As part of his application to Princeton Theological Seminary, Laphon Flood-Francis’ personal statement included the assertion that he had no plans to attend—even if he was accepted. He grew up in the church, traveled on missions from the age of 10, began preaching when he was 15 and held an undergraduate degree in religion. “Honestly, I felt I didn't need to attend seminary to fulfill my call,” he says, adding that he only applied at the suggestion of his mentors. But, quite literally a few hours before the enrollment deadline, he received a phone call that changed his mind: he was awarded the Grimke Scholarship. “In that moment, I felt moved by God to come to Princeton Seminary,” he says. As it turns out, this decision set him on a path that renewed his commitment to social justice and its place within church ministry.
Activating the Community
Flood-Francis had a few goals for his time in the MDiv program. One was to bring the diversity of the African American experience to Princeton, and he wasted no time. He joined the Association of Black Seminarians (ABS) and, as chaplain, fulfilled his goal in part by hosting several worship services. “I wanted to create space for people who are part of ABS to lead, preach, and have a say in how the service flowed,” he says, “and expose that to the community.”
Flood-Francis’ second goal was to bridge the church and academy, by leveraging the best elements and lessons of each to enact meaningful social change. He started on campus, diving headfirst into a grassroots effort to disassociate the name of the seminary’s chapel from Samuel Miller, an early Princeton Seminary professor who was found to employ slave labor. Flood-Francis was ultimately appointed co-chair of the Social Justice Committee, tasked with organizing ABS and other groups on campus around this goal and also documenting the process for future student activists. “Some of my greatest friendships were developed in that moment, because we could hear and see each other and communicate, even if we didn’t agree,” he says. “It was a practice in acting in the life and legacy of Christ.”
The Committee's work culminated in a unanimous Board of Trustees vote to change the name of the chapel and also create a task force of students, faculty, and alumni, charged with developing guiding principles and practical rubrics for naming, renaming, and conferring honor in Princeton Seminary buildings, spaces, scholarships, and other initiatives. As a member of the committee that put forth this recommendation, Flood-Francis was chosen to be a student representative on the task force. “Throughout this entire process, I had to learn to work with different student organizations as well as groups outside the Seminary, including the media,” he says. “As a result, I have learned to build communities and coalitions through communication and education, and organize in a much more effective manner.”
These are valuable lessons that Flood-Francis will utilize in his current position as the Associate Pastor of Missions, Evangelism, and Social Justice at First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey. In this next chapter, Flood-Francis will develop social justice initiatives, respond when social action is needed, and represent the church in community partnerships. “I am hungry for intercultural knowledge because we are all one, even if we are different,” he says. “I hope to walk into the unity of Christ, as we are called to, and experience the fullness of who God is because we experience it through each other.”