Candler School of Theology’s inaugural Black Church Studies Reunion Conference was held February 18-20, as a part of the school’s yearlong Centennial Celebration. "In the Footsteps of Our Ancestors: Revisiting, Renovating and Revolutionizing the Path" focused on prophecy in church and society using multiple formats, including lectures by significant scholars and activists and panel discussions. Highlights of the 3-day event included:

Maria Dixon HallThe Annual Anna Julia Cooper Lecture
In her lecture “Native Exile,” the Rev. Dr. Maria Dixon Hall 98T, 99T (pictured right), associate professor of communications studies at Southern Methodist University, examined how African American scholars straddle two worlds—the academy and the black community—never fully at home in either. She explored how the stories of the Israelites’ exile in Egypt and Babylon inform the kinds of exilic stories found in the narrative of African Americans, both in and out of academic and ecclesial spaces. This kind of alienation, Hall noted, raises questions of location and proximity. While those originally exiled ask the question “Why are we here?” the question of their children and future generations becomes “Why are we here?” These particular nuances of personhood and location are essential to understanding the ways African American scholarship extends beyond the individual to the care of the entire community. Listen to the lecture on iTunes U.

Leadership Lessons From Ferguson

Leah Gunning Francis, associate dean for contextual education and assistant professor of Christian Education at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, spoke about the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, in the aftermath of the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in August. When asked what people can do to bring about meaningful change, Francis encouraged attendees to examine what they are currently doing in their local communities and neighborhoods, stressing how incremental change can ultimately spark cultural change.

Black Churches-Black Communities-Black Academics: Competitors or Collaborators?   
“Religion abnormality is a good thing,” said the Rev. Timothy McDonald 78T in a speech about the call to prophecy in spaces where normalcy is the status quo. As one of only a few African American students at Candler in the 1970s, McDonald’s legacy was a rabble-rousing one—and his call to religious and social deviation has remained the same. “In order to answer the question of transformation, you must be willing to risk.” Radical academy and theology together create a transformative legacy that uplifts as it climbs, he said. Listen on iTunes U.

Sensing Our Faith: Caricatures or Reality (Black Churches and Popular Culture)
Practicing Our Faith: After the Benediction (Black Churches and Social/Political Activism)

The dual nature of sensibility and practicality found its way into the panel discussions in the first set of concurrent seminars, featuring Candler alumni the Rev. Michael Wortham 11T; Carlton Mackey 05T, director of the Ethics & the Arts Program at Emory University’s Center for Ethics; Dr. Tamura Lomax 04T 05T; the Rev. Raphael Allen 00T; and the Rev. Maria Mallory White 01T 02T. The sensibility of faith concluded with hope for a black church community that is sensitive to the ways in which culture, media, music and the arts frame and reframe the longstanding narratives of black bodies in the media. The practicality of faith through social activism illustrated how the act of prophecy was not always met with applause. “It is not profitable to be prophetic. Our presence alone was protest,” Allen said, referring to the role African American students played in bringing more black faculty and class subjects to Candler. The conclusion? The intersection of sensing and practicing faith is ongoing, a benediction that never comes.

Through the Lenses of the Elders: Candler Experience and Black Religiosity

In this panel discussion, Candler professors Noel Erskine, Emmanuel Lartey, Woodie White, Teresa Fry Brown, Jehu Hanciles and Nichole Phillips told the stories of people from the African diaspora and their influences on the life and legacy of African Americans at Candler. This included Erskine reading out the names of every African American professor and notable African American students from Candler’s history.

Proclaiming Our Faith: More than a Shout and a Song (Black Churches, Liturgies and Worship)
Living Our Faith: Care of Body, Mind and Soul (Black Churches and Mental Health)

In Proclaiming Our Faith, Candler alumni discussed how healing through worship is possible, and explored the ways worship plays a role in the overall development of the black experience. In Living Our Faith, Sabrina Cherry 14T explored the importance of self-care and the intersections of faith and health concerns that disproportionately affect African Americans, including HIV and AIDS. Both sessions offered advice from practitioners and ministers whose work connects faith and holistic care in both ecclesial and secular settings.

To learn more about Candler’s Black Church Studies Program and other Centennial events, visit http://candler.emory.edu/about/centennial/index.html.