By Jeffery L. Tribble, Sr.
MARY LOVE (December 28, 1950 - ), born in Coffeeville Mississippi, is a lifelong member of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. She is Editor of Church School Literature for the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and Adjunct Professor of Christian Education at Hood Theological Seminary in Salisbury, North Carolina. She has served as Editor of Church School Literature of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church since 1980 and has had a wide impact on educational ministry with a specific focus in the African American community from that time through the present. In the office of Editor of Church School Literature, her responsibilities include oversight of the developing and editing of Sunday School curriculum resources for all ages for use within A. M. E. Zion Churches around the world.
Mary Love was born December 28, 1950 daughter of the late Turner and Elizabeth Hardaway Love in Coffeeville Mississippi. She has been a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (A.M.E. Zion) since birth. She credits her parents for involvement in the life of the church as they stressed God and the need to have faith from an early age. They were very active until ill health posed its limitations. Following the example of her parents who were lifelong members of local churches, Mary Love has also remained a faithful member in the local church at Coleman Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church, Batesville, MS (1962-1976), Soldiers Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church, Salisbury, NC (1977-1986), and Greenville Memorial A. M. E. Zion Church, Charlotte, NC (1986 to present) where she serves as co-director for Christian Education.
In her childhood, her family moved to Batesville, Mississippi where she was raised and attended elementary school and high school. She was valedictorian of her high school, Patton Lane High School. She studied at Alcorn A. & M. University for a year but then transferred to Mississippi State University where she received a Bachelor of Science Degree with Distinction in Home Economics in 1972. In her junior year at Mississippi State University, she served as copy editor, proofreader, and typist for The Reflector, the Mississippi State University Newspaper. She then served as a substitute teacher in the public schools of Panola County Mississippi (1972-1973).
A product of Sunday Schools and other nurturing experiences in the A.M.E. Zion Church, she decided to pursue the Master of Religious Education Degree at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. Few professional opportunities for Christian Educators exist in the African American Church then or now. With respect to her professional goals, Mary Love wrote:
My goal is to be involved in educational ministry in the church with specific focus within the African American community. I take seriously the command of Jesus to make new disciples and in the process provide essential nurturing so that they are empowered to make other disciples. Some of the motivation to be engaged in educational ministry was generated while in Seminary as a lay person and being confronted with a body of knowledge that I was not introduced to prior to attending seminary. Therefore, it has been my desire to personally contribute to enhancing the role of educational ministry by developing and publishing resources to help people grow and become more effective in nurturing believers in the faith. (personal communication)
At Wesley, she served as Office Assistant to Dr. Mary Alice Edwards, Professor of Religious Education (January--May 1975). This relationship was pivotal, for while in seminary, Mary Love remembers wanting to quit because she did not see a future in the field. Dr. Edwards' response was to "prepare yourself and God will do the rest." As a result, she persevered and graduated with the M.R.E. degree from Wesley Theological Seminary in 1975. After her graduation from seminary, Dr. Edwards continued as a mentor in the Religious Education field, reviewing many of her writings before publication.
After graduation from Wesley, Mary Love returned to substitute teaching in the public schools of Panola County Mississippi (1975-1976). Her faith and educational preparation were rewarded when she was named Assistant Professor of Christian Education at Hood Theological Seminary (August 1976-May 1984), the denominational seminary of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Her responsibilities there included developing and teaching courses in Christian Education and developing their Religious Education Degree Program. Uniquely prepared with an M.R.E. degree and providing leadership for the Religious Education Program at her denomination's theological seminary, Love was groomed for higher educational leadership in the church as she was named Associate Editor of Church School Literature (March 1978---May 1980). At the ensuing Quadrennial Session of the General Conference of 1980, she was elected Editor of Church School Literature. Her responsibilities include oversight of the developing and editing Sunday School curriculum resources for all ages for use within A. M. E. Zion Churches around the world. These curriculum resources include the Beginner, Primary, Junior, Intermediate-Senior and Young People-Adult Quarterlies, plus The Church School Herald-Journal.
Mary Love has numerous experiences as a workshop leader in the area of Christian education and ministry with local congregations, vacation Bible schools, retreats, conferences, leadership training institutes and a variety of A.M.E. Zion denominational organizations--including the Assembly of Christian Educators, the Connectional Lay Council, General Convention on Christian Education and the Woman’s Home and Overseas Missionary Society. General topics addressed included the following: Christian Education in the local church; children, youth and adult ministry; how to teach creatively and how to build effective Sunday schools; the Christian Year and its symbols; and family ministry and ministry with special groups such as singles.
Her distinctive contributions in developing church school literature and as an equipper of persons in Christian Education were recognized as Livingstone College/Hood Theological Seminary honored her with the Doctor of Humane Letters degree in 1996.
Dr. Mary Love's educational ministry includes broad ecumenical involvement. The organizations and offices held include the Commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation. She has served as administrative secretary (1991-present); coordinator for the consultation of Methodist Bishops; Pan-Methodist/ Ecumenical Christian Educators Fellowship Chapter, Hood Theological Seminary; Member representative from the A.M.E. Zion Church (1985-1992); chair of the Curriculum/ Publications sub-group (November 1988-1992); and Pan-Methodist Coalition on Substance Abuse Core Team Team (1989-present). She is a member of the United Methodist Church Western North Carolina Christian Educators Fellowship Board and associate member of the Christian Educators Fellowship (CEF). She has served on the committee on Black Congregational Ministries (CBCM) of the National Council of the Churches of Christ (NCCC) and chaired the CBCM from 1997-1999. She serves on the Committee on the Uniform Series (CUS) of the NCC; served as Chair (2000-2002); member of the Children's Age Level Design Team (1997-2004); Quarterly Chair, Cycle Planning Team (1992-1998, 2007-2010); and chaired the 125th Anniversary Committee. She helped to form the Association of Black Methodist General Officers of the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.), African Methodist Episcopal Zion (A.M.E. Zion) and Christian Methodist Episcopal Churches (C.M.E.) and was elected to serve as President (2010-2012) and secretary (2012-present). She served as secretary of the Task Force on the Merger of the A.M.E. Zion and the C.M.E. Churches. She was member of the General Board of the National Council of the Churches of Christ (1981-2000) and served as secretary 1992-1995.
In addition, Dr. Mary Love also holds membership in the Religious Education Association (REA)/ Association of Professors and Researchers in Religious Education (APRRE), the Assembly of Christian Educators (ACE) of the A.M.E. Zion Church, Christian Educators Fellowship of the United Methodist Church (Associate Member), Connectional Council of the A.M.E. Zion Church, the International Ministers and Lay Association of the A.M.E. Zion Church, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.), Kappa Omicron Phi, and Phi Kappa Phi.
While continuing to serve as Editor of Church Literature for the A.M.E. Zion Church, Dr. Love returned to the faculty of Hood Theological Seminary in the capacity of Adjunct Professor of Christian Education (September 1996 – May 2000 and 2002 to present). In this capacity, her responsibilities include teaching the courses in Christian Education in the Master’s programs and serving as advisor to students interested in doing further research in the area of Christian education.
Contributions to Christian Education
Dr. Mary Love has a distinguished record of service as a professional religious educator with focus on the Black Religious Experience and Religious Education. She is a servant teacher, writer, editor, and leader whose life's work within and beyond the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church has been a faithful response to the call to make disciples of Jesus Christ with a focus on teaching. Within the field of Christian Education, she is known for her expertise on strengthening the Sunday School and for her 30 year plus tenure as Editor of Church School Literature for the A.M.E. Zion Church, a body which spans the United States with churches in 37 states and the Virgin Islands, plus England, the Bahamas, Guyana, Ghana, Jamaica, Trinidad-Tobago, Liberia, India, and Nigeria. In her capacity of Editor of Church School Literature and of the publication, The Church School Herald-Journal, she has published numerous articles, editorials and creative learning activities. These writings cover a wide range of subjects related to Christian Education, the heritage of people of color and creative learning activities.
Within the Sunday School movement, she has committed over 25 years to work with others in the development of the International Lesson Series that is the work of the Committee on Uniform Series (CUS) for the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Her ecumenical passion has served to strengthen the cooperative ministries of the A.M.E. Zion, African Methodist Episcopal, Christian Methodist Episcopal, and United Methodist Churches through her service on the Pan-Methodist Commission. An adjunct faculty member of Hood Theological Seminary, she has published peer reviewed articles which contribute to the understanding of the Sunday School within the Black religious experience. At the same time, she is an entrepreneurial educational leader. In 1998, she founded "Love’s Creative Resources" as a small self-publishing business dedicated to developing and publishing resources to nurture persons in the faith and the heritage of people of color. It is through this venture that a great deal of her Christian Education resources have been disseminated. For over three decades, she has had a sustained interest in making accessible Christian symbolism to her readers through her book, Learning through Symbolism and Celebrations.
Rev. Carmichael Crutchfield, Ph.D., General Secretary of the Department of Christian Education Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and Assistant Professor of Christian Education and Youth Ministry Memphis Theological Seminary offered the following assessment of Dr. Mary Love's contribution of Christian Education and of her influence on his educational ministry:
Concerning Dr. Mary Love, I would say that she is a Sunday school expert or a woman who knows her way around the discipline of Christian education. I particularly highlight Dr. Love’s commitment to the work of the International Lesson Series that is the work of the Committee on Uniform Series (CUS) for the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. She has been active in this work for well over 25 years. It was with CUS that I first experienced Dr. Love’s great passion for Christian education. She was the chair of the committee at the time I first began to work with CUS. She was a very strong leader of a very diverse group of people. The care and effort she put in her work was admired by all who worked with her. The results were always exceptional. Later when I became chair of CUS I found Dr. Love a great colleague who provided continual leadership of producing Sunday school outlines, encouragement to me, and overall support. She proved to be an excellent editor and to have great command of the English language. Presently, I have the distinct pleasure as serving as Dr. Love’s colleague as General Officers in two of the historic Black Methodist communions. Dr. Love was instrumental in helping to form the Association of Black Methodist General Officers. She assumed the leadership role when others were reluctant, later was elected president of the group, and helped move the organization toward official status with by laws. Her extensive work with the Pan Methodist Council aids her in participating in the relatively new organization of Black Methodist General Officers. I also know Dr. Love as an author of Christian education books. I have used some of her work. Additionally, she is a long time adjunct professor of Christian education at Hood Seminary in Salisbury, North Carolina. In summary, Dr. Mary Love is a strong Christian educator, author, teacher, church woman, administrator, leader, editor, and an advocate for the growth and maturation of people in faith. She is an inspiration to all who seek to be effective Christian educators.
Rev. Dr. Cynthia Willis-Stewart, a senior Presiding Elder and Christian Educator in the A.M.E. Zion Church, provided an eloquent reflection on Dr. Love's contributions as a teacher and Christian Educator in the A.M.E. Zion Church:
Countless histories have been written about people who have influenced the lives of others; stories of people's successes that are directly attributable to the impact and affect of teachers and Christian Educators. Dr. Mary A. Love has been a bulwark of Christian teaching in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion (A.M.E. Zion) Church for over three decades and has positively impacted the ministry of Christian Education. It was she who recognized it was time to move the print media in the A.M.E. Zion Church to a digitalized format in keeping with the needs of twenty-first century communication and bring Zion's Churches, domestic and overseas, instep with each other. Dr. Love, for such a time as this, is uniquely positioned to make an indelible impression on the sands of time.
Not surprisingly, Dr. Love, a teacher, sees her greatest significance in the ministries of the countless students that she has taught. One her early students at Hood Theological Seminary was Rev. Dr. Douglas Maven, a successful pastor with a strong track record of evangelism as well as of community and economic development. Dr. Maven shared his assessment of Dr. Love's impact on his pastoral ministry:
I am delighted to have an opportunity to share my appreciation for Dr. Love and her contribution to Christian Education. My ministry has been extremely enhanced through the teaching of Dr. Love. She impressed upon me, as well as my colleagues that pastoral ministry is much more than preaching. She placed meaning emphasis on The Great Commission (Mt. 28:19,20) and it's primary command "to teach." That imperative and Dr. Love's insistence upon recognizing and seizing every "teachable moment" in all areas of pastoral ministry has deepened my commitment to "equip the saints for the work of the ministry ...." In so doing, congregations that I have served over the past 30 years have also learned to value the importance of Christian education in the life of the local church as a vehicle for spiritual maturity and meaningful discipleship. Dr. Love's passion for teaching not only seeks to impart biblical knowledge but insists upon the praxis of daily Christian living.
From my own perspective as a member of A.M.E. Zion Church for 30 plus years and theological educator whose doctoral mentors included leading Christian Educators, I personally appreciate the trailblazing impact of Dr. Mary Love. In the early 80's, soon after her election as Editor of Church School Literature, my Presiding Elder, Rev. Dr. Harrison D. Bonner, invited Dr. Love to the Hartford District to do a workshop on Christian education in the local church. I had recently been licensed to preach the Gospel and was enrolled in the Hartford District course of studies. No doubt, her teaching, even then, contributed to my cognitive and practical apprenticeships in the praxis of ministry. Though I did not encounter Dr. Love in the seminary classroom, nonetheless, Dr. Love has contributed to my own learning trajectory and praxis as an A.M.E. Zion minister who has served as a pastor of local churches, as a presiding elder of a district of churches, and as a fellow member of the Christian Education Department Commission on Spiritual Formation.
As I responded to the call to "equip the saints for the work of the ministry," I have embraced the call to teach, not only as "schooling" in the classroom, but also within the broader curricula of the church which Maria Harris names as the work of the faith community to "fashion a people." As such, I do not separate the pastoral work from teaching nor my presiding elder work from teaching. Like Dr. Maven, I instinctively seize "teachable moments" in my work with individuals and groups. I have become a strong advocate for the necessity of Christian Education ministry as I have embraced Dr. Love's concept of Christian Education providing the "undergirding" for the entire ministry of the church. Christian education is, for me, a constitutive practice of Christian congregations. Without it, our faith communities will neither survive nor contribute to the flourishing of communities.
Over the years, I have used the A.M.E. Zion Sunday School curriculum resources, edited by Dr. Love, as I have been a Sunday School student as well as a Sunday School teacher. The use of the International Lesson Series in the Sunday School curricula promotes systematic study of basic themes and reinforcement of biblical content as a theological resource for faithful discipleship.
I agree with Dr. Love's positive assessment of the strengthening of black denominations through writing their own curriculum resources as an expression of self-determination:
The black denominations that prepare their own lessons from the outlines advocate more systematic teaching in Sunday Schools. With the freedom to develop the curriculum, the particular denominational history, heritage, and theological stance is communicated. Also, the opportunity to address the same biblical issues from an ethnic perspective is available. By the same token, this promotes denominational loyalty and summons the resources of the denomination (both human and nonhuman), while encouraging theological inquiry. ("Musings on Sunday School in the Black Community" in Renewing the Sunday School and the CCD, p. 162)
Notwithstanding the positive contributions of Sunday School to the life of blacks in the past and present, Dr. Love brings a needed critical perspective and honest appraisal of the challenges of publishing our own church school literature. Contrasting her own vocation of denominational development of literature in a market with competitors with larger budgets who employ professional writers, Dr. Love writes insightfully:
Predominantly black denominations that are developing their own literature usually use black visual images and illustrations accompanied with meaningful interpretations from a liberation theme. However, some of these groups have encountered enormous roadblocks disguised in the clothes of insufficient funds, lack of personnel, and inadequate equipment. This poses limits [my italics for emphasis] but every effort is made to do the best with the resources available. ("Musings on Sunday School in the Black Community," p. 164)
As a result of the limits imposed on denominational budgets in a context of church decline, de-facto congregationalism, consumerism, and declining denominational loyalties, I think that many local Christian educators and pastors lack sufficient appreciation of how well Dr. Love and her staff produce curriculum uniquely suited to our ministry despite the impairments imposed.
Love, Mary. (2011). Learning through Symbolism and Celebrations. Charlotte, NC: Love Creative Resources, 1998. (Reprinted 2003 - Revised and updated 2011)
Love, Mary. (2009). Flexpirations: A Creative Focus on Educational Worship Resources Volume 3. Charlotte, NC: Love Creative Resources.
Love, Mary. (2008). Flexpirations: Inspirational Writings with a Focus on Educational Ministry. Volume 2. Charlotte, NC: Love Creative Resources.
Love, Mary. (2007). Flexpirations: Inspirational Writings with a Focus on Educational Ministry. Volume 1. Charlotte, NC: Love Creative Resources.
Love, Mary (Ed.). (2004). An Annotated Bibliography of Africentric Resources. Charlotte, NC: Love Creative Resources.
Love, Mary. (2002). A Bibliography of Africentric Resources. Nashville, TN: R. H. Boyd Publishing.
Love, Mary. (2002). FLEX: Focus on Learning for Effective Educational Ministry for Christ. Charlotte, NC: Love Creative Resources
Love, Mary. (2000). Meet Twelve Women on the Bible: A Teaching Drama. Charlotte, NC: Love Creative Resources.
Love, Mary. (2000). A Planning Handbook for Vacation Bible/Church School. Charlotte, NC: Love Creative Resources.
Love, Mary. (1999, 2002). Meditations and Prayers for 5/22-28/2000 and 5/19-25/2003 in The Book of Daily Prayer: Cleveland, OH: United Church Press.
Love, Mary. (1999). Meditation “Actions Speak Louder than Words” in Sister to Sister. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.
Love, Mary. (1998). The A B C's and Symbols - A coloring book for Children. Charlotte, NC: Love Creative Resources.
Love, Mary. (1995). Bulletin Inserts/Heritage Notes. Charlotte, NC: M-Jet Enterprises.
Love, Mary. (1993). Stones of Promise: Celebrating the African American Family (Leader's Guide). Nashville, TN: Cokesbury.
Love, Mary. (1993). Creative Learning Activities Resource Book: Aids for Participatory Learning. New York, NY: Venture Graphics.
Love, Mary. (1992). The A. M. E. Zion Church. In W. B. Williamson (Ed.), An Encyclopedia of Religions in the United States: 100 Religious Groups Speak for Themselves (pp. 217-221). New York, NY: Crossroads.
Love, Mary. (1990). The Black Experience and Religious Education. In I. V. Cully and K. B. Cully (Eds.), Harper’s Encyclopedia of Religious Education (pp. 78-80). San Francisco, CA: Harper and Row.
Love, Mary. (1990). Stories Jesus Told: Parables from Matthew and Luke. (A children’s book of illustrations suitable for coloring) Charlotte, NC: A. M. E. Zion Publishing House.
Love, Mary. (1988). Mind Gatherings for Christian Educators. Elizabethtown, NC: BOS.
Love, Mary. (1988). Coloring and Activity Book (Studies in Matthew – Moses and His Mission) Charlotte, NC: A. M. E. Zion Publishing House.
Love, Mary. (1987). Let’s Grow Through Vacation Bible School. Charlotte, NC: CSL.
Love, Mary. (1986). Musing on Sunday Schools in the Black Community. In D. C. Wyckoff (Ed.), Renewing the Sunday School and the CCD (pp. 155-171). Birmingham, AL: Religious Education Press.
Love, Mary. (1986). The Christian Year and its Symbols. Charlotte, NC: J. L. Walker and Associates, Inc.
Love, Mary. (1984). Potpourri for Christian Educators Charlotte, NC: A. M. E. Zion Publishing House. (Revised 1988)
Love, Mary. (1983). “The Passions Symbols Speak: A Creative Lenten Drama” Charlotte, NC: CSL. (Revised 1995, 1999)
Love, Mary. (1976). Meditation “Love and Power” in Liberation and Unity: A Lenten Booklet (p. 56). Memphis, TN: C. M. E. Publishing House.
Excerpts from Publications
Innovations that are assisting in the transformation of the Sunday School in the black church involve a rethinking of the traditions of time, space, and agenda for the Sunday School. Demands for an indigenous curriculum from the congregation are emerging along with the challenge to be more wholistic in our approach to mental development. New structures and settings must evolve to include singles, young adults, families, step-families, intergenerational settings, and other configurations.
Love, Mary. (1986). Musing on Sunday Schools in the Black Community. In D. C. Wyckoff (Ed.), Renewing the Sunday School and the CCD (pp. 155-171). Birmingham, AL: Religious Education Press. p. 171.
Symbols are silent meditations that provide opportunities for persons to "Be still and know that God is God." Symbols have no meaning if they are not understood or if the message they are to convey is never released. Minimum effort is involved in the display of symbolism. It exists in stained glass windows, on altars, paraments, clerical vestments, embodied on wall hangings and jewelry. When persons see these silent symbolic meditations, they should convey a gospel message.
Mary A. Love, (2010). Learning through Symbolism and Celebrations. Charlotte, NC: Love Creative Resources, p. 30.
Mary A. Love, (Ed). The Church School Herald-Journal, volumes 69-89. Charlotte, North Carolina: A.M.E. Zion Publishing House [available on google books]
The Church School Herald-Journal is the leader's resource for teaching Sunday School curriculum written for all ages. Though Dr. Love does not write all of the material, she writes many of the editorials and "tips for teaching" that provides insight into how her knowledge of educational theory and other perspectives (biblical, cultural, denominational, etc.) inform her guidance of preparing teachers to teach efficiently and effectively.
Mary A. Love, “The Black Experience and Religious Education” in Harper’s Encyclopedia of Religious Education, edited by Iris V. Cully and Kendig B. Cully. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1990, pages 78-80
This short encyclopedia article is a concise summation of Mary Love's thinking on the past, present, and future of religious education in the black religious experience.
Mary A. Love, Learning through Symbolism and Celebrations. Charlotte, North Carolina: Love Creative Resources, 1998. (Reprinted 2003 - Revised and updated 2011)
Mary Love's three decade interest in researching and teaching about Christian symbolism and development of creative teaching material is conveyed in this 6 sections which covers the seasons of the Christian year; Christian symbolism; special days with explanations; resources for Vacation Bible School and other settings; reproducible resource and activity sheets; and litanies, songs, and meditations.
Jeffery L. Tribble, Sr.
Jeffery L. Tribble, Sr. (Ph.D. in Religious Studies, Northwestern University Graduate School Joint Ph.D. Program with Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary) serves as Associate Professor of Ministry at Columbia Theological Seminary.