Dear Duke Divinity Students:

Many of you are beginning field education placements this week in the midst of deeply unsettled circumstances. We have been wrestling with the effects of the health pandemic for the past three months, and over the past week the pandemic of systemic racism and injustice has compounded and intensified the pain and suffering of this country—especially for people and communities of color. This is a time for confession and focus on our unity in Christ. The sin of racism continues to be an open wound in our country.

George Floyd’s unjust death is yet another horror in a long line of such horrors. His cry, “I can’t breathe,” is juxtaposed poignantly with yesterday’s Pentecost worship and the breath of God’s Holy Spirit. Injustice calls us to humble ourselves in confession; Pentecost calls us to rise up and bear prophetic, reconciling witness to Christ. Whenever and wherever injustice happens, injury ripples across the land beyond the specific circumstances. And injury and injustice, especially when they are so deeply ingrained in our history and our current circumstances, give rise to plaintive prayers: “How long, O Lord? How long?” These cries for justice have a desperate feel, and yet they are signs of profound hope and trust in God.

You are called in your ministry to be ambassadors for Christ: by listening, by engaging, by interpreting, by acting, by being willing to “weep with those who weep,” and coming alongside those who suffer. You will be joined in your ministry by countless other ministers across this land serving as ambassadors for Christ, including many Duke Divinity alumni—some of them serving as mentors for you in your placement.

We on the faculty and administrative staff will be praying for you and your ministry, even as we seek to be faithful in our ministries. As we all practice ministry this summer, let us remember the words of the African-American spiritual: “There is a balm in Gilead / to make the wounded whole / There is a balm in Gilead / to heal the sin-sick soul.” May that balm help us be agents of justice, mercy, peace, and reconciling witness in all that we do.

In Christ,