In the early 1900’s, Dr. Henry Burton Sharman, a Protestant theologian from Canada, created the approach that is now known as Approaching the Gospels Together. He published the book Records of the Life of Jesus, his unique arrangement of the four Gospels, in 1917. Teaching university students in Canada, he used this book and a corresponding set of questions to encourage them to do their own thinking about the life of Jesus. These “Records Seminars” were very popular with university students and he was invited to lead studies in many Canadian universities, conferences and summer seminars.
Beginning in 1926, Dr. Sharman taught at Yenching University in Peking, China, returning to Canada each summer to lead Records Seminars. In 1930, he moved to suburban Philadelphia, PA, to join the faculty at Pendle Hill, the newly-founded Quaker graduate school, where he taught Gospel studies, using his approach. Three years later, Dr. Sharman retired and moved to the San Francisco area, where he continued to teach until his death in 1953.
Back at Pendle Hill, Dr. Sharman’s former student and trainee Dora Wilson continued using his approach to lead Gospel studies until her death in 1953. Similarly, Mary Morrison, a former student and trainee of Dora Wilson, then taught the course until 1977. Mary also led Gospel study groups at Trinity Church, Swarthmore for many years.
Mary was encouraged by her own students to write a leader’s guide for this approach, and so Approaching the Gospels Together: A Leader’s Guide for Group Gospels Study was published by Pendle Hill in 1986.
One of Mary’s students was Helen White, who learned to use this approach when she was a parishioner at St. Thomas’, Whitemarsh, in the 1970s. Helen started a Gospel study group at St. Thomas’ and later joined St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Chestnut Hill, where she launched a variety of biblical studies groups. In addition, she has planted Gospel study groups at many churches in the Diocese of Pennsylvania (and beyond!) and has trained most of the group leaders who use this approach in our diocese today. Read more about Helen’s work with the Gospels in the following article, which was originally published on the website of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania in 2018.