Tipple-Vosburgh 2017: Theology in the Streets
Annual lecture series and alumni reunion explores pressing issues facing church and society.
November 2017 – With the theme of “Theology in the Streets,” the 2017 Tipple-Vosburgh lecture series and alumni reunion at Drew Theological School explored engaging in activist forms of mission and evangelism.
“We chose the theme ‘Theology in the Streets‘ because we share the conviction that that is theology’s rightful home—the streets—and it is where our presence is most critically needed,” said Dean Javier Viera, in his opening remarks.
The keynote speakers for the two-day series, the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II T’03 and Sister Simone Campbell, provided a challenging and inspiring framework for engaging in public, prophetic ministry. In addition, two senior ministers from New York City—the Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes Jr. of Riverside Church and the Rev. Dr. Jacqueline Lewis, G’02,’04 of Middle Collegiate Church—opened and closed the annual gathering with inspiring sermons.
Recruiting for “God’s Dream Team”
Mark Miller, associate professor of church music and composer-in-residence at Drew Theological School, set the stage for Tipple-Vosburgh by leading a school choir performance of his anthem, “We Resist.” Miller’s choral piece, “Let Justice Roll,” which is based on the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” was narrated by Forbes.
Referencing the basketball team assembled for the 1992 Summer Olympic Games, Forbes implored the audience to become part of “God’s Dream Team,” working together like one body to defeat the dehumanizing forces at work in the world today.
Barber, who is president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach and a bishop of the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, joined the crowd at The Concert Hall via video conference. Despite being grounded by bad weather and 500 miles away in Raleigh, N.C., his message of the five violations that threaten the moral health of the United States came through loud and clear.
“When people say that we’ve never experienced anything like current events in America, it means they didn’t pay attention in history class. What we’re seeing right now is not new,” Barber said.
He added that we should ask ourselves whether we have a government that represents all of America today. “We have to put a face on the pain and create a democracy where all of God’s children are loved. When we come together in the streets, then there will be a healthy saving of the soul and heart of this nation,” Barber said.
Barber also challenged the Drew community to be the faithful remnant God uses to turn things around. “A remnant helped to save and rebuild Israel,” he said. “A remnant can change this country. A remnant that will cry out in the public square will be the moral conscience of this nation.”
Barber, who also was the sesquicentennial speaker at Drew’s Commencement in May, received the Theological School’s Distinguished Service Award from Drew President MaryAnn Baenninger and the Rev. Dr. Brandon Cho T’06, president of the Drew Theological Alumni Association.
Creating a Prophetic Community
Campbell, who is executive director of Network and a key figure in organizing the “Nuns on the Bus” movement, believes that the key to prophetic public ministry is the sometimes difficult act of showing up.
“The challenge for people of faith is to remember that we are people of faith,” Campbell said. “Showing up has consequences. There’s a reason that Jesus sent out the disciples in groups of at least two. He knew they would get lost, get frustrated and become discouraged. Together, they created a prophetic community to touch the pain of the world.”
Campbell likened showing up to being “called into mission.” And to succeed in that mission, she said, we need to be deeply rooted in prayer, accountable to and in ministry with a larger movement of Christians and willing to act even if we don’t know what we’re doing. The pain and the needs of others should spur us into action in the spirit of Christ. “If we let God flame up in our lives and we are faithful, we will be successful,” Campbell said.
A Love Revolution
Lewis closed Tipple-Vosburgh 2017 with a service asking the crowd in Craig Chapel, “Do you want a revolution . . . a love revolution that embodies everyone?”
Lewis’ 1,000-member congregation at Middle Collegiate Church is known for its diversity and the church’s commitment to revolutionary love makes it feel like home for a growing and young New York City crowd.
Lewis delivered her sermon with a personal story recounting what happened on a recent flight to her hometown following her mother’s death. Overcome by the loss of her mother as well as all the losses in the U.S. since the election, Lewis found solace in a fellow passenger—a woman on the opposite end of the political spectrum. Lewis had never met the woman, but she cradled her as she sobbed. At that moment, the women were not unknown adversaries, but rather allies in the love revolution.
“If we can’t love our neighbors, how can we love God? Be a part of the love revolution by being a human being,” Lewis said.