Tuesday, September 15, 2020 (All day)
Office of Black Church Studies
(919) 660-3439

The Rev. Gardner C. Taylor, B.D., was one of America’s greatest preachers of the 20th century. The annual Gardner C. Taylor Lecture Series sponsored by the Office of Black Church Studies at Duke Divinity School honors his legacy as an effective pastor, compelling preacher, and prolific author. His written sermons and recordings, with his high capacity to discern the “strange angles” of Scripture and Spirit, continue to instruct, inform, and inspire. Taylor’s enduring legacy emerges from his fruitful forty-two years as senior pastor at Concord Baptist Church of Christ in Brooklyn, N.Y. During his tenure, he faithfully and effectively served his “present age.”

Taylor's own words inspired the theme for this year's lecture series: "Preaching in Problematic Times." According to Taylor, “There are days when we can bring before God...laughter of joy and gratitude. There will be other days when we can only muster a bitter, angry complaint. Be confident that God will accept whatever we lift up before him, and he will make it serve his purpose and our good.” The Gardner C. Taylor Lecture Series seeks to equip minsters and pastoral leaders with new and innovative perspectives to proclaim the Gospel with power and precision in the present age.

Join the Office of Black Church Studies for a day of worship, conversations, and a lecture to encourage seminarians, practitioners, theologians, and community partners to gaze deeply at the intersections of preaching in problematic times. The 2020 guest lecturer, Dr. Frank A. Thomas, Ph.D., aims to examine preaching from a relational standpoint and how it impacts the preacher’s task, in seasons of environmental and cultural disruptions.

Guest Lecturer and Other Speakers

Dr. Frank A. ThomasFrank A. Thomas, Ph.D., the guest lecturer, currently serves as the director of the Ph.D. Program in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric and as the Nettie Sweeney and Hugh Th. Miller Professor of Homiletics at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is the CEO of Hope For Life International, Inc., which formerly published The African American Pulpit, and also serves as a member of the International Board of Societas Homiletica, an international society of teachers of preaching. For many years, Thomas also taught preaching to Doctoral and Masters level students at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, Illinois, Memphis Theological Seminary in Memphis, Tennessee, and United Theological Seminary of Dayton, Ohio. Thomas is the author of the classic preaching book, They Like to Never Quit Praisin’ God: The Role of Celebration In Preaching, which was revised and updated in August 2013. To complement the book, he published Preaching as Celebration Digital Lecture Series and Workbook in 2014. Thomas also is the author of How to Preach a Dangerous Sermon and Introduction to the Practice of African American Preaching, released by Abingdon Press respectively, February, 2018 and November, 2016. He also co-edited Preaching With Sacred Fire: An Anthology of African American Sermons 1750 to the Present with Martha Simmons, published by W. W. Norton & Company in 2010. This critically acclaimed book offers a rare view of the unheralded role of the African American preacher in American history. In addition, he  is the author of several other books on subjects from matters of prayer to spiritual maturity. Thomas served with distinction as the senior pastor for two remarkable congregations: New Faith Baptist Church of Matteson, Illinois, and Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church of Memphis, Tennessee, for eighteen years and thirteen years, respectively. He holds a Ph.D. in Communications (Rhetoric) from the University of Memphis, a Doctor of Divinity from Christian Theological Seminary, Doctor of Ministry degrees from Chicago Theological Seminary and United Theological Seminary, a Master of Divinity from Chicago Theological Seminary, and a Master of Arts in African-Caribbean Studies from Northeastern Illinois University. Thomas and his wife, the Rev. Dr. Joyce Scott Thomas, each earned their Certified Professional Coaching Certificate (CPC) from the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Based on their coaching experience, Frank Thomas published with Hope For Life International Press, The Choice: Living Your Passion Inside Out, in  October 2013 in which he explains and explores the spiritual and coaching process to live your passion from the inside out.


Minister Nicole WilliamsRev. Nicole Williams is a May 2019 Master of Divinity graduate from Duke Divinity School, where she received a certificate in Gender, Theology, Sexuality, and Ministry, and also received a Concentration in  Homiletics/Preaching. She is a featured podcaster for Social Equity for Black & Brown Girls and is currently undergoing the ordination process in the United Church of Christ. A native of Durham, N.C., and a graduate of Northern High School, she completed her undergraduate education at North Carolina Wesleyan College in 2010, with a double major in accounting and business administration while being a starter on the women’s basketball team. Williams’ ministry is entrenched in teaching the gospel to those who have been marginalized by society. It is the intersectional nature of Jesus that drives her passion to teach the gospel through embodying God’s call to “to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Her life quote is: “I was not made to fit into any box that humankind could ever make.” This personal philosophy is embedded in her commitment to a “theology from the margins” that is inclusive of all those who believe in the transformative power of the gospel. The message of the gospel is inherently liberative because the ministry of Jesus Christ is timeless, ever-reaching and open to everyone, according to Williams. Teaching and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ is not just pedagogical, but rather the very reality of faith in Christ and the grace in which we stand.


Rev. Nicholas M. Irion Rev. Nicholas M. Irion currently works at the Duke University Center for Multicultural Affairs, where he oversees several programs and initiatives. He is also a Master of Divinity degree student at Duke Divinity School and the senior pastor of Oak Grove AME Zion Church in Erwin, N.C. A native of Buffalo, N.Y., Irion served as youth pastor of the St. Luke AME Zion Church. In June 2016, he was appointed senior pastor of The Centennial AME Zion church. While pastor at Centennial, membership increased and many new ministries were added, including adopting neighborhood schools and implementing college partnerships. In 2018, Irion relocated to North Carolina to attend Duke University and also became senior pastor at Oak Grove. Previously he earned  a Bachelor’s in Music Education degree from Buffalo State and then went on to Michigan State University, where he completed his Master’s degree in Educational Leadership. He also completed the Summer Theology program at The University of Oxford. Irion was most recently employed at Buffalo State College, where he served as the director of Special Programs. In this position, he worked with career counseling/advising, along with the educational pipeline programs, and was named a campus leader for increasing minority retention. Irion also served as a mentor and advisor to student teachers and aspiring school leaders, as well as an advisor to various student organizations, including fraternities and sororities. He has won several awards and received recognition from across the country for his leadership. Irion is also a frequent conference presenter on topics including transformational educational leadership in the urban environments, African-American sacred music, and relevant ministry for the 21st century. Noted by many of his students and parishioners as an authentic leader with a servant's heart, he takes pride in being labeled "the mentor's mentor" and is known for extending his hand to help young people excel.


The schedule of events for the 2020 Gardner C. Taylor Lecture Series on September 15, 2020:

  • 11:25 a.m.: Online worship service with the Dr. Frank A. Thomas, Ph.D., preaching on the Duke Divinity YouTube channel.
  • 7:00 p.m.: Online Gardner C. Taylor Lecture with via Zoom with Thomas presenting the guest lecture and the Revs. Nicole Williams and Nicholas Irion also speaking.


Registration is now available for the 2020 Gardner C. Taylor Lecture Series.