Published May 16, 2023

During the 2022–2023 academic year, Duke Divinity School celebrated the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Office of Black Church Studies, with a year of events culminating in an evening celebration on April 17 featuring Grammy Award-winning gospel singer Yolanda Adams and the Martin Luther King Lecture Series on April 18 with the Rev. Dr. Cynthia L. Hale.

The Office of Black Church Studies (OBCS) was founded in 1972, the first such office at Duke University and one of the earliest Black Church offices among all U.S. theological schools. The OBCS hosts world-renowned preachers and lecturers, provides formation and pastoral care for students, and leads a variety of initiatives to develop, preserve, and share resources from the Black Church for the whole church.

The celebration on April 17 included a premiere of a documentary about the OBCS; a concert by Adams, who also performed two songs with Duke Divinity’s Gospel Choir; and a special award recognizing key figures in the history of the OBCS.

On April 18, Hale, M.Div. ’79, the founding and senior pastor of the Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, Ga., preached in Goodson Chapel and delivered a lecture.

Hale preaches in Goodson Chapel as part of the OBCS MLK Lecture
Hale preaches in Goodson Chapel as part of the Office of Black Church Studies MLK Lecture Series.

 

Amber Scott addresses the attendees during the evening celebration.

Amber Scott addresses the attendees during the evening celebration.

Rev. Dr. William Turner is honored during the 50th anniversary celebration.

Rev. Dr. William Turner is honored during the 50th anniversary celebration.

The OBCS 50th celebration included a reception on Bovender Terrace.

The OBCS 50th celebration included a reception on Bovender Terrace.

Josefa Bethea Wall, daughter of Bishop Joseph Bethea, receives gift for Bethea Fund

Josefa Bethea Wall, daughter of Bishop Joseph Bethea, receives the announcement about the founding of the Bethea Fund from Hale.

OBCS 50th Honorees

The OBCS 50th celebration included a celebration of honorees whose contributions have been integral to the success of the Office of Black Church Studies, including the first two Black men and women to graduate from the school: respectively, Chaplain Matthew A. Zimmerman Jr., M.Div. ’65, and the Rev. Dr. James Donald Ballard, M.Div. ’66; and the Rev. Yvonne Beasley, M.Div. ’76, and the Rev. Dr. Sadie Joyner Milton, M.Div. ’76. William C. Turner Jr., B.S.E. ’70, M.Div. ’74, Ph.D. ’84 (all Duke University), James T. and Alice Mead Cleland Professor Emeritus of the Practice of Preaching; and Bishop Joseph B. Bethea, the founding director of the OBCS, were also honored.

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"Bringing Black students in was a wedge that pried the school open. It went from a good Southern institution to a world-class university. Colonialism was falling all over the world, and there was a scholarship scarcely known in the West that was receiving new attention, a scholarship that educated white people didn’t know about. It pushed back the boundaries of ignorance, forcing the engagement of the school with a broader current. It forced issues cordoned off as a ‘race problem’ right into the heart of the intellectual discourse.”

A Year of Celebration

 

Gardner C. Taylor Lectures featuring Pastor Michael A. Walrond Jr.
Gardner C. Taylor Lectures featuring Pastor Michael A. Walrond Jr.

OBCS hosted a number of other events through the 2022–2023 academic year to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Those events include the Gardner C. Taylor Lecture on Sept. 13, 2022 with Pastor Michael A. Walrond Jr., senior pastor of First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York; a worship event with the Rev. Dr. Marcus D. Cosby of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston on Nov. 30, 2022; the Believers’ Church Conference Jan. 26–28, co-hosted with Shaw University Divinity School; the annual Sankofa Alumni Preaching Series throughout the month of February; and the Pauli Murray/Nannie Helen Burroughs Lecture with Dr. Amey Victoria Adkins-Jones on March 6.

 

Elizabeth-Styron-scaled

Sankofa alumni preaching series featuring Elizabeth Styron Howze, M.Div. ’17. Howze is also project coordinator for the Ormond Center.

Daniel José Camacho

Sankofa alumni series with Daniel José Camacho, M.Div. ’17, preaching in Goodson Chapel. Camacho is a writer and acquisitions editor at Fortress Press.

Jay Augustine preaches in Goodson Chapel

Jay Augustine, D.Min. ’20, preaches in Goodson Chapel during the 2023 Sankofa Series. Augustine is the missional strategist for the Divinity School’s Center for Reconciliation.

Hale preaches in Goodson Chapel as part of the Martin Luther King Lecture Series on April 18.

Hale preaches in Goodson Chapel as part of the Martin Luther King Lecture Series on April 18.

The OBCS 50th celebration included a reception on Bovender Terrac

The OBCS 50th celebration included a reception on Bovender Terrace.

Bishop Gregory Palmer delivers the invocation during the OBCS 50th celebration on April 17.

Rev. Dr. Prince Raney Rivers speaks during the 50th anniversary celebration.

Dean Edgardo Colón-Emeric at OBCS 50th Anniversary speaking in blue suit

Dean Edgardo Colón-Emeric speaks during the 50th anniversary celebration.

OBCS Timeline

The legacy and ongoing mission of the OBCS will continue to be strengthened through the establishment of the Joseph Bethea Endowment Fund. Donate to the Office of Black Church Studies by selecting “Office of Black Church Studies” on the Divinity School donation website.