11 October 2021 - Drew Mourns the Loss of the Rev. Dr. Kenneth Rowe C'59, T'69
An ordained elder in the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference who served for three years at Gethsemane UMC, Rowe continued his ministry as Methodist Librarian at the United Methodist Archives and History Center on the campus of Drew University for thirty-two years (1970-2002). In fact, Rowe is responsible for re-locating the United Methodist Archives from Lake Junaluska, NC to the campus of Drew University in Madison, NJ, where under his leadership it became one of the premier centers of United Methodist research in the world. During his tenure as Methodist Librarian, he served as Professor of Modern Church History at Drew Theological School, where his teaching influenced future scholars of Methodism including the two previous General Secretaries of GCAH, Rev. Dr. Fred Day and Rev. Dr. Robert J. Williams.
As a Methodist historian, very few others have the extensive bibliography of Dr. Rowe (reprinted here). He has researched, written, co-authored, and edited for over five decades. He completely reshaped how we understand the narrative of Methodism in America, expanding it to include indigenous persons, women, and LGBTQ+ persons. Rowe intentionally collected papers from LGBTQ+ United Methodists in order to ensure their legacies were included, preserved, and honored at the United Methodist Archives and History Center. During the last few years of his scholarship, Rowe looked back on his own works and re-assessed them to ensure that LGBTQ+ voices, who have contributed so vastly to the United Methodist narrative, were more boldly present. Aside from written scholarship, Dr. Rowe was a renowned bibliographer. He founded the ATLA Bibliography Series, and for the field of Methodist history wrote the Methodist Union Catalog, which traces the vast nomenclature of denominational literature.
He retired in 2002 and eventually moved back to North Carolina where he continued to make history. In 2014, he married his partner of over thirty years, James, and the two were the first same-sex couple to be legally married in North Carolina.
Thank you, Rev. Dr. Rowe for your ministry of memory.
Below, we present memories and blessings from those who knew Dr. Rowe, studied with him, or were influenced by his scholarship.
Dr. Ken Rowe is one of the scholars whose research inspired me to focus on Methodist history. I remember having my entire way of understanding the United Methodist connection turned upside down by his “How Do Caucuses Contribute to Connection” in which he argues that the entire history, even the origin, of Methodism(s) is a history of caucus groups, trying to change the denomination from the inside. He had a brilliant way of rethinking and reshaping Methodist histories that allow our pasts to truly speak to and even shape United Methodism today. I never had the privilege of meeting Dr. Rowe in person, but I still feel like I know him. I feel like we’ve had many conversations because the way he writes allows you in. It begins a conversation between you and pages of history. He was a giant in United Methodist history. His scholarship will be missed but never forgotten. Thank you, Ken, for your dedication and ministry. May you rest in peace.
– Dr. Ashley Boggan Dreff, General Secretary of the General Commission on Archives and History
Drew Theological School mourns the passing of the Rev. Dr. Kenneth Rowe. With his research, curation, teaching, and vibrant spirit he deeply shaped what Drew is today, and what we will continue to be as a theological school dedicated to the critical understanding and bold interpretations of Methodist history and identity. Thank you, Ken, for your abiding gifts to all who pass through the Forest. Your memory is in every way a blessing.
– Rev. Dr. Melanie Johnson-DeBaufre, Interim Dean, Drew Theological School
Professor Ken Rowe’s passing is a blow to anyone who cares deeply about the history of Christianity, and especially about American Methodism. As the former Methodist Librarian, a Theo faculty member, and Convener of the Liturgical Studies area of the PhD program, Ken was an engaging teacher with a deep knowledge of historical facts and their significance. His students loved him, no doubt for his capacious knowledge yet also for his incisive sense of humor. Ken was a brilliant bibliophile and an imaginative collector. He built a library that included important and sometimes rare books and also ephemera—stuff other folks might throw away—that has preserved the history of modern social movements within The United Methodist Church. For example, our knowledge about early attempts to organize LGBTQ Methodists would be much more impoverished had it not been for Ken’s tireless efforts to preserve and collect. I will miss Ken’s sharp intellect and imagination, delightful quips about church hypocrisy and misplaced priorities, and his infectious laughter. Ken Rowe taught us to take ourselves less seriously, even as we continued to take with utter seriousness our responsibilities to tell the truth about the past.
– Dr. J. Terry Todd on behalf of Drew Theological School faculty
With great sadness, the Drew University Library acknowledges the passing of Kenneth E. Rowe. Although known to many current Library employees only by reputation (I myself did not know him very well), Dr. Rowe was long a Library fixture as Methodist Librarian at Drew. Some of us remember Ken’s occasional lively visits after his retirement, and I have a small collection of boldly written emails in which Ken urged the library to maintain its prominent engagement with Methodist materials. Happily, with the recent hire of a new “curator of Methodist Collections,” the library has renewed its commitment to its Methodist holdings and will thereby honor Ken Rowe’s memory in the very way he wished for.
– Dr. Jesse Mann, on behalf of the Drew Library Faculty
If Methodist history is a treasure trove of documents and the stories those documents represent about denominational identity, Ken, more than anyone else in the contemporary UMC, knows where to lay hands on every jewel. At some point in his work, Ken held every one of these in his hand, studied them, and made sure they found their way from the library shelf into the hands of the Church and scholars alike. Ken was a major influence in the development of Drew University’s world class Methodist collection attaining that lofty status in the global academic community. The General Commission on Archives and History making its home in a state-of-the-art archival facility, arriving to Drew in 1982, was something he staked his career on. A cradle Methodist from the coal region Pennsylvania, Mauch Chunk and the Jim Thorpe UMC (Easter PA Conference), Ken was extremely proud and devoted to Methodist heritage. Not only did his keen wit and art for turning a phrase make reading and studying history enlightening and fun, his passion for the subject material, especially around times when the UMC failed to live up to its roots in radical grace and inclusion, gave way to occasional expletives in his lectures. Students would sit there and say “Did I just hear that?”
– Rev. Dr. Fred Day, former General Secretary of the General Commission on Archives and History
I started graduate work at Drew University in the fall of 1975. Ken was my advisor, instructor for at least four courses, and chair of my dissertation committee. At that time, he was early in his career and little did I know that he would become the premier bibliographer of Methodist studies and instrumental in bringing the Methodist archives to Drew. He was able to engage Methodist history with phrases that grabbed your attention and made it relevant to the contemporary life of the church. He was professor, then mentor, colleague and friend. He shaped the way I taught the Methodist courses as an adjunct instructor at Princeton Theological Seminary and laid the foundation that allowed me to become General Secretary at GCAH.
– Rev. Dr. Robert J. Williams, former General Secretary of the General Commission on Archives and History.
Ken’s passion for American Methodism was infectious! Through his scholarship, I fell more deeply in love with our tradition. My own academic work is indebted to his commitment to capture just about everything that was ever written about The United Methodist Church and homosexuality. As I was researching this topic in the United Methodist Archives, Ken would bring box after box filled with newspaper articles, sermons, flyers, sermons, and more to my study table. This history would have been overlooked if it weren’t for Ken.
– Bishop Karen P. Oliveto
After reading the other tributes, they remind me of the many times Ken’s devotion to nurturing future church historians throughout my GCAH career. But Ken’s nurturing did not stop with students. Rather his passionate empathy extended beyond the classroom to all who became part of Ken’s sometimes frantic world. It was a world that I felt privileged to live in over the past thirty-six years. Our relationship began as colleagues that matured into a deep friendship over the years. The Ken I knew had great pathos for the many viewpoints that gave meaning to his life. He was a champion for the underdog both within the church and beyond. Never afraid to fight injustice, he made sure the archives collected a voice for the silenced. He brought out United Methodism’s humanity, imperfections, and all.
Yet the Ken I know is more personal. At one time we worked out together at the Drew gym during lunchtime. When Ken became sore and tired, he would express himself in words that never appeared in any liturgical lectionary. His love for antique Chrysler cars matched my own. Ken bought cars to collect, whereas I bought them for cheap transportation. We often compared notes on his 1964 Imperial and my 1963 New Yorker. There were many times his frustration with word processing programs often resulted in frequent vocalized calls for help to which I gladly answered, knowing we would have a good chuckle afterward.
There was a side of Ken that many casual acquaintances never knew: his deep empathy when it counted. I witnessed his heart-felt advice many times. Whether it be talking with an individual struggling to become a whole person or instances of helping a person’s hard work published through Scarecrow Press when other publishers could not recognize its value. There were plenty of moments going the second mile when time and energy were in short supply. My best example of his empathy happened when my father died. Many offered standard condolences but Ken’s was from the heart and his pastoral words were a balm to my soul. It is now hard to walk in the halls of the United Methodist History and Archives Center. Ken’s spirit is everywhere. There is not a single space that does not have his stamp on it. Yankee Stadium may be the house Babe Ruth built but the United Methodist Archives is the House Ken Rowe built. And like Yankee Stadium it will stand the test of time along with Ken Rowe’s imprint on understanding United Methodism.
– Mark Shenise, friend, Associate Archivist, General Commission on Archives and History
I met Ken Rowe when I arrived at Drew University’s Graduate School in the fall of 1979. He became one of the major forces in my education. Ken’s teaching focused students on the
“Methodist Mavericks.” Individuals and groups who often disagreed with the direction that “mainline” methodism was taking: groups like the Methodist Protestants, Free Methodists, and others. Ken felt these mavericks need to be included in the story of Methodism because their departure told us—today—something about our movement. We needed to hear those voices to understand ourselves. Not that the mavericks were necessarily the true arc of methodism, but that their existence must be understood and explored. Ken was the type of scholar archivists loved to work with. Ken never conducted a class without handouts. His excitement for history was real and palpable. He would bring to class copies of documents, diaries, newspapers as well as his own hand drawn summaries of points he was making. He would pass out the handouts and then excitedly take his students into an analysis of the document, noting how it was worded, to whom it was directed and bits of information which brought the document and its historical context alive. He continued to collect and update his handouts even after he retired. Ken has left a rich legacy to Methodist studies.
– Dr. L. Dale Patterson, retired Archivist, GCAH
Ken’s death takes heavenward one of the premier shapers of Methodist historiography. His critical importance to the crafting of the denominational story certainly includes the books, articles, bibliographies, and studies on which his name appears. Among those are the 2 volumes of THE METHODIST EXPERIENCE IN AMERICA, PERSPECTIVES ON AMERICAN METHODISM, and AMERICAN METHODISM and THE METHODISTS. However, the appearance of his name second (or third on the last) in these coauthored volumes “hides” his role in resourcing them, shaping the narrative, and providing text, ideas, illustrative materials, and much else. Similarly, much of Methodist history ought to bear his name as researchers in the collections know. Scholars, graduate students, seminarians, and other users of the Drew/GCAH collections will recall how critically instrumental Ken was in their studies. They would request specific books, journals, or manuscripts. An hour or so later, Rowe would run into the reading room with materials key to the users’ studies but of which they were unaware. Ken would continue that as long as the researchers were there. The historian guild will miss him as it has suffered a great loss.
– Dr. Russell E. Richey, friend, Methodist historian
Ken was the busiest, fastest-moving scholar I ever knew. I remember him, from the first time I met him as a young masters student, running through the Archives, carrying a box or pushing a cart, speaking quickly, aways in the middle of something. His urgency was palpable. I imagined it was because he was worried there was never enough time to tell all the important and hidden stories, to uncover all those who had been ignored, to gather the remnants of their lives and preserve them. But he didn’t worry about preservation for its own sake. He was mounting a lifelong campaign to reclaim the history of the Methodist movement that meant so much to him, and he spent his career expanding the physical evidence for that better history. Despite his big personality, he was private, and I am honored to have known what little he allowed. It will take some time to fully account for his immense influence on all of us.
– Dr. Morris L. Davis, former student, Methodist historian
15 September 2021 - Drew Mourns the Loss of the Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong
June 16, 1931 – September 12, 2021
“The Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong was a powerful and pastoral voice for a Christianity that lives up to God’s vision of justice, peace, and wellbeing for all. We were lucky to have him nearby to Drew and many students and faculty benefitted from his warm and erudite presence. He leaves us a tremendous legacy, and a challenge for all of us to love the Church so much that we are ever pressing ourselves to courageous change.” — Dean Melanie Johnson-DeBaufre
26 August 2021 - Drew Mourns the Passing of the Rev. Dr. Edward J. Wynne Jr.
REV. DR. EDWARD J. WYNNE, JR.
May 15, 1932 – August 23, 2021
The Rev. Dr. Edward James Wynne, Jr., completed his earthly journey peacefully on August 23, 2021, surrounded by his family. They will miss him, as will the countless others whose lives he touched through his ministry.
Born May 15, 1932, in Milton, Massachusetts, the oldest of the four children of Edward J. Wynne, Sr., and Charlotte Kingston Moore, Ed was an Eagle Scout, graduated from The Boston English High School, and earned a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering from Northeastern University. While serving in the Army, he followed his heart to direct his education and career to the ministry. He received his M. Div. in 1962 from the Drew Theological School in Madison, N.J., and Ph.D. from the New York University School of Education in 1971.
He served a number of churches in the former Newark and Northern New Jersey Conferences (now the Greater New Jersey Conference): 1959–61, Vienna and Janes Chapel; 1961–62, Barryville and Eldred; 1962–68 Parsippany; 1968–71 Bernardsville; 1971–80, Caldwell; 1981–87, NNJ Conference Council Director; 1987–97, Westwood.
He always said that over the years he had one foot in the parish and the other in the Annual Conference. During his 37 years of active ministry, he served as: Chair, Youth Work Department, Board of Education; President, Board of Education; Chair, Coordination of Program and Budget, Conference Council on Ministries; Chair, Conference Structure Committee; Member, Conference Board of Ordained Ministry; Conference Secretarial Staff; Conference Secretary; Chair, District Committee on Church Location and Building; Chair, District Committee on the Superintendency; Member, Conference Strategic Planning Commission; Member, Conference Council on Finance & Administration; and NNJ’s first Conference Council Director.
An active member of the Drew Theological School Alumni/ae Executive Committee, he was elected to Drew University’s Board of Trustees for four consecutive terms beginning in 1986, retiring as Trustee Emeritus in 2002. He received the Distinguished Alumni/ae Service Award in 2008. He was an active Rotarian, serving as Charter President in Parsippany, and a term as President in the Caldwell Club.
His service did not end with his retirement in 1997 and his move to Damariscotta, Maine. He routinely served as interim pastor for a variety of local denominations, conducted countless funerals and weddings, volunteered as a chaplain at Miles Hospital, sang in a hospice choir, and taught courses for the Coastal Senior College.
On June 23, 1956, Ed married Bonnie Rae Beukelman, his loyal companion, true partner, and wife of over 65 years. They raised three children and welcomed four granddaughters.
Ed loved spending time with family, especially reading to his beloved granddaughters and relaxing in Maine every summer as he and Bonnie raised their children. He delighted in landing bad puns, beating (sometimes) family in Scrabble, and a good lemon meringue pie. He never turned his back on science—he taught classes on science and religion, repaired old clocks, and was an accomplished ham radio operator.
Ed is survived by: his wife Bonnie Wynne; children Janet Owen and husband Hugh of Silver Spring, Maryland, Edward (“Ted”) J. Wynne III and wife Elizabeth Hendler of Harvard, Massachusetts, and Roger Wynne and wife Esther Bartfeld of Seattle, Washington; granddaughters Amey Owen of Gainesville, Florida, Kathryn Owen of Laurel, Maryland, Leigh Wynne of Watertown, Massachusetts, and Avigail Wynne of Harvard, Massachusetts; sister Janet Wynne of Newcastle, Maine; and brother Douglas Wynne and wife Judy of Plainville, Massachusetts.
During a private family service, Ed will be interred in Hillside Cemetery, Damariscotta, Maine. His family will host a memorial service when safety allows.
Because Ed, Bonnie, and Janet Wynne have been grateful residents of the Lincoln Home in Newcastle, Maine since 2016, and to enable others to enjoy that community, memorial donations may be made to the Resident Financial Assistance Fund c/o the Lincoln Home, 22 River Road, Newcastle, ME 04553-3853.
24 August 2021 - Dean's Letter to the Community
August 24, 2021
Dear Alumni and Friends of the Theological School,
In times of change and challenge, there is something assuring about the turning of the seasons. As another fall semester begins here in the Forest, there are many things to celebrate and anticipate. Seminary Hall is cautiously coming to life again. The search for the Theological School’s next Dean is actively underway. And many new students and faculty are joining Drew’s learning community.
Once again, we are welcoming a large incoming class. In July, the first of fifty incoming Doctor of Ministry students filled Seminary Hall with lively collegiality. Nearly seventy Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Theology and Ministry students will begin their courses of study this fall, in physical and virtual classrooms. And six PhD students will engage a revised curriculum that integrates Drew’s signature emphases in Africana, women’s and gender, ecological, and decolonial studies. In the midst of the loss and crisis of the past year, all of these new students embody courage and vision as they pursue their vocations for the transformation of the church and academy in such a time as this.
Thanks to the dedicated work of the faculty, online learning during the pandemic expanded Drew’s open doors. The incoming class includes students from eleven African and seven Asian countries. Many of last year’s new international students have made their way to Madison, New Jersey. Some new students in the U.S. will complete their degrees remotely, remaining in their contexts for online study and local practical training. Yet this learning network is not born of crisis; it is also what the faculty and staff have been working toward for the past five years. Our new student-centered, integrative, and multimodal curriculum served us well to meet the time and space challenges of the pandemic.
As the Theological School continues to thrive and pursue its mission to advance justice, peace and love of God, neighbor and the earth, we are looking to the future. In conversation with the Drew community, the national search firm, Isaacson, Miller, has developed a profile to facilitate the search for the Theological School’s next leader. This process will unfold this fall guided by a search committee, chaired by Professor Mark A. Miller, and including representatives from Drew faculty, staff, students, Board of Trustees, and alumni.
I am honored to serve as interim until a permanent dean is named. I am also excited to share that the Rev. Dr. Sofía Betancourt has recently joined the Theological School as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs as I conclude my six years of service in that role. Dr. Betancourt has a PhD from Yale University in Religious Ethics and African American Studies, and is ordained in the Unitarian Universalist Association. Her scholarship and teaching in womanist, Latina feminist and mujerista, and environmental theoethics resonates deeply with Drew’s mission and shared values. A trained and experienced interim, Dr. Betancourt brings a wealth of wisdom to Drew for times of transition. She will serve as associate dean for two years, and we are grateful that she will be at Drew for this season in her career.
Thanks to our longstanding partnership with the Louisville Institute to support the formation of theological educators, we will again have two postdoctoral fellows appointed at Drew this year. We are delighted to welcome Dr. Minjung Noh, who earned her PhD at Temple University. Dr. Noh’s work on Korean American protestant women missionaries in Haiti exemplifies the vibrant transnational conversation now characteristic of Drew classrooms. She will join the faculty as assistant professor of transnational Christianity and gender studies. Dr. Hyemin Na, whose research focuses on the use of digital media in megachurches in the U.S. and Korea, continues as assistant professor of religion, media and culture. She is ordained in the United Methodist Church. Along with Professor Kate Ott, Dr. Na was recently awarded a $15,000 Science for Seminaries seed grant to lead critical discussions on race and technology at Drew in the coming year.
The transnational profile of the Theological School faculty continues to expand in the spring of 2022 as the Rev. Francisco Peláez-Diaz joins the faculty as an assistant teaching professor in Latinx ministries. Rev. Pelaez-Diaz is completing his PhD at Princeton Theological Seminary, where he is examining the Central American migrant experience in light of a theology of the cross. He has an impressive history in teaching and administration in Mexico, and in ministry and community organizing in the Midwest and in New Jersey. He is ordained in the Presbyterian church of Mexico and the PC/USA. This fall, Rev. Peláez-Diaz will be working with a group of incoming MDiv students as they begin the integrative mentored eportfolio process now characteristic of a Drew ministry degree.
It is hard to believe that when the Theological School faculty, staff, and students gathered themselves and their laptops for the Covid-19 evacuation that it would be eighteen months before many of us returned to working, learning, and worshipping in the Forest. As we do so–with careful attention to the protocols around the Delta variant–we are also connecting with the faith communities we serve. Thanks to a $50,000 grant from the Lilly Foundation, teams of staff and faculty are meeting this month with pastoral and lay leaders of twenty-five churches in the region for a listening project. We want to understand how congregations were impacted by the pandemic, hear their experiences and adaptations, and learn about the new or emerging needs for their ministries and communities. Professor Kenneth Ngwa also continues his vital leadership of the Religion and Global Health Forum, building a network of churches to promote positive health outcomes in marginalized communities.
As the fall unfolds for you, please take time to consider your health and to care for yourself. Pause to pray for the Theological School. Join us for a virtual chapel service on Tuesdays or Thursdays at noon. Make a gift to support a scholarship for a student. Take a moment to send an update about your work, your family, your ministry.
This fall, like every fall, we return. We are not the same as when we left, but we are grateful for this faithful learning community and hopeful for all that lies ahead.
Interim Dean for the Theological School
Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity
23 March 2021 - Response to Anti-Asian Violence
March 23, 2021
Dear Theological School Community,
Last week in Atlanta, six Asian-American women were among eight people murdered by a white man. This explosion of violence is the most recent incident in more than a year of increasing anti-Asian racist violence in the United States.
At the Theological School, we are grieving deep in our bones. This moment again reflects the structural realities of white supremacy, this at the intersections of anti-Asian and gender-based violence. Again the tools of our faith traditions are being weaponized for these purposes. And, again, those facing this moment are part of us. Asian, Asian-American, and Pacific Islander students, faculty, staff, and alumni make Drew what it is. Korean and Korean-Americans are part of the very fabric of Drew’s history, present, and future. We cannot stand by as friends, classmates, and colleagues carry the heavy burden of loss, erasure, and fear of violence.
The community of Drew Theological School is standing against anti-Asian hate. On social media, in classrooms, and in churches, you have been reaching out, taking action, and speaking up. In our circles of friends and neighbors and in town squares, we are raging, weeping, and resisting. President Schwarz’s message to the Drew community calls us to “reaffirm a commitment to dismantling racism and to strengthening a sense of belonging.” This week Theo social media has been and will continue to amplify Asian voices and share resources for community education and action from like-minded institutions.
We invite you to come together at 8 p.m. on Thursday, March 25th to hear the experiences of Drew Asian, Asian-American, and Pacific Islander students in this climate and to mourn and remember the victims of the shooting in Atlanta. The event is co-sponsored by the Chinese Culture Club, the Theological Student Association, the Korean Caucus, the International Students Services Office, and the University Chaplain’s Office. Register here to receive the Zoom link.
As you each look to the social witness and work that is needed in your context, hold our community in care and love. Make a special effort to connect with a friend. As Drew Theo alumnus, Hector Burgos, said recently on Facebook, “Be the reason someone feels welcomed, seen, heard, valued, loved, and supported.” And as Mark Miller says in his powerful anthem of resistance: “refuse to let hatred in.”
Dean Melanie Johnson-DeBaufre
Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity
11 January 2021 - Response to the Events on Capitol Hill
11 January 2021,
To the Drew Theological School community,
Last week we watched as thousands of predominantly white insurrectionists invaded the United States Congress to stop elected leaders from formalizing the peaceful transition of power. I have been glued to the news and social media for days. I imagine many of you have been too. I was stunned to witness the lies of election theft repeated on the congress floor even after a day of rage and terror fueled by those same lies. There is a great deal at stake in the true and false stories we tell and how they shape our actions.
White supremacy and white nationalism are the root of this story. Like others, I saw on grotesque display what many have always known to be true: the stark difference between the response to a white mob and the response to people of color everywhere who have organized acts of non-violent resistance on behalf of the movement for black lives, undocumented immigrants, and so many others. I know that many in our Drew community are reflecting on this reality from our pulpits, at our dinner tables, and in our various spheres of influence.
There is another truth about this story. A powerful brand of Christianity animates this movement and these political activities. The Bible, Jesus, the cross, salvation, the Messiah–these images and words were everywhere to be seen and heard on Wednesday. We cannot be surprised by this, nor should we comfort ourselves that “this is not who our country is” or that “this is not what Christianity is.” Religious leaders who are committed to anti-racism and the work of social justice must be honest about the continuities that this moment has with a long history of white supremacy and racial inequality, and we must tell the truth about the ways in which Christian faith has been articulated and weaponized in order to maintain this deadly order. It is a painful story, but for many of us, especially the privileged white leaders among us, it is a story we must tell.
Whether you are writing sermons or preparing lesson plans, whether you are community organizing or responding with pastoral care in your context, it is not imperative that you have all the words or even the perfect words. What you do need is to be clear about the story that you are telling. A story that calls each and every one of us to explicitly confront white supremacy and white nationalism in our contexts. A story that is honest about white Christianity and it’s complicity in the events of this week and this nation, and beyond. A story that seeks the kin-dom of God with peace and justice, and that roots its hope and challenge in the radical love of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Dean Melanie Johnson-DeBaufre
Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity
2019 - Response to UMC Special General Conference
Dear Theological School students, faculty, staff, and alumni,
I write you as the special session of General Conference of the United Methodist Church concludes its work in St. Louis. To say that this has been a difficult, excruciating week is an understatement. I began the time in St. Louis filled with pride and gratitude for the tremendous witness Drew students, alumni, and faculty made for the cause of justice and inclusion. Yet, my heart quickly became heavy as those of us present, and those watching by livestream, witnessed what felt like the church unraveling before our very eyes—a church many of us love and serve. Drew University and Drew Theological School are historically related institutions of the church, and the Theological School is one of its thirteen official seminaries.
On Tuesday a majority of delegates to the special General Conference voted to accept the “Traditional Plan” as the way forward for the United Methodist Church. This plan was but one of several options before delegates, who had come together to consider matters of human sexuality and the presence and role of LGBTQ+ persons in our church. The Traditional Plan was the most restrictive and punitive to LGBTQ+ persons and allies. This means that in the future expression of the denomination there will be much stricter enforcement of church laws on LGBTQ+ ordination and same-gender marriage, with clearly delineated penalties for those who violate these newly accepted policies.
I want to comment briefly on this new reality for those members of our community who count themselves a part of the United Methodist Church. To our LGBTQ+ students, faculty, staff, and alumni, I grieve with you. I’m outraged, embarrassed, and wounded by the actions of our church, and I assure you that Drew will continue to stand with you and fight with and for you. No words can alleviate the pain you must feel, but I pray that the knowledge that Drew remains deeply committed to being a welcoming community for all assures you that your school will never waver on its commitment to you. I remind you of the University’s equal opportunity and non-discrimination policy, which states that
…(A)ll of its programs will be free from differences in treatment of persons because of race, creed, sex, color, creed, religion, age, national origin, sexual orientation, veteran status, gender identity, gender expression, disability, or any category that deprives the person of consideration as an individual. Drew aims to treat all individuals with respect and strives to create an inclusive campus community for all employees, students, and guests.
We will have many decisions to make about how this vote will impact our institutional life at Drew, and how we might respond, organize, and resist these actions which so deeply affect and harm our entire community. Those conversations will take place with students, as a faculty, and at the board of trustees, as well in partnership with sister institutions of theological education across the UMC.
Also as part of this process, individuals will need to make their own decisions about their future connection with and to the church. The future will require deep discernment and wisdom as these collective and individual adjustments are made. It will also take some time to fully understand how the Traditional Plan will be implemented, as significant parts of it were declared unconstitutional by the church’s Judicial Council. For students and alumni, your deans, faculty, and staff are available to you as you consider the impact of this decision on your calling and vocational process. I will work hard to keep the entire community informed, especially as to how we are moving forward as a school. I can assure you, however, that we will not waver in our commitment to being a safe space that celebrates, welcomes and supports our LGBTQ+ siblings and allies, and protects them from further harm.
The Theological School has scheduled two forums to debrief and further explore the implications of these decisions: Wednesday, March 13 at noon and Thursday, March 14 at 6.00 p.m. in Seminary Hall.
The apostle Paul, reflecting on his own life journey and struggles, said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” May the same be said of us.
Javier A. Viera
Dean of the Theological School
Professor of Pastoral Theology