October 2019 – Christian proclamation and the future of democracy was the focus of Drew Theological School’s annual Tipple-Vosburgh and Frederick A. Shippey Lectures and Alumni Reunion.
The two-day event featured a thought-provoking and intellectually stimulating exchange of ideas from prominent guest speakers and faculty participants. All spoke passionately about what is at stake for the future of democracy and the impact this has on preachers from the pulpit.
Dean Javier Viera welcomed guests and alumni to The Forest, setting the tone for the event with his recounting of a young woman protesting the recent political upheaval and popular uprising in his native Puerto Rico. He and a group of students were in Puerto Rico at the time as part of the course “Puerto Rico: Resilience, Resistance and Hope in the World’s Oldest Colony.” Describing a pivotal moment of courage and resistance, Viera described a young woman confronting armed guards in full riot gear face-to-face with nothing more than a pot and a metal spoon. She defiantly and bravely banged her pot, a nonviolent gesture of resistance that gave expression to the collective anger and injustice rampant on the island.
“Do you have a pulpit? Bang it! Not to preach the fire and brimstone of old, but to demand a moral awakening across our land.”
Viera asked the group to “explore together how the pulpit ought and can be utilized as a space for moral challenge.” Adding, “Do you have a pulpit? Bang it! Not to preach the fire and brimstone of old, but to demand a moral awakening across our land.”
This theme was echoed throughout the event.
Keynote speaker the Reverend Dr. Otis Moss III, senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, delivered a commanding talk on the power and necessity of using the pulpit as space for community transformation and renewal and to inspire aspirational moral imagination. “We are in the middle of an identity crisis,” he said. “People are in need of restoration, be poets of the pulpit.”
Moss said the pulpit is in need of a resuscitation. He challenged the audience, “It is dark in America today. The question is: Will you close your eyes and be a preacher for the empire? Will you shut your mouth and hope that someone else opens theirs? Or will you use the gift that you have in you to punch holes in the darkness?”
The Reverend Dr. Tony Campolo, professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University, shared perspectives on how Christianity might renew American democracy. “Christianity at its best affirms the humanity of every person. The presence of Christ is in every human being,” he said. “The church should be the conscience of the government.”
The Reverend Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, the first woman to serve as senior pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, DC, works to focus on the beauty and grace of the world over the pain and injustices. “Preachers,” she challenged, “preach hope and joy. People are starved for it,” she said. “The world longs for someone to give word of hope. We must do more than simply decry the world’s ills; we must also provide a strong and clear word of hope.”
“We need a new story,” said the Reverend Dr. David Vasquez-Levy, president of the Pacific School of Religion, on pressing world issues such as the immigration crisis, gun violence and climate change. Using a moving image of the labor of immigrant farm workers being present on our communion tables each Sunday in the bread and the wine, he challenged those in attendance to find ways to make the lives of immigrants visible and their presence among us something that we celebrate rather than fear. “We have a biblical obligation to do this from the pulpit, as well as from every place where the Church is present.”
The Theological School recognized alumni with a Distinguished Service Award, a tradition at the annual event. This year’s recipients were the Reverend Dr. Peter D. Weaver T’69, a bishop in the United Methodist Church and current bishop-in-residence at the Theological School, and the Reverend Dr. Younglae Kim T’90, professor of Christian education at Methodist Theological University, South Korea, and director of the Korean Doctor of Ministry program in the Theological School. Both were honored during a sit-down lunch and amicable Q&A session, moderated by Viera.
A rousing closing celebration in Craig Chapel was led by Mark Miller, associate professor of church music, with Moss serving as preacher, and Terry Todd, associate professor of American religious studies, as celebrant.
Here’s a closer look.