Convocation and Reunions 2012: Dean’s installation sets stage for exhilarating week

By Gustav Spohn

It is rare for the kick-off to YDS’s Convocation and Reunions to be the installation of a new dean.  But that was the case this year and, rather than overshadowing the annual gathering, the installation of Dean Gregory E. Sterling the day before Convocation and Reunions served to set the stage for what was to come.

LaughingAct two consisted of three days filled with dinners, lectures, worship, music, movies, live theater, panel discussions, informal gatherings, and more.  By all accounts, the momentum from the dean’s installation continued from beginning to end, fuelled in large measure by the Beecher Lectures, which spanned all three days of Convocation and Reunions.

Delivering the Beechers this year was Anna Carter Florence, a Yale College graduate who is the Peter Marshall Associate Professor of Preaching at Columbia Theological Seminary.  Her dynamic lecturing style elicited the full gamut of emotions from the audience, from rapt attention to infectious laughter, seeming to leave the Marquand Chapel crowd in a state of perpetual anticipation from one lecture to the next.

The theme of Florence’s lectures was “The Word in the Repertory Church.” Go to video.

Alumni and students found the lectures at once provocative and inspiring.

Student Beth Phillips ‘13 M.Div. said, “I will never look at scripture the same again after hearing Dr. Anna Carter Florence in the Beecher lecture series.  She was raw, and it was brutal.  She dared us to strip down naked and wade right into the Scriptures.  She challenged us to follow the action—the verbs of the passages—and confront even the ugliest and most uncomfortable pericopes.  Even there, I learned, we can find something we know to be true about God, if we step into scene and step into that scene with company of others.  It was powerful and riveting.

Recent alumna Jennifer Sheridan ‘09 M.Div.  said, “Anna’s theatrical expository of the Texts of Terra had everyone in Marquand Chapel on the edge of their seats.  The repertory church, as she described it, invited me in with highlighter in hand.  I was “caught and brought” into her dramatic world of script-transforming verbs.  The word of God was alive and active, and we all felt it in our hearts.”

And Rachael Hanson ‘78 M.Div. observed, “Having heard both Phyllis Trible and Frederick Buechner deliver Beecher lectures, I found it deeply moving to be at the lectures this year. I was galvanized by Anna Carter Florence’s approach to reading scripture. It seemed to me that all of us in Marquand were united by this way of reading scripture ‘feet first and through the verbs.’ She presented a clear challenge for us to be part of the Spirit’s work in forming community.”

JazzThis year’s Cheney Lecture, under the sponsorship of Berkeley Divinity School, combined a performance of the “Canterbury Jazz Mass” composed by Andy Barnett ‘12 M.Div. and Will Cleary with a sermon by Thomas Troeger, the J. Edward and Ruth Cox Lantz Professor of Christian Communication. Go to video.

The “Canterbury Jazz Mass” was commissioned by Canterbury Cathedral in England and premiered there on June 17.  It is a five-movement Latin mass for choir and jazz octet that ponders the depths of ancient Christian mystery through the lens of jazz rhythm and harmony.  Performing the Mass at Convocation and Reunions was Barnett’s Theodicy Jazz Collective, well-known in New Haven for the numerous jazz masses the group has performed at the Episcopal Church of St. Paul and St. James.

In his sermon, Troeger concluded, “The Canterbury Jazz Mass gives witness to the same truth as Jesus’ parables: structure, order and tradition are not polar opposites to improvisation, freedom, and surprise.   In the life of faith they are interrelated.   Through faith Christ trains us to be scribes for the kingdom of heaven that are like the master of the household who brings out of his or her treasure what is new and what is old.”

As always, one of the highlights of Convocation was the public recognition of alumni award recipients at the Alumni Awards dinner.  This years honorees were Bill Barnes ‘59 B.D., Distinction in Congregational Ministry; John Chane ‘72 M.Div., Lux et Veritas; Marcia Y. Riggs ‘83 M.Div., Distinction in Theological Education; and Toshihiro Takami ‘60 B.D., William Sloane Coffin ‘56 Award for Peace and Justice. Read more.

Convocationers who arrived a day early for the installation of Dean Sterling were treated to a theatrical flare courtesy of Bert Marshall ‘97 M.Div., a member of the YDS Alumni Board, who presented his Gospel of Mark—A Live Storytelling Performance.

At times quoting directly and other times using contemporary language, Marshall used humor, music, and drama to bring the gospel of Mark to life through storytelling. Explaining that first-century Christians likely encountered Mark’s gospel as an oral tradition rather than as a text, Marshall encouraged the audience not to follow along in their Bibles, but simply to listen and think about what resonated with them in the performance. “This is not about reading,” he said.

This year’s Convocation, which counted just under 300 official registrants, continued with the new tradition of featuring several special faculty lectures, and this year a trio of senior faculty made presentations: Kathryn Tanner, professor of systematic theology, “Why Christians Should Support the Occupy Movement” Go to video; Professor of Hebrew Scriptures Carolyn Sharp ‘94 M.A.R., ‘99 M.A., ‘00 Ph.D., “Prophetic Witness and Public Leadership: Challenges and Opportunities” Go to video; and Lamin Sanneh, the D. Willis James Professor of World Christianity,” “The Last Great Frontier in a Post-9/11 World: Lessons of World Christianity.” Go to video.

Preachers for Convocation and Reunions were John B. Chane ‘72 M.Div., retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, and Vernice “Hopie” Randall ‘11 M.Div., lecturer in homiletics.

A third major lecture was the Institute of Sacred Music’s annual Kavanagh Lecture, delivered by John D. Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship at Calvin College.  His lecture was entitled “The Biblical Psalms in Christian Worship: Overlapping Scripts in the Unfolding Drama of Liturgical Performance.”  The talk described a sampling of the multiple ways that the biblical Psalms function within the script of Christian worship in the West, exploring how rubrics, formal and informal liturgical gestures, and musical motifs frame the reception of the biblical text. 

MarshallThe Class of 1962 presented Yale Divinity School with its fiftieth anniversary class gift – a check for $100,208 to establish a 50th reunion scholarship fund.  Members of the Reunion Gift Committee were Jim White, Woody Richardson, and Ron Byars.

For aficionados of history, Convocation and Reunions 2012 included a couple of delightful offerings.  Allison Stokes ‘81 Ph.D., ‘81 M.Div. edited a 56-page booklet providing historical perspectives on YDS before the move to 409 Prospect St. 80 years ago—to mark YDS’s 190th anniversary and to celebrate the installation of a new dean. Read more.  In addition, Special Collections Librarian Martha Smalley curated a display in the library rotunda entitled “Yale Divinity School Milestones 1822-2012,” documenting some of the early faculty members of the Divinity School, its first campus in central New Haven, the development of the new campus, and the deans who have served the School over the decades.

Convocation and Reunions was officially designated as a “platinum-level green event” by the University’s Office of Sustainability, qualifying it as an event that “successfully integrates sustainability—the balance of people, planet, and prosperity—into its planning and implementation.” Among other things, to promote sustainability Convocation provided shuttle service and bicycle storage, webcast/live-streamed events, printed on double-sided and recycled paper, used biodegradable, compostable material for utensils where possible, and provided free wireless internet to registrants.

While the installation of Dean Gregory Sterling took place on the YDS campus, a loyal group of Yale folk on the West Coast were present in spirit.  The contingent, all residents of Pilgrim Place in Claremont, CA, sent a special greeting, along with a photo, hand-delivered to New Haven by one of their own, Ronald Evans ‘70 B.D., a member of the YDS Advisory Board. Read more.

This year’s reunion classes included: Class of 1952, 60th Reunion; Class of 1957, 55th Reunion; Class of 1962, 50th Reunion; Classes of 1976, 1977 & 1978, 35th Cluster Reunion; Class of 1987, 25th Reunion; Classes of 1996, 1997 & 1998, 15th Cluster Reunion; Classes of 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 & 2012 Recent Graduates Cluster Reunion.

November 5, 2012
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