Black Alums Gather on Campus

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower,” read Raquel A. St. Clair from the Gospel of John as she opened her Bible study on the morning of Oct. 9, the third day of the third biennial PTS Black Alumni/ae Conference. Sponsored by the Association of Black Seminarians (ABS) and the Black Concerns Council and guided by the theme “The Impact of the Seminary on the Church and of the Church on the Seminary,” the conference brought thirty-five alums from the ’60s to the ’90s back to a campus lush with memories.

Faculty members Cleophus LaRue and Geddes Hanson were among the conference speakers, along with St. Clair, the first African American to matriculate in Princeton’s Ph.D. program in New Testament studies, and PTS alumni Donald Hilliard Jr. (Class of 1982 and pictured above) and Emerson B. Powery (Class of 1992). The keynote address was given by the Rev. Dr. Charles Adams, senior pastor of Hartford Memorial Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan, and a leader in the world ecumenical movement through the World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches.

Adams’s address, “Faith Critics of Faith,” dealt powerfully with how the academy and the church can challenge one another. “We must come humbly to offer our world, our words, and our work for reflection,” he intoned, and the gathered assembly responded. These were the fruits of the vine: pastors, prison ministers, hospital and hospice and military chaplains, community developers, and educators who came together to share wisdom with each other, as well as with seminarians studying on campus today. One came from South Africa, while another was on his way to Liberia. All, however, agreed on one thing: “It was excellent,” the Rev. Larry Dixon (Class of 1973) said at the end of the conference, shaking his head back and forth with a big smile.

The conference planners, faculty members Peter J. Paris and Brian K. Blount and M.Div. middler Myesha D. Hamm, have reason to be proud. “In the end,” ABS president Hamm said, “all the labor proved rewarding when I saw the excitement on the alums’ faces as they talked with students, faculty, and old friends.”

The sharing of hope and promise with students on campus today was one of the highlights mentioned by many. “We cherish our PTS experiences,” said Samuel Reeves, Class of 1996, but added that the conference was not only intended to look to the past. Instead, he noted the importance of offering the experiences of Black alumni/ae for the education and nurturing of current students.

Some returning alums recalled the struggle for justice that became such an integral part of their living faith. “The next struggle,” according to Jon Chapman, Class of 1972, is “to appoint a woman Black professor to the faculty.”

The Black Concerns Council and ABS look next to the Seminary’s second annual Martin Luther King Jr. Lectureship on April 5th, 2000. The lecture this year will be given by Dr. Katie Cannon, a member of Temple University’s religion faculty and the first African American woman to be ordained as a minister of Word and Sacrament by the Presbyterian Church (USA).

The next Black Alumni/ae Conference will be held Oct. 11–13, 2001.


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