Browning, R. L. (1970). [Review of the book The structures of awareness]. Religious Education, 65 (4), 374.
  • Browning, R. L. (1967, December). [Review of the book Sex, love and the person]. Christian Advocate, 16.
  • Browning, R. L. (1962, August). [Review of the book Basic writings in Christian education]. Worker with Youth.
  • Browning, R. L. (1962, February). [Review of the book How to operate a Sunday school]. The Church School.
  • Browning, R. L. (1962, December). [Review of the book The recovery of the teaching ministry]. Worker with Youth.
  • Browning, R. L. (1961, July). [Review of the book Adolescence and discipline]. Worker with Youth, 6.
  • Browning, R. L. (1961, July). [Review of the book Adolescence and the conflict generation]. Worker with Youth, 6.
  • Browning, R. L. (1961, March). [Review of the book How to help groups make decisions]. Worker with Youth.
  • Browning, R. L. (1961, February). [Review of the book How to work with teen-age groups]. Worker with Youth.
  • Browning, R. L. (1961, August). [Review of the book Resources for worship]. Worker with Youth.
  • Browning, R. L. (1961, August). [Review of the book The vanishing adolescent]. Worker with Youth, 7.

Reviews of Major Works of Robert Browning

  • Bell, D. M., Jr. (2006, January). [Review of book Forgiveness, reconciliation, and moral courage: Motives and designs for ministry in a troubled world]. Interpretation, 60 (1), 113-114.
  • Cahalan, K. A. (2005, July). [Review of book Forgiveness, reconciliation, and moral courage: Motives and designs for ministry in a troubled world]. Worship, 79 (1), 372-374.
  • Duck, R. (2005). [Review of book Forgiveness, reconciliation, and moral courage: Motives and designs for ministry in a troubled world]. Religious Education, 100 (3), 330-333.
  • Larsson, R. (2005). [Review of book Forgiveness, reconciliation, and moral courage: Motives and designs for ministry in a troubled world]. International Journal of Practical Theology, 9 (2), 327-328.
  • Vanderwell, H. (2005, November). [Review of book Forgiveness, reconciliation, and moral courage: Motives and designs for ministry in a troubled world]. Calvin Theological Journal,40 (2), 397.
  • Anderson, E. B. (1996, Summer). [Review of book Models of confirmation and baptismal affirmation: liturgical issues and educational designs]. Religious Education, 91, 407-409.
  • Dooley, C. (1996). [Review of book Models of confirmation and baptismal affirmation: Liturgical issues and educational designs]. Worship, 70 (4), 350-352.
  • Finney, J. (1996, January-February). [Review of book Models of confirmation and baptismal affirmation: Liturgical issues and educational designs]. Theology, 99, 88-89.
  • Saliers, D. E. (1996, March). [Review of book Models of confirmation and baptismal affirmation: Liturgical issues and educational designs]. Theological Studies, 57, 193-194.
  • Brown, W. (1989, Spring) [Review of book The sacraments in religious education and liturgy: An ecumenical model]. Chicago Theological Seminary Register, 79, 57-58.
  • Duffy, R. A. (1986, Fall). [Review of book The sacraments in religious education and liturgy: An ecumenical model]. Horizons, 13, 433-434.
  • Gros, J. (1986). [Review of book The sacraments in religious education and liturgy: An ecumenical model]. Worship, 60 (3), 275-276.
  • Kuiper, F H. (1987, October). [Review of book The sacraments in religious education and liturgy: An ecumenical model]. Nederlands Theologisch Tijdschrift, 41, 343.
  • McCauley, G. (1986). [Review of book The sacraments in religious education and liturgy: An ecumenical model]. Religious Education, 81 (1), 155-156.
  • McClure, J. S. (1988, Fall). [Review of book The sacraments in religious education and liturgy: An ecumenical model]. Reformed Liturgy and Music, 22, 225.
  • Ng, D. (1986). [Review of book The sacraments in religious education and liturgy: An ecumenical model]. Theology Today, 43 (1), 114-116.
  • Tillmans, W. G. (1989). [Review of book The sacraments in religious education and liturgy: An ecumenical model]. Bijdragen, 50 (3), 340.
  • Wyckoff, D. C. (1985). [Review of book The sacraments in religious education and liturgy: An ecumenical model]. Princeton Seminary Bulletin, 6 (3), 242.

Resources and Curriculum

  • Browning, R. L., Foster, C. R. & Tilson, E. (1978). Looking at leadership through the eyes of biblical faith: Evaluating the quality of your leadership as a teacher in church education. [resource book and audiotape] Nashville: Discipleship Resources.
  • Browning, R. L., Foster, C. R. & Tilson, E. (1976). Ways persons become Christian: harmonizing different views of Christian education. [resource book, self-instruction guide, and audiotape]. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
  • Browning, R. L., Charles R. Foster and Everett Tilson. (1975). Ways the Bible comes alive in communicating the faith. [resource book, self-instruction guide, and audiotape] Nashville: Abingdon Press.
  • Browning, R. L., Foster, C. R. & Tilson, E. (1971). Communicating the faith with children. [resource book, self-instruction guide, and audiotape]. Nashville: Division of the Local Church, Board of Education of the United Methodist Church.
  • Browning, R. L. (1970). Guidelines for Youth Ministry. Nashville: The Methodist Publishing House.
  • Browning, R. L. (1966). What on earth are you doing? [Asbury Curriculum series for 4-5 grades]. Nashville: The General Board of Education, United Methodist Church.

Excerpts from Publications

Browning, R. L. & Reed, R. A. (2004). Forgiveness, reconciliation, and moral courage: Motives and designs for ministry in a troubled world. , Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

It can be said, then, that human beings are born in the image of God, with gifts of creativity and a capacity to love and trust. They are also born with a moral sense that imbues them with a need to develop a loving and kind community, with the gifts of freedom and spirit that make self-transcendence possible. But these gifts create the possibility of anxiety about how to handle our freedom, how to meet our deep need to be loved and to love. It is in this state of anxiety that we tend to seek securities that are self-centered or self-abnegating. We thus fall into the sin of separation from our Creator, from others whom we begin to use instead of affirm as infinitely valuable in themselves, and we separate ourselves from ourselves in inner turmoil and doubt. It is this dynamic interaction that brings about the need for education and nurture to affirm our great natural, human, God-given potential-a general education and a religious education that are positive and affirming of the uniqueness of each person, building on the gifts God has given to each. Beyond this, each person experiences a psychological struggle and "fall" that lead to varying degrees of self-striving and self-hiding conditions that can only be repaired by finding a true center of power, a center of love and trust that will always be adequate and genuine, a faithful orientation to the Creator God whose love created us and whose ongoing love, forgiveness, and richness are promised through the Holy Spirit in touch with our spiritual nature. This final dynamic calls for a Christian religious education and for participation in the loving, serving, forgiving, reconciling corporate body of Christ in worship. It is within this community of faith that we can be inspired to discern the sacredness of all of life, the sacredness of each person and of the whole natural order. It is within this community of faith that we can be honest with ourselves and with one another concerning our repeated temptations to lose sight of God's will and way for our lives and to confess openly and honestly our tendency to fall into the sin of separation of ourselves from others. Also we need to confess: our tendency to forget the sacredness of our children, our spouses, our work associates, those who are competing for the resources of the earth; our tendency to separate ourselves from trusting and loving communion with God; and our tendency to separate ourselves from ourselves (being unable to will to be the self we know we can become or being unable to not be the self we have been born to be). These dynamics are the preconditions that lead us to explore our need for confession, for forgiveness from God, others, and ourselves. (pp. 59-60)

There are different levels of need for forgiveness and reconciliation. We can learn as children in our families to forgive and be reconciled because we have been forgiven and enfolded in the loving arms of our parents. We can experience the depth of God's love for us through the depth of love received and shared in the body of Christ, the church. We can recognize what it means to be in ministry to one another-in a loving and honest climate in the actual family or a surrogate family where love, and honesty about our striving for self-protection, contrition, forgiveness, and reconciliation, become "habits of the heart." As we grow in faith from stage to stage we can be strengthened to deal openly with the moral and ethical issues that emerge and increasingly accept responsibility for our own decisions. In these gifted communities of faith, we can be honest about our failings, accept God's grace, and be guided by God's truth. We can forgive and accept forgiveness so that the life of love and justice for all can be experienced. (pp. 73-74)

It is self-evident that the church's strategy in respect to forgiveness and reconciliation should include both (1) moral development of children, youth, and adults; and (2) educational, liturgical, pastoral, and sacramental life oriented toward personal and social moral failure and spiritual separation from God and others. In order to take a holistic approach to these two dimensions we are proposing a four-pronged strategy: (1) a strong, focused moral and spiritual education and sacramental/liturgical life in our congregations; (2) the church's cooperative role in community-based moral or character education and service learning; (3) the church's active advocacy for the legal and necessary study about religion and ethics in our public schools; and (4) a strategy for the development of public churches that will take the lead in addressing public issues that often divide us, causing the need for forgiveness and reconciliation. (pp. 146-147)

Children and youth who have been educated in American public schools were largely unprepared to understand the recent events in world history: the conflict between Muslims, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox in Bosnia, the conflict between Jews and Arabs with their Christian and Muslim backgrounds, the troubles in Northern Ireland between Protestants and Catholics, the attacks of Christian by Hindus in India, and the incredible complexity of religious and political issues involved in the war on terrorism. We agree with Hans Kung's statement that there can be no peace or reconciliation in our world today without peace and reconciliation between the great world religions. Such a movement toward reconciliation among the world's religions calls for understanding the nature and roles of these religions in our contemporary world. Our public schools must get past their hesitancy to study these religions for fear of violating the separation of church and state position as enunciated by the Supreme Court. (pp. 160-161)

Browning (1990) Befriending the world: Beyond interfaith dialogue to action. Religious Education, 85, 331-345. [Presidential address, 1989 meeting of Association of Professors and Researchers in Religious Education (APRRE)].

We must move to interfaith action. Yet this is difficult and complex-not only because of factors that are external to us and seemingly beyond our grasp but also because of what is internal to us. As professors and researchers it is important for us to do three things at least in order to unblock ourselves. We need to (1) sort out our differences and agreements about interfaith dialogue and action; (2) look carefully at our collective views concerning what religious education is and what its tasks should be in relation to the other world religions and ideologies; and (3) identify and deal constructively with the institutional structures and goals that militate against genuine dialogue and joint action, and seek to fashion structures and goals that will liberate and channel such dialogue and action. This third point may ask us to assess the structure and goals of APRRE … (pp. 332-333)

As you would expect, I see the great potential of a sacramental approach to religious education. It is built on the assumptions that all of life is sacred, that God is revealing divine reality in many ways at all times. The world itself is the primordial sacrament, a gift to us which we in turn are called to share with others as priests to one another. God's grace is built into the very fabric of life. This is philosophically a panentheism where God is active in the world but not the same as the world. Such a view recognizes the divine reality as a mystery, on the one hand, but a mystery-made-visible in persons and events in clear and convincing ways, on the other hand. It recognizes, from the Christian perspective, the revelation in Jesus Christ and the church as key sacraments but also recognizes other sacramental encounters as authentic epiphanies of God's grace. It makes possible both particularistic commitments of the various world religions and a sense of the universal presence and activity of God … To me, such a view makes it possible to work together to befriend and repair the world, which we in fear have often misused and hurt, but also to build a foundation for religious education that combines nurture and identity with openness and critical consciousness. (p. 339)

Browning, R. L. & Reed, R. A. (1995). Models of confirmation and baptismal affirmation: Liturgical issues and educational designs. Birmingham: Religious Education Press.

When we look back at the experiences in our lives we know clearly when we have been blessed. We can name persons and events that have shaped our lives for the good. Certain experiences have filled our profound need for affirmation of who we are and of what we can become. … Confirmation experiences should be a blessing for the person as well as for the community of faith … (pp. 61-62)

Blessing is anchored in an understanding of the sacramental nature of all of life. There should be no absolute split between the sacred and the profane. (p. 65)

It is our opinion that this period [young adulthood] is one largely overlooked by the church as a time for education and celebration of one's decisions to be in ministry through occupation or voluntary service. Often this is the time for focus on the Christian vocation of laity and the confirmation of such decisions publicly before the congregation. Such a view of confirmation as a repeatable sacrament can celebrate baptismal renewal as persons seek God's blessing and empowerment to serve through the priesthood of parenthood, through teaching, health care, business, industry, science, government service, the helping professions of law, medicine, social work, nursing, counseling, etc. Each of these occupations along with special task forces on justice, peace, ecology, race, sexuality, etc., can become the avenues where individuals can "bless the families" of our earth through their ministries. (p. 71)

We also have proposed that confirmation be a repeatable sacrament, but not necessarily a single sacrament. We see it as a sacrament similar to Eucharist that can and should be repeated in response to evolutions in self-understanding and changes in personal response to God's living Spirit throughout life. (p. 114)

The opportunity to celebrate new internal commitments in public can have great spiritual power. Many middle adults who have experienced new self-understandings in relation to deepened commitments to the Christian faith hunger and thirst for visible ways to celebrate these new realities. (p. 176)

[Arthur] Becker identifies the central issue for older adults as, "What will I do with the life that is left to me?" … Many of us are torn by dated images of retirement years as primarily those to be dedicated to leisure. Yet, we know as Christians that God has called us to purposes well beyond such a destiny … What is needed is an opportunity to explore the creative possibilities which can accompany a fresh understanding of our baptismal covenant to be in lifelong ministry as a member of Christ's Body. … a new vision of the older adult years … seeks a balance between: (1) creative forms of vocation to be expressed in work as a volunteer or for remuneration depending upon need and desire, (2) new opportunities for learning related to needs central for older adults or interests which have potential for enriching life, and (3) fresh ways to experience the physical and spiritual renewal more leisure can bring. (p. 183)

Browning, R. L. (Ed.). (1989). The pastor as religious educator. Birmingham: Religious Education Press.

Our major difficulty in religious education is our perception of what is really needed for the whole people of God to be engaged in ministry. More fundamentally, it has to do with our image of who should be educated, to what end, and by whom.

religious education is typically identified with institutional experiences such as the Sunday school, the church school, the CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine), or the religion class in parochial school. … Such an institutional image often puts the primary leadership or religious education in the hands of lay persons with pastors only indirectly related … (pp. 51-52)

I would like to propose a different image of religious education and a different set of expectations. The image is a religious education grounded in a fresh understanding of the sacramental nature of life itself and a sacramental approach to the preparation of the whole people of God for the universal priesthood of all believers. If taken seriously this sacramental approach could change radically our expectations about the times, places, goals, content, and processes of Christian religious education-especially about who should be educated, by whom. A major change in our perceptions of the roles of pastors and lay persons in this process is a direct result of a major shift in perception involved in a sacramental model rather than a CCD/Sunday school, church school, or even a wider church education model … These changes can include movements from what we now see in practice (common sense) to what is possible when we genuinely perceive the central purpose of Christian religious education to be the preparation of all Christians to be ministers in the various spheres of life. This calls for a major shift in how we see the relation of pastors and lay persons. (pp. 52-53)

Now that adults often change their occupations two, three, or four times during their lives it is even more critical for the church to have educational and liturgical occasions of redefinition and refocus of the ministry into which the individual was baptized. Such a stance is a challenge to pastoral and lay confirmation teams to rethink not only the nature of confirmation but the various occasions during life where confirmation (baptism renewal) is needed. (p. 67)

Browning, R. L. & Reed, R. A. (1985). The sacraments in religious education and liturgy: An ecumenical model. Birmingham: Religious Education Press.

Ordination is a sacrament of vocation and an appropriate symbol of decision for the kingdom. It does seem an anachronism, in the light of current understandings, that a sacrament of vocation as ministry is something exclusively reserved for "professional" Christians. (pp. 42-43)

life is holy at its very base. It is religious in its structures and in the very fabric of the experiences associated with the drama of life from stage to stage. We are saying that the rites of life are not religious because we put religious meaning on them. Rather they are religious because God's spirit is present in all of life; and the sacraments, for instance, are revelatory events illuminating that which is. (p. 85)

There is no doubt that a powerful religious education takes place as persons incorporate the values, master faith stories, formal and informal rituals, characteristic behaviors, and visions of the meaning and purpose of life manifested in the sacramental celebrations of the community. However … religious education and liturgy should not lose the creative tension essential to the integrity of their respective functions. In sacraments there needs to be integration. The inclusion of children, for instance, at the communion table can be a profound education as wall as liturgical experience for the child. Such an experience can bring identification with faithful persons, a strong sense of being loved and embraced by God as the center of life. This experience takes place prior to the child's ability to articulate the meaning of communion or to reflect on central elements in communion historically or theologically. However, a religious education is needed which constructively engages parents and the congregation, and increasingly, the children themselves, in exploration of their perceptions of the nature of communion, their feelings about the "aliveness" or "deadness" of the experience, their questions about the meaning of the action parables, the stories, and ritual expressions, and the relation of the celebration to other aspects of their lives. Also, in order to keep the sacramental celebration true to the gospel, the liturgical expressions need to be evaluated, critiqued, and in some cases, revitalized. In this way religious education makes its best contribution by being in creative tension with liturgy. Of course, it is also true that liturgical life which is dynamic and genuinely revelatory of God's life of love, trust, and justice is a judgment upon religious education which is barren, lifeless, and unrelated to the sense of the sacredness of all of life. Here again we see the interrelation of liturgy and religious education. (p. 123)

The strength of the concept of catechesis is that it makes more probable a Christian pilgrim with a very clear sense of identity, a strong commitment to Christ and to ministry and mission in the world. The possible weakness of catechesis is that it may be less open to dialogue with God's actions and presence in the wider life of the world, including the possibility that Christianity could be judged by God's revelation of truth via persons and institutions other than the church. (pp. 124-125)

The content of our religious education, therefore, cannot merely be the stances of faith which come from the biblical witness or from the history of the faith community's life together, as central as this is. The content must include God's actions today in the wider life of science, law, the humanities, and stories of people in other faith communities who are seeking to discern the nature of God's life of love and justice. Such a stance moves us beyond catechesis to a religious education which celebrates its convictions and participates actively in the ministries of love, truth, and justice in the world. (p. 127)

Browning, R. L. (1966). The church's youth ministry. In M. J. Taylor (Ed.), An introduction to Christian education. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 180-192.

A major goal of the Christian education of youth is to create persons who identify themselves as ministers. The world "minister" may be a stumbling block here. However, we have repeatedly failed to design a Christian education around the concept of the church as a ministering community, a universal priesthood of believers, even though it is a central biblical understanding of the church and a cardinal principle of Protestantism

[Youth] are full members of the body of Christ and are not to be considered less important that their elders, although their tasks of necessity may be different in the life of the church. Both youth and adults are to identify themselves as priests to one another and to the world. Both youth and adults are in need of continued training and "preparation" for increased ministry in the world, through personal, community, family, vocational, and political relationships. Youth are to be seen as young laity, young laos, young people whom God has called to continue his ministry of reconciliation in the world. (p. 183)

Browning, R. L. (1968). Communicating with junior highs. Nashville: Graded Press.

Our ministry with youth is perhaps one of the best mirrors of the church's insecurity concerning its ability to communicate authentically with contemporary secular man. Youth in our society have been "massaged," as Marshall McLuhan says, by the mass media and the values and more which are communicated via these media. As a result of the communications revolution in which we find ourselves an identifiable youth culture has emerged-with world-wide standards and patterns of behavior. Unconscious appropriation of these popular values makes it difficult for youth to discern how the Christian gospel of love and reconciliation is different from or similar to such values. (p. 3)

If we were to agree with [Max] Thurian that confirmation can and should be repeated when persons are ready to reaffirm their faith and be consecrated anew to service in Christ's name, it is entirely possible to plan stages in our confirmation training which include opportunities for the youth to make public confession at the time or times when the individual is in need of strengthening his commitment, or when he has matured to the point that he understand more deeply both himself and the call of God. (p. 189)

Such a view assumes that at confirmation a youth is seriously declaring his willingness to accept full responsibility for his life of service within the church. This means that the adults of the church need to be prepared to open channels of service and ministry to confirmed youth. If this is not done, youth very quickly "get the message" that their declaration of intent to serve responsibly is not being taken seriously. Confirmation may seem to them only an empty form

Every confirmed youth should be given options for definite service with which he can identify, and to which he can commit himself concretely. One of the reasons that many youth "drop out" after confirmation is that few ways have been opened up for them to serve in company with the adults in the church. (p. 190)

Browning, R. L. & Reed, R. A. (2004). Forgiveness, reconciliation, and moral courage: Motives and designs for ministry in a troubled world. . Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Browning and Reed address forgiveness and reconciliation educationally and liturgically. This work draws upon studies of four congregations and includes suggestions for educational programs and worship experiences emerging from a variety of communities and agencies. Their understanding of human nature is a central issue for addressing morality within Christian traditions and in the broader public. This work has significant chapters on forgiveness and reconciliation in relation to the Bible, Christian history, and developmental theories. They present a four-prong approach to increasing forgiveness, reconciliation and moral courage. This book made the Academy of Parish Clergy's 2005 Top Ten Books for Parish Ministry list.

Browning, R. L. & Reed, R. A. (1995). Models of confirmation and baptismal affirmation: Liturgical issues and educational designs. . Birmingham: Religious Education Press.

This book is very strong in its integration of sanctuary (space of worship) and classroom in the formation and transformation of people. The sacramental, liturgical, developmental, and educational lenses used brings into focus how identity and vocation can be nurtured personally and publicly through life. Browning and Reed present concrete resources and congregational, historical, and ecumenical research in support of their proposals.

Browning, R. L. (Ed.). (1989). The pastor as religious educator. . Birmingham: Religious Education Press.

Browning brings together an impressive group of authors to explore the various ways that pastors function directly and implicitly as the lead educator in congregational life. His own chapter addresses the connections between various sacraments and stages in life through which pastors have the opportunity to nurture faith, identity, and vocation. Topics addressed in other chapters include vision, biblical interpretation, spirituality, leadership, communication, and social justice. Two congregational case studies are also included.

Browning, R. L. & Reed, R. A. (1985). The sacraments in religious education and liturgy: An ecumenical model. . Birmingham: Religious Education Press.

This book establishes sacramental basis for developmental and educational work in Browning's later individual contributions (1988 and 1989) and publications with Reed (1995 and 2004). Browning and Reed ecumenically present their understanding of the nature of sacrament, and the interaction between symbolic ritualistic acts and faith development. They devote a chapter to several sacraments: baptism, Eucharist, confirmation, marriage, vocation, penance, healing and footwashing.

Author Information

Randy G. Litchfield

Randy G. Litchfield is Professor of Christian Education in the Jean Beatty Browning Chair in Christian Education at Methodist Theological School in Ohio. The Jean Beatty Browning Chair exists in memory of Robert Browning's first wife. Randy Litchfield received his Ph.D. in Theology and Personality (emphasis in Religious Education) at Claremont School of Theology.