Gifts from Tiffney

Gifts from Tiffney

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By Dr. Willie James Jennings
Associate Professor of Theology and Black Church Studies
Duke Divinity School

The Rev. Tiffney Marley, MDiv ’96, rendered years of honorable service to the Office of Black Church Studies (OBCS) and the Divinity School, and we are greatly indebted to her. She stepped down from the directorship of the office after spring semester 2009.

I remember when Duke Divinity School Dean Greg Jones and I recruited Tiffney away from an administrative post in the Fuqua School of Business at Duke and back to the Divinity School in 2003. She served as the first non-faculty, full-time administrator of the OBCS, and under her leadership every aspect of the office improved.

Not only did Tiffney help us achieve new heights of administrative coherence, but she deepened and expanded our already strong network of relationships with the black communities in Durham, the Triangle and the Piedmont. She also strengthened our ties with our alumni through multiple efforts including establishing a regular presence for the Divinity School at the important Hampton Minister’s Conference. Tiffney also helped strengthen the school’s international ties in Peru, Haiti, Brazil and multiples places on the African continent. She was the glue that held together our pilgrimage programs, whether in Brazil, South Africa, Uganda, Durham or anywhere in between. Tiffney brought top-flight organization, joyful enthusiasm, creative energy, and unrelenting effort to each and every pilgrimage.

Scores of students rightly appreciate Tiffney’s efforts to increase field education opportunities in historical black churches and church-related organizations. All seminarians but especially black seminarians had in Tiffney an unfailing advocate and supporter in their theological formation. She also was the best host for the Divinity School’s annual Gardner Taylor and Martin Luther King, Jr. lecture series. Our distinguished guests, as well as academic and administrative colleagues from other institutions, repeatedly remarked to me how helpful Tiffney was to them. I often heard the words “first-class,” top-notch,” “professional,” and “classy” connected to Tiffney’s name. In addition to this wonderful work, during several years Tiffney served with me on the Duke University-wide MLK celebration committee, taking on even more tasks and carrying them out with superb efficiency.

I was especially pleased with what Tiffney modeled for students daily, a woman of color in ministry who was, to quote a famous preacher, “unashamedly black and unapologetically Christian.” Tiffney understood the dignity that flows from the rich legacy of black Christian existence in the world, and she unrelentingly bore witness to that dignity in every meeting, every conversation and in her every administrative gesture.

As my esteemed colleague Professor W.C. Turner often said to me, “Tiffney is an African princess that has come among us.” Princess indeed, but she was not royalty spared all indignities or crowns of thorns. Tiffney had to face what many woman of color in ministry have to face every day − frequent times of resistance to their leadership rooted in chauvinism, sexism and racism. One of the continuing tragedies of church life in the west (and especially in America and in black America) is the refusal to receive fully the gifted leadership of women, especially young black women. In her time at the Divinity School, Tiffney worked to turn that tragedy into triumph. We are a better place because she often graciously, but always tirelessly, tried.

During my years as academic dean, I could not have asked for nor received a better co-laborer in caring for students. Academic deans are the bearers of secrets. So I know the students that really brought her great joy, and the ones who poured sorrow into her soul. Yet what Tiffney gave them far outweighed what they gave her. She loved them, everyday, she loved them.

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