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Sophia Lyon Fahs

The Relevant Reverend, by Rev. Dr. Herbert F. Vetter

Sophia Lyon Fahs

The ministry of Sophia Lyon Fahs to children, parents and teachers exclaims: Religion is education, the drawing forth of the latent powers of people. She worked with Harry Emerson Fosdick at the Riverside Church and simultaneously taught religious education at Union Theological Seminary when Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich were teaching there. At that time Mrs. Fahs was technically not a minister. She was not ordained until she was 82. Though she had completed her theological studies and received her divinity degree years before, she did not bother to be ordained until a Unitarian church in Montgomery County, Maryland, prevailed upon her to let them honor her for her intensely adventurous struggle against the enfeebling religion she inherited and toward the humanly ennobling religion she ably helped to advance.

The most vital symbol of Dr. Fahs’ contribution to life was the New Beacon Curriculum in Religious Education, which she began editing in 1937. Published by Beacon Press, it grew to some 50 books used not only in the church schools of several faiths but also in day schools, nursery schools, and homes. These books express religion not only with respect to the living past and future but also with regard to the immediate experience of children in relation to siblings and parents, wind and water, seeds and animals, the visual arts and the birth of religions. The editor of Parents Magazine (on which she long served as a member of its Advisory Editorial Board) has said of her: “She has helped millions of parents in their own search to find ways of nourishing their children’s spiritual development.”

The liberal religious realism of Mrs. Fahs is well expressed in her book Worshipping Together with Questioning Minds, where she said: “Life in this age of emphasis upon the sciences encourages and even requires a broadening of the realm of human religious and ethical responsibility until it includes our relations to all forms of Reality. This changed philosophy that I believe is slowly developing in our time, and that may help us to become more integrated persons again, is not only a realistic humanism. It is also a realistic naturalism, of each person’s being part of a Universal Living Unity.”

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