Monday, October 10, 2016 - 8:00am to Tuesday, October 11, 2016 - 4:30pm
Duke Divinity School
(919) 613-5323

Who Needs Theology?: Inside and Outside the Church
Duke Divinity School
October 10-11, 2016

What difference does theology make for the church, the university, and society at large? How can critical theological thinking make a practical difference in our local communities? What if we don’t share common beliefs? Leaders in science, medicine, business, and the church will help us to consider these questions and others as we explore theology as a shaping force in our daily lives.

Featured presenters:

  • Elaine A. Heath, dean of Duke Divinity School
  • Norman Wirzba, professor of theology, ecology, and agrarian studies, Duke Divinity School
  • Brian Combs, pastor, founder and pastor, Haywood Street Congregation, Asheville, NC
  • Kenneth H. Carter, Jr., resident bishop of the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church
  • Ellen F. Davis, Amos Ragan Kearns Distinguished Professor of Bible and Practical Theology, Duke Divinity School


  • Valerie S. Ashby, dean of Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Duke University
  • Peter Gerend, regional managing director for North America, Duke Corporate Education
  • A. Eugene Washington, M.D., chancellor of Duke University health affairs and president and CEO, Duke University Health System
  • Local pastors

The annual Convocation & Pastors’ School is an intensive two-day conference that offers lectures, worship, and seminars for Christian leaders of all traditions. Led by scholars and practitioners from Duke and beyond, this event is a cooperative endeavor with the North Carolina and Western North Carolina Conferences of the United Methodist Church. The Convocation also includes alumni gatherings.

Connect with us: #dukeconvo


Elaine A. Heath
Dean of Duke Divinity School and Professor of Missional and Pastoral Theology

Heath Photo Heath began her tenure as dean of Duke Divinity School in July 2016. Previously she was the McCreless Professor of Evangelism at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. Her scholarly work integrates systematic, pastoral, and spiritual theology in ways that bridge the gap between academy, church, and world. Her research interests focus on evangelism and spirituality, evangelism and gender, the new monasticism, and emergence in church and in theological education. Heath is the author of numerous books and monographs, the most recent of which is God Unbound: Wisdom from Galatians for the Anxious Church (June 2016). She is also the co-founder of the Missional Wisdom Foundation, which provides opportunities for clergy and laity to learn how to live in intentional communities and how to develop missional communities and social enterprise in diverse social contexts.

Norman Wirzba
Professor of Theology, Ecology, and Agrarian Studies, Duke Divinity School

Wirzba Photo Norman Wirzba pursues research and teaching interests at the intersections of theology, philosophy, ecology, and agrarian and environmental studies. His work focuses on understanding and promoting practices that can equip both rural and urban church communities to be more faithful and responsible members of creation. Wirzba’s current research is centered on a recovery of the doctrine of creation and a restatement of humanity in terms of its creaturely life. He has published The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age and Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight. His most recent books are Way of Love: Recovering the Heart of ChristianityFrom Nature to Creation: A Christian Vision for Understanding and Loving Our World, Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating, and (with Fred Bahnson) Making Peace with the Land: God’s Call to Reconcile with Creation.

Brian Combs 
Founder and Pastor, Haywood Street Congregation

Combs Photo Converted by an in-the-gutter low Christology, Brian Combs was confronted by the incarnate Jesus on the homeless streets where pauper, prostitute, and pusher loiter about. Convicted by Wesley's social holiness and the Gospel's parabolic precedent, he founded the Haywood Street Congregation in Asheville, N,C., an unapologetically Christian communion of sober and intoxicated, homeless and housed, sane and unstable, derelict and disciple. It is a kingdom of God glance that subverts paternalistic evangelism and poverty tourism, while prioritizing the most marginalized, assuming the disinherited are Immanuel.

Kenneth H. Carter, Jr.
Resident Bishop of the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church

Carter Photo Kenneth H. Carter, Jr. was ordained a deacon in the Western North Carolina Conference in 1983 and an elder in 1986. Subsequently he served a four-point charge, as an associate pastor of missions and evangelism, as a new church planter, and as senior pastor of two large regional churches; his ministry at Providence United Methodist Church in Charlotte was described by the historian Diana Butler Bass in her book Christianity for the Rest of Us. He also was the superintendent of the Smoky Mountain District of the Western North Carolina Conference, which included 69 churches in the seven westernmost counties of the state, all within the region of Appalachia. In 2012, Carter was elected to the episcopacy by the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference of the United Methodist Church and assigned to the Florida Conference.

Ellen F. Davis
Amos Ragan Kearns Distinguished Professor of Bible and Practical Theology, Duke Divinity School

Davis PhotoThe author of ten books and many articles, Davis's research interests focus on how biblical interpretation bears on the life of faith communities and their response to urgent public issues, particularly the environmental crisis and interfaith relations. A lay Episcopalian, she is active as a theological consultant within the Anglican Communion and since 2004 has worked with the Episcopal Church of Sudan and South Sudan to develop theological education, community health, and sustainable agriculture.

Valerie S. Ashby
Dean, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Duke University

Ashby PhotoValerie Sheares Ashby became the dean of Trinity College of Arts & Sciences at Duke University on July 1, 2015. As a researcher, Ashby’s work focused on synthetic polymer chemistry with a present focus on designing and synthesizing materials for biomedical applications such as X-ray contrast agents and drug delivery materials. She is the recipient of the National Science Foundation Career Development Award, the DuPont Young Faculty and 3M Young Faculty Awards. Before coming to Duke, Ashby taught at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she won numerous awards for teaching, including the Bowman and Gordon Gray Distinguished Term Professorship for excellence in undergraduate teaching and research.

Peter Gerend
Regional Managing Director, North America, Duke Corporate Education
Visiting Professor in Psychology and Neuroscience, Duke University

Gerend PhotoAs regional managing director, Peter Gerend oversees Duke Corporate Education’s work in North America, leading the Duke CE regional team to create meaningful approaches to leadership development. He also works directly with global clients to connect the capacity of their people to the promise of their strategy. As a visiting professor at Duke University, Gerend teaches in the psychology & neuroscience department and the management & markets program.

A. Eugene Washington, M.D.
Chancellor of Duke University Health Affairs
President and Chief Executive Officer, Duke University Health System

Washington PhotoOver the past 25 years, Eugene Washington has held academic leadership positions and senior executive posts with increasing levels of responsibility in three prominent academic health systems.  During this time, he has educated students, residents, postdoctoral fellows and faculty; practiced medicine; and maintained a productive research program, all while shaping national health policy and health care practice. Washington took the helm of the Duke University Health System in 2015. 


Monday, October 10

8:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.


Bryan Center

11:00 a.m.

James A. Gray Lecture: Elaine Heath

Reynolds Theater

12:30 p.m. Lunch and Gathering Time Duke Divinity School

12:30 p.m.

Alumni Homecoming Luncheon

Duke Divinity School

2:00 p.m.

Panel featuring: Valerie Ashby, Peter Gerend, and Eugene Washington. Moderated by Ellen Davis 

Reynolds Theater

3:00 p.m. Break
Refreshments provided
Duke Divinity School:
Westbrook Cloister Walk

3:00 p.m.

Project BRI(DDD)GE Alumni Reception

Duke Divinity School

3:30 p.m.


Duke Divinity School

5:00 p.m. Break Duke Divinity School

5:00 p.m.

Methodist House Refreshment Break

Duke Divinity School

5:30 p.m.

Brian Combs, preaching

Duke Chapel


Tuesday, October 11

8:15 a.m.

Morning Prayer

Goodson Chapel

9:00 a.m.

Panel Discussion featuring pastors from a variety of settings. Moderated by Ken Carter

Reynolds Theater

10:30 a.m. Break
Refreshments provided
Duke Divinity School:
Westbrook Cloister Walk

10:30 a.m.

Center for Reconciliation Coffee Break

Duke Divinity School

11:00 a.m.


Duke Divinity School

12:30 p.m. Lunch and Gathering Time Duke Divinity School
12:30 p.m. Learning and Living the Faith: Who’s Doing Confirmation and Why? Duke Divinity School

12:30 p.m.

Hispanic House of Studies Networking Lunch

Duke Divinity School

2:00 p.m.

Franklin S. Hickman Lecture: Norman Wirzba

Reynolds Theater

3:15 p.m.


Duke Divinity School

3:30 p.m.

Brian Combs, preaching

Duke Chapel


The seminars offered during Convocation & Pastors’ School are a wonderful opportunity to enjoy small-group learning with Duke faculty, guest leaders, and other attendees. Participants who attend the seminars and all lectures will receive one Continuing Education Unit (CEU). When registering, participants will have the opportunity to choose TWO seminars, one for each day. 

Seminars offered Monday only

Rural Fellows, Covenant, and Community (TRC pastors only)
Brad Thie, Director, Thriving Rural Communities Initiative, Duke Divinity School
During this session, we will discuss the ways that rural fellows, rural fellow alums, and Thriving Rural Communities partner churches can relate in faithful community.

Keepers of an Open Tent: The Theology of Event Design
Gretchen Ziegenhals, Managing Director, Leadership Education at Duke Divinity
Why is it important to think theologically about the workshops, meetings, or retreats that we lead? How is event design and planning related to the core of what we are about as church? What is a theology of event design? This workshop will lift up Abraham’s hospitality to his three visitors in Genesis 18 as a way of keeping an open tent in the desert. We will examine together key features of hospitable event design, discuss resources for each feature, and take time for practical and theological questions around the kinds of events you lead.

Seminars offered Tuesday only

Leading from the Soul: Leadership, Scripture, and the Christian Story (Seminar full)
Warren Kinghorn, Associate Research Professor of Psychiatry and Pastoral and Moral Theology, Duke Divinity School
Modern pastors and other leaders are regularly exposed to books and theories that promise to guide effective leadership. But what does it mean to lead from the soul, to lead in a way that connects with the deepest truths of who we are as human beings before God? In this seminar we will explore scripture and the Christian story of creation, exile, redemption, and new creation to uncover resources for wholehearted and faithful engagement in the calling of leadership.  

Pastoral Ministry and Vocation
Brad Thie, Director, Thriving Rural Communities Initiative, Duke Divinity School
The church believes that all God’s people are given the gift of vocation, a calling from God birthed in baptism. The pastor has a vital role in articulating and affirming the vocation of the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker. Spiritual disciplines, practiced in community, are critical to believers’ ongoing discernment of vocation, and being able “to give a reason for the hope that they have” in their daily work.

Seminars offered Monday AND Tuesday

Being Present:  Why Health Care Needs Theology and the Church
Ray Barfield, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Christian Philosophy, Duke Divinity School
Farr Curlin,
Josiah C. Trent Professor of Medical Humanities, Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities, & History of Medicine, Duke University
Warren Kinghorn, Associate Research Professor of Psychiatry and Pastoral and Moral Theology, Duke Divinity School

Stanley Hauerwas has written that "something like a church" is required for health care practitioners to sustain presence to those who are suffering. In this seminar, faculty from Duke Divinity School’s Theology, Medicine, and Culture Initiative, each of whom is a physician, will explore how theology and Christian practices, and not just science and technology, are essential for attending to those who are in pain and who are suffering. We will consider practical and moral challenges within contemporary healthcare, the vital role of theology and the church in the history of medicine, and contemporary Christian practices that can help to sustain those who seek to walk alongside those who are suffering. 

Reflections on the 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church (Seminar full)
Moderator: Belton Joyner, Retired Elder, North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church
Panelists: Bishops Hope Morgan Ward (North Carolina Conference), Ken Carter (Florida Conference), and others
Join a panel of United Methodist bishops as they recount highlights from the recent quadrennial gathering of the chief governing body of the United Methodist Church and offer insights on how the church might move forward together.

Ministry with Emerging Generations (Seminar full on Monday. Limited space available on Tuesday only)
Alaina Kleinbeck, Director of the Duke Youth Academy for Christian Formation, Duke Divinity School
Congregational vitality depends on children, teenagers, and young adults to breathe in creativity and innovation, yet most congregations struggle with creating spaces for their voices and experiences. Join us for insights into the religious and spiritual landscape of young people today and conversation around best practices in ministry for and with the young in discipleship and formation programs, worship, and other aspects of congregational life.

Reimagining Confirmation: Best Practices from The Confirmation Project
Jack Radcliffe, Lead Editor at Youth Ministry Partners, United Methodist Publishing House
Kate Obermueller Unruh, Ph.D. Candidate, Princeton Theological Seminary

Confirmation is a practice that many churches engage in, but often without a lot of creative energy. How can we better create disciples among our young people, the future of the body of Christ? This seminar will draw on best practices emerging from The Confirmation Project, a Lilly Endowment-funded research study of five Protestant denominations. Participants will get a sneak peek at an innovative new confirmation curriculum to be published by Abingdon Press later this year. 

Does Theology Impact the Lives of Those Living with Their “Backs Against the Wall”?
Ismael Ruiz-Millán, Director of the Hispanic House of Studies, Duke Divinity School
In this seminar, we will explore the implications of liberation theology for church leaders in the United States. We will consider the theology of prophetic voices such as Howard Thurman, Oscar Romero, and Richard Twiss, who struggled with the question of how Christian theology should be redeemed so as to bring liberation to those living in the margins, the disinherited, and the oppressed.

One Hundred Chalices: A Potter's Response to Matthew 20:22
Peter Strafaci, Potter in Oak Ridge, NC
Art has been the cornerstone of our Christian heritage for centuries, but in today's culture it matters more than ever: "Society needs artists...who ensure the growth of the person and the development of the community" (St. John Paul II). Peter Strafaci understands this dual responsibility well. Join him in exploring Jesus Christ's challenging question in Matthew's gospel: "Can you drink the cup...?" (20:22). Strafaci’s "one hundred chalices" represent the spiritual challenge of daily living. Seminar participants will discuss practical steps in understanding and accepting what it means to drink from the chalices given to us by God, and how this act transforms the community around us.

The Politics of Jesus in the Public Square (Seminar full)
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Author, Speaker, and Director of the School for Conversion, Durham, NC
Jesus was neither a Republican nor a Democrat. But his message is political: "Repent!" he proclaims at the beginning of the gospels, "for God's politics is here." Join Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove to consider how religion has been exploited in American politics; hear stories from The Third Reconstruction, his book with William Barber about North Carolina's Moral Movement; and discuss faithful political engagement in the current political climate.

Alumni and Special Events

We invite you to join with friends old and new for these additional gatherings. To participate, please register for each as part of your Convocation & Pastors’ School registration. Pre-registration is required so that we can plan each event appropriately. All events are free unless noted otherwise.

Alumni Homecoming Luncheon
Divinity Café and Bovender Terrace
Monday, Oct. 10 – 12:30 p.m.
Join us for the Alumni Homecoming Luncheon—a great opportunity to enjoy a relaxed picnic meal with friends and classmates, dean Elaine Heath, and members of the national Alumni Council. All Convocation attendees are invited to participate. Cost: $11.00 per person for Convocation attendees and their guests and $7.00 per person for Duke Divinity School faculty/staff (prices include N.C. sales tax).

Project BRI(DDD)GE Alumni Reception
Baker Room, Divinity Library
Monday, Oct. 10 – 3:00 p.m.
Your fellow BRI(DDD)GErs invite you to join us for time of reminiscent reflection during the Project BRI(DDD)GE Alumni Reception at the 2016 Convocation and Pastors’ School.  Rekindle old friendships and make new ones. BRI(DDD)GE continues to evolve into an incredibly transforming experience.

Methodist House Refreshment Break
Duke Divinity School
Monday, Oct. 10 – 5:00 p.m.
Methodist House of Studies invites you to enjoy coffee/tea and cookies after the close of the afternoon session and prior to evening worship. Come join in the conversation with alumni and friends of Methodist House.

Center for Reconciliation Coffee Break
Duke Divinity School
Tuesday, Oct. 11 – 10:30 a.m.
Join us to learn more about the ongoing programs of the center, meet the staff team, and connect with other pastors and alumni engaged in reconciliation work within their congregations and communities. Light refreshments will be served.

Learning and Living the Faith: Who’s Doing Confirmation and Why?
Duke Divinity School
Tuesday, Oct. 11 – 12:30 p.m.
Hosted by Kate Obermueller Unruh, Ph.D. Candidate, Princeton Theological Seminary
The Confirmation Project is a Lilly Endowment-funded research study that explores the extent to which confirmation (or an equivalent practice) in five Protestant denominations is effective for strengthening discipleship in young people. Join Kate Obermueller Unruh, researcher of the study, for a brown-bag lunchtime conversation as she shares research the most recent findings, stories from real congregations, and her implications for the young people in our churches today.

Hispanic House of Studies Networking Lunch
Duke Divinity School
Tuesday, Oct. 11 – 12:30 p.m.
The Hispanic House of Studies seeks to be a resource center for churches and pastors passionate about serving with the Hispanic and Latino/a community. We invite all Convocation attendees and their guests to attend this luncheon to learn more about the work and offerings of the Hispanic House of Studies. Lunch will be provided. 


Lodging reservations should be made directly with Durham hotels.

Several local hotels offer special rates for Convocation & Pastors’ School participants. In order to receive these special rates, please refer to "Duke Divinity School/Convocation & Pastors' School" when you call to reserve your room. Rates cannot be guaranteed after the cutoff dates listed.

Hilton Garden Inn
Rate: $119 per night, plus applicable taxes
Call (919) 286-0774 by Friday, Sept. 9

Hilton Durham near Duke University
Rate: $104/single per night, plus applicable taxes
Call (919) 383-8033 by Friday, Sept. 9

Millennium Hotel Durham
Rate: $105/single or $125/double per night, plus applicable taxes
Call (919) 383-8575 by Friday, Oct. 7

Other properties are also located nearby. We offer the following list as a convenience:

Additional hotel information may be found at the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau.


Everyone planning to attend the 2016 Convocation & Pastors’ School should submit a registration form in advance, along with the appropriate fees. Your registration for Convocation & Pastors’ School includes access to lectures, seminars, and worship, as well as on-campus shuttles and parking. We will send confirmation upon receipt of your registration information. Event fees are non-refundable.

Online registration closes on Friday, Sept. 23, 2016. Hardcopy registrations will also be available upon request. Contact Duke Divinity School via phone at (919) 613-5323 or


  Standard Rate

Regular registration


Reduced rates available for:

  • Pastors of churches eligible for grants from The Duke Endowment. Am I eligible? (pdf)
  • Current Duke Divinity School students
  • 2016 Duke Divinity School graduates
Duke Divinity School Faculty/Staff registration $0


The cost of this event is kept minimal due to the generous support of the North Carolina and Western North Carolina Conferences of the United Methodist Church, as well as The Duke Endowment and the Parish Ministry Fund, which provide financial assistance to clergy in support of their ongoing education.


Duke University is committed to providing access to programs for persons with disabilities. If you anticipate needing accommodations or have questions about physical access, please contact (919) 613-5323 in advance of the program.


Contact Duke Divinity School at or (919) 613-5323.

Past Events

Audio recordings of the lectures and worship services held during previous sessions of Convocation & Pastors’ School are available for download through iTunes U.

2015: Body and Belonging
Featuring John Swinton, Claire Wimbush, Deb Richardson-Moore, and William Lee

2014: Life After Christendom: Resident Aliens 25 Years Later
Featuring Stanley Hauerwas, Will Willimon, James Davison Hunter, and Hope Morgan Ward
Due to technical difficulties, recordings of this event are not available.

2013: Renewing the Church
Featuring James K.A. Smith, Jorge Acevedo, Laceye Warner, and Jeremy Troxler

2012: Form/Reform: Cultivating Christian Leaders
Featuring Richard J. Mouw, Andy Crouch, Sarah Coakley, and Prince Raney Rivers

2011: Drawn into Scripture: Arts and the Life of the Church
Featuring Jeremy Begbie, Marilynne Robinson, Anthony Kelley and the BLAK Ensemble, and Lillian Daniel

2010: The Living Witness: Tradition, Innovation, and the Church
Featuring N.T. Wright, Rob Bell, Andy Crouch, and Vashti McKenzie

2009: The Next Generation
Featuring Os Guinness and Philip Jenkins

2008: For Such a Time as This
Featuring L. Gregory Jones, Janice Riggle Huie, Ron Heifetz, Al Gwinn, Greg Palmer, Larry Goodpaster, and Adam Hamilton

2007: Our Daily Bread
Featuring Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, Stanley Hauerwas, Ellen Davis, Janice Virtue, Norman Wirzba, L. Gregory Jones, and Carol Bechtel