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Photo by York Wilson

 Mississippi-bound students with Tim Tyson, author of Blood Done Sign My Name. L to r, sitting: Emily Sanford, Tyson, Uiyeon Kim, Kent Dunnington; standing: Janet Deranian, Joey Sherrard, Maureen Knudsen Langdoc, Bryan Langdoc, Lettye Smith and Ronya-Lee Anderson.

Emily Sanford M.Div.’07 will be returning home. “As a native Mississippian, I share with many others a sense of pride for the ways that we are overcoming racial and economic disparities and the firm conviction that as the church we should more fully represent the Body of Christ.”

Sanford wants to serve in her home state after graduation. “This summer is an opportunity to embark on what I hope will be a lifetime of ministry.”

Serving as a resource for the Mississippi-bound group is Chris Rice D’04, who spent 17 years in a ministry of reconciliation before coming to seminary at Duke. Rice is the author of two books based on his experiences in the Deep South: More Than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel (1993) and Grace Matters: A Memoir of Faith, Friendship, and Hope in the Heart of the South (2002). With Duke Divinity Associate Professor of Theology and World Christianity Emmanuel Katongole, Rice is working to establish a center focused on reconciliation at the divinity school.

He describes theological reconciliation as a challenging process.

“It is a long journey, a difficult journey full of pain and full of hope,” says Rice. “It is about common spaces across racial lines where we learn how to pray together, where we read Scripture together, where we tell our stories, where we join in common mission together, and where we’ve had enough time together that we’ve become companions.”

This theological vision of reconciliation still is being realized, Rice adds. “This journey into common life bears witness to the reconciling message of God in Jesus and the Holy Spirit.”

Rice says he hopes the students, who will get a sense of the pain of history and the pain of brokenness, “leave energized by signs of hope.”

Claire Cusick is a freelance writer who lives in Durham, N.C.

New Ministries for Racial Reconciliation

Multiple ties bind efforts by Mississippi and Duke Divinity School to create a promising collaboration for ministries of racial reconciliation.

The program’s roots date from 2003, when Bishop Kenneth Carder—now director of the Duke Center for Excellence in Ministry—convened an Urban Task Group for the Mississippi Annual Conference.

At the time, the Rev. Joey Shelton D’97 was pastor of Court Street UMC, a century-old Hattiesburg church that he had helped transform into a racially, socio-economically and theologically diverse congregation. “Bishop Carder asked me to chair the group because of his familiarity with the diversity and intentional efforts of Court Street,” says Shelton.

A year later, in the summer of 2004, Carder was succeeded as bishop of the Mississippi episcopacy by Hope Morgan Ward, a 1978 divinity school alumna. She and Dean L. Gregory Jones quickly recognized an opportunity for further collaboration between the school and the Mississippi Conference.

“Convergences took place as Bishop Ward and the dean and other divinity leaders connected all of the dots,” says Shelton. He and his wife, Connie, also D’97, moved from Mississippi to Durham at the beginning of 2005 to become co-directors of field education and church relations at Duke. The Sheltons, both natives of Mississippi, arranged the summer placements for the students.

Organizers say the effort will benefit the Mississippi Conference and the divinity school, as well as the individual students, who will be known as Warren Pittman Scholars.

Two Pittman Scholars, Lettye Smith and Kent Dunington, will serve this summer at Galloway United Methodist Church in Jackson with the Rev. Ross Olivier. The former General Secretary of The Methodist Church of Southern Africa and a prominent leader in the struggle against apartheid, Olivier was appointed to Galloway last June by Bishop Carder.

The students will work with the “Light on a Hill,” Galloway’s cooperative project in a blighted area of inner-city Jackson with Voice of Calvary Ministry. (Two other connections: Olivier worked with divinity professor Peter Storey in South Africa; Voice of Calvary is where Chris Rice D’04 spent 17 years working for racial reconciliation.)

Mississippi, says Carder, is a microcosm of the world in terms of racial polarization and economic disparity. “The divinity school can help the church in Mississippi understand and live the Gospel more deeply, and Mississippi can help form students and faculty with experiences of racial reconciliation.”

Bishop Ward looks forward to the divinity students’ gifts of calling, openness, energy and creativity. In Mississippi, she says, they will find people seeking “to walk in the light of Christ.

“We will gather to hear the stories of those who have been hurt by injustice and those who have offered prophetic leadership, those who are encouraged and those who are discouraged,” says Bishop Ward. “We will create ministries that challenge the darkness of racism and offer the light of reconciliation.”

— Claire Cusick


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DIVINITY Online Edition :: Winter 2004 Volume 3 Number 2 Duke Divinity School