Project Canterbury

Theological Preparation for Socal Service

By Dean Susan T. Knapp

Dean of the New York Training School for Deaconesses

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2007




From the Preface

It was for the purpose of giving to the delegates to the General Convention of 1913 and to members of local parishes further opportunity to learn of the work and plans of the Joint Commission on Social Service that a Social Service Week (October 13-18), under the Commission's auspices was arranged. The program included a mass meeting at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine; a series of conferences for diocesan and parish workers as well as the general public; a social service exhibit; special sermons on social service in the local churches by delegates and visiting clergy; and educational visits to some of the civic and social institutions in New York City and vicinity.

Feeling that the addresses delivered during the week are worthy of preservation, the Commission has included them in the following pages.

Transcribers Note: Due to my special interest in the Deaconess Movement, and the New York Training School for Deaconesses, I have reproduced the following address from the Commission's 181 page book.

[122] Theological Preparation for Social Service


Dean of the New York Training School for Deaconesses

At the opening of this brief paper I would say that I realize the many-sidedness of social service. Responsibility touching matters of faith exists only when the Christian worker is brought in contact with those people who are, from the Christian point of view, in need of faith. It is of such responsibility that I have written.

Twenty years ago the question was being discussed whether some study of sociology should be introduced into the curriculum of schools preparing women by theological training for service in the Church. The prevailing opinion of that day was against the proposed innovation. To-day the pendulum has swung far in the opposite direction. The demand for training in sociology is paramount.

Women, devout communicants of the Church, are restless under the restraint of the theological study required in a course [the reference is to the curriculum of the New York Training School for Deaconesses.] generously provided with definite preparation for social service, and it is only the conservative dean and a staunch school committee who still keep the balance in favor of intellectual and spiritual preparation.

The zeal for social service has taken the proportions of a great movement. All types of right-minded people are in sympathy with it. The Hebrew proclaims its origin one of the glories of his ancient literature, and the Christian finds that it was our Lord Jesus Christ who put heart and spirit into the formal teachings of the ancient law. Sociology is being studied, therefore, more or less intelligently everywhere, and to a large extent the study, unaccompanied by definite religious instruction, is satisfying the non-religious and the communicant alike.

With these facts patent, the question before us is significant. Shall theological study be considered a necessary part of preparation for social service? Can we, who profess the Christian Faith, serve God [122/123] through serving His children, without special and definite study about God and about His chosen methods of dealing with His children? When this question is frankly stated there seems to be but one answer, and yet the question is timely for this reason: the swinging of the pendulum has brought about an extreme situation, inasmuch as everyone to-day who is identified with Christian education, of one form or another, is being constantly confronted by the following assumptions:

First, that morality is independent of religion.
Second, that philanthropy is independent of prayer and worship.
Third, that Christianity is independent of the full teaching of the New Testament.

The loyal follower of our Lord Jesus Christ revolts against these assumptions. Of the first two nothing better can be said than that they are anti-Christian, while the third reflects but a very partial view of the faith. Of the first--that is, divorcing morality from religion--the dangers have been successfully pointed out many times by Christian moralists.

Of the second assumption I would say that philanthropy, independent of prayer and worship, will be a mutilated philanthropy as long as the neighbor we would love as ourselves is the child of God, with needs of soul as well as of body; while of the third assumption, the attempt to practise a Christianity set free from the precepts of the New Testament cuts away from under the feet of those we would help such supports as are offered by St. Paul, St. John, and our Lord Himself, and in exchange offers, under one form or another, an hypothesis.

What, then, has Christianity to offer in contradiction to these three assumptions? Our Lord has placed for ever at the head of all social service the first and great commandment which, throughout all Holy Scripture, is the divine message--which made inspiration possible and brought philanthropy into being. The second clause of this command, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," gives us the call to social service, but it is social service dependent upon absolute devotion to God. Great as this service is, it stands second. It is also attached to a condition placed upon us which logically leads us, just because we love our neighbor as ourselves, to bring him to the same state of absolute devotion to God. For, if [123/124] loving one's neighbor as oneself is dependent upon loving one's God, then that love would of necessity concern itself first and before all else with bringing the two loved ones together.

With all recognition of the good in the pre-Christian and the non-Christian world, the Christian, if he is Christian, must always live in accord with the assumption that the life determined by the principles of the Christian faith is superior to any other. However excellent life may be without Christ, it is better with Him. Therefore all who wish to better life and its conditions must of necessity, if they make the Christian assumption, approach problems from the Christian standpoint and deal with them on Christian principles.

What, then, is the preparation needed? What is theological study? It comprises two things: first, investigation of the truths and principles of the Christian religion; and, second, investigation of the influence of Christianity in the world during twenty centuries--in other words, a knowledge of God as He has revealed Himself, and a knowledge of one's neighbor, the child of God, as God has dealt with him in the past.

What do we find to be the chief need of to-day? I am speaking for the average young Christian woman who desires to undertake social service. She needs most of all intelligence concerning the faith she is professing, and knowledge of the effects of that faith upon human society up to the time when she, responding to the divine call, would spend her days in the service of her fellowman.

She is a Christian, and she believes, therefore, that God has called her. She is a Christian, and she believes, therefore, that the people she would serve are God's children, for whose redemption our Lord Jesus Christ was content to die. With this equipment of belief and with such knowledge of divine things as she has received in more or less perfunctory Bible reading, in confirmation preparation, also more or less perfunctory, and in sermons which occasionally touch upon theology, she plunges in.

She studies the problems of the poor. She knows the antagonism of capital and labor, and the evils of child-labor burn into her soul. She studies these problems with eager enthusiasm and stores her mind with the precepts of the leading social servers of the day. And her people, if she wins her way, will be freed from the slavery of poverty and plague, and from the social sins which are degrading [124/125] humankind. They will be freed also from ignorance--that which she counts ignorance--and will become intelligent, as she counts intelligence. To accomplish all this she will not forget to pray--I think she will not forget to pray--to her Heavenly Father for her people, that these ends may be accomplished; and her prayer is heard, and her labor is not lost. But for her people, she has no divine message. If she is working for certain of the settlements, or one of the large philanthropic organizations, she is told that such a message must not be given. If she is free to speak, and you ask her why she is dumb, she is very apt to tell you frankly one of two things: either that she can work, but she really cannot talk religion, or else that she does not really know what she believes when she stops to think, and that no one has ever tried to help her in the task of finding out.

And so her ministry falls short of the Gospel, for the Gospel, in the words of Harnack, is spiritual redemption.

But the Lord gave her a message. To be faithful to Him and to His flock she must know it and deliver it. There have been faithful servants of her Lord, living all down the Christian ages, who have wrought wonders in social service, being mindful that their Lord's promise of eternal blessedness is the crowning relief they have to offer. The study of these lives would help her to pass out of the shallows into the deep. To labor on, indifferent to the light they would throw on Christian social service, is to be ignorant with an ignorance not to be dispelled by any amount of study of the newest thing on the subject, from thoughtful volume down to the daring magazine article which has become such an unprecedented influence with the masses to-day.

Dr. DuBose tells us "that the desire to make the Gospel a gospel of goodness, so called, shown to us, and not of righteousness to the utmost required of us, is the completest possible travesty and contradiction of goodness. The world is slowly educating up to the point of seeing that the worst unkindness to a rational and free personality is the kindness of ministering a natural or physical good at the expense to him of moral or spiritual, by which we mean personal, good. A man's life is not in the abundance of the things he possesses, but in himself. If, in increasing his possessions, we diminish him, we have wrought him the worst injury in our power."

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