In July 2019, Rick Amsberry, an accountant from Dallas, Texas, and his wife, Lisa, were visiting the Duke University campus. He had been discerning whether he was called to seminary and wanted to meet with people in the admissions office of the Divinity School.

While he was there, he noticed posters for the upcoming DITA10 conference, a three-day symposium celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the establishment of Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts (DITA) at Duke Divinity School. The conference featured conversations with leading scholars and artists, workshops for church leaders, inspiring corporate worship, an interactive concert featuring musicians from the top orchestras in the nation, and a colloquium for emerging scholars.

“At that time, I knew nothing about DITA, but after doing some preliminary research on the program, we decided that it would be a good way to come and immerse ourselves in the Duke environment for a few days,” Amsberry said. “My wife and I are both long-time sacred choral musicians and are familiar with the various ways the arts can be used both in the formation of Christians and as an outreach to the community beyond the church.”

Established in 2009 at Duke Divinity School by its current director, Jeremy Begbie, Thomas A. Langford Distinguished Research Professor of Theology, DITA has established graduate-level courses in theology and the arts, a bi-annual distinguished lecture series, an artist-in-residence program, concerts and exhibitions, and major trans-Atlantic collaboration with the University of Cambridge. In addition, the initiative supports the work of doctoral students and a post-doctoral associate.

In recognition of the impressive record of research and arts-in-action through performances, art installations, and other events that contribute to a vibrant culture at Duke Divinity, the wider university, and beyond, the McDonald Agape Foundation has announced a $3 million gift to assure and maintain Duke Divinity School as a premier place for study at the intersection of Christian theology and the arts.

“I am deeply grateful for this generous expression of support for the work of the Duke Initiative in Theology and the Arts,” said Edgardo Colón-Emeric, dean of Duke Divinity School, Irene and William McCutchen Associate Professor of Reconciliation and Theology, and director of the Center for Reconciliation. “At the core of the Divinity School’s mission is the formation of witnesses to the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Triune God. The McDonald Agape Foundation’s gift will ensure that the arts play an important role in the fulfilment of this mission.”

The gift will support research and scholarship activities such as colloquia, conferences, and publishing; arts activities that engage academic, religious, artistic, and other public audiences; and postdoctoral fellowships in theology and the arts, to be known as McDonald Agape Fellows, in order to provide prospective leaders in the field with a major boost at a crucial, early stage of their careers. As part of the gift, the title for the director of Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts will now be the McDonald Agape Director of DITA.

“In service to Professor Begbie, the church, the academy, and the world, it is a privilege to partner with Duke to ensure that DITA thrives well into the future with distinguished scholarship for Christ with research, art in action and postdoctoral fellowships” said Peter McDonald, president of the McDonald Agape Foundation. “Our prayer is that the rich life at Duke of Christian theology and the arts that directly touches our embodied souls and was birthed with this generation continues for generations.”

The DITA10 conference, which was sponsored by the McDonald Agape Foundation, helped to change the course of Rick Amsberry’s life and confirm his calling to seminary: “My attendance at DITA10 was an important factor for me in deciding to apply to Duke Divinity School because I recognized that I could gain the knowledge and experience that would enable me to pursue my ministry goals, not the least of which was learning how to use the arts to enhance formation in worship and provide effective outreach to the community.” He is now enrolled in the Hybrid Master of Divinity program and pursuing the Certificate in Theology and the Arts.

“We are humbled beyond words by this extraordinarily generous gift,” Professor Jeremy Begbie said. “The McDonald Agape Foundation has been a faithful partner for many years, and, this donation will ensure that DITA’s work at the intersection of theology and the arts not only continues but expands and develops in ways we could hardly have imagined 12 years ago. Our gratitude for the unstinting support of the McDonald Agape Foundation is immense. Our prayer is that, by the grace of God, we can honor the confidence that has been placed in our vision."