Broken communities can be transformed into the beloved community if congregations become committed to inclusive theology, warm hospitality, and courageous advocacy for peace and justice, the Rev. Dr. Brad R. Braxton hopes to convey during his upcoming visit to Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
Braxton, Distinguished Visiting Scholar at McCormick Theological Seminary, is one of the keynote speakers at the Seminary’s Festival of Theology and Reunion, which begins Sunday, May 1 and runs through Wednesday, May 4. The event will focus on “Renewing Congregations for Ministry with All God’s People in a Time of Cultural Diversity and Social Crisis.”
“Louisville Seminary has always been a ‘bridge’ institution in many ways,” said the Rev. Dr. David R. Sawyer (MDiv ’69), host of the annual Festival of Theology lectures. “This year we celebrate a century-long commitment to bridging the stream of America’s racial realities. This year’s speakers and our conversations will provide an opportunity to stand in solidarity with Christians from different traditions and demonstrate that a program like this can be integrated into the life of the whole community in an authentic way,” said Sawyer, who is also Professor of Ministry and Director of Lifelong Learning and Advanced Degrees at the Seminary.
Also being featured at the Festival are Dr. Teresa Fry Brown, Professor of Homiletics at the Candler School of Theology and Director of the Black Church Studies Program at Emory University; the Rev. Dr. Lewis Brogdon (MDiv ’05), Director of the Black Church Studies Program and Associate Director of Recruitment and Admissions at Louisville Seminary; and the Rev. Angela Cowser (MDiv ’06), a doctoral candidate at Vanderbilt University and Associate Pastor of Multi-cultural Ministries at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tenn.
The Festival, which draws alums and friends to the Seminary each year, also will welcome Elder Cynthia Bolbach, Moderator of the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). She will be the keynote speaker for the event’s annual Moderator’s Dinner, Tuesday, May 2.
“What we intend to do is begin with the particularity of the black church experience and then move to the broader church. In this sense, everyone can participate and benefit from the lectures, preaching, and panel discussions,” explained Brogdon, who will simultaneously host the second-annual Black Church Studies consultation for area, regional, and national black church leaders and scholars throughout the Festival.
“All together, this event is a celebration of commitments that this Seminary has embodied for decades. The Black Church Studies Program here is very unique. Having such a program at a predominantly white theological institution makes a strong statement about this institution’s commitments and vision for the church,” he added.
Braxton said he will focus on the current witness of the church and its role in helping to strengthen communities around the world.
“In this pivotal moment in world history, the presence and witness of the church are sorely needed in the public square,” said
Braxton. “Yet, many Christian communities continue to compromise their ability to speak healing and hopeful words by perpetuating narrow, hateful theology and practicing inhospitality ironically in the name of Jesus whose ministry was radically welcoming.”
“I will explore, and hopefully model, the kind of internal critique of our ecclesial beliefs and behaviors that is necessary if Christians want to impact in significant, prophetic ways the public life of our communities and our world,” said Braxton, who has also taught at Wake Forest University Divinity School and Vanderbilt University Divinity School, and served as senior pastor of Riverside Church in New York City.
Why is renewing congregations in a time of cultural diversity and social crisis so important today?
“The anthropologist Margaret Meade once said, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has,’” Braxton quoted.
“Through renewal, congregations can join the ranks of other groups of committed citizens – some of whom have faith commitments and some of whom do not – in transforming the world into a harmonious home of justice, peace, and love, which was always God’s intention,” he said.
“Furthermore, the church has a wonderful opportunity to take a leading role in proclaiming that differences of culture and beliefs are a testimony to the breathtaking creativity of a capacious God,” Braxton said. “In order, however, to witness to a big God whose love for the world transcends our ability to understand, we must be willing to relinquish our petty practices and parochial perspectives.”
An ordained Baptist minister, biblical scholar, and teacher of preaching, Braxton is a respected voice among today’s progressive religious leaders. Dr. Braxton will speak twice during the Festival, which is part of the following schedule:
(All events will take place on the campus of Louisville Seminary, 1044 Alta Vista Road, Louisville, Ky., 40205.)
SUNDAY, MAY 1
2 p.m. - Registration Opens, Winn Center
7:30 p.m. - Opening Worship | Lewis Brogdon preaching, Caldwell Chapel
"When God Makes Things Worse: The Challenge of Faith in Tough Times" (Exodus 5:1-10, 20-23)
MONDAY, MAY 2
9:30 a.m. - Black Church Studies Consultation I, Nelson Hall
11:30 a.m. - Opening Worship | Teresa Fry Brown preaching, Caldwell Chapel
"On-the-Job Courage" (2 Samuel 23:20-23)
2 p.m. - Panel | The Church in Tension, Caldwell Chapel
8 p.m. - Lecture | Brad Braxton, Caldwell Chapel
"Dope Dealers or Pulpit Prophets: A Closer Look at Contemporary Black Preachers"
9 p.m. - Booksigning, Winn Center
TUESDAY, MAY 3
9:30 a.m. - Black Church Studies Consultation II, Nelson Hall
11:30 a.m. - Worship | Brad Braxton preaching, Caldwell Chapel
"The Danger of Incomplete Transformation" (Luke 11:24-26)
2 p.m. - Lecture | Teresa Fry Brown, Caldwell Chapel
"21st Century Black Churches: Deferred Dreams or Prophetic Possibilities"
3:30 p.m. - Panel | The Church in Tension, Caldwell Chapel
6 p.m. - Moderator’s Dinner with Cynthia Bolbach, Hundley Hall
"A Message from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)"
WEDNESDAY, MAY 4
11:30 a.m. - Closing Worship | Angela Cowser preaching, Caldwell Chapel
"Want Renewal? Recognize, Reorganize, Reform!" (Nehemiah 1:10-11)
A detailed schedule is available at the Festival & Reunion website.