On June 1, Rev. Dr. David Latimore celebrated the one-year anniversary of his appointment as the first full-time director of Princeton Theological Seminary’s Betsey Stockton Center for Black Church Studies.
Preceding his arrival, there were a number of aspects that garnered Latimore’s interest in becoming director of the Betsey Stockton Center — the opportunity to engage in cutting-edge research around the praxes of the African American church, a chance to forge and cultivate strong relationships between the Seminary and its graduates, the possibility to support men and women pursuing theological education, and helping those leading churches while facing challenges they do not always have the capacity to address alone.
“It was this combination of activities at the Betsey Stockton Center that I believed was the ideal opportunity for someone with my background and experience,” Latimore says.
During the past year, Latimore has ensured the Betsey Stockton Center’s work remains true to its mission to be a national leader in convening leading scholars and pastors to address the critical issues confronting clergy, congregants, and the communities the Black church serves.
The Betsey Stockton Center serves four primary audiences: the researchers and scholars of the Black church, current and prospective Seminary students, African American alums, and Black clergy. The uniqueness of the approach of the Betsey Stockton Center lies in its commitment to bring the full richness of Princeton Seminary’s intellectual and theological resources to address both the profound theological questions of the Black church and the equally important concerns facing the leadership of the Black church.
“We need conversations that touch hands and hearts, but also reflect the deep theological reflection and engagement that is often found only in the academy,” Latimore says. “It is at that juncture that we come up with the very best of the tradition of the Black church and we add the greatest value and good. It is at this intersection where the Seminary can be a resource to religious leaders while also bringing the richness of the theological thought of scholarship focused on the Black church.”
Through his work as director of the Betsey Stockton Center, Latimore has also partnered with other centers and leaders within the Seminary to facilitate intentional programming utilizing the best minds and practitioners to address issues of importance to the Black church. The most recent collaboration with the Center for Asian American Christianity was “Hope from Ashes: Legacies and Lessons from the Los Angeles Riots.” The virtual conference framed the riots and explored the grave impact of the tragic event, the shared injustices experienced by the African American and Asian American communities, and the role of religion in economic justice and unity.
“The impact of these efforts is driven by the reality that we live in a moment fraught with challenges for all communities of color, and quite frankly, for all communities … I'm hopeful the conferences that we have offered grapple with the authentic and very consequential problems that we face and to begin the development and creation of solutions to move all of these communities forward,” Latimore explains.
The Center has also collaborated with the Center for Barth Studies to host “White Supremacy and Christianity: Reckoning with the Past and Reimagining the Future” and “Resurrection Hope: A Conversation with the Very Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas.”
“We've had a chance to begin building the networks with our alumni and pastors to understand the issues they are confronting and determine how to best respond to them,” he says. “We've hit the ground running and now have the chance, over the course of the summer, to think more broadly and deeply about the kinds of conversations we ought to be having to the benefit of the men and women who lead religious institutions in African American communities or who service African American communities.”
Latimore’s two decades of experience in the pulpit and congregational leadership provides a keen sense of issues that plague leaders of religious organizations. It's this perspective, coupled with his theological training, that allows him to connect past experiences to the work he contributes to the Betsey Stockton Center, he says. As director, he pulls from many areas of expertise he previously accrued.
Latimore’s role at the Betsey Stockton Center and its recent renaming move Princeton Seminary one step closer in its quest to repent for its historical documented connection to slavery. The Center carries the name of Betsey Stockton, a Black woman who was enslaved by a leader of Princeton Theological Seminary prior to her emancipation in 1817. Stockton was also a well-known Princeton educator with a commitment to the education of African American children.
Both the Center’s renaming and Latimore’s arrival are significant to the Seminary’s future.
“It represents a renewed commitment of the Seminary to addressing issues of importance to the Black church,” Latimore says. “The seminary recognizes that the story of Christian faith cannot be told in any singular voice … It takes the fullness of all of our voices to tell the complete story of the Christian faith.”