Henrietta Mears, the unlikely evangelical leader

EEven in her time, Henrietta Mears cut an unlikely figure. So small that she often stood on risers to be seen above the speaker’s podium, she was built, as one devotee put it, “like a spark plug.” Rather stocky with thick glasses and a raspy voice, she didn’t often leave the house without fur draped over her shoulders and a hat draped casually over her neatly styled hair.

Nothing about her physical presence would lead a casual observer to think of her as anything other than a rather affluent, middle-aged Southern California matron driving off on Sunset Boulevard on a sunny Sunday morning. But once she turned left onto Gower Street, parked the car, and headed for the original sanctuary of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, that feeling dissipated. Mears, the church’s director of Christian education, taught Sunday School with a fast, clipped delivery that used every inflected nuance in a powerful voice that held attention. She laid out the biblical text with confidence, pacing the front of the room, punctuating her main points with dramatic pauses and rarely, if ever, consulting her notes.

Intervening from the sides of seemingly tangential streams of consciousness that somehow returned to the central narrative each time at the right time, she seemed to grow in physical stature as the meaning of her words grew sharper and the strength of his arguments. more convincing. By the end of the hour, everyone in the room knew that this formidable presence was no ordinary Bible teacher. The wider Protestant world also learned this about Henrietta Mears. Since the second decade of the 20th century, she was at the forefront of …

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Barry F. Howard