2013 Alumni Award Recipients

The William Sloane Coffin '56 Award for Peace and Justice—The Rev. Donald Beisswenger

The Coffin award is given in honor of the life and ministry of William Sloane Coffin, former Chaplain to the University and one of the 20th century's most significant religious leaders. The recipient of the Coffin award will be someone who shares Coffin's passionate and prophetic witness, a courageous devotion to the dignity and worth of all persons, and who has made a notable contribution to the work of peace and reconciliation.

The Rev. Donald Beisswenger '57 M.Div.

BeisswengerRetired minister Donald Beisswenger takes very seriously the Gospel of Matthew's charge to look after the poor, the hungry and thirsty, the stranger, those needing clothes, the sick, and those in prison.  As a hands-on urban minister, a relentless community organizer, a dedicated civil rights activist, a contemplative retreat center founder, and an innovative professor and field educator at Vanderbilt Divinity School, he has used his deep inner strength and prophetic moral authority to preach the Good News, affirming the dignity of all persons and passionately advancing the cause of peace, justice, and reconciliation. 

Beisswenger has served congregations and ministries in Arkansas, Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, Georgia, and Tennessee, focusing on the plight of the poor, the marginalized, and the homeless—and educating those who would minister with them by shaping the field of theological field education over almost three decades at Vanderbilt. He is especially known for his leadership in starting "Tying Nashville Together" (TNT), an explosive ministry of churches, synagogues, businesses, and neighborhood associations that brings people together to improve the community. 

His selfless lifetime of service has been celebrated by countless organizations, including the State of Tennessee, which honored him for a "dynamic life of service to humanity."  He has been joined in ministry by Joyce (his late wife of nearly 42 years), his current wife, Judy, 10 children and foster children, and 13 grandchildren.



Distinction in Congregational Ministry—The Rev. Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson

At the heart of YDS is the commitment to train women and men for the lay and ordained ministries of the Christian church. The award for Distinction in Congregational Ministry is awarded to a lay or ordained individual who has shown exceptional pastoral competence in the work of developing the ministry and mission of local congregations.

The Rev. Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson '90 M.A.R.

RichardsonThe Rev. Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson, a full-time pastor and preacher for four and a half decades, served churches in Virginia from 1969-75 before becoming senior pastor of historic Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, NY, which he still leads and has helped grow to over 4,000 members.

He was the youngest person ever elected general secretary of the eight-million-member National Baptist Convention, which he served for 12 years.  He was also a member of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, which represents 400 million Christians in 150 nations. 

Richardson is an internationally renowned preacher and author and has produced tri-state radio and national television programs for three decades.  He is a strong advocate for economic equity and serves on the boards of several national and international corporations and organizations.  The State of New York has honored him for his "unremitting and compassionate faith and his exemplary service to God, man, and his community."  Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, inducted him into The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Board of Preachers and into its International Hall of Honor celebrating "extraordinary persons…who have made significant contributions to the global nonviolent movement for civil and human rights."  Richardson also led Grace's efforts to construct over $100 million worth of affordable housing.

He is married to Inez Nunnally Richardson, and they are the parents of three adult children and the grandparents of five.



Lux et Veritas-- Ambassador James Joseph

The Lux et Veritas award is given to someone who has demonstrated excellence and distinction in applying the compassion of Christ to the diverse needs of the human condition through the wider church, institutional ministries, ecumenical organizations, not-for-profit organizations, government, or industry.

Ambassador James Joseph '63 B.D.

JosephAmbassador James Joseph has been the epitome of tireless compassion during a lifetime of service in the church, academia, government, business, and philanthropy.  Since graduation from YDS, he has served as an ordained minister, an advisor and diplomat to four American presidents, a civil rights activist, a university chaplain, a professor and author, and a determined advocate and servant leader.  He served as under secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, a member of the Advisory Committee to the Agency for International Development, an incorporating director of the Points of Light Foundation, and a member of the Historically Black Colleges Board of Advisors before becoming U.S. Ambassador to South Africa. 

He was the first chairman of the Corporation for National Service that established AmeriCorps, the president/CEO of the Council on Foundations, and the chairman of the post-Hurricane Katrina Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation.  He is the founder of the United States-Southern Africa Center for Leadership and Public Values, a joint endeavor of Duke University and the University of Cape Town.  He is the recipient of 19 honorary degrees, and an endowed chair at Southern University is named in his honor.  In 2010 the United States Peace Corps paid tribute to him for his life-long contributions to voluntarism and civil society. 

He frequently speaks to academic, civic, and religious audiences and is the author of three books, The Charitable Impulse, Remaking America, and Leadership as a Way of Being.  A fourth book, "Private Virtue and the Search for Public Values," will be published by the Duke University Press in 2013. 

Ambassador Joseph is married to the former Mary Braxton, and they have two children and two grandchildren.



Distinction in Theological Education—The Rev. Joan Bates Forsberg

One of the finest traditions of YDS is its commitment to excellence in all dimensions of theological education. This award recognizes alumni whose scholarship, teaching or leadership and contributions to vocational formation for ministry reflect the best traditions of YDS and its distinguished faculty.

The Rev. Joan Bates Forsberg '53 B.D.

ForsbergThroughout her life, Rev. Joan Forsberg has been a trailblazer in theological education and campus ministry.  She has led countless women into expanding roles in society while demonstrating to all what a more just and equitable society might look like. 

She was ordained by the United Church of Christ in 1954 and began her ministry in an interdenominational, interracial urban setting in Greater New Haven, Connecticut, known as Oak Street.  At Oak Street, she was part of a group ministry based in a storefront church that provided a ministry of presence and a holistic teaching that combined traditional worship services with health and wellness education. Oak Street eventually became known as Wider City Parish, which met in different locations throughout the city.

In 1967 she was hired by Dr. Parker Rossman '53 Ph.D. as program director at the Ecumenical Center for Continuing Education for Clergy at Yale, located on Saint Ronan Street in New Haven.  In 1971, as YDS began accepting women in expanding numbers, she became the YDS registrar and advisor to students and joined professors Margaret Farley and, eventually, Letty Russell as three of the early faculty women. In short time, she was named Associate Dean for Student Life, and quickly became known for her listening, pastoral ear, and for helping countless students—and especially women—consider their personal, spiritual, and career journeys. A signature role for Forsberg was as celebrant at Marquand Chapel, where she was the first woman to be seen by many students in this role, presenting a powerful and inspiring image. She has called her ministry "a bridge—a ministry to facilitate," hoping to build "communication and understanding toward the wholeness of the human family." 

She was a co-recipient in 1975 of the U.C.C.'s first Antoinette Brown Award for women who exemplify the contributions of women in ordained ministry; and in 1978 she received an honorary doctorate degree from Berkeley Divinity School.


Award nominations are welcome at any time. To submit nominations, please visit http://divinity.yale.edu/nomination-form-distinguished-alumni-awards