The Living Church

Year Article Type Limit by Author

The Living ChurchAugust 8, 1999Taking Action on a Vision by Delbert C. Glover219(6) p. 9

Taking Action on a Vision
john heuss
by Delbert C. Glover

P riest, educator and visionary are terms that characterize the Rev. John Heuss, the 13th rector of the Parish of Trinity Church, Wall Street, New York City. Fr. Heuss had previously served in Evanston, Ill., first as a curate at St. Luke's and then as rector of St. Matthew's Church. Prior to going to Trinity, he was the director of the Department of Christian Education of the National Council (now Executive Council) from 1947 to 1952.

John Heuss played the key role in the creation of the six-volume set known as the Church Teaching Series of the Episcopal Church. The General Convention of 1946 authorized the expansion of the department and the development of a set of standardized curriculum materials that could be used by the church as a whole. Before these curricula could be conceived, however, he noted the need for "general agreement about what the church should teach." As a result, in early 1948 he arranged and chaired the first meeting with several well-known church scholars to develop a short publication on the teachings of the church. This group, known as the Authors' Committee of the Department of Christian Education, developed and co-wrote The Church Teaching Series. The committee planned at first to publish one manual with sections devoted to the Bible and other topics on the faith of the church. But it soon became apparent that the information needed to be published in multiple volumes. After numerous revisions, the first volume of the series, titled The Holy Scriptures, was released in 1949.

Fr. Heuss wrote or co-authored the forewords for all six subsequent volumes, and was designated co-chair of the Authors Committee well after his resignation from the department in 1952.

While on the staff of the national church, he took the focus of Christian education in a new direction. Traditionally regarded as primarily concerned with children and youth, he advocated the idea that Christian education occurs in the whole life of the parish and must also include adults.

At Trinity, Fr. Heuss articulated his personal commitment to mission, education, evangelism and stewardship. His ability to communicate a clear vision of the core purpose of a parish - in ways that challenged and yet instilled confidence - was a key factor in his successful ministry, as was his ability to give very practical guidelines for taking action.

His work with the national church in Christian education prepared him well for the skills and insight that would be needed at Trinity. He understood that opportunities to teach are inherent in the daily events of parish life for both clergy and laity. At Trinity, he sought to deepen the fellowship in each of the congregations of the parish through a central core of devoted people who, in turn, shared this experience with their several congregations though regular worship, prayer and work. At a time when many members of the congregations were uninvolved in the financial affairs of the parish, Fr. Heuss successfully led the first every-member canvass to raise funds for ministry outside of the parish.

He is the author of several books, including A Book of Prayers, Having a Healthy Faith, and Our Christian Vocation. Of all of the writings of John Heuss, perhaps the one most often cited and best known is The True Function of a Christian Church. In this commentary, he summarized his beliefs about the five essential qualities of the fellowship of a parish church. They are: 1. people with a soul-shaking personal experience with Jesus Christ, 2. a genuine trust in God through Jesus Christ, 3. a Spirit-filled community, 4. an awareness of the forgiveness of sin, and 5. a community that places little value on any organization or activity that does not contribute to worship, teaching or collecting alms for the needy.

Fr. Heuss's vision for the church at-large and the role of the parish in ministry is still relevant and remains a standard today. He died in 1966 and is survived by one daughter and two sons, one of whom, William, is priest-in-charge of Trinity Church, Oak Bluffs, Mass. o

Delbert C. Glover is executive assistant to the rector of Trinity Church, New York City.